Thursday, 31 March 2016

Fort William, Scotland, UK

The small town of Fort William lies on the Great Glen, a geological fault line which cuts through the Scottish Highlands.  Britian's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, looms over the town.  Fort William is also at the northern end of the West Highland Way, a long distance footpath stretching 150 kilometres through remote parts of Scotland.  Although Fort William's population numbers only around 10,000, the town is a popular base for walking and other outdoor activities, making it a major tourist centre.

I visited Fort William in June 2015.

No single body has overall responsibility for the transport services in Fort William.  However, the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) has a strategic responsibility for developing transport across the Scottish Highlands.  Meanwhile, the Lochaber Transport Forum has details of all transport services in Fort William.

A small network of local bus services is operated by Stagecoach.

I was surprised to find that in this relatively small town, most of the buses were double-deck.

Routes 45, 46 and 47 between them provide the core service across the town.

Each service operates hourly, with a combined service of up to four buses per hour over common sections of route.  Evening and Sunday services are more limited.

Some of the double-deckers used in Fort William carry the fort link name.


Route 41 operates every two hours, reaching a couple of parts of the town which are not served by routes 45, 46 or 47.

The 41 also heads north-eastwards out of Fort William, to the nearby settlements of Spean Bridge and Roy Bridge.

On the way, it calls in at Nevis Range, a centre for outdoor activities on the slopes of Ben Nevis.

Route 44 heads in the opposite direction out of Fort William, southwards to the small settlements of Ballachulish and Kinlochleven.

These images were taken in Kinlochleven.


Route 44 generally runs hourly, although a more limited service operates during the evening and on Sundays.

The reason for using double-deckers in a town as small as Fort William becomes clear at school times.  It is at school starting and finishing times that the high capacity of the buses is needed.

At these times, a different pattern of services operates over routes 45, 46 and 47, with buses numbered between 145 and 149.


As well as single and return fares, Stagecoach also offer all-day tickets.  These are based on zones.  One zone covers Fort William itself and journeys up to around 5 kilometres from the town centre.  A two zone ticket is travel from Fort William to points further afield, including Nevis Range, Roy Bridge, Ballachulish and Kinlochleven.  Weekly and longer period tickets are also available, based on the same zones.

Publicity for the Stagecoach services states that easy-access, wheelchair-accessible buses are usually operated on these services.

I was therefore surprised to find that particularly on route 44, several journeys were being operated by high-floor coaches.



I also found a step-floor single-decker being used on the 44.  This bus definitely wasn't wheelchair-accessible.


Since these images were taken, the deadline for all single-deck buses in Britain to comply with accessibility standards has been reached.  Single-deckers such as this one can no longer be used on regular bus services.

It wasn't just the 44 where vehicles other than low-floor were being used.

I found a coach in Scottish Citylink livery being used on a journey on route 41.

Not all bus services in Fort William are provided by Stagecoach.

Shiel Buses operates several services into Fort William from the sparsely-populated area to the west.

These services are infrequent, with none operating more than three or four journeys per day. 

A mix of coaches and minibuses were being used on these services.



Scottish Citylink provides a network of longer-distance coach services across Scotland.  Several Citylink routes serve Fort William.

The coach stops are alongside Fort William railway station.

Routes 914, 915 and 916 pass through Fort William on their way from Glasgow and Loch Lomond to the Isle of Skye.

The Citylink livery is yelow and blue.  However, I noted several coaches in the colours of their individual operating companies, but with Citylink yellow at the rear.


On route 918, linking Fort William with Oban, I noted coaches without any Citylink branding.

Citylink 919 operates along the Great Glen, linking Fort William with Loch Ness and InvernessDuring the early mornings and evenings, when route 919 doesn't operate, Stagecoach operate a few journeys as route 19. 

Routes 919 and 19 have been featured on the Great British Bus Routes blog.

Although return tickets are interchangeable between the 919 and 19, the two services may charge different fares.

Just as I found a Scottish Citylink coach being used on a local bus service in Fort William, I found Stagecoach single-deck buses operating on Scotish Citylink route 919.

The lack of luggage space on these buses makes tham less than ideal for use on the 919, which provides a strategic link across the Scottish Highlands.

Fort William is also served by rail.

The West Highland Line is one of Britain's most scenic railway routes.  A daytime service of 3-4 trains per day is operated by ScotRail, running from Glasgow to Fort William then on to Glenfinnan and Mallaig.

An overnight train service linking Fort William with London is operated by Caledonian Sleeper, six nights a week.

During the summer season, "The Jacobite" steam trains operate from Fort William to the end of the line at Mallaig.

Special fares apply on these trains, ScotRail tickets aren't valid on them.

A ferry service crosses the loch from Fort William to Camusnagaul, 4-5 times a day.  Details are on the Lochaber Transport Forum website.

Camusnagaul is also linked to Fort William by one of Shiel Buses' services.  The bus journey takes around 50 minutes, around the head of the loch.  The ferry takes 10 minutes.

The ferry operates from a small jetty in Fort William.

In the centre of Fort William, outside one of the town's shops selling outdoor goods, is a cable car.  Just one, a static cabin with nowhere to go.

Travel out to the Nevis Range centre, however, and you will find a cable car system climbing from there up the mountainside.

The cable cars were installed to carry skiers and their equipment to slopes on the mountainside.


The cable cars carry bicycles, which can be attached to racks on the outside of the cabin.  Mountain biking is a popular activity in this area.

Other than an annual closure for maintenance in November/December, the cable car operates all year round.  However, it may close temporarily during high winds.