Highland Outdoor Capital.
In the shadow of Ben Nevis, UK’s highest peak and located on the eastern shore of Loch Linnhe, lies the town of Fort William. Known as the outdoor capital, this ever-popular base with its eateries, pubs, cinema, supermarkets and not forgetting the obligatory gift shops, has everything including a busy vegan café. The original fort was of timber and turf construction and destroyed to make way for the railway line in 1894. The station built on the site, is now home to the famous Jacobite steam train – early booking is essential. Nearby the Nevis Centre offers indoor soft play area, 10-pin bowling alley, cafeteria and event hall, and for the whisky lovers, book a tour around the Ben Nevis Distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland.
When mooching through the town, pop into the Highland Museum and discover the story of the Highlands and Islands, immerse yourself in the many conflicts, fashion and stories of locals throughout history, entry is free, but donations keep the museum alive. If you are wondering why there is a statue of a Model T-Ford in the square, take time to watch the video relaying the story of Henry Alexander Jnr, son of Henry Ford, who unbelievably in May 1911, drove it to the summit of Ben Nevis. With sheer cliffs, steep slopes it must have been a dramatic sight, the ever-popular path with its relentless zigzagging trails, now attracts approx 130,000 people a year, don’t underestimate the conditions at the top, they can change in a matter of minutes, climb sensibly.
With car parks, good train, bus and coach links, there is an abundance of things to see and do locally. For the serious walkers, trek the 95-mile West Highland Way, starting from Glasgow and even continue onto Inverness via the popular Great Glen Way, feel the wind blow through your hair (unlike hubby) or embrace a Loch Linnhe cruise, spotting dolphins and seals, tickets sold from the pier next to the Crannog restaurant. If sailing or kayaking is your thing, there are many outdoor guides and activity providers, you will find all the ‘skinny’ you need from the Tourist Information shop in the town centre.
Various local walks include Steall Falls, Scotland’s second highest waterfall. A two-mile ramble, leading through Glen Nevis, a rocky rollercoaster of a path, passing roaring waters as they slice through a steep gorge and ending at the infamous wire bridge, dating back from the 1700’s. For a scenic amble, visit the Caledonian Canal with its flat tow path – whilst waving to the cruisers and yachts passing by. Off the A82 the North Face Forest trail at Torlundy is worth a visit, a few miles further along the A82 brings you to the Nevis Range, with its ski runs, hot food cafes, bike and forest trails and of course the Gondola which travels 650m up the slopes of Aonach Mor, the eighth highest mountain in Britain, and further on heading towards Spean Bridge, turn off to Leanachan Forest, again with many different paths. For the biking enthusiasts among us, make sure you catch the UCI Cycling World Championships and the annual Scottish Six Day Trial, testing skills, endurance and consistency.
The Treasures of the Earth Museum, just off the A830 at Corpach, showcases a vast collection of crystals, gemstones and fossils. Drop your little monkeys off at the 3 Wise Monkeys Climbing Centre, at the back of the town, brilliant for all ages and abilities, with different climbing walls, courses, tuition, café and yoga classes. Parking isn’t always easy, so park in the town car park and climb the steps to the re-used church building. The ruins of the 13th Century Inverlochy Castle stands proudly on the site of two battles, this medieval stronghold was once a formidable fortress.
For a dining experience, the Ben Nevis Inn is a must, situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, this 200-year-old converted barn provides excellent food and beer. With seating inside and out, marvel at the stunning surroundings, while watching the constant parade of exhausted walkers and explorers coming down the rugged mountain pass. Weekly live music sessions include informal and established performers. Newly refurbished self-contained accommodation is available with toilet/shower and kitchenette. We simply love this rustic inn, but mind the narrow windy road leading to it.
Lastly, join the thousands that arrive each year to learn about the legendary Commandos who, during the Second World War, used Achnacarry Estate as their training ground, making perfect conditions for their arduous drilling, among remote glens, wild mountains and severe climates. Achnacarry is the seat of the Chiefs of Glen Cameron and house a growing collection of exhibits and history in their informative museum and gift shop.
Phew, I’m worn out now! Enjoy your trip.
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