Three of the best views near Fort William, Lochaber


As regular readers may know I’m a sucker for mountain scenery. With a spare day in Fort William after our trip to Eigg I was keen to see what the proclaimed outdoor capital of the UK had to offer. Whilst the town isn’t particularly scenic there are plenty of great views just a short drive away. Here are my top three suggestions:

1. Steall waterfall

The walk to Steall waterfall is billed as one of the best short walks in Scotland. The drive in along Glen Nevis is impressive, with mountain views all the way to the car park at the end of the single track road. The midges greeted us when we stepped out of the car and were less welcome. Fortunately a few squirts of Smidge repellant soon stopped them.

Walk to Steall waterfall
Walk to Steall waterfall

As we left the car park I was a little disconcerted to see a sign warning visitors of ‘Danger of death’. If you’re properly equipped for the weather and familiar with walking in rocky landscapes you’ll have no problems at all. That said, I’d think twice about walking the path during icy conditions.

The path leads walkers through lush woodland, up and down rocky steps. Down in the gorge you can hear, and at times see, the river. Keep your eyes on the path though!

Walk to Steall waterfall
Walk to Steall waterfall

The track was busy; some visitors looked better prepared than others. Going by the number of camper vans and foreign plate vehicles in the car park I’m guessing this walk appears in most tourist guidebooks.

Steall Bridge, near Fort William
Steall Bridge, near Fort William

At the top of the gorge the view opens up across a meadow and out towards Steall Falls. Before you reach the waterfall there is one further diversion; the famous wire bridge across the river. There’s no need to cross it to see the falls but my other half wasn’t going to pass up a chance to do so. The kids were eager too but I only let them walk across as far as the start of the river section. My daughter would have been fine but my son wasn’t tall enough to reach both of the wires. And I didn’t fancy a dip in the river to rescue him!

Steall waterfall, Fort William
Steall waterfall, Fort William

Dropping from a height of almost 400ft Steall waterfall is an impressive sight. We visited after a relatively dry period so I’d imagine it’s even more exciting after rain. From the waterfall I also took the valley picture below, almost a classic geography textbook photograph.

View along valley from Steall waterfall
View along valley from Steall waterfall

Heading back to the car park I wondered why my son and other half took so long to reach the car. It turns out they were clearing up rubbish left by campers. I really don’t understand why people believe it is OK to leave bags of rubbish and used portable barbecues behind.

2. Viewpoints via the Glen Nevis gondola

In the afternoon we drove out to Glen Nevis for a ride up the Nevis Range gondola system. During the winter this is a popular ski destination but in the summer it’s busy with tourists, walkers and mountain bikers.

Nevis Range gondola, Fort William
Nevis Range gondola, Fort William

The gondola takes about 10 minutes to transport visitors 650m up Aonach Mor. As you’re swaying gently above the treetops you can watch mountain bikers whizzing down the boardwalk tracks beneath you. Whilst it looked fun I know I’d have been squeezing my brakes hard for the entire route!

Nevis Range gondola station
Nevis Range gondola station

At the top are two signposted walks to viewpoints, each in different directions. They’re relatively short (20-30 minutes each way) so it’s easy to complete both. Follow the blue rope and you won’t get lost!

Sgurr Finnisg-aig viewpoint walk, Aonach Mor
Sgurr Finnisg-aig viewpoint walk, Aonach Mor

My favourite viewpoint was Meall Beag. We sat for a while on the chair, looking out over Loch Eil and Loch Linnhe. Although I felt a little guilty for enjoying such great views with so little effort.

View no 2: Meall beag viewpoint
Meall beag viewpoint

Walking back towards the gondola it’s hard to ignore the visual impact it has on the area. It’s primarily a functional ski area and I’m sure looks much better when everything is covered in snow. On the plus side there’s a restaurant, bar and toilets and it would have been amiss of us not to check out these facilities.

Snowgoose Bar, Glen Nevis gondola station - a cafe with a view!
Snowgoose Bar, Glen Nevis gondola station – a cafe with a view!

3. Ben Nevis Inn

This last suggestion requires minimal effort. Unless, like us, you decide to walk to the pub from town.

I’ve climbed Ben Nevis in summer when the summit was knee deep in snow and the views obscured by mist. This time we contented ourselves with a seat in the Ben Nevis Inn. There are not many pubs where you can look out the window and see a view as incredible as this!

View from the Ben Nevis Inn, near Fort William
View from the Ben Nevis Inn, near Fort William

The Ben Nevis Inn certainly deserves its number 1 Trip Advisor rating. Between us we ate some great food although I made the wrong food choice; I know now that I don’t like vegetarian haggis!

If you’re thinking of travelling to Fort William you can read more about our journey on the Caledonian Sleeper train. After visiting Fort William you might like a trip to the fabulous white sand beaches at Morar and Arisaig or a drive through the highlands to Gairloch.

More info:

  • The Steall waterfall walk directions are on the Walk Highlands website.
  • The Nevis Range gondola is open year round except for a maintenance period from mid-November to mid-December and during strong winds. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £32.50; season tickets are also available.
  • The Ben Nevis Inn is open daily during the summer months but check the website for opening dates and times throughout the winter period.
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A family walk up Pen-y-Fan, Powys

I’ve climbed Pen-y-Fan, the highest hill in southern Britain, a couple of times without the kids. As the kids are older now I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to stretch our legs on the way back from our holiday in Pembrokeshire.

Having only visited outside of the summer season previously I had no idea how popular the walk was. Our first hint was the long line of cars parked along the edge of the main road. There are a couple of off road car parks but as these were both full we parked on the grass verge like everyone else.

Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan
Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan

There are several routes up Pen-y-Fan. If we’d had the time and energy it would have been good to tackle one of the circular routes which takes in several of the peaks. However with a 2 hour journey behind us and another 2 hour drive home we settled on the standard route up from Pont ar Daf car park, also known as ‘The motorway’.

The Pen-y-Fan motorway

The main track is broad and well made, obviously used to thousands of walking boots. The route was straightforward and relatively easy; it was just a pity that some people had decided to leave dog poo bags alongside the track.

Pen-y-Fan walk
Pen-y-Fan walk

As we walked my son recounted part of the Bear Grylls book he’d just read. Bear’s SAS selection process took place in these hills and although we had an easier time than Bear this mountain shouldn’t be under-estimated. The ease of access means that people can and do get into difficulty, particularly in poor weather.

The first summit (with the flat top shown in the picture above) is actually Corn Du. We skirted around the edge, saving it for our return journey, and walked on to Pen-y-Fan. The views open up at this point and it’s a pretty spectacular view down the Neuadd valley.

A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!
A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!

A short final climb took us up onto the summit of Pen-y-Fan. I would guess there were a couple of hundred people up there enjoying the views, many more than I’ve seen on any other hill. Families with children of all ages, runners, walking groups and plenty of dogs.

Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan
Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan

We queued for a few minutes to take the obligatory summit photo. Just behind us is the view you see in the feature photo at the top of this post, incredible!

We’d been organised enough to bring a picnic and managed to find a relatively empty spot to eat it in. On bad weather days the wind would be howling across the summit but we were lucky and enjoyed our sandwiches in glorious sunshine.

Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit
Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit

On to Corn Du

Heading off of Pen-y-Fan we tackled the summit of Corn Du, the second highest peak in South Wales. It’s similar to the summit of Pen-y-Fan; in fact I had to let one family know that they weren’t quite on Pen-y-Fan, much to their kids disappointment.

Route down from Pen-y-Fan
Route down from Pen-y-Fan

It’s pretty steep coming down from Corn Du and I was pleased we’d chosen to walk up the route from Pont ar Daf rather than Storey Arms. The path drops down to a stream before climbing back up a little. We saw a couple of runners filling their water bottles in the stream but rather them than me. I’ve seen too many dead sheep in streams higher up the mountains to even consider this!

We were soon back at the car, ready to hit the M4 again. I’m glad to report that we all enjoyed Pen-y-Fan more than the usual motorway stopover.

If you’re looking for other walks in the Brecon Beacons check out my family walks near Abergavenny post. On a wet day you might like to explore Caerleon’s Roman history or Blaenavon’s industrial heritage.

More info:

  • This route starts from the Pont ar Daf car park on the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. We followed the 4 mile walk outlined on the National Trust website.
  • There are a couple of burger vans and some pretty foul toilets at the start of the walk.
  • We visited on a sunny clear day and there were loads of families walking the hill. However remember that the weather and visibility on top may be very different from your starting point. Always take appropriate equipment and clothing, check the weather forecast and walk within your abilities.
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Family walks near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Abergavenny_walks

We stayed near Abergavenny in the Brecon Beacons late last year and spent several days exploring the local hills. There are three focal points for walkers heading out of town; Sugar Loaf, Blorenge and Skirrid Fawr. All make excellent half day (or longer) walks and are generally suitable for families used to walking.

I’ve added links at the bottom to the walking routes we followed.

Sugar Loaf mountain

You’d never normally think of Wales as a wine producing country so it was rather surprising when we drove past Sugar Loaf vineyard on our way to the start of this walk. Just a pity it was closed, I’d love to know how they manage to grow grapes in the Welsh climate.

Starting out on Sugar Loaf
Starting out on Sugar Loaf

Our plan for the day was to walk up the west ridge of Sugar Loaf; a slightly less trodden option on this popular hill. The first mile or so was an easy walk along a broad track fringed with bracken. A short steep downhill section followed which is always a little disconcerting when you’re trying to reach a summit. We crossed a stream and then our route took us uphill again.

Into the mist
Into the mist

At this point we walked into some typically Welsh weather. I’m sure the views on a fine day are fantastic but what can I say? We saw mist, bracken and sheep. At the summit we clambered over some rocks to the trig point. Of course we still took the obligatory ‘top of the mountain’ photo but we could have been on just about any hill.

Lunch - in the Sugar Loaf car park
Lunch – in the Sugar Loaf car park

I’d originally hoped to eat lunch near the summit but the weather wasn’t conducive to a picnic. Instead we hot footed it back down the hill and found a convenient spot in the car park. We ate our sandwiches in relative comfort and enjoyed the view!

Blorenge

Blorenge is within the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage area; you can still see the remains of a tramway which linked a a quarry on the mountain with the ironworks down in Blaenavon.

This was an easy walk because we cheated and parked in the Keeper’s Pond car park near the summit. If you’re looking for a more challenging walk you can take the steep path up from Abergavenny but this is only for fit families with older children.

Towards the summit of Blorenge
Towards the summit of Blorenge

From the car park, we headed towards the radio masts and another car park. Here there’s a memorial to Foxhunter, a horse that won gold at the 1952 Olympics, but we somehow managed to miss it. Fortunately we found the path to the summit. It’s a very gentle walk, with minimal ascent, although the ground was pretty boggy either side of the path. The summit view consisted of (you’ve guessed it) mist, but this lifted as we walked down and around the hill.

Heading off of Blorenge summit
Heading off of Blorenge summit

Below the mist we were treated to some glorious views over Abergavenny and Skirrid (the hill on the right in the photo below).  We headed downhill slightly and then followed a circular route around the escarpment which eventually led us back to Keeper’s Pond. This second part of the walk, after we’d escaped the mist and radio masts, was so much more scenic and definitely worth extending the walk for.

View from Blorenge
View from Blorenge

Skirrid Fawr

The standalone hill of Skirrid Fawr (Ysgyryd Fawr) is on land owned by the National Trust. There are many myths and legends attached to it; evidently a landslide on the north of the mountain occurred when it was struck by lightning at exactly the same time that Christ was crucified.

The walk up Skirrid Fawr
The walk up Skirrid Fawr

This was my favourite hill walk of the week. We took the main track up through the woods and then skirted around the hillside on a rather muddy track until we reached the northern end of the hill. This was followed by a rather steep, albeit relatively short, climb up the hill using footholds in the path.

Scarlet waxcaps, Skirrid Fawr
Scarlet waxcaps, Skirrid Fawr

On the way up we passed some amazing fungi. I’ve subsequently found out that the picture above is of a scarlet waxcap. Despite its bright red colour it’s not poisonous but I’d still never consider eating it!

On the summit of Skirrid Fawr
On the summit of Skirrid Fawr

We arrived almost directly on the summit and were treated to fabulous views of Sugar Loaf and Blorenge. No mist, the strong wind had blown it all away.

The route back to the car park was along a broad grassy ridge which descended back down to the woodland. This was obviously the popular track as we passed several families and dog walkers coming up this route. If you don’t mind the short steep climb I’d personally recommend the hill using the route we took.

More info:

  • We followed the AA Sweet Walking on Sugar Loaf walk.  The route is 4.5 miles with 1,150 ft of ascent. We own the AA book of walks, but you can also download the route here.
  • We also followed the AA Bird’s-eye view of Abergavenny walk whilst on Blorenge. The walk is 3 miles long with an ascent of 530ft. We walked it in reverse; details of the original walk here.
  • Our walk to the summit of Skirrid Fawr was 4 miles long and took a couple of hours. We followed the route suggested on the National Trust website. Navigation was straightforward; be aware there’s a short but steep ascent up a grassy hill which was pretty muddy and slippy. Those with younger children might like to take the more gradual route and go up and down the main path.

These walks were suitable for our family; please do ensure you are appropriately equipped and prepared before heading out onto the hills.

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