Guillaume’s neighbours to his right on the side of Loch Linnhe are Scots who live in Perth. During a natter with Francine, who at least speaks a little Scottish, occasioned by a shared interest in photographing the conditions on and (just) above Loch Linnhe, Mr. Neighbour expressed the opinion that Fort William was a dump. That’s the third independent consistent assessment that we’ve had. This morning, there being a lull in the rain if not in the wind, we decided to dawdle the 15kms/9mls up the road to see for ourselves.
In our opinion, all three third party assessments were correct; Fort William is, in fact, a dump. Actually, Francine thought that dump was too kind a word for it. Many of the buildings are the soulless concrete slab buildings favoured in the 1960s. Much of the paint is flaking off the door and window frames of some of the shops and their signs/names tend to be missing odd letters. Several of the shop units in the main street are closed and empty. Those that are still trading seem to be selling the same Scottish tourist tat: tartan mugs, highland map tea towels, etc. There is an unavoidable air of decay and neglect about the place. It’s an ugly town that’s being allowed to fall apart. This is curious because it seems to think of itself as the outdoor activity centre of Scotland which should want to attract tourists. The tourists still spill out of coaches, for some reason, and are faced with the unwelcoming sight of a dilapidated Fort Dump. There was one piece of development going on; Weatherspoons pub was being developed, presumably to provide a ready supply of reality correction fluid to those unfortunate enough to be here.
We escaped Fort Dump to drive a short circuit up to Spean Bridge. At the beginning of the circuit, just outside Fort Dump, is the southern end of the Caledonian Canal, the last feature of which is a flight of eight locks known as Neptune’s Staircase. We parked and wandered a while to watch a couple of sailing yachts and, somewhat curiously, a life boat, begin they’re long journey up the locks.
Towards the top end of our circuit we came across this second world war memorial to the commandos. The countryside around here was used as their training ground. Beside this statue is a small memorial garden containing many recent tributes to those lost in conflicts more recent that WW II, particularly Afghanistan.
A final disappointing observation. From Neptune’s Staircase you can see Ben Nevis when the cloud permits. Ben Nevis may be Britain’s highest lump of rock at 1343m/4406ft but visually impressive it isn’t. That’s it in the centre distance of this (bad) picture under the traditionally disturbed sky – no craggy, pointed peak, just a rather dull, rounded, almost flat-looking top. Had I studied any geography, I might have understood why the Scottish mountains are soft and rounded like this – I’m guessing glacial erosion from the ice age, or some such. Suffice to say that I prefer the cragginess of the Pyrenees and the Alps.
Incidentally, we’ve been told that mountain is an English word, the Scots call them hills. Well, they are 3000m/10000ft lower than the Alps/Pyrenees, I suppose.