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The town in the shadow of the 'Ben'

Updated on February 9, 2017

Fort William - the town at the foot of Ben Nevis

Standing in the shadow of Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet the highest mountain in the British Isles, the town of Fort William is the bustling tourist centre for the Western Highlands and the gateway to the Road to the Isles. Situated on the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil, and at the mouth of the rivers Nevis and Lochy and at the southern end of the Great Glen, Fort William is an ideal destination for visitors to the west coast of Scotland and offers a wide choice of activities and things to do.

The town's name is derived from the fort built in 1690 by the English to control the Scottish clans and is named after William of Orange, King William III of England. The settlement that grew up around the fort was originally called Maryburgh and over the following years was known variously as Gordonsburgh and Duncansburgh before being renamed Fort William. The fort withstood the Jacobite assaults of the 1715 and 1745 Risings before being finally demolished in the nineteenth century to make way for the railway.

Today Fort William is a major tourist destination for visitors to the Highlands and Islands.

Fort William, the town

Attractions and a few things to do

The busy High Street boasts a range of shops selling a wide variety of goods and souvenirs, both Scottish and international. For enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors, climbers, hill walkers and mountain bikers are particularly catered for.

As you would expect there is a good choice of places to eat and drink, from traditional pubs and hotels to cafes, coffee shops and restaurants. The local hotels, guest houses and many bed & breakfast establishments offer accommodation to suit all. There are also camping and caravan sites and back-packers hostels available.

Located on the south side of Cameron Square just off the high street the West Highland Museum is well worth a visit. It vividly captures the life, history and times of the area and admission is free. It is crammed with a plethora of interesting exhibits, including the death mask of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Ben Nevis Distillery, established in 1825, is open for visitors with guided tours for them to discover the secrets of Whisky distilling and sample a wee dram and the unique taste of the 'Dew of Ben Nevis'. Admission charges are in the region of £5 for adults with concessions for children, families etc.

Nearby- Inverlochy Castle and Neptune's Staircase

Inverlochy Castle
Inverlochy Castle

Just a mile north east of Fort William off the main road to Inverness is one of Scotland's earliest stone castles built in the 13th century. Although it is now a ruin on the banks of the River Lochy it once played an important role in Scottish history and was the scene of two battles in 1431 and 1645 and much bloodshed. There is no admission charge to visit the castle.

Another place of some interest is Neptune's Staircase, a series of locks, eight in total, designed by Thomas Telford the engineer of the Caledonian Canal to overcome a difference in height of 64 feet from Loch Linnhe allowing boats to navigate a waterway linking west coast to east coast Scotland. During the summer months there is always a buzz of activity as boats, mainly pleasure craft, negotiate the lochs and it makes an interesting spectacle. Neptune's Staircase is several miles north of Fort William at Corpach on the road to Mallaig.

Neptune's Staircase and the Caledonian Canal

And further afield

Lochs and Glens

Not surprisingly Fort William markets itself as the 'outdoor capital of the UK' and is extremely popular for visitors coming to sample these delights whatever their energies or abilities may be. It is the end of the West Highland Way, Scotland's most popular long distance walk beginning 95 miles away north of Glasgow, and also the start of the Great Glen Way which follows the fault line and Loch Lochy and Loch Ness 73 miles to Inverness. Climbers and walkers naturally also head the few miles north to Glen Nevis to climb the towering Ben Nevis or slightly further afield to Glencoe. All outdoor pursuits are well catered for including skiing and winter sports, mountain biking, pony trekking and horse riding, pleasure craft, boats and canoeing on the Caledonian Canal waterway and lochs, fishing and bird watching or just a leisurely drive through the scenery.

Travel westward from Fort William along the 'Road to the Isles' to Mallaig and visit Glenfinnian where a monument stands to Bonnie Prince Charlie to mark the place where he landed in 1745 to raise the Jacobite standard and rally the clans. This route to the Isle is perhaps now more famous for its railway line and 'Jacobite Steam Train' and the stone viaduct used in the filming of Harry Potter.

Whatever you choose to do you will find Fort William a most welcoming place to visit and stay.

About the author

Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.

Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.

His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.

What do you like about Fort William and the surrounding area?

© 2011 Antony J Waller

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