Fort William

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Fort William
Gaelic: An Gearasdan
From Fassifern Road - - 185187.jpg
Fort William
Grid reference: NN103738
Location: 56°49’1"N, 5°6’35"W
Population: 9,908  (2001)
Post town: Fort William
Postcode: PH33
Dialling code: 01397
Local Government
Council: Highland
Ross, Skye and Lochaber

Fort William is the largest town in Inverness-shire after the City of Inverness, and indeed the largest after Inverness in the Highlands. It is a town in and of the Highlands, surrounded by high and beauteous mountains.

Fort William is a major tourist centre with Glen Coe just to the south, Aonach Mòr to the north and Glenfinnan to the west, on the Road to the Isles. The town is an important centre for hillwalking and climbing as Ben Nevis stands high above the town and many other Munro mountains rise nearby; Fort William markets itself as the "Outdoor Capital of the UK". It is also known for its nearby downhill mountain bike track and its connection to the West Highland Way from Glasgow and the Great Glen Way; a walk/cycle way from Inverness to Fort William through the Great Glen.

It is mainly an English-speaking town, but at the 2001 census around 726 people, which would be 7.33% of the population, could speak Gaelic.

Name of the town

Fort William is named for King William III, in whose days the Cromwellian fort here was rebuilt. The town’s Gaelic name is not an ancient place-name for this loch shore but from the same source; ‘’An Gearasdan’’ means "The Garrison".

The town around the fort was originally named “Maryburgh” after William’s queen and co-regent, Queen Mary II. Later it was renamed "Gordonsburgh", and then "Duncansburgh"[1] before settling with the name "Fort William".

The town and thereabouts

Glen Nevis

Fort William lies at the southern end of the Great Glen. It is near the head of the Highlands’ longest sea loch, Loch Linnhe, beside the mouth of the River Nevis and River Lochy. The two rivers join in the intertidal zone to become briefly one river before their water flow into the sea.

Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, stands immediately by the town to the east and the whole height from sea level by the loch shore to the summit may be climbed from Fort William. Glen Nevis runs nearby too.

When the railway opened to Fort William on 7 August 1894, the station was given prime position at the south end of the town. The consequence was that the town was separated from the lochside by railway tracks until the 1970s when the present by-pass was built, and the station was re-located to the north end.

The town is centred on the High Street, which was pedestrianised in the 1990s. Off this there are several squares. Monzie Square (named after the Cameron Campbells of Monzie in Perthshire, former landowners in the town), Station Square, where the long-since demolished railway station used to be, Gordon Square (named for the Gordons, who owned land where the town now stands in the late 18th century, during which time the town was named Gordonsburgh), and Cameron Square, formerly known as Town Hall Square.

The main residential areas of the town are unseen from the high street or the A82 main road. Upper Achintore and the Plantation spread steeply uphill from above the high street.

St Andrew's Church

Inverlochy, Claggan, Lochyside, Caol, Banavie and Corpach outwith the town are the other main residential areas. These areas are built on much flatter land than the town.

Nearby is Glenfinnan, 17 miles, home of the Glenfinnan Monument and the famous viaduct (as seen on a Bank Of Scotland £10 note[2]).

Just outside the town is a large aluminium plant operated by Alcan and powered by the Lochaber hydroelectric scheme,[3] in its day the biggest tunnelling project in the world. This was formerly served by the Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway better known locally as the Puggy Line.


Historically, this area of Lochaber was strongly Clan Cameron country, and there were a number of mainly Cameron settlements in the area such as Blarmacfoldach. The nearby settlement of Inverlochy was the main settlement in the area before the building of the fort, and was also site of the Battle of Inverlochy.

Fort William from Loch Linnhe

The town grew up as a settlement next to a fort constructed to control the population after Oliver Cromwell's invasion during the English Civil War, and then to suppress the Jacobite uprisings which followed the Glorious Revolution. The coming of King William was not received so well by all the clans as by Scotland as a whole and so a fort was planted here to ensure a garrison in case of trouble. The fort was named for the King and the village that grew around it was called "Maryburgh", after the Queen. At the end of the last Highland troubles, the ’45 Rebellion in 1745, Fort William played its part in the brutal task of finally bringing peace to the Highlands.

During the Second World War, Fort William was the home of HMS St Christopher which was a training base for Royal Navy Coastal Forces.

Fort William is the northern end of the West Highland Way, a long distance route which runs 95 miles through the Scottish Highlands to Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, and the start/end point of the Great Glen Way, which runs between Fort William and Inverness.


Arrival of the overnight sleeper train from London

The West Highland Line passes through Fort William. Owing to the difficult terrain in the area, the line from Glasgow, to the south, enters from the northeast and trains from Glasgow to Mallaig, the terminus of the line, have to reverse at Fort William railway station.[4]

The Caledonian Canal connects the Scottish east coast at Inverness with the west coast at Corpach near Fort William.


Mountain Biking

Just outside the town, parallel to the Nevis Range Gondola there is a large downhill mountain bike track, this attracts thousands every year, including international competitors and fans. Alongside this, there are the "Witches Trails."

Each year since 2001, Fort William has hosted a round of UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, and in 2007 it hosted the UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships ('The Worlds'). Also a trials competition is held, at the various courses at the bottom. The four-cross track is used and the Witches trail gets used for this cross-country competition.

Motorcycle trials

Fort William is the home of the Scottish Six Day Motorcycle Trial (the SSDT), held annually in the first full week of May. It attracts many competitors from all across the globe and in 2011 the event will be celebrating its centenary year.


Fort William has two major shinty teams, Fort William Shinty Club and Kilmallie Shinty Club.

Film location

Fort William High Street

Films filmed in or near Fort William include:

  • Being Human
  • Braveheart
  • Highlander
  • Restless Natives'
  • Harry Potter and
  • Rob Roy’’


In a celebration of mountains and the culture that surrounds them, and in recognition of the importance of climbing and walking tourism to the town, the Fort William Mountain Film Festival is held there each year. For a number of years this volunteer led festival has concentrated mostly around film but, starting in the Year of Highland Culture - Highland 2007, its scope was widened, and it dropped the 'film' from its title.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Fort William)


  • MacCulloch, Donald B. (1971). Romantic Lochaber. Chambers. ISBN 0-550-50347-1.