Car-free adventures aroundFort WilliamHighland

Outdoor capital of the UK, gateway to Ben Nevis, end of the West Highland Way, start of the Great Glen Way: Fort William is famous for energetic adventures. There are certainly plenty of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking, kayaking and cable car rides in the summer months. But it’s also a great area to visit in less crowded seasons, to appreciate the misty stillness of a loch or the birdsong round a poignant memorial. Late autumn is especially impressive, when not just trees but whole landscapes turn gold. Here are some spectacular ways to enjoy the Highland scenery by train, bus, boat, bike and (relatively) gentle strolls

  • County: Highland
  • Great for: boat trips | family | history | nature reserve | scenic train | walking |
  • Refreshments: pubs, cafes and restaurants
  • Please note: researched/updated October 2019. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch: features@goodjourney.org.uk
  1. 3. Magical Glenfinnan

    Combine the ride to Mallaig and back with a few hours in Glenfinnan for a really great day out. Harry Potter has made the Glenfinnan Viaduct famous. The Hogwarts Express crosses it in several of the films and Harry nearly falls out of a flying car above it when he and Ron are chasing the steam train. But this is a magical place for real people too, with a wealth of natural and historical sights: Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard here in 1745 at the start of the Jacobite rebellion, a year before the battle of Culloden, and an 18m-high monument on the shore of Loch Shiel now commemorates the clansmen who died in the campaign.

    • Catch the first train in the morning at 8.30am from Fort William station and enjoy the views all the way to Mallaig. The train waits here for fifteen minutes so there’s time – if you’re quick – to pick up provisions from the Bakehouse (turn right to the old quay) before it leaves again.
    • Make sure you don’t miss train back, though (unless you want to spend the day in Mallaig). Get off at Glenfinnan and visit the Station Museum on the opposite platform – a friendly heritage centre with a tearoom and bunkhouse in old train carriages. Besides rail memorabilia and info about the viaduct, they have local walking maps.
    • Follow the trails on the map for a tailor-made day to suit your interests and the weather. The Viaduct Trail along the hillside behind the station is a rewarding mile or so with great views.
    • Walking down through the towering arches of the viaduct (or directly along the road), you reach the National Trust Scotland visitor centre with a café (open all year) and exhibition about the Jacobite rising. Two people get in for the price of one when you arrive by train.
    • You can buy tickets here to climb the 18-metre monument on the shore of Loch Shiel. There’s a small spiral staircase to the top and the roof is accessed through a tiny hatch, but the views are worth it.
    • Two new Forestry Commission trails begin on a wooden walkway opposite the visitor centre. The mile-long Pinewood Trail – over a footbridge and over a small hill is particularly rewarding. You could even walk beside the river on the Callop Viewpoint Trail or by the loch all the way to Polloch.
    • Heading back through Glenfinnan village, take the road marked Slaatch past the Glenfinnan House Hotel. Loch Shiel cruises leave in season from the nearby pier. Carry on along the road and up the path beyond to get back to the station.
  1. 4. Scenic bus (and boat and bike) rides

    Shiel buses operates several useful routes into the countryside and – unusually for rural buses – they run on Sundays too. You can cross Loch Linnhe on the Camusnagaul Ferry and stroll through the woods beyond. There are also longer boat trips in summer along the loch from the Crannog waterfront restaurant.

    • The local bus N44 to Glencoe, run by Shiel Buses, holds its own even in a land of beautiful bus routes. It runs alongside Loch Linnhe, then crosses the bridge at Ballacullish and runs along scenic Loch Leven to Glencoe.
    • The village has a seasonal museum in a whitewashed cottage with a mossy thatched roof and memorial to the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. The buses are every couple of hours, but there are cosy pubs and cafes to wait in nearby.
    • Bus N47 (hourly on Sundays) runs past ruined 13th-century Inverlochy Castle, with a great view over the river, and then stops near Neptune’s Staircase, a flight of eight locks built by Thomas Telford in the early 19th-century. If you get off to have a look, you could also have lunch (try the homemade steak and black pudding pie!) at the Lochy pub nearby.
    • Five minutes further on, in the village of Corpach, the bus stops outside the Treasures of the Earth exhibition, another weather-proof option, packed with fossils, crystals and precious stones that will brighten a rainy day.
    • Glen Nevis has a bus (and an ice cream van at the drop-off point) in summer to the Lower Falls; nearby is the start of a path leading to Paddy’s Bridge, where you can cross the river, join the road, and continue to the start of the path leading to the Steall Falls, second highest waterfall in Britain. The whole walk there and back is about six miles and quite an adventure.
    • Alternatively, hire a bicycle from Off Beat Bikes (£25/day including helmet and so on). The shop can supply maps of their favourite local traffic-free cycling routes.
    • On Fort William’s High Street near the bike shop, Aroma café has great tea and coffee, home-made cakes and views of Loch Linnhe through a big plate glass window.

Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount

Visit car-free in 2019!