Fort William to Mallaig.
Oh yeah, I’m like a kid in a candy shop. Steam trains and Harry Potter all rolled into one, surely it can’t get any better.
This is described as one of the greatest railway journeys in the world, I honestly can’t argue with that. The 84-mile round trip takes you past some impressive and dramatic scenery. Beginning at Fort William (the largest town in the Highlands, situated in the shadow of Ben Nevis), everyone excitedly takes their seats, waiting for the build up of steam and the ‘toot toot’ to let you know that the journey has begun. Enjoy the panorama of rhododendrons that are prevalent, interspersed with heather that grow around ancient boulders, or serene fern covered forest floors.
Hubby wasn’t alone in sticking his head out of the window to take photos along the way, settling back into his seat, smelling of smoke, but as happy as the preverbal pig. Of course, the most photographed station is Glenfinnan Viaduct. A breathtaking feat of engineering with its 21 arches, and yes, the actual one that the Hogworts Express travelled over, and the viewpoint to the side of the viaduct, up a slight hill, is the best place to snap your piccies (parking can be difficult, so make sure to get there with plenty of time to spare). Although the end of the line is Mallaig, there are request stops along the way: Banavie, Corpach, Loch Eil, outward bound centre, Locheilside, Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Beasdale, Arisaig and Morar. Between these last two stations, on a clear day you will be able to see the small isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and the southern tip of Skye. Marvel at the views as you approach Arisaig, along with the white sandy coastline, taking you into Morar. A real wow.
Two hours later, we arrived at Mallaig. A busy fishing port and ferry terminal with services to Skye and the small isles. During the summer months, the town is lively and colourful, full of hikers and tourists. A good selection of eateries, ice cream kiosks and a local co-op. Here you have 90 minutes before the return train trip. This for us, was plenty of time, to mooch down to the harbour, watch the local resident seal swim about, whilst waiting for his favourite fishing boat to appear, then stop for a lovely lunch of scampi & chips at The Tea Garden Café, bear in mind its usually busy, but definitely worth the wait. Although should you be more adventurous and have time, take a wildlife cruise or try the Mallaig circuit walk, which has great views over the harbour and well-constructed paths, but with some ascents. Taking roughly 1-1/2 hrs and approx. 3km in length.
Booking for the steam train is advisable well in advance, as its extremely popular. Due to the age of the carriages, unfortunately they are not designed to accommodate wheelchairs, as the seating areas and toilets are accessed through narrow doorways and corridors. Although, staff will do their best to help passengers who require some assistance. At the time of our journey the cost of a standard return trip was £57 per person. Extras are available for those wishing to make the most of their trip, perhaps first-class with upholstered seats and extra leg room, or a Jacobite High Tea with sandwiches, condiments, scone, jam and a selection of cakes, or for that special planned moment, champagne, flowers, chocolates or whisky miniatures. Check the website for prices and times before you book.
Oh, and remember to wave to the excited onlookers as you pass through – and don’t be surprised if it’s not just the children that wave back! Enjoy.
Jacobite photos courtesy of our friend Bernie, thank you.