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Fort William’s best known attraction rises 4,406 feet above the town into the clouds while the streets below clatter with the sound of hiking boots about to make the attempt on the highest mountain in Britain. Ben Nevis holds a power over people that few mountains in the world can claim. It is a lifetime ambition for many to climb the deceptively gentle slopes. Perhaps it is because it is so accessible to those who are not true climbers, yet still has a dangerous side to its character - making it a real challenge. The boulder strewn path known as the tourist route leads to the summit and was built to serve the now defunct weather observatory. It is by no means easy as you have to constantly watch your footing. It’s a long way down with a sprained ankle. When you reach the summit and you are lucky enough to have fine weather, you have the most fantastic view. Once you have got the Ben out of the way, there are plenty more outdoor challenges. After all, Lochaber is known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK.
The highest ski slopes in Scotland are found at Nevis Range which also boasts Britain’s only mountain gondola system. As a result you can ‘climb’ 2,150 feet up the 4,006 ft Aonach Mor in just 15 minutes without breaking sweat. The gondola conveniently stops at the Snowgoose Restaurant where you can enjoy the views of the Great Glen, Loch Linnhe and the Inner Hebrides over a cup of coffee. In winter, the slopes are busy with skiers and snowboarders. In summer enjoy the waymarked trails on the mountain.
Nevis Range also has Britain’s only world-class mountain bike downhill track with gondola access. The 3km track descends 2,000 feet to the car park, and only experienced cyclists should attempt it. The world's top riders fly down the course in around four minutes! For those who want to take it easy, there are 25 miles of marked bike and walking trails through Leanachan Forest on the lower slopes of Aonach Mor.
Choose wide forest tracks or tackle the technical single track, some of which was purpose-built for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup cross-country event. The prestigious international competition is an annual visitor to Nevis Range and the courses have been the location for the World Championships.
Once you’ve explored Nevis Range head for Glencoe. With eight Munros to be bagged, this is another magnet for climbers. In winter, Glencoe also offers superb skiing with the longest vertical descent (2,600ft) and the steepest on-piste black run in Scotland (The Fly Paper). Don’t worry there are also plenty of runs for beginners and intermediates.
For those who want to keep their feet firmly on ground level, both Glen Nevis and Glencoe have visitor centres which give an insight into the geology, wildlife, botany and history of the glens with waymarked and guided walks to all the best scenic spots. If you fancy tackling a mountain but need training, visit The Ice Factor in Kinlochleven.
The centre features the biggest indoor ice climbing facility in the world, the UK's largest articulated rock climbing wall and a competition standard bouldering hall!
With mountains dominating every view, it’s easy to forget Fort William is an important port.
At the gateway to the Caledonian Canal and the sea, the harbour is always busy. Ferries leave for the isles, while fishing boats from the east coast emerge from the Caledonian Canal to cast their nets in west coast waters. Day trips take you out to see marine wildlife, or you can hire a canoe and paddle down Loch Linnhe. If the water’s too cold try out the Lochaber Leisure Centre’s heated pool and Jacuzzi.
If weather forces a rethink, head for the major all-weather attractions. Fort William has the air of a holiday town with a relaxed pace and plenty of shops to browse around. There’s everything from specialist outdoor equipment and sports shops to fashion boutiques, woollen mills, gift shops and galleries. Those wanting to discover some of the history of the area should try The West Highland Museum in Cameron Square, in the centre of town, which reveals some of the secrets of the town from the Picts to the Jacobites and, of course, the original fort built after the Jacobite Rebellion which gave the town its name.
On the outskirts of town, discover how the Ben Nevis Distillery creates award-winning whisky from water off the mountain. Venturing a little further out of Fort William you’ll find that almost every village has its own individual art galleries and craft workshops. In Corpach there is the Treasures of the Earth exhibition where gemstones and fossils are creatively displayed in old mine shafts and caves.
Explore the road to the isles from Fort William to Mallaig. Or take the steam train and follow in the tracks of Harry Potter and his friends. Many scenes from the films have been shot here and you travel over the same viaduct as the Hogwarts Express.
The western reaches of Lochaber have many more magical treasures to reveal. In the secluded regions of Ardgour, Sunart, Ardnamurchan, Morvern and Knoydart, visitors enjoy a completely unspoilt environment.
Whether you’re there just for the weekend or for weeks, you’ll find that Fort William and the surrounding area is more than just mountains and lochs. Though even if it were, that would be more than enough.