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It is hard indeed to love Fort William, the self-styled Outdoor Capital of the UK. Nothing new about that, Frank Cowper described it 100 years ago as "not a lively place" and "Its chief rasion d'etre now appears to be to act as a kind of Scotch Chamonix to the Mont Blanc of the British Isles".
Unlike Oban which embraces the sea, Fort William not only turns its back on the sea but it then builds a 40mph dual carriageway and some very unpleasant housing to cut itself off from the sea completely — the 'Outdoor' clearly does not include the sea. The anchorage is not at all pleasant, and is exposed. However, in 2016 a small and rather cramped transit pontoon opened, mostly for cruise-ship shore boats, and maybe visiting yachts too if they are not too big (there are plans to extend this facility). However, if you do get stuck in Fort William, there are some things worth doing.
The main street is pleasantly traffic free which is where you will find the West Highland Museum (ph 01397 702 169), originally a bank, built in 1840. It is free so put a donation in the box, rather eccentric in its layout, and it majors on the Jacobites. I had not seen a birching table before — ideal for tying down a recalcitrant child and giving them a good thrashing (not allowed these days of course).
Naturally there are plenty of shops and a very good Morrisons supermarket — not as classy as Waitrose but very adequate nonetheless. And in 2017, a reversal of a UK-wide trend — a bookshop opened rather than closed, The Highland Bookshop. And it is really nice — airy, spacious, friendly, well organised, great selection of outdoor and Scottish books, and some second hand (provided by the even friendlier second hand bookshop next door). For coffee and buns go to the Wildcat across the road — I didn't realise the cappucinno was vegan until after I had enjoyed it.
For seafood go to the excellent Crannog restaurant in the converted bait shed on the Town Pier where you can beach your dinghy, opened in 1989 to provide fresh local seafood direct from those who caught or farmed it. Mind you the paintings on the wall are not really to my taste (ph 01397 705 589). The Lime Tree Hotel, restaurant and art gallery (ph 01397 701 806) is as the name implies both an art gallery (well regarded and quite big) and I am told a very nice restaurant which features in a lot of guides, and there are beds too. The Stables Restaurant is a fairly recent addition, and is getting good write-ups, but I have not been there (ph 01397 700730).
The Nevis Centre opened what seems to be a rather intermittent cinema in 2016, not many films listed on their website the last time I looked.
I have not been to the 13th century Old Inverlochy castle. It is about a mile out of town towards Inverness (follow the Great Glen Way), just where the railway to Mallaig crosses the River Lochy. 'Pevsner' describes it as 'unloved'.
Maybe the best ‘trip’ is to take the Jacobite steam train which in the summer runs up and down the fabulous 84-mile single track railway line to Mallaig, over the Glenfinnan viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films (ph 01524 737 751). It was opened in 1901 and thankfully, unlike the Ballachulish line, it remains not just open but actually used.
Given the proximity of the railway and bus stations, you can change crew here quite easily, but then it is not a place to linger in — better to base yourself in Camas nan Gall and take the ferry.
Finally, there is a webcam to tell you if it is raining.
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A sunny day in Fort William
The Crannog restaurant