Riding The Jacobite (Hogwarts Express) Through The Scottish Highlands

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FORT WILLIAM | It’s every millennial’s dream come true – to ride the real Hogwarts Express. Well it’s ours at least. But you won’t be hopping on at King’s Cross Station in London. Instead, you’ll have to make a proper trip out of it and head up to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Here you’ll admire all that moody scenery you find in the films all the while relaxing inside a great old steam train, The Jacobite.

The Journey

Before climbing aboard either the morning or afternoon service, you are obliged to take countless selfies in front of the train which looks exactly like the Hogwarts Express. Bring all your Harry Potter paraphernalia if you don’t fear the judging eyes of strangers and grab a priceless photo, only a trip to the Harry Potter Studios in London could possibly beat.

But these guys don’t let the Harry Potter gimmicks take over. Honestly, you have to look pretty damn hard to find them. You can purchase chocolate frogs, wands and other merchandise but, no matter how politely you ask, the food and drink servers will never say ‘anything from the trolley dears?’.

So instead, take pride in your selfie and quickly find your large fluffy seat in the economy class carriages or a slightly more luxurious spot within the first class section. Some people will have pre-ordered champagne and a pre-packaged afternoon teas which will be all set up before they arrive but you can also purchase this all on board at the buffet. Alternatively, those on a budget are free to bring their own snacks, a thermos of tea or some cans of beer in order to save a bit of money and time.

Then all you need to do is sit back and enjoy two hours of zipping through the highlands in style. We struggled to peel our noses off the window as we were amazed by the ever-changing landscape. Towering mountains would cut through the sky, sheep and goats would roam about the rolling hills, and the many lakes and rivers would flow throughout the west coast of Scotland. On a typically overcast day, the clouds, rain and mist will ooze over the ridges and the large bodies of water will reflect the eerie surroundings. It all looks as if the land is an epic battle scene bracing itself for some bloody event to take place. But in the meantime, it all just looks sublime.

And if it pleases you, it isn’t hard to imagine the cloud-like puffs of steam spouting out of the front engine and drifting past the carriages to be the smoke from some duelling wizards’ wands on the rooftop. Or perhaps, you’re actually a normal adult who doesn’t drift into nonsensical fantasies. No matter what side you fall on, such a scene is still stunning, simply adding more drama to the already attention-seeking scenery all around the area.

We tourists get to stare out and look at everything but few take the extra effort required to actually trek through this place on foot. I can only imagine how the experience would be a far more beautiful and rewarding one but, here on the Jacobite, you can just let the high hiss of the steam and low rumble of the quivering tracks below the train settle you in for a few hours of relaxed escapism.

The Destination

Mallaig is a weird old town to end at. The small fishing village located far out on the West Coast has very little touristic value for those staying just a few hours. The entire town surrounds the main fishing port which lacks any real beauty no matter what Instagram filter you use.

You’ll see Jacobite guests aimlessly roaming around the shipping yard and welding sheds trying to find a nice view of the sea and mountains. A few are even turned back by angry fishermen cleaning their boats. But there is a good spot to find if you know what you’re doing. Head back along the tracks to a long stretch of coast. Take a seat on the small wall and take in the view of the sea and surrounding islands. You can find another viewpoint in the opposite direction but it’s not quite worth the trek.

If you take the morning service then you’ll have access to the town’s small cafes and bakeries serving tea and scones but by the afternoon service, most places have closed. There is a great little sourdough-based pizza shop sitting on the wharf and a few pubs to grab some drinks during the late afternoon.

Other than that, don’t be bothered trying too hard to find something special in Mallaig. You can use it as a great base to do hikes and treks but for the purposes of a short 2-hour stay, there isn’t a whole lot going for it.

The Jacobite experience is all about the journey rather than the destination. You get to admire the Highlands in all their wonder without having to break a sweat or get all muddy. It’s for the laid-back explorers out there, not just the Harry Potter fans.

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Andrew
Andrew
Andy is originally from Melbourne but has been living in London for the past 2.5 years. He’s obsessed with travel, eating out, and indulging in a few cheeky cocktails around Hackney and Dalston before realising he’s spent all his wages within the first week of the month. Having written for magazines such as The Resident, Absolutely London, 1883 and Men’s Health, Andy has now turned to focus on The City Lane’s Food, Drink and Culture sections. Expect to read about the best new and established restaurants and cultural haunts around London, with a focus on the East.

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