Our Glenfinnan day was quite a busy day! We started the morning in Fort William (see our blog post on the Steal Waterfall hike) and when we finished that hike, we drove out to Glenfinnan. The drive took us about 45 minutes and was (surprise surprise) beautiful! We stopped at a grocery store on the way to get lunch food (our go-to out here is a baguette, cheese, and salami) and then headed up to where the Glenfinnan viaducts are in hopes of catching the steam train from below this time! You have to time it just right if you want to see the steam train go over the viaduct. Check the website for the times, The train leaves Fort William at 10:15am and 2:30pm each day and takes about 45 minutes to get to the viaducts. For us, it arrived at 3:15pm, but I would get there early jut in case it is faster that day. We were lucky to find a parking spot in a lot just up the road from the Glenfinnan Monument where the trail to the viaducts begins. Pictures of where we parked and where the trail starts below! We noticed that there aren’t spaces here, so you can just park anywhere you can find a spot as long as you aren’t blocking anybody in.
The path up to the viaducts is really beautiful. You can sit down in the fields and have a view of the viaducts, but we felt it was better to walk up a little bit more to the hills underneath the viaducts. It’s a great place to bring a blanket and sit down and have a picnic before or after the train arrives. If you wait around for about 7 minutes after the train coming from Fort William passes, you’ll see the train coming from Mallaig pass as well. It’s very cool to see the train go over the viaducts, but the viaducts themself are beautiful too! The whole area is pretty. On the way back down to the car, we stopped and had a picnic in front of a little stream which was so lovely. If you’re interested in seeing the steam train from the other side of the viaducts, I believe there is a trail that starts from somewhere around the Glenfinnan Momument, we saw people hiking up there. We didn’t spend too much time at the viaducts, so after we were finished, we decided to leave our car in the lot and walk down to the monument.
The monument was beautiful to see. If you want to go inside the fence and up to the top, you have to pay £3.50 each which isn’t bad, but we didn’t see the need to go to the top of the monument. We walked around it and read the inscription and then went down to the water where we saw the HAPPIEST dog playing in the water which was so adorable and added to this already great day (dog appearance not guaranteed.). You don’t really need to spend too much time in this area unless you want to. After we looked at the monument, we chose to go inside where they have a little museum set up with the story of The ‘45 and Bonnie Prince Charlie. I won’t tell you all of the details, because then what would you learn when you go? The very short version is that in the mid 1700s, Charles Edward Stuart, the son of the ousted King of England, tried to re-claim his father’s throne with support from the highland chieftains. It didn’t go well as I’m sure you know. There are so many interesting details though, so I definitely would advise you set aside about an hour to walk around the museum and read and listen to everything they have to offer. The monument museum also has a gift shop and a cafe if you get hungry. Extra tip: there is a bathroom in the museum but they ask for I think 30 pence to use it so make sure you have some change on you.
When we were finished at Glenfinnan, it was time to head to our Airbnb in Morar. Tomorrow is our day to head to Mallaig to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye so we wanted to be very close. Here is a tip for the Scottish Highlands in general: rent a car! It’s just very hard to get around and see everything that you want to see without one. The drive to Morar was stunning, but a lot of it was what we saw on the Jacobite Steam train, just from the road instead of the train tracks. If you give yourself some time, there are plenty of places along the way to pull over and take some pictures. Morar is really beautiful, it’s a very quiet little town. Our Airbnb was situated just outside of the tiny town, we were walking distance from the Morar Hotel which was really the only place around to get dinner. The dinner was ok, mostly bar food and some fancier dishes and the bar had a decent selection. The bar only has a couple of tables, but they do have a restaurant that has more seating. Overall it was an okay experience, but if you aren’t exhausted from doing two different hikes and driving a lot that day, then maybe opt to drive a little further out to find another restaurant. All-in-all it’s a good place to stay if you want a quick drive to catch the early ferry the next morning. ~Annette
Fort William & Mallaig, Scotland
This morning started with quickly grabbing breakfast and then driving down to the Fort William Train Station. We were very excited to ride the Jacobite Steam Train (also known as the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig and most notably over the Glenfinnan viaduct. We got to the station pretty early even though our GPS wanted to take us to the hospital across the street instead. This was the first train station we’ve visited in Scotland, and honestly it looked so unassuming that we missed it a couple of times. It was very surprising to see that behind this little building were tracks that big trains came and went from. The waiting room was quite small, so we decided to hang out in our car and put our makeup on. We hadn’t had the chance that morning and wanted to make sure we made it to Fort William in time. When you’re driving on unfamiliar roads that are small and windy, sometimes, if you’re a careful driver it takes you longer than what the estimate on the GPS is. We’ve been lucky not to encounter any traffic really, but we definitely can’t take some of those curves at the suggested 60 mph and we sometimes had to pull over for speedier drivers to pass. Still though, we arrived about 2 hours early so we had some time to kill. When we went back into the station about 30 minutes before boarding the station was packed with people! On the Jacobite Steam Train you’re assigned a seat, so I guess that people were hoping to be first to get a picture in front of the steam train! There are a couple of first class cars, and the rest are coach. I found the coach car to be very comfortable with really great head rests. Here is an insider tip- for the best views, if you’re going from Fort William to Mallaig you want to be on the left side of the coach. If you’re going from Mallaig to Fort William of course you want to be on the right. The further back you are (we were in the second to last car) the better your view of the viaducts will be when you pass over them (at least if you’re going from Fort William to Mallaig.) I’m not sure about the other way, because I was so tired that by the time we reached the viaducts I had actually fallen asleep.
”For the best views, if you’re going from Fort William to Mallaig, you want to be on the left side of the coach.”
The journey on the Jacobite Steam Train costs £30 pounds for a single (British for one-way) and £35 for a day return ticket ( British for both ways.) You can check out tickets here. When we bought our tickets, unfortunately they were not able to sit us together on the return trip from Mallaig to Fort William so we opted to take the regular Scots Rail train back instead, those tickets were £7.20 a piece so we ended up paying £2.20 more . Both trains have the same views, and they are gorgeous gorgeous views. If I were to do it again though, I wouldn’t take the steam train, I’d save money and take the Scots Rail train and here is why:
The ride took about 2.5 hours to get to Mallaig. When we got to Mallaig, we spent most of our time checking out the parking lots, we needed to find a place to park our car next Saturday! We know we’re going to the Isle of Skye and then directly to Knoyndart. Our car can’t come to Knoyndart with us, so we will have a short window to park our car and then get back to the ferry terminal so we can catch our boat to Knoyndart. Lucky for us, there are two separate places where you can leave your car for up to 7 days so we should be fine on the day of! The town is VERY small, so it’s a quick walk pretty much everywhere. We were able o get some snack food at the co-op and have little yogurt/carrot/hummus dinners on the Scots Rail train home. Word to the wise: If you plan on eating cheaply and getting a lot of grocery store lunches while you are traveling, try to bring a small cold pack. If you’re staying in Airbnb’s you shouldn’t have any trouble freezing it. We didn’t do that, but when we were sitting there with our melty cheese sticks, we wished we had. All in all it ended up being a pretty slow day. The journey was quite beautiful, but I’m not sure it was worth spending an entire day doing that route. We still had a car, so we could’ve use it as transportation, but if you don’t have a car and need to get from Fort William to Mallaig, the train ride is definitely one of the most beautiful in the world. ~Annette
(photos and captions by Kim)