I parked my car and rushed into the Fort William train station just like Harry Potter ran into the London station to catch the train to school. I didn't want to miss the Jacobite Steam Train trip that goes over the Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous in the Harry Potter movies. The train trip is called the 'Road to the Isles' and is an 84-mile round trip journey from Fort William to the port of Mallaig.
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Before we leave the train station, the engineer lets all the kids climb up into the engine and have their picture taken. Then everyone climbs aboard and off the train chugs, whistle going and steam filling the air.
The train is packed with moms, dads, and kids, and we are all excited about the journey and busy taking photos--this is one of the most scenic train rides in Scotland.
Just after leaving Fort William we cross the river Lochy where there is a swing bridge over the Caledonian canal. Then we travel along flat land called the Corpach Moss. On the right side of the train the 'Great Glen' stretches into the distance. The Great Glen is a spectacular valley that runs for over 60 miles between Loch Linnhe in the south-west and the city of Inverness in the north-east of Scotland.
Six miles into our journey we pass Loch Eil, where 17 sea walls were built to keep the strong winds and the ocean from destroying the track. Just ahead and for the next 10 miles of our trip are mountains that rise up to 2900 feet. They seem to lean over the train.
Then suddenly we are at the Glenfinnan viaduct. The viaduct has 21 arches and is 100 feet high. It is quite a site and one we all recognize from the Harry Potter movies. The train slows down so everyone can take pictures.
Soon we stop at the Glenfinnan train station, a little station on the mountainside in the middle of nowhere. There's a tiny museum telling us all about the building of this train line and a view down 17 mile long Loch Shiel and the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie. (He was a Scottish hero).
Now we head up to the top of the 'Butter Churn' mountain; the train lets off lots of steam on this steep climb. We go through two tunnels on this section of the trip before heading along a mountain ledge and down to Loch Eilt.
28 miles into our journey we meet the Atlantic ocean and the start of the steepest part of the rail track as it twists to the summit of Beasdale. Here is another long tunnel and another viaduct, but it's not as spectacular as the Glenfinnan (Harry Potter) viaduct. The green hills and mountains are beautiful and lonely looking.
We come to Arisaig, a tiny little railway station, and looking out to sea we can just spot the islands of Rum and Eigg. Then down the mountain we go and cross a peat moor to a few scattered houses, called Morar village. In the distance we can see sparkling white sands.
Finally, after 41 miles, we end our journey at the small seaport of Mallaig. Everyone rushes off the train, talking and sharing their excitement of the trip.
We have time to walk around the harbour (where you can catch a ferry to the island of Skye), grab a quick lunch and visit the small museum at the train station. Then it's back on board for our return journey when we have the fun of travelling over the viaduct again and re-visiting all the spectacular scenery.
Make reservations at least two days ahead for the trip as it gets booked up quickly. A few unreserved seats are available if you want to rush for the line-up and chance a try. Best not to count on it, though.
The train is not air-conditioned and there is only a small window at each seat. Try to time your journey when the weather is sunny but not hot—the train can become a heat box on the return.
For reservations: Jacobite Steam Train