Sunday, 15 May 2016

Glenfinnan (and Mallaig), Scotland

This scene may appear familiar to followers of "Harry Potter" films.

The Glenfinnan viaduct, in the West Highlands of Scotland, appears in several of the films with the "Hogwarts Express" steam train making its way across on its journey from the mythical Platform 9¾.

The curved viaduct at Glenfinnan is on the railway line linking Fort William with Mallaig, a distance of 67 kilometres.  It ranks amongst the UK's most scenic railway journeys.

"The Jacobite" steam train operates over this route up to twice a day during the summer months.

The Scottish Highlands are a very popular tourist destination.  The Jacobite caters to the tourist market.

Special fares apply on The Jacobite.  Regular rail tickets are not valid. 

While steam trains operate seasonally as a tourist attraction, four trains a day operate all year round between Fort William and Mallaig as part of the region's public transport.  These are operated by ScotRail.

Three of the four trains continue south of Fort William, to and from Glasgow.  During the afternoon, two of the trains are scheduled to pass each other at Glenfinnan.

I visited Glenfinnan in June 2015, shortly after the franchise to operate ScotRail had passed from First to Abellio.

At the time, most of the trains still carried First corporate colours.  However, they are now gaining a ScotRail identity which is not tied to a franchisee.

Glenfinnan station houses a small museum which tells the story of the West Highland Line.

Glenfinnan itself is a very small village, home to around 100 people, making it the smallest place I have yet featured on this blog.

As well as the train service, Glenfinnan also has a limited bus service, provided by Shiel Buses.

Four journeys a day operate along the main road between Fort William and Mallaig, with one per day linking Fort William with isolated settlements to the south of the main road.  I found a coach in use.

The bus timetable is not co-ordinated with that of the parallel train service.

The only other bus I found was this minibus, parked overlooking the main road close to the railway station. 


The minibus carries signwriting for the Glenfinnan Station Museum.  It looked as though it had not been moved for some time.

The station museum is not the only visitor attraction at Glenfinnan.  This lonely spot was the site of an uprising in 1745.

A monument looks out over Loch Shiel.  There is also an exhibition and visitor centre close by.

Mallaig: End of the line (and the road)

The road and railway through Glenfinnan both end at the small port of Mallaig.  The train journey to here from Glasgow takes more than five hours.

The small steam train, made from wooden barrels, adds to the scene.

From Mallaig, ferries sail to the Isle of Skye, and also to the Small Isles (Canna, Eigg, Rum and Muck).

The ferries are currently operated by Caledonian MacBrayne, a company owned by the Scottish government.

Sheil Buses operate a local bus service within Mallaig.  I found this small single-decker in use.  The service runs hourly during the mornings, less frequently during the afternoons.

The timetable is designed to fit around school starting and finishing times.  There is no service at weekends.


The only other bus service in Mallaig is Shiel Buses' service to Fort William via Glenfinnan.