Fort William and Ballachulish

Commando Memorial

At the end of our week in Dornie last July, we broke our journey home with two nights in Ballachulish. Our first stop on the way down was the Commando Memorial just past Spean Bridge. From 1942 until the end of the Second World War, the Lochaber district was used as a training area by the elite commando units of the British Army. This group of bronze soldiers was sculpted by Scott Sutherland in 1952.

We then headed into Fort William, situated on the shores of Loch Linnhe and gateway to Ben Nevis, Scotland’s (and the UK’s) highest mountain. An unattractive dual carriageway along the waterfront rather spoils it, but we enjoyed looking round its central green area, The Parade, before lunch. The Peace Memorial with its various inscriptions was particularly interesting.

After lunch, we walked out along the River Lochy to the ruins of Inverlochy Castle.

On the way back into Fort William, we stopped at the old fort.

Then we wended our way back to our car – the town was busy! There is a statue on a bench near here to mark the end of the West Highland Way, Scotland’s most popular long-distance walking trail, but it was never free of other people to get a photograph. With a bit of patience we were luckier at the Bronze Ford.

This commemorates the feat of one Henry Alexander who ascended Ben Nevis in a Model T Ford over nine days in 1911. As if this wasn’t daft enough, one hundred years later 77 people carried the components of a 1911 car to the summit where they reassembled it in a snowstorm. That car was used as a template for this sculpture cast in 2018 at Powderhall in Edinburgh.

From here, we headed straight to our hotel, the Isles of Glencoe, in the village of Ballachulish.

The hotel is built on a peninsula created from slate waste from the local quarry which operated from 1693 until 1955. The only visible legacy of this is the slate boatsheds. The bridge in the pictures has connected North and South Ballachulish since 1975, before which a ferry had operated since 1730.

After exploring the peninsula, we went into the village itself. We were welcomed with peace in three languages.

We explored the site of the quarry, now a tranquil picnic area, but a site of bitter industrial disputes in the past, including a 12 month lock-out in 1903 over pay and conditions and the dismissal of the company doctor. The workers won in the end, but endured terrible hardship during the quarry’s closure.

Veins of quartz and blast holes in the slate are still visible.

Round the corner is the only survivor of six inclined planes, built in 1822 as part of a system to take slate down to the harbour. The arch is because the old public road to Glencoe used to run under it.

We had a lovely dinner in the hotel, and looked forward to our explorations the next day. However, overnight the view from our window changed from the one on the left to the one on the right:

Whatever could we do?