The railroad leading across the western part of Scotland is recognized as one of the most beautiful tracks of the world. Starting at Fort William, all the way to Mallaig, the railroad is always described with words of praise, and well deserved so.
There are many reasons for its fame. The starting point – Fort William is the second largest city of Scottish Highlands and it lies right at the bottom of the tallest mountain of Great Britain – Ben Nevis (1345 m.a.s.l.) I recommend sitting on the left side of the train, as the spectacular sceneries of hills, meadows and lakes are mind blowing there a little more than on the right side.
The first moments your views will be dominated by Loch Eil. After about an hour of gazing out of the window, you’ll get to a famous and historically significant Glenfinnan. The train will be stopping there for a while, which many people use for visiting a small museum – West Highland Railway Museum. Next part of the journey will enrich you with yet another lake view of Loch Eilt, then two coves and Morar area – famous for its White Sands of Morar beach. Your two hour ride across the breathtaking Scottish landscape ends in the town of Mallaig, where you absolutely have to try one of the best Fish’n Chips in this region.
However, it is not just the landscape that makes this journey so exceptional. The whole experience is enriched by the Jacobite Steam Train which has been used by passengers for some decades now. Originally, this route was used for transporting fish into London, and it was endowed by the government in order to maintain the connection to the coastline. All has changed however, as soon as the Jacobite train, together with Glenfinnan viaduct became part of the story of the world’s most popular wizard.
It was the Hogwarts Express, where young Harry met Ron and Hermione in 2001. This became a life changer for him, and so will the ride on the train for you. Harry and his friends took the Hogwarts Express (a.k.a. Rockfort’s Express in Slovakian) from King’s Cross to the famous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Thanks to this magical train, you also can become a character in Harry’s story and see what it feels like to be in the young wizard’s shoes.
You will get to see real spots where many scenes from the Harry Potter movies were shot. These naturally draw the attention of many fans, they became attractions for tourists, and together with the flow of tourists, there is cash flowing in too. Glenfinnan and its surroundings, Loch Shiel and Eilt are areas, where second and third Harry Potter movies (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) were made. Out of all the places, Glenfinnan viaduct is the top. A 380m long and 31m tall railway bridge is famous for its scene with a flying car. Everyone knows the scene, where Harry and Ron are dangerously floating above the moving train on this bridge, trying to get on, as they have missed it in King’s Cross.
All passengers sit up in anticipation to a loud hoot, which is the signal of approaching the viaduct. A centrepiece of the whole ride it is indeed. The train slows down here, so that everybody can enjoy this experience to the full extent. Passengers on the left side of the train, together with all the tourists piled up and waiting underneath the viaduct can relish the historical steam locomotive in all its beauty, underlined with the unforgettable Scottish countryside as its background. This part of the journey has much to offer in its magnificent scenery. You get to look over the Loch Shiel in the distance, which in the movies is known as the Hogwarts Lake. You’ll find the Glenfinnan Monument at this lake too, which is to remind us of the Jacobite rising in the 18th century.
The Jacobite Steam train operates on the line Fort William – Mallaig only during the season, which is from April to October. The timetable is not set for all months equally. In summer, there are always two trains a day. One in the morning, the other one in afternoon hours. First class return ticket will cost you 59 pounds; regular economy class is for 35 pounds. Tickets are in high demand, so chop chop, don’t procrastinate. In case you miss your chance to buy them, don’t despair. The West Coast Railways co. is planning to have some bonus Christmas rides ready for you.