Riding the Jacobite Express

Being a big Harry Potter fan AND a lover of trains, when I found out that the Hogwarts Express (or the Jacobite Express if you want to use its ‘real life’ name) runs out of Fort William, I couldn’t resist splashing out and jumping aboard. It’s not a theme ride or anything, but a long running scenic train that was just so adorable that it got picked to be used in the Harry Potter movies. The train is a wonderful little old steam train that toots in all the right places. It runs the route between Fort William and Mallaig, which takes it through some beautiful scenery and passes many locations from the movie. There’s a regular train that runs the same route and is cheaper, but come on, who doesn’t love steam trains?

I foolishly didn’t book my ticket in advance for the train so I turn up super early to try to get one of the limited tickets that they sell on the day. Luckily the train isn’t full anyway so I probably didn’t need to turn up so early. It’s still a huge thrill to finally be onboard after so much anxious waiting. The train toots out a trail of steam as it gets on its way and I can’t keep the grin off my face.

The Jacobite Express - Fort William

All aboard!

The most famous part of the trip is the Glenfinnan viaduct, a spectacular arched bridge that overlooks Loch Shiel. It’s the most easily recognizable of the Harry Potter locations and the train lets out many bursts of steam as it goes across the bridge. The sun is getting lower in the sky as we goes across, lighting everything up in a wonderful soft light. It’s almost like we’re in a movie or something.

Glenfinnan viaduct - Fort William

Chugging across Glenfinnan viaduct

Just after the viaduct, the train makes a half hour stop in Glenfinnan where you can get some food from the Dining Car (it’s not part of the train but the name of a restaurant beside the station that’s inside an old train carriage) or check out the small visitors’ center. I go to the Dining Car and get a takeaway cup full of fresh strawberries and cream that makes everyone who opted for ice cream extremely jealous. Yum!

The train continues through an array of stunning locations as it makes its way to Mallaig. I see some more suspiciously Harry Potterish spots as we chug along. It’s a great way to see the sights as the train goes at a nice slow pace that gives everyone plenty of time to soak in the scenery. We’re certainly in no hurry to get to Mallaig, but in such a beautiful place, why rush?

Somewhere near Fort William

Gorgeous views from the train

Besides the lovely scenery, there’s something wonderful about riding in the old steam train. Whenever we go through a tunnel the steam rushes in the open windows and fogs up the whole train until we come lazily out the other side. The conductor dutifully toots whenever we go through particularly pretty areas for extra good photo opportunities. When the tracks go close to the road there’s always groups of photographers waiting for the cute little train to pass and passersby waving to the train with enormous grins on their faces. There’s just something about trains isn’t there?

Mallaig

Mallaig from across the water

Eventually the little train chugs into Mallaig, a nice little harbor town at the end of the railway line. We have a couple of hours free to explore the town before making the return journey. Mallaig is one of the ferry points for the Isle of Skye and the Inner Hebrides. It’s a small town and would probably get a bit boring after a while, but it’s very quaint and a nice stop for the afternoon. I don’t feel like browsing the shops so I take a nice hill walk instead with views over the town and out to the islands. I get back to town with just enough time to grab some fish and chips for tea which I have to defend from the local sea gulls.

Loch Shiel - Fort William

Loch Shiel in the evening light

The nice thing about doing the train’s afternoon run (apart from not having to get up too early) is that you get beautiful evening light on the way back. I sit on the other side of the train for the return journey so I can see the things I missed while I was looking too intently in the other direction. Going the same way back doesn’t feel repetitive at all. It’s wonderful to get to see all the beautiful places again. I arrive back in Fort William with a dazed smile on my face. What a wonderful day out.

Listening to: Gold on the Ceiling – The Black Keys

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