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Fort William (Scots Gaelic: An Gearasdan, "The Garrison") is the largest town in the highlands of Scotland, now that Inverness has achieved City status. Originally based around the still-extant village of Inverlochy, the town lies at the southern end of the Great Glen, on the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil. It is close to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, and Glen Nevis.
Fort William is a major tourist centre with Glen Coe just to the south, and Glenfinnan to the west, on the Road to the Isles. It is an important centre for hillwalking and climbing due to its proximity to Ben Nevis and other mountains. It is also well known for its nearby famous Downhill Mountain Bike Track and its connection to the Great Glen Way; a cycle way from Inverness to Fort William through the Great Glen.
Historically, this area of Lochaber was strongly Clan Cameron country, and there were a number of mainly Cameron settlements in the area (such as Blarmacfoldach). The nearby settlement of Inverlochy was the main settlement in the area before the building of the fort, and was also site of the Battle of Inverlochy.
However, the town is not of local origin. It grew up as a settlement next to a fort constructed to control the population after Oliver Cromwell's invasion during the English Civil War, and then to suppress the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century. The fort was named "Fort William"' after William Of Orange, and the settlement that grew around it was called "Maryburgh", after his wife. This settlement was later renamed "Gordonsburgh", and then "Duncansburgh" before being renamed "Fort William", this time after Prince William, Duke of Cumberland; known to some Scots as "Butcher Cumberland". Given these origins, there have been various suggestions over the years to rename the town (for example, to "Invernevis"). These proposals have led to nothing as of yet.
During World War II, Fort William was the home of HMS St Christopher which was a training base for Royal Navy Coastal Forces.
Fort William is the end point of the West Highland Way, a long distance footpath which runs 95 miles across the Scottish Highlands from Glasgow, and the start/end point of the Great Glen Way, which runs between Fort William and Inverness.
The town is centred on the High Street, which was pedestrianised in the 90s. Off this there are several squares. Monzie Square (named after the Cameron Campbells of Monzie, Perthshire, former landowners in the town), Station Square, where the long-since demolished but often lamented railway station used to be, Gordon Square (named for the Gordons, who owned land where the town now stands in the late 1700s, during which time the town was named Gordonsburgh), and Cameron Square.
The main residential areas of the town are unseen from the high street or the A82 main road. This leads many visitos to believe that the high street and the squares are all there is to the town. Upper Achintore and the Plantation spread steeply uphill from above the high street.
Inverlochy, Claggan, Lochyside, Caol, Banavie and Corpach are the other main residential areas. These areas are built on much flatter land than the town.
Just outside the town is a large aluminium plant, powered by the Lochaber hydroelectric scheme, in its day the biggest tunnelling project in the world. This was formerly served by the Lochaber Narrow Gauge Railway.
The waterfront development may not be started for several years. However, the town is booming. It is the new retail hotspot in Scotland. Aldi, Lidle, M&S, TK Max and many others have been linked with the town.
A new out of town retail development bringing a major DIY chain and at least five other national retailers.
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