Fort William (Scottish Gaelic: An Gearasdan, "The Garrison") is the largest town in the highlands of Scotland, now that Inverness has achieved City status. Originally based around the still-extant village of Inverlochy, the town lies at the southern end of the Great Glen, on the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil. It is close to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, and Glen Nevis.
Fort William is a major tourist centre with Glen Coe just to the south, and Glenfinnan to the west, on the Road to the Isles. It is an important centre for hillwalking and climbing due to its proximity to Ben Nevis and many other Munro mountains. It is also well known for its nearby famous Downhill Mountain Bike Track and its connection to the West Higland Way from Glasgow and the Great Glen Way; a walk/cycle way from Inverness to Fort William through the Great Glen.
Around 726 (7.26%) of the population can speak Gaelic. Far more speak a little Gaelic.
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.
However, the town is not of local origin. It 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 of the 18th century. The fort was named "Fort William"' after William Of Orange, and the settlement that grew around it was called "Maryburgh", after his wife. This settlement was later renamed "Gordonsburgh", and then "Duncansburgh before being renamed "Fort William", this time after Prince William, Duke of Cumberland; known to some Scots as "Butcher Cumberland". Given these origins, there have been various suggestions over the years to rename the town (for example, to "Invernevis"). These proposals have led to nothing as of yet.
Fort William is the end point of the West Highland Way, a long distance footpath which runs 95 miles across the Scottish Highlands from Glasgow, and the start/end point of the Great Glen Way, which runs between Fort William and Inverness.
Fort William lies on the shores of Loch Linnhe (sea water) beside the mouth of the rivers Nevis and Lochy. They join in the tidal zone to briefly become one river before discharging to the sea. The town and its suburbs, surrounded by picturesque mountains, follow the curved contour of the end of the longest sea loch in Scotland.
The town is centred on the High Street, which was pedestrianised in the 90s. Off this there are several squares. Monzie Square (named after the Cameron Campbells of Monzie, Perthshire, former landowners in the town), Station Square, where the long-since demolished but often lamented railway station used to be, Gordon Square (named for the Gordons, who owned land where the town now stands in the late 1700s, during which time the town was named Gordonsburgh), and Cameron 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.
Inverlochy, Claggan, Lochyside, Caol, Banavie and Corpach are the other main residential areas. These areas are built on much flatter land than the town.
Just outside the town is a large aluminium plant, powered by the Lochaber hydroelectric scheme, in its day the biggest tunnelling project in the world. This was formerly served by the Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway.
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.
Just outside the town, parallel to the Nevis Range Gondola there is a large downhill mountain bike track, this attracts thousands every year, from international backgrounds. Alongside this, there are the "Witches Trails", which unusually attract more than the downhill track.
Each year since 2002, 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 trails get used for the cross-country competition. The 2007 winner of 'The Worlds', in the downhill men's section was Sam Hill, with a time of Four minutes and Fifty-one seconds.
Travel: Everybody's Talking About: Fort William; the Highland Town Is Perfectly Placed to Explore an Area of Outstanding Beauty and JAN PATIENCE Has the Lowdown on All the Best Places
Feb 07, 2004; Byline: JAN PATIENCE FORT William is not the bonniest dot on the map of Scotland but it is a gateway to a host of exciting...