Tours of Edinburgh

Articles about Edinburgh and Scotland by David Wheater

My Edinburgh

Articles about Edinburgh and Scotland by David Wheater, founder of Tours of Edinburgh.

A Guide to Fort William, Scotland

Guide to Fort William in Scotland by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh.jpg

by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh

Here’s a brief guide to the history of Fort William and some of its most notable places, followed by some of the town’s most popular restaurants, pubs, coffee places, hotels, B&Bs and visitor attractions. I’ve also included some useful links at the bottom of this page. If you have any suggestions for our Fort William visitor guide please get in touch using our contact form.

About Fort William

Fort William is located on the west coast of Scotland at the foot of Ben Nevis and at the western end of the Great Glen. The town is located in an area of outstanding natural beauty with wonderful mountain scenery overlooking beautiful Loch Linnhe. The Gaelic name for the town is An Gearasdan meaning “The Garrison”. It’s around a 3hr drive from Edinburgh and 2.5hrs from Glasgow. It’s also easily accessible by both train and bus. Scottish Citylink run regular daily services from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are daily trains along the Glasgow to Mallaig West Highand Line. Fort William is a very convenient base for touring Lochaber and the Western Highlands.

The present Fort William developed after the coming of the railway and is mainly Victorian in construction. The introduction of the railway and better roads led to the towns popularity as a tourist destination. Nowadays it's a hugely popular venue for mountain bikers, climbers and skiers.

The town started life as a small fishing village called ‘Gordonsburgh’. The original Fort, which was thought to be of wattle & daub construction, was built in 1655 by General Monk. It was later rebuilt in stone by William III in the 1690’s and garrisoned to deter any further Jacobite unrest. He in fact renamed the nearby town “Maryborough” after his wife, but it’s believed the town eventually became known as Fort William after Prince William, The Duke of Cumberland (a source of some dissension). Sadly, the fort no longer exists as it was eventually demolished in the 19th century to make way for the railway. However, relics and artefacts from the fort can still be seen in the West Highland Museum, including a picture of Prince Charles Edward, that can only be seen via a tray in its reflection on a curved and polished surface, like a glass or goblet. The few parts that can still be seen today include the northwest rampart and Sally Port. The archway that stood over the entrance was used to create the entrance to Craigs Cemetery.

There are reminders of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his ill-fated Jacobite rebellion scattered all around Fort William and the West Highlands. The fort was besieged by Jacobites in both the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 and they failed to capture it on both occasions.

Rather surprisingly, Fort William was one of the first towns in Britain to have electricity in 1896. Extensive hydro electric schemes were constructed in the vicinity which helped to improve employment and the towns prosperity. To the north-east of Fort William is a large aluminium factory and powerhouse, fed by the waters of the Lochaber power scheme, which are conducted by means of a 15 mile long tunnel through Ben Nevis.

As well as the majestic Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the British Isles at 4,409 feet, another major feature of the landscape is the White quartzite peak of Sgurr a’ Mhaim which rises like a snowcapped Alp to the south.

Fort William is regarded as the ‘outdoor capital of the UK’ attracting thousands of climbers, mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts every year.

Places & Events of Note in Fort William

Ben Nevis Mountain

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles at 4406 feet. The first recorded ascent was made by an Edinburgh Botanist in 1771. The summit of the mountain itself is the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano.

It’s most easily climbed using the ‘Mountain Route’ (aka tourist route) from Achintee Farm, which is located just over a mile outside Fort William. This pony track was built in the 19th century to serve the now ruined observatory on the summit and nowadays is kept in very good condition for walkers. More than a 100,000 ascents are made every year, mostly via the tourist route of 8 miles there and back, but some more experienced walkers prefer the route from Torlundy.

Around four hours should be allowed for the ascent and around 3 hours to come back down (estimate around 8 hours). It’s essential that you check the weather forecast before setting off. Please also wear suitable clothing and footwear. You should also be able to read a compass as the summit is usually in cloud and there are some very dangerous cliffs at the top. People do die on Ben Nevis in bad conditions, so please prepare well before setting off. It can snow at the top on any day of the year – even when it’s a nice summer day at the bottom!

The remains of a meteorological Observatory can be seen at the top. Some intrepid climbers like to stay the night on the mountain hoping to catch a glorious sunrise. On a clear day it’s possible to see for over 150 miles!

A good starting point for climbing Ben Nevis is the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre which has a car park and excellent visitor facilities including a shop and toilets. Visit their website at http://www.highland.gov.uk/info/1457/tourism_and_visitor_attractions/53/visitor_centres/8

For more info on climbing Ben Nevis including routes and safety considerations please visit http://www.ben-nevis.com.

The Nevis Range Mountain Resort

The Nevis Range is an extremely popular ski resort situated just 6 miles north of Fort William on the slopes of Aonach Mor Mountain. There’s a Gondola (Britain’s only) to take you up to the base station where you can hire skis and any other equipment needed. Even if you’re not a skier, there are fantastic views from the Gondola and some lovely walks at the top through Leanachan Forest.

There’s an excellent restaurant at the top called the Snowgoose and a popular cafe called the Pinemarten near the car park. If you’re interested in the geology, flora & fauna of the region don’t miss the excellent Mountain Discovery Centre located under the Snowgoose restaurant. A stage of the Mountain Bike World Cup is held here every June when it can get extremely busy. For some great fun with the kids, have a go on the ‘Zoom Trax’ at the top gondola station which is a 40 metre long slide. Alternatively try out the ‘High Wire Adventure’ treetop ropes course which is also suitable for families. The opening times of the Gondola and all attractions at Nevis Range do change, so please check their website at http://www.nevisrange.co.uk before you go.

If you’re a keen mountain biker you won’t want to miss the World Cup Downhill, the Red Giant XC, Cat’s Eyes & Blue Adder at Nevis Range, along with the Witch’s Trails courses in Leanachan Forest. Nevis Range is a bit of a paradise for Mountain Bikers. For more info on the trails and facilities available visit http://bike.nevisrange.co.uk/.

Bus number 41 runs from the bus station in Fort William to Nevis Range around 5 times a day. For timetables visit http://www.travelinescotland.com/welcome.do or telephone 0871 200 22 33.

Old Inverlochy Castle

The ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle lie around 2 miles north of Fort William where the River Lochy enters Loch Linnhe. The castle was built in the 13th century by the Comyns of Badenoch. A further mile from the old castle is the new Victorian Inverlochy Castle built by the Hobbs in 1836 which is now a luxury hotel & restaurant. The castle saw two legendary battles in 1431 and 1645. The largest of its circular towers, Comyn’s Tower, is named after the family and has massive 10 feet thick walls enclosing rooms that span 20 feet across. During the civil wars, a royalist force led by the Marquis of Montrose defeated a covenanters army under the command of the Earl of Argyll in 1645. For more info visit http://www.inverlochycastle.co.uk.

The West Highland Museum

Located in Cameron Square in the centre of Fort William, this excellent museum is a great way to find out all about the history of Fort William and surrounding region. They house a fantastic collection relating to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion and also house many artefacts and objects from the old fort. Exhibitions also include: Highland Life, Victoriana, Military Heritage and Archaeology from the region. It’s well worth a visit and you can find out more at http://www.westhighlandmuseum.org.uk.

Ben Nevis Distillery & Visitor Centre

If you’re a Whisky fan, you won’t want to miss a guided tour of one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. There’s an excellent whisky shop and restaurant and an opportunity to taste the famous ‘Dew of Ben Nevis’ whisky. For more info visit http://www.bennevisdistillery.com.

Banavie & Neptune’s Staircase

Neptune’s Staircase is a series of eight locks and forms part of the Caledonian Canal lying between Corpach and Banavie. The chain of eight locks raises the Caledonian Canal 64 feet in 1 mile and was built by Telford in the 19th century. It is still a marvel of civil engineering and well worth a visit. The canal towpath makes a lovely walk (or to cycle) with some great views along the way.

Glen Nevis

Starting at the north end of the town is picturesque Glen Nevis which has been a popular filming location for many years. Films such as Harry Potter, Rob Roy and Braveheart have all been filmed in and around the Glen Nevis.

Glen Nevis is easily accessible, being virtually on the towns doorstep. This picturesque Glen contains two fine waterfalls and the remains of an Iron age fort called Dun Deardail on the summit of a hill around a mile above Glen Nevis house. The Dun Deardail walk (3-4hrs) is particularly recommended which starts from the Braveheart Car Park. Another favourite walk is the Steall Falls walk which is essentially a two hour gorge walk through the Nevis Gorge. Both walks are relatively straightforward for those who are fit, but good shoes and waterproofs are recommended. For more information about walks in Glen Nevis visit Walk Highlands at http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fortwilliam/fortwilliam.shtml.

The Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, located around a mile or so up the glen, is well worth a visit. It’s open April-October and provides lots of information on walking in the glen and up Ben Nevis itself. There’s also a shop to buy snacks and toilets.

Achnacarry Castle

Achnacarry is a fairly modern building at the foot of Loch Arkaig. It was for centuries the seat of Lochiel, the Chief of Clan Cameron. The old castle was destroyed by the Duke of Cumberland in 1746.

GlennFinnan – Prince Charlie’s Monument

Loch Shiel, 17 1/2 miles long has, at its head, Prince Charlie’s Monument. The column, with his statue on top, marks the spot where his ill fated standard was unfurled on 19 August 1745.

More than 1000 clansmen gathered here, under the Stuarts banner, to begin the second Jacobite rising in 1745. The place where the standard is said to have been unfurled is marked by a tall castellated tower, with an inner staircase, leading to the 19th century statue of a Highlander at the top. There's an excellent visitor centre, cafe and gift shop here and plenty of parking. Each year highland games are held on the site in memory of those who died for Bonnie Prince Charlie. There are fabulous views from here extending along 18 mile loch shiel.

Corpach Village

The small village of Corpach lies around three miles north of Fort William on the Caledonian Canal. It used to be a large centre for forestry and pulp milling which declined in the 1980’s. The village is the entrance to the Caledonian Canal and an attractive natural harbour with great views to Ben Nevis. If you are looking to stay somewhere out of Fort William, this village is a strong option with some good accommodation available. The nearby Inverlochy Castle Hotel is a great option. There’s an exhibition here of gemstones, fossils and other geological curiosities called ‘Treasures of the Earth’ which is well worth a visit.

Commando Memorial – Spean Bridge

Spean Bridge is around ten miles north east of Fort William, but it’s worth heading for to visit the Commando Memorial nearby, which commemorates the commando units that were trained there during the Second World War. The commandos were based at a nearby training centre in Achnacarry Castle. It’s worth taking the 2 mile war memorial path while you’re there leading to General Wade’s Highbridge, which commemorates the first Jacobite uprising in 1745. It’s a fabulous spot and worth visiting just for the amazing views over the River Spean to Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.

Jacobite Steam Train & The Glenfinnan Viaduct

Often regarded as one of the best rail journeys in the world, this scenic two hour journey from Fort William to Mallaig is an absolute ‘must do’ for any visitor to Fort William. The train takes you across the wonderful Glenfinnan Viaduct made so famous by the Harry Potter series of films. Runs May – October. Visit http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk for more information.

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Every June, the mountain bike world cup takes place on the downhill course at Nevis Range. The stage held in Fort William is one of eight taking place right across Europe and North America. There can be as many as 250 competitors from over 25 countries taking part. If you’re visiting Fort William in June make sure you book your accommodation early! For more info visit http://fortwilliamworldcup.co.uk.

The Great Glen Way

Opened in 2002, the Great Glen Way is a long distance trail and cycle path between Fort William in the west and Inverness in the east. It’s also possible to canoe or kayak the way. The trail is 79 miles long and takes around 5/6 days on foot with plenty of places to stay the night along the way. Most of the route is low level and suitable for beginners. It’s recommended to travel from west to east and to book accommodation in busy summer holidays. For more info visit http://www.outdoorhighlands.co.uk.

Glen Coe

No guide to Fort William would be complete without a mention of Glen Coe which is around a half hour’s drive, 16 miles south of Fort William on the A82. The glen is famous for the Glen Coe Massacre in 1692 when the Campbells slayed around forty of the MacDonald Clan. To this day, it still has an austere, desolate and mysterious atmosphere that never fails to impress visitors. Three of the most imposing peaks in the glen are the majestic Buachaille Etive Mhor, Beinn a Chrulaiste and Bidean nam Bian. A popular place to stop is at the three rock buttresses called the ‘Three Sisters’.

Some of the most popular hikes in the glen include the Alt Coire Gabhail, the Devil’s Staircase and the Buachaille Etive Beag circuit.

Glen Coe & Dalness NTS Visitor Centre

This excellent visitor centre is a great place to learn all about the landscape, geology, history and wildlife of Glencoe. The centre includes an exhibition, cafe, shop and ranger information point which will help with any plans you may have for hill walking in the area. The ranger jeep safaris are particularly recommended. Visit www.nts.org.uk/Property/Glencoe-and-Dalness/ for more information.

Popular Restaurants, Pubs, Coffee Places, Hotels, B&Bs & Visitor Attractions in Fort William

Below are our recommendations for Fort William – all hand picked by us as the very best Fort William has to offer. Enjoy Fort William!

Restaurants in Fort William

The Ben Nevis Inn
Claggan, Achintee, Fort William PH33 6TE
01397 701 227

Crannog Seafood Restaurant
Town Pier, Fort William PH33 6DB
01397 705 589

Lime Tree Restaurant
Achintore Road, Fort William PH33 6RQ
01397 701 806

Crannog Seafood Restaurant
Town Pier, Fort William PH33 6DB
01397 705 589

Inverlochy Castle Hotel
Torlundy, Fort William PH33 6SN
http://www.inverlochycastlehotel.com

Browns Restaurant
Nevis Bank Inn, Belford Road, Fort William PH33 6BY
01397 705 721

Cafe Beag
Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6ST
01397 705 443

Pubs & Bars in Fort William

The Grog & Gruel
66 High Street, Fort William PH33 6AE
01397 705 078

The Lochy Bar & Restaurant
237 Kilmallie Road, Fort William
01397 703 587

The Tavern Restaurant
72 High Street, Fort William PH33 6AD
01397 703 600

Cobb’s Bistro Bar & Cafe
Nevisport, Airds Crossing, Fort William
01397 704 790

The Ben Nevis Inn
Claggan, Achintee, Fort William PH33 6TE
01397 701 227

Coffee Places in Fort William

Sugar & Spice
147 High Street, Fort William PH33 6EA
01397 705 005

JJ’s Cafe
Lochybridge, Fort William PH33 7NU
01397 700532

Nevisport Cafe
Airds Crossing, High Street, Fort William
01397 704 790

Cafe Beag
Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6ST
01397 705 443

Pinemarten Cafe Bar
Nevis Range, Torlundy, Fort William PH33 6SQ
01397 705 825

Hotels in Fort William

The Nevis Bank Inn
Belford Road, Fort William PH33 6BY
01397 705 721

The Moorings Hotel
Banavie, Fort William PH33 7LY
01397 772 797

Letterfinlay Lodge Hotel
Loch Lochy, Spean Bridge PH34 4DZ
01397 712 622 (17miles north of FW)

Inverlochy Castle Hotel
Torlundy, Fort William PH33 6SN
01397 702 177

The Highland Hotel
Union Road, Fort William PH33 6QY
01397 707 500

Bed & Breakfast in Fort William

The Grange
Grange Road, Fort William PH33 6JF
01397 705 516

Treetops Bed & Breakfast
Badabrie, Banavie, Fort William PH33 7LX
01397 772 496

Huntingtower Lodge
Druimarbin, Fort William PH33 6RP
01397 700 079

Crolinnhe Bed & Breakfast
Grange Road, Fort William PH33 6JF
01397 703 795

Buccleuch Guest House
Achintore Road, Fort William PH33 6RQ
01397 701 276

Hostels & Campsites in Fort William

Fort William Backpackers
Alma Road, Fort William PH33 6HB
01397 700 711

Bank Street Lodge
Bank Street, Fort William PH33 6AY
01397 700 070

Achintee Farm
Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6TE
01397 702 240

Glen Nevis Youth Hostel
Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6SY
01397 702 336

Glen Nevis Holidays Camping & Caravan Park
Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6SX
http://www.glen-nevis.co.uk

Fort William Visitor Attractions

  • Climb Ben Nevis (4,406 feet)
  • Aonach Mhor Ski Resort- Nevis Range
  • Nevis Range Mountain Experience
  • Witch’s Trails
  • Glencoe & Visitor Centre
  • Steall Meadows & Waterfall
  • Treasures of the Earth
  • The Nevis Centre Play Area 8. Cafe
  • The Lime Tree Gallery, Fort William
  • Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig
  • The West Highland Train Line
  • Crannog Wildlife Cruises Loch Linnhe
  • Seaventures Cruises
  • The Ice Factor, Kinlochleven
  • Glen Nevis & Visitor Centre
  • The West Highland Museum
  • Ben Nevis Distillery
  • The Great Glen Way to lnverness
  • Allta’ Mhuilinn Glen
  • Neptune’s Staircase & Caledonian Canal
  • Spean Bridge Commando Memorial
  • Snowgoose Mountain Centre
  • Glenfinnan Viaduct
  • Glenfinnan Monument Visitor Centre
  • Parallel Roads, Glen Roy

Fort William Useful Links

  • Nevis Range – Mountain Biking. Snowsports & Gondola: http://www.nevisrange.co.uk
  • The Nevis Centre – Childrens Play Area. Bowling & Cafe: http://www.neviscentre.co.uk
  • All about Ben Nevis: http://www.ben-nevis.com
  • Glencoe Visitor Centre: http://www.9lencoe-nts.org.uk/Visitor-Centre
  • Lochaber – Outdoor Capital of the UK: http://www.outdoorcapital.co.uk
  • To hire bikes: Nevis Cycles – http://www.neviscycles.com
  • For car hire in Fort William: Easy Drive – http://www.easydrivescotland.co.uk
  • For Canoes and Kayak hire: Rockhopper Sea Kayaking – http://www.rockhopperscotland.co.uk

Fort William Tourist Information Centre is located at 15 High Street, Fort William PH33 6DH and is open all year round.


Book a Private Photography Tour of the Fort William Area With Us

If you would like one of our guides to take you on a private photography tour of Fort William & District please Email us for a quote.

Book One of Our Edinburgh Tours

We offer several different private tours of Edinburgh, including a Photography Tour, a tour of Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town and a Hidden Gems Tour - all of which can be booked online, or by telephoning us on +44 (0) 7400 705 357.