IT’S perhaps the result of months of nothing but pinging back and forth along the M8 between Glasgow and Lanarkshire, Lanarkshire and Glasgow, but the A82 north feels like we’ve accelerated into another dimension.

Roadside grey is replaced by miles of roadside greenery and the bold silver cliff face of The Fort shopping centre swapped for Glen Coe. And what a swap.

After days of drizzle we are astonishingly lucky with the weather and travel under a dry blue sky, twisting past hulking other-worldly shapes, jagging into the skyline.

I feel overwhelmed by the incredible beauty of it all, not able to fully appreciate the wonder as I try to keep my eyes on the road. “Look at that, look at that, look at that,” I command my mum, in the passenger seat, trying to make sure she doesn’t miss an inch.

Ma Stewart, however, is gripping the seat with both hands and staring at the footwell. “When will it be finished?” she asks, plaintively.

Awesome for some, overwhelming for others, it would seem.

Finally we curve past the calm waters of Loch Linnhe, a more sedate and soothing beauty prevails as we arrive in Fort William. We instantly relax.

At the head of High Street sits The Garrison, our home for the next couple of nights.

A former police station, the building is newly refurbished into a four star hotel with a quirky twist - guests can stay the night in the cells.

While they are certainly compact, the clink is still stylish and rooms have everything a traveller might need.

Despite the cells’ clear comfort, we’re very happy to have a twin room upstairs in the hotel proper.

Our temporary home is cosy and luxurious, finely designed to make the most of the space and with a beautiful view out across the loch.

In the bathroom we spot luxury treats from the Highland Soap Company - whisky and honey scented. I wash my hands and smell like a hot toddy, which is marvellously comforting after the drive and a lovely way to settle in to our new surroundings.

It’s also a nice taster of our first adventure: soap making at the Highland Soap Company’s new flagship Visitor Centre and Larder Cafe.

Emma Parton, who founded the company in 2001, meets us at the entrance to the centre, which sits in six acres of grounds next to the 13th century Inverlochy Castle and the River Lochy.

It’s a beautiful backdrop for what marks a seminal moment for a company founded at Emma’s kitchen table when she was a new mum.

While talk abounds of businesses struggling during the pandemic, the Highland Soap Company has been a model of success, increasing online sales to the extent the firm is now planning to send its products to a third continent, having signed a deal with stockists in Hong Kong.

This adds to the current 350 stockists in Europe and North America.

Yet, despite this global reach, the products are still made in a traditional small batch manner.

On a behind-the-scenes tour of the factory we see products being labelled by hand and huge blocks of soap cut down to size using a frame of wood and guitar wire.


Environmental concerns play a prime role in the company, we learn on the tour, with Emma putting a focus on reducing plastic. Bottles are made from biopolymer, a plastic made from sugar cane.

It’s a renewable source that grows with natural rainfall.

Emma also refuses to produce miniatures, beloved of hotel chains, and instead sells full size bottles that can be refilled.

Before the tour, we take part in a soap making workshop, a new attraction just launched by Emma and her business partner Archie MacDonald.

We have huge fun learning about the botanicals and fragrances used by the company and choose our smells for our small batch of soaps. I pick geranium and lavender while my mum plumps for geranium and raspberry. We colour them with pink and purple dye and watch while the glycerin hardens in fancy moulds to create our very own, bespoke soaps.

Afterwards, there’s tea and amazing, plump scones in the cafe before some shopping in the visitor centre.

The Highland Soap Company isn't the only new investment drawing tourists to the area. Archie’s father is the millionaire businessman and serial entrepreneur Angus MacDonald, who has gifted a two-screen cinema and a bookshop to Fort William after reading that, in order for a town to feel good about itself, it should have these two amenities.

Archie tells us his ancestors were present at the 1692 Glen Coe massacre when soldiers loyal to the English king, led by general Robert Campbell, turned on the MacDonalds.

The family is literally and emotionally invested in the area.

We don’t have time to take in a movie but we are given a tour of the cinema, which feels, again, other-worldly after spending so long in a locked down Glasgow where the big screen was banned due to high covid-19 levels.

In one screen sits a Lotus sports car, which cinema-goers can sit in during the film - a new take on the drive in.

HeraldScotland: Ben Nevis reflected in Loch Linnhe. (Photo by: Andrew Ray/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images).

This might be one of the adventure capitals of the UK but it’s a pretty foodie few days for us as we, while we don’t catch a screening, do take time to enjoy tea in the cinema bar. With a picture window offering views to Main Street and a wood fired pizza oven, the building is surely a must for Fort William first dates.

And with movies and musts in mind, we also take a trip on the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig, over the cinematically famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.

What a marvellous treat that is. We sit in our seats gripped by the scenery as soot blows in through the open windows and makes fragrant confetti on our clothes and in our hair.

At the viaduct train spotters gather to wave us past and we feel like royalty, waving back from our special steam train.

At Mallaig there’s time to admire the scenery, grab a croissant from The Bakehouse, as recommended by Emma, and have lunch at the Tea Garden.

Glorious blue skies, sunshine and palm trees on the way up, sheeting rain that had us running for cover on the way back.

But the rain was fortunate as we ended up seeking solace in the Geographer on High Street with a huge bowl of steamingly delicious local mussels.

We subbed out the planes, and made the trip one of boats, trains and automobiles.

They say you haven’t experienced Fort William unless you’ve seen it in all weathers so we’re not disappointed when the drizzle mists over the Souter Lass, our Crannog Cruises vessel taking us out on Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil.

Ben Nevis imperviously peering down all the while, we sail along the water to Seal Island where three sleek seals are obligingly lounging on rocks for our viewing pleasure. One of them waves, I’m sure of it, and we’re given a good look before turning back to port.

It’s raining, so we hide below decks and have a cup of tea while we wait for the worst weather to pass. The sun quickly returns and as we wait for the boat to dock, we think of all the things we haven’t had time to do and how we can’t wait to return.

Catriona Stewart was a guest of the Highland Soap Company. A soap making workshop, behind-the-scenes tour and coffee in the Larder Cafe costs £25. See

She stayed at The Garrison Hotel. A superior king or twin with breakfast costs from £130. See or call 01397 602 021.

For boat tours, see

An adult day return on the Jacobite steam train is £49 standard and £69 first class. See

See for screening times at The Highland Cinema.