Fort Williams, Scotland (4) – The top must-do activities in this great mountain town!
Fort Williams felt the most like home to me. Although it’s at sea level, the mountains dramatically jet up to 4000 ft. Nevis Range is the local ski area with a gondola to mid-mountain where the lifts start. The landscape is green and mossy with giant bushy ferns and thick, dense forests of pine, oak, and various tree species, vines, and prickly bushes, tall willowy grasses, clover, and wilting flowers. It’s fall now, and brown grasses and leaves hint that winter and snow are coming soon (fingers crossed). Nevis Range also features downhill mountain biking, hiking, and climbing and is home to the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup since 2002. Julie and I stayed at our friend Ian “Spike” Sykes home he shares with his wife, Gay. They live just outside town, and to access their property, you must drive through an old brick tunnel that pops out into a little neighborhood oasis of three homeowners, a river, and the site of an ancient castle. It’s peaceful and green with incredible views of the mountain range.
Spike and Rod (with his wife Jackie) live in Fort Williams. They are both avid climbers and worked together on the British Antarctic Survey in the 1970s. Fort Williams and, in particular, Ben Nevis is a popular climbing destination for novice and expert climbers. For decades, Spike was part of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team and conceived the idea of Nevis Range back in the 1970s. It opened its doors after a ten-year gestation process, battling for support, funding, and sometimes snow. The opening day was on December 19, 1989. Known as the largest ski area in Scotland, it feels like a small ski area with steep, wide-open ski runs and back-bowls. Spike was kind enough to show us around and tour the new snowmaking facility and take in the views from the top of the gondola. I hope to come back someday to experience this ski area with its vast open slopes with no trees in the winter. Super fun snowboarding.
On my last full day, we (me, Julie, Spike, and Rod) journeyed by ferry to an outer island, Isle of Canna. The weather was one of the warmest days so far with blue skies, little wind, and I peeled off one of the three layers I have been wearing for the last ten days. The island had three stone churches, a beautiful mansion, and a few small homes dating back to the 1700s scattered about the small island. The history is incredible. Again, I’m feeling incredibly blessed to have such generous people show me all they love about Scotland.
- Nevis Range – The premier mountain experience in Scotland. From mountain biking and tree adventures in the summer to skiing and snowboarding in the winter. So much to do!
- Ben Nevis Inn and Bunkhouse – Great food! Good thing, because I hear the menu hasn’t changed, but once, in 10 years! Be sure to check out the Tuesday night open mic; Spike likes to join in with his banjo.
- Steall Falls walk in Glen Nevis – Incredible beauty! The hike is not long, but the journey is magical. Such an incredible place and easy get there.
- In the Shadow of Ben Nevis – Ian “Spike” Sykes book and a peek into life working in Antarctica and Fort Williams, including mountain rescues on Ben Nevis. Great storytelling.
- The Isles of Scotland – The Small Isles: Rum, Eigg, Muck, and Canna can be accessed via ferry. Explore the islands on foot or bike and take in the small historic villages, churches, and castles. Great picture taking! The Isle of Skye connected to Scotland’s northwest coast by bridge is known for its rugged landscapes, picturesque fishing villages, and medieval castles.
I am feeling a little sad the day I leave Fort William. I was taking the train to Glasgow by myself and leaving Julie to drive to Aberdeen alone. Spike and Julie were there to say good bye at the train station. My view from the train reflected my mood. Clouds fill the sky. Sometimes multiple layers and various colors of gray. The dark treeless mountains stand in sharp contrast to the sky. The rolling mounds of heather and peet are faded green and purple. At the peek of the highest mountains a crown of white clouds sits and lingers even with the wind. It’s all very beautiful, but a little gloomy. Large lochs lay at the base of the mountains. Dark and glassy, the water looks cold and murky. The trees and shrubs are thick to the water’s edge unless cleared centuries before for a stone castle or large white stately home with dark moss covered gray clay-shingles. I am hoping to be back for a visit again soon.
Enjoy the Climb!
I send out a monthly update with my favorite finds, experiences, stories and tips from interesting places around the world. Join me!