The “Jacobite” connecting the Scottish villages of Fort William and Mallaig has always been regarded to be one of the most beautiful rail routes in the world. However, the Harry Potter movies gaves this steam train ride the ultimate boost, as the route and the train has been used as “Hogwarts Express”. Definitely a reason for my wife (and me) to do the trip.
The Jacobite – Route Classes and Pricing
The distance between Fort William and ;Mallaig is some 65kms. The train used to run once a day, but during peak season, two daily steam trains are running on the route. The morning service leaves Fort William at 10:15 and arrives in Mallaig at 12:25, departing for the inbound ride at 14:10 and arriving at Fort William at 16:00. The afternoon service is having roughly four hour later times, leaving Fort William at 14:30 and being back there at 20:31. Both services take a some 25 minute break at Glenfiddan on the outbound route. While the train carts have been used in the movies, the original locomotive is not in use for the Jacobite service – you may see it in the Harry Potter Studio Tour near London.
Pricing is a bit complex: first of all, single and return pricing is the nearly the same – a first class adult return is 59 GBP, while the single is 54 GBP. There is also a Harry Potter alike First Class compartment – unfortunately, due to the 2018 summer heat, this cart had to go to maintenance unexpectedly and we had an ordinary plushy first class compartment (without table). The less comfortable Standard Class return is 35 GBP for adults, kids pay 20 GBP. You can order additional services like champagne, high tea or order meals and snacks either from a trolley or from the menu, depending on the carriage you are in. Each wagon has sanitary services, there is even a rolling souvenir store in the train.
By the way, if you just want to enjoy the beautiful route and are neither in steam trains nor in Harry potter, there are four daily services operated by ScotRail in modern trains. The off-peak return is less than 15 GBP, kids go free.
The Jacobite – Fort William
Fort William just has some 10,000 inhabitants, but is called the “Outdoor capital of the UK“. The West Highland Way, which is a very popular hike in summer, ends here. Furthermore, it is the hub city to climb Ben Nevis, the British Isles highest peak (some 1,300 metres) or to explore it by cable car. Thus, the city feels very vibrant in summer, with a lot of pubs, beds and breakfast, outdoor equipment stores. The city center is really picturesque as well as its location embedded in hills is. Definitely a nice stay.
The Jacobite – Glenfinnan
The Harry Potter-even-more-pushed Glenfinann Viaduct and the Glenfinnan Monument give some popularity on this place, which is about one hour rail ride away from Fort William. The stop is mainly motivated by the small station museum and two old carriages, one dining car and a sleeping car nextby. The dining car has been turned to a nice cafe.
The Jacobite – Mallaig
The official population of Mallaig is less than 1,000 – and honestly, this harbor town, which is most popular for the ferry to the Isle of Skye and a couple of other islands, feels a bit like a very functional place. The train crew recommends to take the one hour cruise around the harbor area (which is of course perfectly fitting to the rail schedule…) and grab a bite thereafter – and that’s more or less all you may do in Mallaig in two hours. There is also a tiny and narrow Harry Potter souvenir store. My favorite place has been the rural bakery The Bakehouse, which offers some lovely and fair priced snacks. You may also head to a local Heritage Center, which has very average reviews, though. We had a quick walk around, grabbed some snacks and enjoyed how the steam train is put to the other end of the Jacobite, before we counted down to go back to Fort Williams.
The Jacobite – On Route
From Fort William, the first sight on route is Neptune’s Staircase, a series of watergates as part of the Scottish Channels. The tracks then more or less run at the coast of Loch Eil, which is just a lovely scenery, before the route becomes more hilly. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is definitely the highlight of the trip. The more the steam train needs to pull the carts uphill, the more there is smut coming through the window. I can either recommend to close the window (which is worse for taking pictures) or at least not to wear too light-colored clothing, as the smut will be everywhere in the cabin. In case of rainy conditions, we have been told that the visibility through the window is very limited – you sometimes see that when you passed a longer tunnel.
Loch Eilt, which is on the right-hand side of the route (outbound), is another beauty. Loch Ailort and Loch Nan Uamh already tell you that you are getting closer to the Atlantic Ocean. There is a short stop at Arisaig, the Westernmost point of the trip (just operational, no boarding / unboarding), before you enter Mallaig.
The train is really popular – more or less all the route, when the tracks are close to the (mostly parallel-running) A 830, people are taking pictures and waving to the train. The most popular spot, of course is the viaduct, where we had easily 200 people on the outbound route. It might have been even more on the inbound one, as both services meet (and pass) at Glenfinnan, so that you can spot both services in that area within less than a quarter of an hour.
The Jacobite – My View
I am not too much into Harry Potter, but riding The Jacobite was a really great experience. Steam trains are just very special, but even more special is the lovely scenery on the two hour ride. There are some reasons why I do not call it a “Top Pick!”, though: the most important one is the long stop in Mallaig, which felt too long to me. Though pricing for food was really reasonable, you sometimes felt like in a Ryanair plane when they told you where to spent your money best on the two stops in Glenfinnan and the ferry town. Apart from that, the toilets did not look too clean already short after Fort William. Nevertheless, it is an amazing trip – if you are around Fort William, you should go for this one!
The Jacobite – Full Gallery
I created a some 220 picture gallery of the trip in an additional gallery:
I took few of the pictures, esp. of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the day before the trip already.
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