Filmmakers love the Scottish Highlands. If they can’t afford Austria or Switzerland, they send their location scouts here to some of the most spectacular scenery the UK’s northernmost country has to offer.
Much of Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning movie Braveheart was filmed here, as were parts of Highlander and Rob Roy. Glen Nevis also formed the backdrop for the Quiddich matches in three Harry Potter films.
I travelled by car and took the same route James Bond and M took in Skyfall in his classic, silver-grey Aston Martin DB5. Admittedly, I was in my modest but trusty silver-grey VW Jetta but still got a knot in my stomach as I climbed higher and took in Rannoch Moor and Glen Etive while trying to keep my eyes on the road. These mountains, all 900m high or more – craggy, copper-hued and peppered in purple heather – are transcendent titans that were formed out of the Ice Age some two million years ago and now draw walkers, mountain bikers and skiers from all over the world.
It’s easy to get to Glen Nevis, which forms the base of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. From Glasgow, just find the A82 either from the West End, the Clyde Tunnel or Erskine Bridge; point your car north, and go. From the resplendent Rannoch Moor, the A82 takes you through the pass of Glencoe and the famous Three Sisters. The road lurches downward through a steep-sided valley and suddenly three majestic mountains glower down at you as you pass them on your left en route to Fort William, the nearest town to Glen Nevis. Emirates operates direct flights from Dubai to Glasgow, but you can fly from Muscat to London Heathrow and then catch a connecting flight to Glasgow.
My favourite place- The amazing and accessible Steall Falls walk at the foot of Glen Nevis. A clear path winds past some stunning ridges through Nevis Gorge to the waterfall, which is just a delight in all its scintillating, shimmering splendour. It cascades through a range of craggy rocks and peaty bogs and is shrouded by glistening trees; the leaves of which are resplendent in the last throes of autumn. The array of colours on offer here is very easy on the eye, too.
Highlights- Glen Nevis is the base for some of the best walking trails to be had in the world. It is, of course, at the bottom of Ben Nevis, which is 1,345 metres high. And you can simply take the mountain path to the top. It isn’t difficult but it will be strenuous if you’re not reasonably fit. The top section can be rough and stony and only experienced (and well-equipped) walkers should go that far up. If covered in snow, it will be hard to follow and you could find yourself, quite literally, on dangerous ground. Take care, and turn back if you have any doubts.
Alternatively, if you fancy reaching some high ground without too much effort, take a Nevis Range gondola cable car. It will take you up 650m on the northern slopes of Aonach Mor and to some well-worn paths and biking trails that offer commanding views overlooking the glen and Fort William. The foot of the gondola cable car is 10km north of Fort William and is open all year. Glen Nevis is also one of the most rewarding points on the West Highland Way, which is arguably Scotland’s most well-known walking route. Stretching from outside Glasgow to Fort William, it offers a wonderful way to witness some of the best views Scotland has to offer. One of the area’s most ancient landmarks is the ruin of old Inverlochy Castle, which can be found a few hundred metres off the A82. In summer months, book a trip on the enchanting Jacobite Steam Train. It leaves Fort William on its joyous way to Mallaig (on the west coast) most mornings at 10.20am, and returns around 4pm. And yes, it does cross the wondrous Glenfinnan Viaduct (the one you saw in the Harry Potter films).
Lowlights- Well, obviously, the weather. In Scotland, you can get four seasons in one day no matter the time of year it is. Whatever your outdoor pursuit, respect the elements and take adequate layers of clothing with you. If you’re walking, ensure you wear sturdy footwear with adequate ankle support. Also in summer, beware of midges (a mosquito-like insect), which can be very irritating if you don’t buy a repellent.
Souvenirs- You can find them at the splendid Glen Nevis Visitor Centre that sells many handicrafts (some locally produced), clothing, millinery, tartan clothing and products, and shells. Fort William has shops offering the same.
Where to stay- If coming in summer, you can camp or hire a caravan in the park right in the heart of Glen Nevis. Otherwise, head to Fort William, which is 10km away and styles itself as the “gateway to the Highlands” and Scotland’s “outdoor capital”. Here you will find hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs to suit all budgets. I stayed in a three-star hotel in the town and it was perfectly cosy. But if you want to travel farther afield, there are places to stay in Highland lodges or self-catering cottages in the villages of Glen Coe, Kinlochleven or Corpach. You will find plenty to choose from on the usual portals such as Booking.com, Hotels.com or Trivago.co.uk.
1. Climb Ben Nevis and visit the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre for tips
2. Take one of the many magnificent walking trails
3. Ride in a Nevis Range gondola cable car
4. Book a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train
5. Take in the scenery, take selfies, take your time