Scotland - Fort William and the West Highland Glens


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August 12th 2021
Published: August 12th 2021
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Me, Ben NevisMe, Ben NevisMe, Ben Nevis

Cow Hill Summit Walk
Dear All

Greetings from Fort William, in the Western Highlands of Scotland! Although it is not such a pretty town itself, its location is stunning – at the foot of mighty Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis (a glen is a flat-bottomed valley in between mountain ranges), and on the shores of beautiful Loch Linnhe. It is also a good base to explore nearby Glenfinnan to the west, and Glen Coe to the south, as well as being on the southern end of the Great Glen, linking Inverness to Fort William. There are certainly a lot of glens, as well as mountains, around here.

I arrived here on Tuesday after a short one-hour bus ride from Fort Augustus, and although I’m still in the “Highlands”, things feel really quite different here to what I’ve experienced so far. The Highlands I’ve seen so far have been dark, desolate and brooding, whereas here, and I imagine this is down to this being the wettest region of Great Britain, it is green, lush and beautiful. I have been based in Fort William for my three nights here, in my first ever experience of an Air BnB accommodation. I gave this a go last
StagsStagsStags

Glenfinnan
year when I was booking places in California, and when I couldn’t find anywhere within my budget on Booking.com in San Francisco – I made an Air BnB reservation instead. However, I had to cancel this trip due to the c-word, and thus this, here in Fort William, instead became my first Air BnB experience. I am staying in the spare room of a lovely English lady’s house on a very local council estate in a place called Upper Achintore, way above the town of Fort William below. As with Aviemore and Fort Augustus, many places here were already fully booked two months ago, so I gave Air BnB a whirl, and it seems to be ok so far. I feel a bit unusual being in somebody’s house, but it is a very nice local experience, away from the tourist hubbub of the centre of town, which is always what I enjoy the most.

I have very much enjoyed my time in Fort William. As mentioned, it is not a very attractive town, probably due to the fact that it is only a recent creation, having been founded by William of Orange in the late 17th century. Funnily enough
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan ViaductJacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan ViaductJacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Or, the Harry Potter Train passing over the Harry Potter Bridge
its name does not derive from this William, but from Prince William Augustus, better known as the Duke of Cumberland of the quelling of the Jacobite Uprising fame. Thus, along with Fort Augustus, it became another garrison town designed to bring order to the Highlands following the 1745 Uprising. Today it appears to my mind as a concrete stain on an otherwise beautiful lake, but is very popular with tourists due to its proximity to a number of nearby mountains and glens. It is known as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK”, and it certainly has its fair share of outdoors-y types of shops and people.

Perhaps Fort William is most famous for being the staging point for ascents of Britain’s highest mountain, the massive hulk of Ben Nevis which is just on the outskirts of town. At 1,345 metres, it is not only the highest mountain in Scotland, it is also the highest in the British Isles. It doesn’t sound very high compared to other global giants, but considering Fort William is on the coast of Lake Linnhe, a tidal loch with sea water at sea level, the great bulk of the mountain pretty much rises straight out of the sea, and climbing it you pretty much need to climb all 1,345 metres, with no added bonuses for starting at a high-up base camp or anything. I have had no intention of climbing the mountain though, just simply seeing it. When I see nature, I am the type of person who doesn’t want to conquer it, but to simply absorb and enjoy it. I have very much enjoyed seeing Britain’s highest mountain.

In fact, I did climb a small peak, though, on the afternoon of my arrival. After checking into my accommodation, I headed up a nearby trail around and up to the top of Cow Hill. At 298 metres high, I can say I scaled a peak in the Nevis range, at least! This was no mean feat, and coming down was very steep – my legs started to feel like jelly. But the views up there and on the top were just awesome. I could see right over Glen Nevis (Ben’s sister?!) below, and up to the heights of mighty Ben. Most of the time, the very top of the mountain was covered in cloud, except for a very short time after I had returned
Loch OichLoch OichLoch Oich

Bus to Fort William
to town in which I was able to snap a good picture of it uncovered. In fact, I was very lucky as Tuesday’s weather was wonderful, sunny and very warm, perfect for viewing the mountain. The view from Cow Hill also looked down towards Fort William below, the magnificent tidal Loch Linnhe upon which it sits, and Loch Eil in the far background. It was well worth the ascent, and although I can’t say I’ve climbed Ben Nevis, I can at least say I’ve climbed Cow Hill…!

After descending the hill, I popped by the nearby Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, with awesome views on the way down of the ascending track up the side of the mountain – not for the faint-hearted…! I then headed into the centre of town, to do some shopping at Morrisons, with the intention of either taking a bus or a taxi back to my accommodation with my three-days worth of self-catered food. However, after finishing my shopping, I learned that it was an hour’s wait until the next bus, and a 45-minute wait until the next available taxi. I decided to walk. It was only a mile-and-a-half. But my goodness, the climb was
Loch LochyLoch LochyLoch Lochy

Bus to Fort William
steep – it was a tough one, with all my shopping. Arriving back, puffing and panting, the host of my accommodation said that although she’s a fell runner and a rock climber, she would never make the ascent that I had just done. It was a tough one, and I was happy to rest my weary legs that night.

The next morning, I planned to spend the day in and around Glenfinnan to the west of here – a beautifully picturesque area, made very famous internationally by the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as the Harry Potter Bridge, and the Jacobite Steam Train, also known as the Harry Potter Train, which crosses it. Whilst I did not fork out the steep £49 for the return journey on said train, I did manage to plot a route for the day involving a public transport combination of two buses and one train. This also enabled me to witness the Steam Train actually crossing the bridge itself, a spectacle which could not be experienced if one were on the train, and it was just wonderful.

First up, a bus from right outside my accommodation took me all the way through Fort William,
Loch LochyLoch LochyLoch Lochy

Bus to Fort William
and out the other side, westwards across the northern shore of Loch Eil to the end of the bus route, at the Annat Point Industrial Estate. This wasn’t a particularly pretty place, but my plan was to walk around two miles westwards from here, along the northern shores of Loch Eil, to try to catch some nice views of the lake, towards the tiny Loch Eil train station. Unfortunately most of the journey was on a busy main road with the national speed limit in place, and I ended up walking on the very wet grassy verge for most of it. In addition, this was pretty much the wettest day of my travels so far, it rained heavily for pretty much most of the day. I began to get very wet, something that I was going to have to get used to for the day, but something which really didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the day.

Although the walk was a bit disappointing, mainly spent avoiding traffic, it was lovely to arrive at this tiny station in the middle of nowhere, which did have some good views over the lake and towards Ben Nevis in the distance. It also
Fort WilliamFort WilliamFort William

View over my Air BnB housing estate towards Loch Linnhe
had a sheltered waiting area, which was my home for around one-and-a-half hours, while I waited for my ongoing train to take me to Glenfinnan. I actually enjoyed my time there, taking my shoes and socks off to let my feet dry out for a bit, and having a few snacks and things to eat. The train to Glenfinnan soon arrived. It was a request stop, I was the only one getting on or off the train there, and only one door out of a four-train carriage opened to let me on – I loved the little train station!

The train ride was exciting, as after skirting the rest of the northern shore of Loch Eil, it headed towards and over the very famous Glenfinnan Viaduct – I managed to take a very rough photo of it from the train. I actually worked out that if I hot-footed it from Glenfinnan Station, along a rocky and steep footpath towards a viewing point over the Viaduct, that I could time my arrival with the passing of the Jacobite Steam Train. I only had fifteen minutes to make the half-mile journey, and it was a bit tough, but I thankfully arrived with a few minutes to spare. And yup, sure enough, not long after arriving, you could hear the chug-a-chug of the steam train coming up the valley, and even start to see the white steam coming out of distant rocky outcrops. It was exciting!

This part of the West Highland Line was originally built in 1901, to open up this rural and remote region of the country. Steam trains ran along the line until 1967, when they were replaced with diesel locomotives. However, steam trains began again along the line for tourism purposes in 1984, and in 1995 the service was called The Jacobite, based on the region’s connection to the Jacobite cause. The Glenfinnan Viaduct was also opened in 1901, as part of the West Highland Line project. Both the Jacobite train and the Viaduct were immortalised by the Harry Potter films, a number of which were filmed on location here between 2000 and 2009, and the very train itself became the Hogwarts Express! I believe the most famous clip is when Harry and Ron fly over the viaduct and the train in Mr Weasley’s Ford Anglia in the Chamber of Secrets, and I spotted a very funny
Ben NevisBen NevisBen Nevis

Cow Hill Summit Walk
notice in the area requesting that if anyone has seen such a car, missing since 2002, they should report it to Glenfinnan Station!

So shortly after my arrival at the viewpoint, the steam train passed over the viaduct in all its glory, chug-a-chugging and choo-chooing on the way. What a highlight! After this, I walked around the structure for quite a bit, admiring its beauty, before heading on to the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre. This place was awash with visitors, so I tried to spend as little time there as possible, mainly taking a walk up to another nearby viewpoint, with great views again over the viaduct, and also out to the beautiful Loch Shiel to the south.

At 18 miles long, Loch Shiel is actually Scotland’s fourth longest loch, and is also rather deep at 120 metres. At its northern point, where the tiny village of Glenfinnan stands, is another important place in Jacobite history. It marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard and rallied the Jacobite clans on 19th August 1745, marking the start of his 20-month campaign which culminated in the Battle of Culloden in April 1746. At this location, the Glenfinnan Monument
Loch LinnheLoch LinnheLoch Linnhe

Cow Hill Summit Walk
was erected in 1815 commemorating the occasion. The monument and the lake made for some great photos on this rainy day, and despite being wet, I enjoyed my time there very much. I then found a nearby bus shelter, and took the opportunity to remove my shoes and socks again to allow my feet to dry once more, and enjoy a rest and something to eat. Walking through the small village a short while later, I came upon two large stags, and took some really good photos of them, which I am pleased with. All that remained was to wait for a bus which would take me all the way back the way I came, back to Fort William, and then another bus which would take me up to the top of the steep slopes of Upper Achintore to dry off after such a wonderful, but rather sopping, day.

Thursday, my final full day in Fort William, was much drier – the sun was even out in the morning, although there were showers again by the afternoon. I’ve come to notice that the weather here in the west of Scotland is very changeable, and rather unpredictable. Even the Met
SignpostSignpostSignpost

Cow Hill Summit Walk
Office weather forecast has got it wrong a few times these last few days. I walked to the bus station in Fort William from my accommodation, walking downhill from Upper Achintore rather than uphill, which was much more manageable. From there, another bus took me onto perhaps Scotland’s most famous glen, Glen Coe. I got off the bus at the Glencoe Visitor Centre, and planned a lovely walk to Glencoe Village, around a few local places of interest, but mainly to admire the amazing views around this pretty stunning valley surrounded by towering mountains on both sides. It would have been wonderful to have travelled through the whole eight miles of the glen, but relying on public transport with a bus only every two hours would have made this a bit tricky logistically. I was happy to have done what I did, pretty much the first two miles of it.

Glen Coe is famous for being a prominent film location in Scotland, with films such as Braveheart, Rob Roy, Skyfall and Harry Potter all being filmed there. It is also the infamous location of the Glencoe Massacre, in which around 30 members of Clan MacDonald were killed in 1692
Ben NevisBen NevisBen Nevis

Cow Hill Summit Walk
by Scottish government forces for allegedly failing to pledge allegiance to William and Mary. This all comes from the troubled times concerning the Stuart Royal Family succession which culminated in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, and its subsequent quashing the following year. The period of time from the mid-17th to the mid-18th century appears to have been quite a troubled time in Scotland.

Today, Glen Coe is simply beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there very much. After having a quick dekko in the Glencoe Visitor Centre to gain my bearings, I plotted out a course for the day. I first walked south and eastwards into the Glen from the Visitor Centre, heading for a small hill called An Torr (literally meaning “The Hill” in Gaelic). This area marks the entrance proper to the steep-sided river valley, and made for some wonderful photos down the middle of the cavernous route that the River Coe has carved out through these mountains. I then headed along a lovely country road called the Old Glencoe Road, stopping off at a site marked on Google Maps as “Site Where Hagrid’s Hut was Filmed”. Sure enough, after a steep climb through a swathe of ferns,
Ben NevisBen NevisBen Nevis

Cow Hill Summit Walk
the site was there, and although the hut is there no more, it was a beautiful view and matched my Google Image search of Hagrid’s Hut to a tee.

My walk continued northwards towards Glencoe Village, and just before getting there I headed off to the north-east, towards nearby Glencoe Lochan. This is an artificial lake surrounded by planted North American trees, created in 1895 by local Lord Strathcona for his homesick native American and Canadian wife Isabella. The place is reminiscent of north-west USA landscapes, and British Colombia, and I couldn’t help noticing along my whole journey similarities between parts of Scotland and parts of Canada. Perhaps this is why many Scotsfolk emigrated to Canada in the 19th century, for a small taste of home. From Glencoe Lochan, I headed into Glencoe Village, spectacularly located on Loch Leven. The whole beauty of this part of Scotland is amazing – everywhere you look there’s a mountain, a valley, a lake, with awe-some views all around.

I then took the bus from Glencoe Village back to Fort William, pretty much wrapping up my time in this part of Scotland. Whilst the area around Fort William is absolutely stunning, and
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Cow Hill Summit Walk
the landscapes captivating and mesmerising, it does feel much more touristy around here, and perhaps as a result, I haven’t found the local people as friendly as in other parts of Scotland. It’s a shame I find that when places become too touristy, the local population seem to become quite irritated with tourists. I can understand their perspective though, as car- and caravan-loads of often grumpy families arriving constantly must be quite disruptive to one’s way of life. But I do prefer to be in parts of a country where a tourist is made to feel more welcome than here. It seems it is time for me to move on.

Tomorrow I head to my final destination of this trip – Glasgow! I’m really quite excited, as I’m very much a fan of gritty off-the-tourist-track cities, and Glasgow seems to fit the bill from what I’ve heard. I plan to write up my final blog entry after I return from Glasgow to Sheffield, to finish off this series of blog entries on my amazing time travelling in Scotland. This should be by the middle of next week sometime.

So until then, thank you for reading, and all the
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Cow Hill Summit Walk
very best for now 😊

Alex


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12th August 2021

You mentioned that "The period of time from the mid-17th to the mid-18th century appears to have been quite a troubled time in Scotland." I can't name a period that was peaceful. If the Scots weren't fighting the English, they were fighting each other. There was a short period without fighting so one of my ancestors got bored and joined the Teutonic Knights and died fighting in Gdansk, Poland where his coat of arms is on the city gate. I didn't lose any ancestors at Culloden that I know of; but many died in the Battle of Flodden Field, and many other battles, Their spouses remarried and continued to have children making the family tree having many lateral lines. I've been joying your blogs and can't wait to visit next June!
13th August 2021

Peace
Ah, that's a good point, Scotland does have a troubled history in general! It does seem rather peaceful now at least 😊 Great to hear you've rescheduled your trip Bob, I look forward to reading about your ancestral explorations here in Scotland next year. Thank you for reading my blogs 😊
22nd August 2021
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Train travel
Nice photograph!
23rd August 2021
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Train travel
Thanks Merry :)
23rd August 2021

I love the philosophy that you do not need to conquer but want to absorb and enjoy. We hike from time to time but embrace this philosophy with mountains and such. Bravo on Cow Hill. I enjoyed the story about the steam train. We enjoy going places that have been in movies. I always appreciate the way you include the history in the area along with your adventures. Keep traveling.
23rd August 2021

Travel Philosophy
Interesting to hear we share the same philosophy on mountains and nature. Thank you for Cow Hill - that was an accomplishment for me, lol! :) I also love visiting places I've seen in films - there is so much on that in the USA to see! Thanks for your lovely comments as always Merry Jo and Dave :)
23rd August 2021
Stag

A big one
He's keeping an eye on you.
23rd August 2021
Stag

A big one
Lol, indeed - he outdid me in the staring...!
1st September 2021

Scotland
Looks so beautiful. Scotland is really appealing for a future adventure. I have a friend backpacking who was also there recently but looks like she was there after you on the 25th and got very lucky with the weather with stunning blue sky photos.
2nd September 2021

Scotland
Thanks Alan, I really enjoyed my time in Scotland, and I don't think I would have given it such a long stint had we not been in this tricky situation. Ah, blue skies in the Highlands must have been nice, but I also enjoyed the rain and the grey days, it added a beautiful moodiness to the landscape I thought. Thanks for reading my blog Alan :)
25th October 2021
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Great Review!
Although I don't remember much from my own visit to Ft. William & Ben Nevis many years ago, I do have some memories of the Battle of Culloden monument and a song about the murder of the McDonalds ("Oh cruel is the snow that swept Glencoe.....")! As a Harry Potter fan, I'm a bit jealous over the fact that you saw THE Jacobite steam train (Hogwarts Express) and the Glenfinnan Viaduct!! Kudos for summiting Cow Hill, braving the rain and getting some smashing photos of this area!
25th October 2021
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Thank you!
Lovely to read that you recognise so many of the places in my Fort William blog entry 😊 I was really quite fortunate to time my arrival at the viaduct with the crossing of the train. Despite the rain, I have some great memories of my visit to Fort William and around. Thank you for reading Sylvia 😊
25th October 2021
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Oh yes, and great photo of the stags!!
25th October 2021
Jacobite Train Passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Stags
Thank you 😊
30th October 2021
Loch Shiel

"I am Connor Macleod of the Clan Macleod. I was born in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel and I am immortal." Oh, I so have to go to Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan next time I go to Scotland. (The quote is from the movie Highlander in case it is unknown to you) /Ake
31st October 2021
Loch Shiel

Highlander
Ah, I've been meaning to watch that film. This has given me further inspiration to look out for it. I didn't realise he was from Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel. Thank you for sharing 😊
30th October 2021
Funny Notice!

That's cute
I love that one!/Ake
31st October 2021
Funny Notice!

Amusing
Lol, I also find it amusing!

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