I'm sure many people will know of the Jacobite Express, plenty more will have seen it, especially schoolchildren, without realising it's a working, authentic locomotive. It is of course immortalised by the Harry Potter films.
We decided to take this journey while in Fort William after travelling the Caledonian Canal by boat. Ill health meant our usual hill walking wasn't possible but we didn't want this obstacle to spoil our enjoyment of the marvellous scenery this part of the world has to offer. Indeed the 84 mile round trip is described by some as among the world's best,
Fort William we've always liked being just big enough to have all the facilities you want and need but not too big to be bustling and impersonal. And of course it nestles under the towering Ben Nevis.It's also perfectly located to drive back and forth to when visiting numerous beauty spots in the area.
The Jacobite's 84 circular route might not seem overly long compared with some of the mammoth journeys you can undertake in places like Canada and South America. Neverthelss it does visit a few record holders during it's few hours on the tracks – Britains' most westerly mainline station – Arisaig, the deepest freshwater loch, Morar and it's accompanying shortest river of the same name, finishing with the deepest sea water loch, Nevis. And of course Ben Nevis is the highest peak in Britain at 1,344 m or 4,406 feet. You can alight at Arisaig where on a clear day, which we fortunate to have, you can see across to the Small Isles and glimpse the tip of Skye. Bring your binoculars.
Needless to say the highlight of the trip is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. It's 21 arches owe a lot of their renown to the Potter films but it's a lovely bit of scenery in it's own right. Quite often they'll stop the train right on the viaduct to allow guests to shoot a few snaps and take in the view. I would think when the train is on the viaduct with a clear blue sky as backdrop, it must be the stuff of dreams for professional photographers.
Mallaig is the end of the line and again it has that Fort William feel, just the right size to browse for the hour and a half we were allowed, not too big to miss anything of significance. Some of our travelling companions left the Jacobite here as they were taking the ferry to Skye. Apart from being the centre of ferrying operations in this part of the world Mallaig is a relatively busy fishing port. Which means of course the fish and chips we devoured were simply superb.
We headed back slightly earlier than some of the others because we wanted some footage of the train itself. The scenery is spectacular and idyllic but that shouldn't overshadow the grandeur of the locomotive. Nor the prodigious amount of work it puts in, The West Highland Railway is notorious for it's hairpin turns (well, at least in the railway sense !) and steep and long climbs. The feel, sight and sounds as it takes on these challenges does indeed have you conjuring up memories from a bygone era.
All in all a very interesting, sightful and ralaxing way to spend a good part of the day. And as I say, if you couple it with a trip on the Caledonian Canal you've covered some of the most majestic, beautiful and evocative vistas in the Highlands without exhausting or inconveniencing yourself. Highly recommended.