Sitting on the shore of Loch Linnhe, Fort William (or An Gearasdan, “The Garrison”, in Scottish Gaelic) is a picturesque town and tourist hub in the Scottish Highlands. Much like Betws-y-Coed in Wales, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Whatever you fancy doing – whether it’s bagging a few Munros (more on Ben Nevis in the next post), trying your hand at sea kayaking or hitting the trails on a mountain bike – you can do it in Fort William. If you just fancy meandering round the town, that’s fine too. We spent a couple of days unwinding in Fort William at the end of our trip to Scotland, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone wanting a taste of the Highlands.
Our first port of call in Fort William was The Wildcat, an eclectic spot on the main street. Part-café part-store, it served up a fully vegan menu, complete with freshly-ground coffee, loose leaf teas and delicious oat-based hot chocolate. We couldn’t resist treating ourselves to one of their fudgy vegan brownies, studded with chocolate chips. If I lived in Fort William, I’d be calling in week in, week out, it was that good.
Since we didn’t have a plan, per se, for Fort William, we swung by Fort William iCentre to find out about local attractions. Ben Nevis Distillery piqued our interest, and after double-checking that we could access it sans voiture, we set off. Local buses stop a little way down the road from the distillery, but we opted for a scenic walk along the Great Glen Way.
En route, we passed through the picturesque ruins of Old Inverlochy Castle. It’s believed to be the oldest castle in Scotland, with settlements of various shapes and sizes having existed on the site since 790, when Charlemagne, King of France, signed a treaty with Achaius, King of the Picts.
The stronghold which still stands today dates back to the late 1200s, and a fair amount of blood has been shed on this patch over the years. Although some turrets have been roped off and few reinforcements added to preserve the castle, it’s in remarkably good shape and visitors are free to roam across much of the site.
From Old Inverlochy Castle, it wasn’t far to Ben Nevis Distillery, where we bought tickets for the next tour (a snip at £5pp). I’m not a big drinker by any stretch of the imagination, but when in Scotland . . .
Ben Nevis Distillery sources the water used in its whiskies from Ben Nevis itself, and our tour began with a viewing of The Legend of the Dew of Ben Nevis. We both looked at each other quizzically during the video, wondering what on earth we’d signed ourselves up for, but fortunately it picked up when we were led outside to explore the distillery.
Our enthusiastic guide took us through each stage of the process, from the barley deliveries (amounting to twenty-five tonnes a week) and fermentation to the distillation and storage of the finished product. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and as our group was quite small, there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions along the way.
Our time in Fort William was like a sandwich: a hearty hike up Ben Nevis as the filling (more on that next week), and a slice of Fort William either side. We’d spotted the West Highland Museum on our first day in Fort William and figured it was worth a visit, if only to escape the drizzle.
It turned out to be one of the best local museums I’ve ever visited, with artefacts aplenty and heaps of information on local history, costumes, culture and wildlife. I found the exhibition on the Commandos, elite soldiers which were trained in the mountains and valleys just north of Fort William, particularly interesting.
We then squeezed in a walk along Loch Lennhe, before heading to the Grog and Gruel for a bite to eat. Our last day in Fort William coincided with the World Cup Final, so naturally we piled into the nearest pub and spent the afternoon cheering on les grenouilles. No under-18s were allowed inside, but at one point a child ended up stood in front of me, his mum having nudged him in front of us so he’d have a good view of the screen, while she remained in the doorway. Much to Laurence’s amusement, one of the bartenders then asked me to kindly remove my child from the pub . . . Needless to say, I pointed him in the direction of the child’s mum and then promptly erupted in giggles.
- If you can’t stow your bags at your hotel on your last day and don’t want to lug them around town, make use of the lockers at the station. We paid £5 for 24hrs, and it was money well spent (after all, no-one wants to cart a 15kg pack around all day unnecessarily).
- Ben Nevis Distillery has several ticket options, but the standard ticket at £5pp is by far the best value option. If you want to try more whiskies at the end, you’ll pay a bit more for the privilege.
- Entry to the West Highland Museum is free, though donations are gratefully received. Check their website for opening times.