Hogwarts Express

Fort William, Scotland, United Kingdom
Thursday, May 12, 2016

We planned to leave Pitlochry early anyway in order to be sure we would make it to Fort William in time to catch The Jacobite train, but based on my average driving speed, being unfamiliar with the road we would be taking, and googlemaps 1.75 hour estimated driving time, we thought it best to put a good 45-minute buffer into the drive and left Pitlochry around 7:15 a.m.

Our stay at Rosehill Guest House, while short was lovely, even with the train tracks in our back yard. Our host was kind enough to provide us with toast, since we were leaving well before breakfast was scheduled.

The first half of the drive was a breeze, being on a decently wide stretch of highway with plenty of room for two lanes, akin to the Mackenzie Highway although with trees close in. Ha, just noticed our NWT Highway No. 1 has a Scottish name. I must be tired. The second half of the drive was the part I was a little more concerned about, and it did in fact become narrower and windier, but not at all as bad as the stretch going down to Glasgow previously. It turns out googlemaps was right. Just slightly more than 1.75 hours after we left Pitlochry we parked at the train station in Fort William. A truly pleasant surprise. We even had time to have a bite to eat before boarding the Hogwart’s Express.

Yes, you read that correctly. The very train they used in Harry Potter is the train we took for a return trip to Mallaig. I surprised Dan (again) with first class seating in “cars recently refurbished in the Harry Potter style.” It was very cool, if I do say so myself.

The engine is a coal burning steam engine, upon which it is best to leave the car windows closed regardless of the heat due to the smoke and soot that was spewed by the engine and blown by the passing wind. And yes, we were very lucky again today to have remarkably warm weather and sunny skies

We sat with two very nice older couples, one from nearby Oban, the other from south England, and had wonderful conversations with them. The scenery was again spectacular. We went over the Glenfinnan Viaduct with its 21 stone arches — a truly spectacular feat of engineering built in 1898 — and stopped in Glenfinnan for a short visit. For those Immortal buffs, this is where Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod was born. The nearby monument to the Jacobite Battle of Culloden — currently under repairs for a foundation problem — is called the Unknown Highlander and, no, it is not referring to the Immortal. The monument stands on the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie placed his standard, calling the clans to arms against England.

Moving along, we passed the silver beaches of Loch Morar, where scenes of the Highlander movie were filmed, and a few more bridges and tunnels. In Mallaig we had an hour and a half to kill before returning to Fort William, so we had a seafood lunch at the harbour of this working fishing village and then watched a large car ferry depart from the port.

Our return trip was uneventful but enjoyable and, for us, was entirely worth it.

We checked into our hotel (the one and only time we are not staying in a B&B), and then took a drive to see Inverlochy Castle. It is a ruins of a castle which sat at the southern point of the waterways connecting to Inverness. It used to have a deep moat. It was owned by the Comyn family, who were very powerful in the region a few hundred years ago, until they stood against Robert the Bruce who effectively wiped them out in retaliation for their disloyalty. This is my spin on the story, so I might not have it entirely right. Did I mention I must be tired? The ruins were quite interesting to look around at and try to figure how it must have looked back in the day. It’s in a good state of disrepair, but Historic Scotland is working on it to preserve it. It sits on a very lovely area on the shore of a river. We also managed to get another geocache while here before heading back into town for supper.

We had reservations at The Tavern before which we took a stroll along High Street. The cobblestone street is primarily for pedestrians, containing hiking stores, sweet shops, and other touristy retailers, as well as several eateries and bars. The Tavern was a small, busy restaurant where we met Brian William Patrick Xavier Stewart (the second). Could there be anyone else with a name so associated with both Star Trek TNG and X-Men? He was a very nice, outgoing young man working at The Tavern.

Having been a very long day, I ended it with a bath before writing here, while Dan promptly fell asleep after having his shower. Tomorrow: Inverness.

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