This was my third visit to Scotland to see M and after we visited the most touristy places in the east of Scotland, we decided to head west this time and check out those parts as well. Not a bad choice! The highlight of the trip was, of course, the train ride with the Hogwarts Express! 🙂
I’ve done my share of traveling by train, but never with a steam train and never on such a scenic route. I barely managed to keep my eyes off the window!
The two hours journey with the Jacobite steam train is both for those who wish to admire the amazing scenery and also for Harry Potter fans. Cause yes, this is where the scenes on board the Hogwarts express were filmed! The company running the Jacobite service provided Warner Brothers with the train used as the Hogwarts Express in all of the movies and allowed them use of the Jacobite’s route for filming. You will definitely recognize the Glenfinnan Viaduct!
The journey starts in Fort William, the largest town in the Highlands. The town is situated at the southern end of the Great Glen and lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britains highest mountain. It is a centre for hillwalking and climbing due to its proximity to Ben Nevis and many other Munro mountains. It is also known for its nearby downhill mountain bike track. It was full of hikers and hiking shops. Maybe next time we’ll also go there to check out the hiking routes and climb on the top of UK 🙂
This time, since we arrived in the afternoon, we only had a short walk in the town center and on some small streets with awesome villas and a stroll by the banks of Loch Linnhe. I think you can also take boat tours, but I didn’t have time to check them out. There are also many pubs where you can taste the famous haggis and local ales, both yummy. If you are looking for a more cultural pastime, there’s also a small museum in the city center: The West Highland Museum. We ended up visiting it in our second day in Fort William, after returning from Mallaig. Situated in the High Street in the heart of the historic town, The West Highland Museum’s collections tell the story of the region and its history. The entrance is free and there are loads of random artifacts, ranging for hiking equipment, to coins, household items and even treasures from a shipwrecked Spanish Armada galleon. So if you have an hour or so at your disposal it’s worth checking out 🙂
Back in the room at the B&B, we found an odd sheep show, in gaelic. I blame M for finding it since she didn’t want to spend more time at the pub 😛 The show was a nice way of getting introduced to Gaelic language, which sounds interestingly incomprehensible. The dog sport is unfortunately quite addictive … but don’t tell anyone we actually cheered for dogs that were running sheep down a hill towards a really small enclosure. It was not as easy as it sounds, they had a long way to go, around a field, fences, gates and other obstacles which they had to go through or around, as directed by their handlers. These handlers were standing close to the enclosure, far away from the initial position of the sheep and only used whistles to guide the dogs. Impressive!
After investigations I found out that the sport is called sheepdog trial. Such events are particularly associated with hill farming areas, where sheep range widely on largely unfenced land. And didn’t seem very interested in running down hills… These trials take place in many farming nations, the first dog trials were held in Wanaka, New Zealand in 1867 🙂 Here’s an example.
Ok … enough with the sheep … let’s move on to the train ride 😛 We picked the morning service which departs at a quarter past ten. The journey lasts for around two hours one way and you get to see some awesome scenery, hills, lakes and meadows. If you are lucky, you might be able to spot some deers, but they are easily startled by the train so don’t take your eyes off the window! The train goes pretty fast, didn’t expect a steam train to do so, but there’s plenty of time to enjoy the sights. Another thing that I didn’t expect (although kinda obvious now that I think of it) was the stinkiness of the steam. You barely notice it for most of the ride, it’s only unpleasant in the tunnels when the air inside the carriage gets a bit stuffy. It clears out fast though, but there are a few tunnels on the way. So the only downside of the ride was the fact that the trolley guy (yes, there was one serving various refreshments and snacks) didn’t sell Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans or chocolate frogs 🙁 . Or maybe I could only see the stuff for muggles… 🙁
The train makes a small stop in Glenfinnan after the famous viaduct. You can visit the small Glenfinnan Station Museum. It is located in the station building and its exhibits focus on the construction, impact and operation of the Mallaig Extension Railway in the late 19th century. The restored booking office includes the original tablet instruments and various artifacts specific to the local area. There is also a changing exhibition of railway photography, a gift shop and outside you can see some old carriages and a train snow plow.
After the short stop the journey continues onward to Mallaig through more awesomeness.
Mallaig is a small village founded in the 1840s. The population and local economy expanded rapidly in the 20th century with the arrival of the railway. There are also ferries that go to the Isle of Skye and other smaller isles. Mallaig is the main commercial fishing port on the West Coast of Scotland, and during the 1960s was the busiest herring port in Europe.
It has several restaurants, cafes and several guest houses scattered around the town. The village centre is compact and sits close to the harbour and railway station, with residential areas beyond to the south and east of the harbour. There are also a couple of minimarkets and gift shops offering the usual Scottish merchandise. Apart from the Hogwarts Express and railway, some other local areas were also used for location filming. We had a bit over an hour and a half to spend in Mallaig and we had a small walk in the village center, took some pics of the harbour and had some yummy sea food. I’ve read about a scenic one hour walk that you can take in the hills to get some better views of the harbour and islands, but we couldn’t find the entrance to it and we were also hungry, so we quickly gave up the idea of climbing there…
On the train ride back the Fort William they hold a raffle. The money that is raised goes to a local charity and you can win bottles of local whisky and other Scottish goodies. I think it’s a great way to promote and also raise some money for the local charities so I did try my luck, but didn’t get any whiskey.
On the way back I tried taking a few more pictures, but it a bit hard to. You need to get near the exit of the carriage where the windows open to get some clear pics. And when there are only a few exits and lots of people trying to take pics, it may be a bit difficult to find an empty spot. Also, if you stand by the window and forget to close it in the tunnels, you will get to inhale some of that nice exhaust fumes. I spent some time there with my head out the window and also with the camera, and got some pics, like the one above that now looks to me like some kind of jungle… But, as you can see, I didn’t manage to capture the viaduct, only it’s ending… Oh well… I guess I can use this as an excuse to go back! 😛
Did you travel to these parts of Scotland? What did you think?
- the steam train ride from Fort William to Mallaig and back costs 34£
- the ticket can be bought online (extra booking fee of 3.25£) or at the train station (but you have to get there early since there will be a queue). There was a slight problem when we booked online, we wanted two tickets and we could only get them in two separate transactions (so 2 booking fees) and ended up with two seats in two different carriages. So we had to wait in the queue and ask for the ticket lady to change the seats, which she did, so that was ok, but I can’t really see the advantages of booking online…
- we rode in a carriage without compartments, but there’s also a more expensive option of travelling in a more Harry Potter-esque carriage with compartments 🙂
- more info on the exact timetable and train ride can be found on their site
- during the stop in Mallaig you can take a 1 hour boat trip, its timetable is linked to the train 😉
- in Fort William we stayed at Aldourie B&B – I highly recommend it, Norma was really friendly and cooks a yummy Scottish breakfast (you can also opt for cereals and other stuff, we chose the full Scottish one) and the room was neat and comfy (send me a message if you want more details or contact info)
I pinpointed Fort William and Mallaig on the map:
And here’s a gallery with more pics 🙂
trip date: June 2014