What is the The West Highland Line?
The West Highland railway line runs from Glasgow to Mallaig via Fort William passing through Spean Bridge railway station. The train allows you to leave the car at home and enjoy exploring east to. Roy Bridge, Tulloch, Corrour, Rannoch or Tyndrum or west to Fort William.
Alternatively stay on the Fort William train and carry on to Mallaig for one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the UK. This trip passes over the Glenfinnan viaduct which was used for its dramatic setting as the Hogwarts Express carried Harry Potter off to school. You may also notice in the surrounding lochs unusual little tree covered islands used as back drops in the films.
After Lochailort station the train passes by a small white church at Polnish which was used in the film "Local Hero".
Further on is the most Westerly railway station in the UK at Arisaig. This area is renowned for its beaches although they are a lengthy walk from the railway station itself. Again the film "Local Hero" made use of these fabulous beaches including naming one "Ben's beach".
Tell me about the Jacobite Steam Train
From May to October the Jacobite steam train runs from Fort William to Mallaig and promises an experience from a bygone era. The train uses carriages similar to those in the Harry Potter series of films.
This is an extremely popular trip and most of the seats on the train are pre-sold on the West Coast Railways website but if you do not have a ticket there is one carriage with seats sold on the day.
If you have not been able to buy a ticket in advance we would suggest that you get to the station very early and buy your ticket from the conductor on the platform.
The best views are from the left of the train as you head west out of Fort William. As seats are pre-allocated and the train does not turn around at Mallaig you will be on the same side on the return journey.
The morning Jacobite runs from May to October with an afternoon service in June to August.
Morning steam for a lovely fresh prawn lunch:
Afternoon puff for Mallaig Fish and Chips:
There are some great places to eat in Mallaig with of course fresh seafood at its best. We recommend that you find somewhere to eat as soon as arriving in Mallaig to beat the crowds and then take a stroll afterwards to see the sights including the eight foot tall fisherman statue at the end of the harbour wall. If you would rather enjoy the fresh sea air take one of our packed lunches and find a sunny spot to enjoy it.
Where is the best place to park my car when going on the Jacobite Steam Train?
There are three long stay car parks around the Fort William railway station. Immediately around the station there are approximately 20 spaces for which there is no charge – you will probably have to leave our Spean Bridge accommodation quite early to get one of these. There is also a "Pay and Display" car park next to the station (across the A82 from the hospital and next to the Ellis Brigham outdoor equipment shop).
The best bet however might be to park on the North West side of the station. These car parks are likely to have more spaces available and as you walk towards the station you will be able to see, hear and smell the train which really adds to the anticipation.
The easiest way to get there is to take the A82 from Spean Bridge to Fort William until you reach the large roundabout in Fort William after the hospital. Take the second exit, following the signs for Morrisons' supermarket. Drive past Morrisons and you will see the first car park on your right. The post code for your Sat Nav is PH33 6AN and the current cost of a day car park ticket is £1.80. Should that car park be full there is another on the left hand side a little further on that same road.
Where is the best place to photograph the Jacobite Steam Train?
One of the best locations to photograph the Jacobite or Harry Potter Steam Train is where the train crosses the Glenfinnan viaductnear the A830 road. In addition to being extremely scenic the train slows down as it crosses the viaduct making it easier to capture that perfect shot.
To get there we would suggest that you park at the National Trust for Scotland, Glenfinnan car park (there is a charge) or if that is full there is a smaller car park on the first road on the right after the Visitor Centre. Again failing that there is a car park at Glenfinnan railway station.
There is a sign-posted path which leads from Glenfinnan railway station to several high viewpoints looking down on the viaduct. The path is rough and likely to be wet so wear suitable footwear. The path carries on down and under the viaduct giving great photo opportunities. Follow the road back to the A830 or retrace your steps. If you parked at the NTS visitor centre, exit the car park to the right, walk along the A830 and turn right into the single track road (signposted for Strathan) which heads towards the viaduct. You will find the sign-posted hill path on the left heading under the viaduct.
The viaduct curves beautifully, very photogenic and it’s easy to imagine Harry and Ron flying their car along the route of the railway line.
According to the timetable the train stops at Glenfinnan at 10:54 in the morning or 14:52 on the afternoon trip but we would recommend getting there much earlier to ensure you can park easily and find the best vantage point. It may take up to 40 minutes to find your favourite spot after leaving your car.
Note that the Jacobite locomotive will be travelling in reverse on the return journey so possibly not so great to photograph.
If you have time the Glenfinnan House Hotel is a fantastic characterful traditional West Highland hotel with log fires and wood panelling. On our last few visits the food has been delicious.
Spean Bridge to Glenfinnan is 23 miles which is approximately 35 minutes by car.
Is it worth buying first class seats on the Jacobite Steam Train?
The general opinion is that first class is more comfortable with larger seats giving extra leg room. The carriage itself is more luxurious than the standard carriages with nicer furnishings. Travellers are also served with complimentary tea and coffee for both legs of the journey. Some people have said that second class is more cramped with four sitting to a table either side of the passageway.