Week Three of my 2011 walk across Scotland took me to Fort William, the halfway point. A town of 10,000 people, it felt like a metropolis after the northwest Highlands. I reached it after a 22-mile, storm-battered day on the Great Glen Way, and stayed for two full days to get ready for the West Highland Way.
Fort William doesn’t get good reviews. The Rough Guide uses adjectives like grubby, wrecked and tacky to describe different aspects of the town. I did find hanging out there for two days tedious at times, but all my days off were a bit like that. Perhaps it was the sudden loss of the easy purpose of walking. Anyway, there was plenty about Fort William that I liked, from friendly folk through good curries to the West Highland Museum.
Notes for Week Three:
START: Ratagan youth hostel, Saturday September 17th.
FINISH: Fort William, Wednesday 21st.
DISTANCE: 67 miles.
TERRAIN: The usual selection, plus canal towpath into Fort William.
BEST WEATHER: Occasional sunshine, rainbows.
WORST WEATHER: Gale-force winds, lashing rain by Loch Lochy, south of Laggan.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Thinking of – but not actually seeing – wildcats in Glen Affric.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan (skoor nan ker-uh-van) seen from the glen between Glen Affric and the Cluanie Inn.
BEST COMPANY: Colin, warden of the Glen Affric youth hostel and maker of strong tea.
BEST “CRAIC”: At the Tomdoun Hotel, now sadly closed – good food, drink and talk in Scottish, English, Dutch and Hungarian-Romanian company.
HIGHEST HIGH: Finding, eventually, a faint path leading away from the River Loyne. Without it, I’d have been heather-whacking over to Glen Garry.
LOWEST LOW: Occasional tedium in Fort William. I enjoyed much of the stay, but the days were gray, and kicking my heels was hard.
HISTORY NOTE: The last ten miles into Fort William followed the Caledonian Canal. It opened in 1822 after 19 years under construction, but quickly became a white elephant as the new ships – built of iron and powered by steam – neither fitted in it nor needed its shelter.