Lochaber 1, Fort William 0

The daytime temperature was well below freezing all day – and here I’m taking about arctic temperatures of minus 7°C at sea level. Nevertheless, it was beautiful and sunny so we decided that an easy low-level walk from Corpach to Fort William was the order of the day. Corpach is where my parents live and a round trip into Fort William (with some deviations) clocked up a distance of 19km.

Corpach Basin - the start of the Caledonian Canal with Ben Nevis in the background

It was really noticeable when compared to our travels yesterday through Crianlarich that west coastal regions like Lochaber had been spared much of the deep snow experienced elsewhere. There was less that an inch deep dusting at sea level – although the surrounding hills were thickly covered.

Our route takes us from the village of Corpach (which incidentally translates to “place of the dead”, so called because it was used as a resting place when taking coffins en route to burial on the Isle of Iona), along the shorefront by the village of Caol. Corpach is the location for the start (or is it the end?) of the Caledonian Canal, which connects the west coast with the east at Inverness.

Looking west from Corpach Basin

From the outskirts of Caol we then crossed the river Lochy before arriving at the village of Inverlochy. (Inver translates to “mouth of” – hence Inverlochy is the village at the mouth of the Lochy (river)). It was then a short stroll from Inverlochy into “town” (aka Fort William).

After a nice lunch at the Alexandra Hotel we more or less retraced our steps back to Corpach.

I was born and brought up in Corpach (hence Fort William) until I was 18 and headed to Glasgow to attend university, and I have always been justifiably proud to tell people about the natural marvels of the Lochaber area: containing within its boundary the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, the UK’s deepest inland water, Loch Morar, the most westerly point of mainland Britain, at Ardnamurchan. Lochaber also boasts some great manmade treasures including Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Monument at Glenfinnan, the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge and Neptune’s staircase on the Caledonian Canal.

Ben Nevis from Caol Bay

It is, therefore, with real regret that over the last few years I’ve witnessed the “capital” of Lochaber, Fort William, deteriorate into an urban ghost-town, with what appears to be every second shop “out of business” and getting boarded up. Elaine and I remember in the very recent past (only 4 or 5 years ago) when we would visit that the high street had a buzz about it: generated by locals and tourists alike. Now, well it can only best be described as “awful” – and it really saddens me to have to describe it in such terms.

Over the last couple of trips we’ve spoken to a number of the shop-keepers as well as café and hotel staff and they all seem to have a similar story: the heart of the town is being ripped out as more and more services like the doctors, dentists and fire service are all being relocated to an area about 2 miles outside of the town, and the commercial rates being levied on shops are too great for the volume of business being generated. Personally, I think that the local council has a lot to answer for and needs to demonstrate some inspirational leadership to reverse the decline in the local economy. Regrettably I don’t think that they are up to the job!

As it is so icy at the moment I’ll be especially careful stepping off my soap-box!

About Cameron Speirs

Born and brought up in the Scottish Highlands, Cameron, has been interested in outdoor pursuits since he was a wee lad. Over the last few decades he has climbed extensively in the Italian Dolomites as well as summiting the Matterhorn and several other 4000m alpine peaks. Closer to home he has spent many wonderful weekends mountaineering and biking in Snowdonia, Cairngorms, Glen Coe, Skye and Lochaber.
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