So today was not particularly action packed, but if you are a train aficionado today was for you. That’s because I took a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Hogwarts Express train), which was to take me me 41 miles northwest from Fort William to Mallaig and back.
I was at the train station about a half hour before our scheduled 10:15 a.m. departure. This gave me plenty of time to find out my seat assignment (First Class, Coach A, Seat B9 – left side of the train, which is the better of the two sides) and take a couple pictures of the old steam train before we pulled out of the station.
Now all seats are assigned on the train, but a family of three who were not supposed to sit in coach A decided to join me in my four seat compartment because they could not find coach D. Eventually a couple who had been assigned two of the seats showed up, but instead of giving up the seats, the family told them to go find other seats – seriously. Anyway, the train staff put a quick end to the nonsense and removed them from their seats and directed the family to coach D, four coaches back. And that is how I ended up sitting with a lovely newlywed couple from Nebraska.
Anyway, we were soon underway chugging west towards the coast before turning north to Mallaig. Now the scenery was pretty typical of what I had been seeing throughout my trip in the Scottish Highlands. Lots of tall trees, lakes (lochs), waterfalls and numerous small villages. However, the persistent cloud cover and periodic rain made it impossible to see Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, which we passed.
About an hour into the trip, we were told that we were approaching the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is the viaduct the Hogwarts Train passes across in the Harry Potter movies. And what was really cool is there were literally hundreds of people standing on hillsides waiting for the train to pass. I guess since Harry Potter, the train has become a massive tourist attraction
Now unfortunately, just as we were approaching the viaduct, it began to rain so it was impossible to take a good picture of the crossing so I was hoping the return trip would afford me a second opportunity for a picture.
So once we passed over the viaduct, we crossed through the little village of Glenfinnan, followed by Lochailort and Arisaig, with its beautifully sandy bays. On the right hand side of the train we soon passed Loch Morar, the deepest fresh water lake in Britain, before finally pulling into Mallaig, 2 ½ hours after we departed Fort William.
We had about an hour and a half in Mallaig before commencing the return journey. Now sadly, there is not a whole lot to see or do in Mallaig. I ended up finding a little seafood restaurant and had a soup called Cullen Skink (smoked Haddock, potato and leeks), which was fantastic followed by a prawn cocktail. Delicious.
After lunch, I wandered around the waterfront and then made my way back on the train. Fortunately, the weather gods were with us this time. We had sunny skies and no rain for the journey back giving us spectacular views of the Glennfinnan Viaduct as we crossed. And this time I got smart and opened the upper window beside me so I could hang my camera out and take pictures as we crossed.
By 3:45 we were nearing Fort William and because of the better weather, we were able to get a good view of Neptune’s Staircase, the longest staircase lock in Britain comprised of 8 locks on the Caledonian Canal. It takes about 90 minutes for boats to pass through the locks, which allows boats to travel all the way from Glasgow through Loch Linnhe to Loch Ness. It was quite the site.
By 4:00 p.m. I was heading back to the castle. I had opted to have the formal dinner at the castle, which began at 7:00 with a cocktail hour so in the interim, I decided to take a walk through the castle gardens and to go see my friends the hairy coos. Unfortunately, the main gardens were closed so this left me wandering around a path to nowhere. I eventually gave up and walked down the pebble path to see the cows.
Now earlier in the morning, the cows had disappeared on the other side of a ridge, but fortunately, they were back in an adjacent field. I ended up watching the cows for a bit and spotted a newbie, a tiny baby hairy coo (at least I think it was based on its colouring). I stood outside and watched the cows for about a half hour before I decided to go in and change for dinner. Unfortunately, I had not brought any fancy clothing so a pair of white pants and sweater was as good as it was going to get.
And dinner, quite frankly, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The first course sucked … beets and beetroots. Ugh. Probably my least favourite veggies. Second course was OK. A poached lobster tail. Third course was salmon. Easily the best course. Then there were two deserts. The first desert was a blackberry sorbet, which was excellent. The second desert was something called Millionaire’s shortbread. It had a VERY thin shortbread base, topped with chocolate and burnt sugar. It was so over the top sweet that I could only have one bite before pushing it away. Yuck.
Now the wine pairings were pretty good, but were made better by the entertaining wine sommelier, who literally did a dance every time he poured the wine, waving his arms and colourfully describing the wine. The dude certainly enjoyed his job.
By 10:00, dinner was over and I was off to bed, I have an early morning bus to Inverness tomorrow.