Fort William Things to Do

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    One of the Great Railway Journeys in the World

    by Drever Updated Feb 19, 2014

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    The Jacobite Steam Train
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    Described as one of the great railway journeys of the world the 84 mile round trip from Fort William to Mallaig takes in a list of impressive extremes. Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it visits Britain's most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig. It passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest sea water loch in Europe, Loch Nevis at Mallaig.

    My wife and I had intended taking this trip for several years and finally got around to it. We travelled up to Fort William by train. Parts of the journey from Glasgow to Fort William brought gasps from the Japanese on board and cameras were snapping at a rapid pace. It had been damp and wet and the rain was just clearing leaving wisps cloud and mist hovering around the mountains. If this was just a forerunner for the much-vaunted scenic stretch from Fort William to Mallaig then the journey promised much.

    Because the rail timetable to Fort William doesn’t allow a connection to the steam train an overnight stay in Fort William was necessary. It is a town we had passed through on various occasions but never stopped in so it offered something new in itself. Fort William is the largest town in the Highlands. Situated at the southern end of the Great Glen it lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. The town centre itself consists of one main street on which are plenty of shops, some aimed at tourists others more practical. In the square a performance by pipers takes place most evenings. If time allows it is worth visiting The West Highland Museum’s collections which tell the story of the region and its history.

    Next morning we arrived 30 minutes before the Jacobite steam train departure time of 10:20. It allowed me time to get up on the footplate and take some photos of the controls. How different from a modern train. The controls consist essentially of a series of taps or valves to control the flow of steam. This is the same train that appears in the ‘Harry Potter’ films with the name Hogwarts on the engine. They used some of the First-class coaches attached to this train for the purpose – of an old design these resemble a series of stage coaches fastened together. Our carriage was of an open design with seats facing on to a small table. It meant that some passengers were travelling forward and others backwards. The carriage was clean and tidy with regular rubbish collections and friendly staff.

    Finally we were off with the engine belching steam and smoke and perhaps occasionally fire. This track notorious for its gradients and tight curves, neither of which are locomotive friendly forced some tremendous demonstrations of the steam engine hard at work – sights and sounds which we enjoyed from the comfort of the train. We had a route map allowing us to follow our progress.

    We crossed the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct made famous in the ‘Harry Potter’ films. It overlooks Loch Shiel and the Jacobite monument placed where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed to raise his banner. Being in a rear carriage as the train curved round we saw the engine and front carriages cross the viaduct. The train stopped at Glenfinnan station allowing us to stretch our legs. The restored station building there contains The West Highland Railway Museum.

    The next station on the line is Lochailort. There are seven tunnels within a few miles of it, the longest being 350 yards long. At the head of Loch nan Uamh, three miles west of Lochailort, is the eight-arch Gleann Mama Viaduct. Though smaller than the Glenfinnan Viaduct, there are those who feel that with its coastal setting the Gleann Mama is even more inspiring.

    Next comes Arisaig. From this tranquil village it is possible to take the boat, ‘The Sheerwater’ to the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna during the summer months. Just a few miles before Mallaig is Morar a small Highland village and crofting community with a population of around 250. The area has stunning scenery and the famous Silver Sands of Morar. It has provided locations for films such as Local Hero and Rob Roy. Loch Morar is the deepest freshwater loch and Morar River the shortest mainland river in Britain.

    The end of the line, Mallaig is a busy fishing port and ferry terminal with services to Skye and the Small Isles. Arriving in Mallaig we had over an hour and a half to enjoy a walk round and take in the atmosphere: there are shops, bars, and restaurants. As the town had suddenly become crowded with the arrival of the train it took us some to find a restaurant with an empty table. In the remaining time I had a quick look around Mallaig Heritage Centre which to do it justice would have needed longer time to absorb the history of the village. The arrive of the railway had provided the stimulus for a tremendous expansion of the fishing port.

    The Jacobite returned to Fort William in time to catch a service train to Glasgow although we stayed overnight in Fort William and took the train the next day. We certainly had had a memorable journey.

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    The West Highland Museum

    by SallyM Updated Aug 25, 2013
    West Highland Museum
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    This is a small museum, which aims to 'record, preserve and interpret items of significance and historical interest to the West Highland area', quite an ambitious aim for a museum of its size. Founded in 1922, it is one of the oldest local museums in the Highlands.

    Downstairs, the room called 'The Governor's Office' has the panelling from the office in the old fort, from which the order for the massacre at Glencoe was given in December 1691. Another notable exhibit in this room is the 'birching table'. The poor unfortunate due for punishment had to lie on the table with his arms secured through holes in the surface, and was beaten with a birch broom,

    Also downstairs are exhibits on local wildlife, including a stuffed golden eagle, and a small room which covers 'archaeology and mountaineering'. Exhibits include Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts.

    Upstairs are exhibits of Victorian costume (including an outfit given to John Brown by Queen Victoria), the Jacobites, and highland life. Of particular interest is a tray with a hidden picture of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which can only be seen once a polished decanter is placed in the centre.

    It is worth purchasing a copy of the guidebook. This provides a lot of information about Highland life and history, rather than simply describing the layout of the Museum or highlighting important exhibits.

    Open April-October: Monday -Saturday 10-5; Mar, Nov, Dec: Monday-Saturday 10-4

    Admission is free - but please give a donation to museum costs.

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    • Historical Travel
    • Museum Visits

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    HMS St Christopher

    by SallyM Updated Apr 3, 2013
    HMS St Christopher Memorial

    During World War II, Coastal Forces were billeted in Fort William, where they were trained in small boat management.

    The men were billeted in the Highland, Waverley and Grand Hotels, but the Royal Navy gave them the collective name of 'HMS St Christopher'. Veterans hold reunions at the Highland Hotel, where a memorial has been erected. I understand that the Highland Hotel staff are quite used to veterans or their families paying a visit.

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    • Historical Travel
    • Seniors

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    Crannog Cruises

    by SallyM Updated Mar 29, 2013
    Crannog Cruises
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    Crannog Cruises offer 90 minute cruises of Loch Linnhe from the town pier in Fort William. We went on a very clear day, so had excellent views from the main deck. There is also a lower enclosed deck (with a cafe) for when the weather isn't so good.

    The cruise takes you past a salmon farm and a mussel farm, and there are opportunities to see sea birds, seals and even red deer on the hillsides. I have to admit I didn't actually manage the spot the red deer that was supposed to be visible on the skyline, though I did see a cormorant and a shag. The best part is the view of Ben Nevis. From one particular spot it resembles an elephant.

    Tickets cost £12.50 a person.

    Related to:
    • Sailing and Boating
    • Birdwatching
    • Photography

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  • SallyM's Profile Photo

    The Fort...

    by SallyM Written Mar 28, 2013
    The Old Fort, Fort William

    Not a lot of the actual fort at Fort William remains, to be honest, but you can visit the site, where there are information panels about the history of the fort.

    A fort called Inverlochtie was built here in 1654 by the Cromwellian General Monk. It fell into disuse after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, but in 1690 a new fort was built on the old foundations, and named Fort William after the then king, William II.

    It was from this fort that the Governor, Colonel John Hill, gave orders for the massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, the MacDonald chief having been too slow to sign the oath of allegiance to the king. The panelling from the Governor's office can now be seen in the West Highland Museum.

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    • Castles and Palaces

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    Commando Memorial

    by JessieLang Written Jun 13, 2012

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    The Commando Memorial is 8 miles northeast of Fort William. The original commandos served in World War II, and trained at a nearby castle. The site also has a Garden of Remembrance, containing ashes and memorabilia from those commandos and some more recent ones. It also has a good view of the mountains.

    I wouldn't consider it a destination, but it is definitely worth a stop if you are going by. It isn't far off the road, and there is no charge to enter.

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    Secret Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie

    by Kettleman Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The West Highland Musem is a great place to spend an afternoon when the weather is none too kind outside.

    The highlight for me is the seemingly abstract painted cylinder, rhwn combined with a mirror shows a likeless of the Jacobite leader Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender to the throne of Scotland and indeed England.

    Read more courtesy of: http://www.gotoscotland.nu/factsheets/Bonnie%20Prince%20Charlie%202005.pdf

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    Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

    by Skibbe Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The lighthouse
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    We were told about this by our B&B owner and were glad we went. This lighthouse is at the western most point of the British mainland and is the only Egyptian style lighthouse built in Scotland. Incidentally, we were told that all the lighthouses in Scotland were built by members of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson's family. This was built in 1849 and is still operational although now automated.

    You can go up in the lighthouse, which is a pretty steep climb, in 30 minute intervals. Reserve a time at the ticket booth. There's a small gift store and a snack bar at the ticket booth and an interesting exhibition on your walk to the lighthouse. At the top, there is someone there not so much to do a presentation but to answer any questions.

    The drive out there is quite an adventure--about 3 hours from Fort William with much of it on one lane roads where you have to get over when a car is coming from the other direction. And you have to wait on the sheep a few times. It is a worthwhile drive, though, for the incredible scenery. Just concentrate and keep your speed down and you'll be fine.

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    Neptune's Staircase - Caledonian Canal

    by vichatherly Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Neptunes Staircase

    Neptune's Staircase is the longest of the three staircase flights on the Caledonian Canal, the coast-to-coast Highland waterway.

    We spent a lovely afternoon watch the boats go up and down on the eight locks.

    There are a few pubs and cafes alongside the canal for your to enjoy the ups and downs of the boats that pass through.

    Related to:
    • Family Travel
    • Backpacking
    • Sailing and Boating

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  • vichatherly's Profile Photo

    Take a trip on a gondola ride up to see Ben Nevis

    by vichatherly Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Nevis Range Mountain Gondola

    If yo decide that you are not going to climb up Britain's highest mountain, then the next best thing I would suggest is to get along to the Nevis Range Ski Station.

    Take the 1 1/2 mile gondola ride up to the 655m high station. At the station you get spectacular views in the summer of Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis.

    Reurn Trip Costs%
    Adult £7.75
    Child (5-17 yrs) £4.75
    Under 5's Free

    There is the Snowgoose restaurant and bar at the top of the gondolas, and there are great views from the outside balconys.

    The gondola also takes you to the start of the downhill mountain bike track, and we saw some crazy people hurtling down and then getting their bikes on the next gondola and doing it all again.

    Related to:
    • Mountain Climbing
    • Skiing and Boarding
    • Family Travel

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    Ferry to Skye

    by frank_delargy Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Looking back toward Mallaig

    I just heard that the Skye bridge is now free! An alternative route to Skye is to go to Mallaig and take the ferry. It is a lovely ride and we actually got to see some whales on the trip over. Also, if you are taking the train to Mallaig, this will get you onto Skye quite efficiently.
    Car costs about 14 pounds, person about 2.50 pounds

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    Glencoe

    by frank_delargy Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Glencoe

    About 20 miles south of Fort William is Glen Coe, a striking glen with steep walls and a wonderful, but tragic story. Glencoe has some wonderful mountains and has been used by some to train for climbing Everest.
    There is a visitors center in Glencoe that will give an overview of the surrounding geology (ancient volcanic) and of the story of the Campbells and MacDonalds. The brief version: The loyal (sold out to the English) Campbell clan snuck up on the Sleeping MacDonald clan (not too friendly to the English) and slaughtered them in their sleep. There is still a touch of contempt between the clans today.
    I married a MacDonald, My brother dated a Campbell :-)

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    • Adventure Travel
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Historical Travel

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  • Strongly advisable to book steam train

    by fortbill Written May 23, 2010

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    Many are left disapointed after travelling to Fort William only to find the steam train is booked up. You cannot buy tickets at the station, the only way is on the website or by phone. It is almost always full.

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    Train trip to Mallaig

    by Manara Updated Apr 4, 2010

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    The train in Fort William station

    Taking a trip to Mallaig by train means travelling through a wonderful scenery. It has even more charm if you travel with the old steam train, that operates only in summer.
    This steam train has become even more popular after the first movie of the Harry Potter series, but I assure you that it was already popular enough before.
    As it is a special train, rail passes are not valid for a trip on it. The difference of price between a single ticket and a return one is very small, so most people obviously travel back with the same steam train. However, this means having a very short time in Mallaig, just enough for a quick lunch. So if you wish to take advantage of your short stay in Mallaig to take some pictures it is advisable to bring along a sandwich lunch and eat it on the train.

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    • Trains

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    Walk through Steale Gorge

    by frank_delargy Updated Mar 3, 2010

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    Jessica and I above Steale Gorge
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    When you get to the end of the Glen Nevis road, continue on the footpath, through Steale Gorge and you will come out into a beautiful Glen with a lovely waterfall. See the next tip for a discussion of the rope (wire) bridge.
    The waterfall is the one used in one of the Harry Potter movies.

    Related to:
    • Photography
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Adventure Travel

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