Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

There was a lot of commotion outside our tents and we weren’t exactly sure what was going on.

We’d pitched up camp the night before below the great viaduct of Glenfinnan, made famous all over the world by the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone film.

Wondering what all the fuss was, I opened my tent to find a group of around 50 people mulling about, their phones pointed towards the viaduct as if something great was about to happen.

And something great did happen: an old steamer chugged its way past, much to the delight of the crowd, and those on board were visible enough so that we could see their wide grins and frantically waving hands.

It wasn’t any old train going past either, but The Jacobite steamer, a tourist service in Scotland that has wowed many a passenger and is regularly described as one of the world’s best railway journeys.

Also known as the Hogwarts Express, the steamer has operated under various names and various operators since it began operations in 1984.

Currently managed by West Coast Railways, it makes the 84-mile round trip almost all year, with services running from March to October in the mornings, and May to September in the evenings.

It starts with the dramatic backdrop of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, before snaking its way to Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arising.

After this, it passes by Britain’s deepest freshwater loch, Loch Morar, as well as the isle’s shortest river, River Morar, before arriving at the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis.

These are only a handful of the spots The Jacobite passes, with stops at many more magical destinations.

Glenfinnan itself is surrounded by hair-raising mountains, and The Jacobite crawls across the viaduct offering jaw-dropping views of the landscape.

Beyond the town are the beautiful hidden gem villages of Lochailort, Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig.

Some stops, like Arisaig, are request stops, meaning you are required, quite old fashionably, to ask the guard to allow you to alight.

It’s a great place to explore, as on a warm summer’s day you can spot the “Small Isles” of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and the southern tip of Skye.

From here the train zooms past Morar and the gorgeous beaches that many a Hollywood blockbuster have used, including “Highlander” and “Local Hero”.

While the steam train itself is fairly new, the railway line and the towns it passes through are steeped in history.

The end of the line, Maillag, was founded during the 1840s when the owner of the North Morar Estate, Lord Lovat, cut the surrounding lands and encouraged those who lived around Loch Morar and Loch Nevis to resettle in what would become Mallaig.

Mallaig is today a busy fishing town which offers services to the nearby Isle of Skye, itself one of Scotland’s most breathtaking destinations.

For those travelling on The Jacobite, a stopover of around an hour and a half allows passengers to explore the old town, grab a bite to eat, and perhaps even a pint at one of its fabled taverns.

First-class return tickets for adults cost £95 while a standard is £65, and children travel first-class for £64 and standard for £36.

It might seem a steep price to pay, but thousands of people have left stellar reviews on the travel website TripAdvisor, singing the Jacobites praises.

One user, who_we_talking_about said: “The Jacobite Steam Train is a must-do when visiting Scottland — this may be the best way to visit the highlands. The trip is amazing and the scenery is jaw-dropping!”

While another, Cynsha from Minnesota in the US, wrote: “We rode the Jacobite Steam Train in April 2022. It was on my list of favourite destinations and even though it rained that day, it was still the best experience of my life. Just to ride in the same train from the Harry Potter movies made it one of the most memorable events of our trip to Scotland.”

Judy from Australia added: “A once-in-a-lifetime special experience, it was one out favourites in Scotland. I am so glad we booked well ahead in First Class seats with champagne, it was such a special once in a lifetime experience! Truly special and the visit to Mallaig was also lovely. Highly recommend fish and chips from a local pub there!”

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