Even though I’m back in the States and back to work, I’m going to write another (or more) column about my time in Scotland and Ireland.
I have to write about our journey on the Jacobite steam train, the route of which was shown in the Hogwarts Express scenes in the “Harry Potter” films. This was a trip we had to book three months in advance and almost missed.
The Jacobite is a six-hour journey from Fort William, Scotland, 41 miles to the coastal town of Mallaig and back. The undisputed highlight is crossing the 121-year-old Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was shown in the films as Harry and his friends approached Hogwarts on the Hogwarts Express.
As my wife is a huge Harry Potter fan, this was a must on the trip. We rode the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios in Florida in 2019. This train immersed passengers with video scenes resembling books and movies outside the “windows.”
Although the Jacobite isn’t as technologically advanced, it’s a more authentic experience, with chunks of coal piling up on passenger tables.
My wife sent an informal itinerary weeks before the trip stating that we would be taking the Jacobite on Saturday June 4th. But, for some reason, she got confused and thought our trip might actually be the following Sunday.
She tried to find the confirmation email but couldn’t. We couldn’t get confirmation of our trip online and no one answered when we called the train company office on Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, we had also booked tickets to a Loch Ness Monster visitor center over an hour’s drive from Fort William on Saturday morning. We decided to rush through the visitor center and then head to Fort William to try and meet the afternoon train (my wife knew better than to book the morning train and expect until we do), hoping it was the one we booked.
We arrived at Fort William station around 1pm and realized it was just a regular ScotRail station, Scotland’s version of Amtrak. We asked the station attendants for help, and they told us that we had to ask the people for the Jacobite train, which only arrived at 2 am.
The train arrived after we had lunch at the station cafe, and it was truly something from another time. The cars, like most of Scotland, were not air-conditioned and were cooled by small openings in the windows.
We approached the woman with the passenger list. She didn’t initially see the names of anyone in our family, but eventually found us as “Flowing” because my wife used her work email, “Flowing Colors by Maria.”
My wife, mother and I sat at a table on one side of the train, while my brother and niece sat across the aisle at a table with a very cute Scottish couple that we don’t didn’t know.
The ride to Mallaig was magical, with people waving at us all the way. It was amazing to cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct, where dozens of people sat along the hill to take photos of the train and wave at us.
We reached Mallaig after a few hours. It was a beautiful town on a harbor, with mountains in the distance, but I was surprised to learn that we had to spend two hours there, which seemed excessive to me.
I imagine Mallaig was taken aback by the wave of tourism caused by Harry Potter – it seemed like they really didn’t care about us.
After grabbing an ice cream and looking at a ferry dock, we headed back to the train. Judging by the fact that the town drivers didn’t seem to want to slow down for pedestrians, one of them even honking and yelling at some, the locals seemed happy to see us go.
I was hoping they would turn around during the layover, so we could see the scenery that was on the other side of the train from the trip to Mallaig.
Unfortunately, we were on the same side of the train, only the locomotive was going in a different direction. This was disappointing as there were many more lakes to see on the other side including the larger side of the Glenfinnan Viaduct where you can see Loch Shiel and the monument built in 1814 to honor the Highlanders of Loudon , who fought in the 1745 Jacobite rising.
I was hoping my brother would switch seats with us on the way back, but no luck. Still, we could see the loch well on our side. And it was a great race overall.