Aileen knows that I have a fondness for unusual and interesting train journeys and would one day love to go on a long-distance train journey such as one through the Rocky Mountains in Canada. As it turns out, Scotland also has an unusual and interesting train journey and my family surprised me with a trip aboard it for my 50th birthday.
‘The Jacobite’ was the steam engine used for the ‘Hogwarts Express’ as seen in the Harry Potter film ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’.
This 84-mile round trip starts in Fort William, near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. It visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig and passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, loch Morar. Finally arriving at Mallaig, next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis
As it is a very popular journey, we had to wait a couple of months after my birthday before we got a seat and as an extra surprise, we had a seat in the first-class carriage!
On arrival, we were shown to our carriage which gave a great first impression. Oozing with period features taking you back to bygone days. There were 6 signs on the table stating ‘Reserved’ and a bottle of Champagne and two glasses addressed to me – perfect. It got better! Not that we’re unsociable but we were aware that the carriage had room for 4 more passengers, which might limit our opportunity to look out the window and just generally relax into the journey. We only had about 15 minutes before departure yet the other seats remained empty. We knew that these seats were like gold dust and would not remain empty for long, so we sat and light-heartedly joked about who would join us. Would they be nonstop talkers? Would they be aloof and uninterested in their fellow passengers? Would they be extra large and fill up the small carriage? Or would they be friendly, like-minded souls who would enhance our journey? We waited to see!
Finally, the whistle blew and the train started to move. Aileen and I looked at each other and couldn’t believe our luck. Even though the other seats had been marked as reserved, nobody appeared and we had the whole carriage to ourselves. It felt like we had The Jacobite to ourselves whilst we looked out of the window and drank Champagne.
The journey certainly had its highlights.
Glenfinnan – Glenfinnan viaduct (a location made famous in the Harry Potter films) which overlooks Loch Shiel and the Jacobite monument. We stopped at Glenfinnan station for some photos and a stretch of our legs.
The scenery is without a doubt beautiful but we were frustrated at regular stages throughout the journey with the overgrown vegetation alongside the railway track. It might have just been the time of year, August and that’s the nature of nature but we knew that we were missing amazing views due to overgrown trees and shrubs. A small point but worth noting.
We finally arrived at Mallaig and whilst most of our fellow travelers headed for the tartan and souvenir shops in this picturesque fishing village, we decided to continue with the sightseeing. We noticed signs for local boat tours and one was for just over an hour, which gave us plenty of time to take this tour before our train would depart for the return journey. The company was called Western Isles Cruises and tours included a 1 hour wildlife cruise – perfect. As it turned out, it was perfect. The sea was calm, there was a clear blue sky and the views over to the Isles of Rum, Eigg and Skye were spectacular. We kept a close lookout for birds of prey and sea life but on this occasion, we were treated to seals basking on the rocks.
As promised, we were returned in time for our train journey back to Fort William. The journey back was just as enjoyable. Making this a trip to remember. One of those unusual and interesting train journeys I often dream about.