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
1. West Highland Railway
The West Highland Line railways, from Glasgow to coastal Mallaig or Oban, are among the world’s top scenic train journeys. A return ticket from Glasgow to Fort William is cheaper if you book in advance. The West Highland Railway starts from Glasgow’s Queen Street Station and splits at Crianlarich, with the Fort William line heading for Mallaig, past the famous Glenfinnan viaduct (see 2 and 3 below).
- Setting off from Glasgow, the train passes a spectacular series of lochs and mountains. Look out for oystercatchers (black and white birds with orange beaks) foraging on the wide sandy shores along the Firth of Clyde.
- Next, the picturesque Gareloch stretches for six miles below the train, a sea loch surrounded by woods and villages.
- Through the Loch Lomond and Trosaachs National Park, with its forested hills and valleys, the railway runs above Loch Long and then, for ten beautiful miles, beside Loch Lomond itself.
- Beyond Crianlarich, the railway climbs through the Grampian Mountains onto wild Rannoch Moor, a huge expanse of tussocky grass and streams that cascade down the hillsides into steep-sided Loch Treig. There are no roads here and few paths so train is a great way to see this remote area.
- Going on, under craggy hills, through Glen Spean, the River Treig swirls along a rocky valley just below the train window. Every couple of miles the railway passes views across lakes or rattles over foaming waterfalls.
- You’re now in the Lochaber region, a rugged wilderness of coast and mountain with a cosy capital at Fort William on the shore of Loch Linnhe.
2. Fort William to Mallaig
There’s an even more spectacular train journey to take beyond Fort William to the sea.
- The train trip from Fort William to Mallaig is unforgettably beautiful in any season or weather, which is lucky as it can swing from brilliant sun to driving rain in under a minute.
- Look out at Banavie, the first station, for the Neptune’s Staircase series of locks. The railway runs on through breathtaking scenery, passing mountains reflected in still water, forests of birch and pine trees, Loch Eilt with its wooded islands and stretches of wild moorland.
- The railway is often closer to water than parallel roads so the train runs right along the edge of the lochs. Crystal clear Loch Dubh is followed by the Arnabol Viaduct with a waterfall pouring down beside it. Watch out for stags on the hillside and herons flapping slowly over the water.
- Sea views, dotted with islands, beaches, harbours and curving bays complete the shifting panorama.
- Riding the West Highland Line from Fort William to Mallaig is not just Britain’s most scenic train ride – it’s probably one of Britain’s best tourist attractions: an hour and a half’s train ride each way with fabulous views that changeable weather simply make more dramatic.
- The Bakehouse on the Old Quay at Mallaig is a fantastic place to pick up a light, crispy ham, cheese, and mustard croissant or a succulent slice of plum tart. With a view of the boats in the harbour and the smell of warm bread in the air, it’s well worth a visit.