Lochaber is an area centred around the town of Fort William, situated on the west coast where the Geat Glen reaches the sea at Loch Linnhe.

It is a land of mountains and lochs. Britain’s highest summit, Ben Nevis, stands adjacent to Fort William itself and its accessability ensures that it is climbed by many thousands of tourists each summer. Nevis does not stand alone, however, for its neighbours include Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor, all fellow members of the select club of British mountains exceeding 4000 ft in altiude. Aonach Mor is home to Nevis Range, Britain’s only mountain cable car. Further afield, hillwalkers in Lochaber can tackle the Grey Corries range adjacent to the little town of Spean Bridge, or explore the extensive Mamores, a range of eleven Munros laying south of Ben Nevis and its neighbours. More sedate explorers can drive down and then wander along Glen Nevis, a pretty glen that winds its way between Ben Nevis and the Mamores. Its more public reaches are enlivened by the waterfalls at Polldubh and Steall, but beyond Steall it heads into remote and lonely moors, eventually to emerge at the railway halt at Corrour.

Corrour stands on the West Highland line, a feat of Victorian engineering that brought the railway to the west Highlands. In its journey from Glasgow to Fort William the line has run adjacent to Loch Lomond, traversed Glen Falloch and Strath Fillan, and run up past Glen Orchy to head across the empty wastes of Rannoch Moor. It enters Lochaber by a route that no road has ever touched, through Corrour and alongside Loch Treig, before emerging into Glen Spean at Tulloch. The line runs along Glen Spean and then into Fort William itself. The slightly newer Mallaig line leaves the West Highland line by a junction at Inverlochy to run along the north shore of Loch Eil to Glenfinnan, after which it leaves Lochaber for the remoter area of Morar. Steam trains run between Fort William and Mallaig in summer. 

An earlier Victorian engineering marvel, Thomas Telford’s Caledonian Canal, also begins its journey here in Lochaber. The canal runs along the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness, making use in turn of Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness. The seven mile stretch of towpath between Banavie and Gailochy are part of the Great Glen Way and make a delightful walk of cycle ride. Northwest of here is Lochaber’s remotest backwater, Loch Arkaig and the hills and moors to either side. The public road runs out at the west end of the loch and beyond it is the domain of the backpacker, the desolate Glen Dessary, a through route to the mountainous wilderness of Knoydart. Also of note to the walker and mountaineer is Glen Finnan, which runs north of the railway halt of the same name and which gives access to hills such as Sgur nan Coireachan and Streap. Fort William itself is, of course, the destination of the West Highland Way.

South of the Mamores is the extensive sea loch of Loch Leven, and the town of Kinlochleven stands at its head. Effectively a backwater since the Ballachulish bridge was built across the foot of the loch in the 1960’s, Kinlochleven still has a toehold in tourism; the West Highland Way runs through the town, the aluminium smelting plant has opened a visitor centre and curious visitors come here just because it’s here.

Finally, a word about Fort William itself. Originally callled Inverlochy, it was renamed in the aftermath of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite rebellion when a barracks was established here in the 1750’s. The town was effecively put on the map by the arrival of the railway in the late nineteenth century and since then it has assumed a position of strategic importance on the west coast, a junction of roads, railways and waterways. Although the town is in a magnificent setting and is handy for so many walking, climbing and sightseeing expeditions, it’s not a place worth visiting on its own merits. The town is, frankly, utilitarian bordering on ugly. Its high street has been pedestrianised and smartened up in recent years and is rather handsome, but its side streets and residential suburbs have nothing going for them. Its wost disgrace, however, is its seafront. The town likes to pretend that it’s not there. Any other town in a similar position would have made a major feature of its waterfront, certainly bulding a promenade, probably a parade of shops, and very likely adding visitor attractions and facilities. Fort William, however, routes its bypass along the front and faces it with its drabbest back street, a vista of loading bays and storage sheds and stained grey concrete. Another major criticism of the town is it lack of places to eat out in the evening – its visitors are not necessarily looking for gourmet treats but they do require fuel, and the few cheap cafes all close in the early evening well before most visitors have got back from their day’s outing and had a shower. If you want something to eat you’re stuck with McDonalds or the local chippy, or else an expensive a la carte job in a hotel dining room. Sorry, Fort William, could do better.

Gallery Index

Ben Nevis, 1981 / 1986

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This page last updated 17th June 2005