Amid such a stunning natural landscape, it can be easy to overlook Lochaber’s industrial side, but industrial developments over the years have had significant economic and physical impacts on the area. The work of some notable engineers had a profound effect on the life and appearance of Lochaber.
General Wade – ‘Wade’s roads’
Major-General George Wade, who was Commander-in-chief of North Britain from 1724 until 1740, made a significant difference to the Lochaber landscape by improving military routes across the highlands – building 385km of new road and 40 bridges, that dramatically altered the nature of the area.
Thomas Telford – Caledonian Canal
The renowned engineer and prolific road, bridge and canal builder Thomas Telford constructed the Caledonian Canal along the Great Glen between 1803 and 1822. The Canal was designed not only to create an easier and safer route for ships than the diversion around the north coast of Scotland (needed due to war with France), but also to provide employment in the Highlands. The Canal opened up new transport links to the area, leading the way to increasing industrial development.
Robert McAlpine – Fort William to Mallaig railway
Robert McAlpine built the Fort William to Mallaig railway, which completed the West Highland Line from Glasgow. Today this route is classed as one of the world’s great rail journeys. The line incorporated the world’s first concrete bridge and was completed in 1901.
William Halcrow – Hydropower tunnel
The ‘Lochaber Power Scheme’ of the late 1920s and 1930s was the biggest tunnelling scheme in the world at the time. William Halcrow bored a tunnel 5m in diameter and 24 km long through the Ben Nevis massif to provide hydroelectric power for smelting aluminium in the factory at Fort William.
The tunnel takes water through Ben Nevis to two lines of enormous steel pipes that descend from a height of 182m (600 feet) into the power-house of the Lochaber Smelter. These pipes are a distinctive landmark of industry in the area. The smelter remains a major industry in the Fort William area.