Seeing the ‘Harry Potter train’ at Glenfinnan Viaduct
One of the things I was really keen to do during our recent trip to the Highlands was to see the ‘Harry Potter train’, as it’s commonly known, as it crosses the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. The train’s real name is the Jacobite Steam Train, and it runs from Fort William to Mallaig, on the west coast. The best known part of its journey, however, takes it over Glenfinnan Viaduct, which will be instantly familiar to Harry Potter fans, as it’s the bridge the Hogwarts Express is seen crossing in the movies.
The strain only runs from April to October, and our visit was during the very last week of its run, so naturally I was convinced something would happen to make us miss it altogether: a fear that seemed to be confirmed when we arrived at the Glenfinnan visitor centre a little later than we’d planned, and in less than ideal weather conditions.
It started raining as soon as we got out of the car, but, undeterred (Well, OK, maybe a little bit deterred to be honest. I hate the rain.), we joined the mass of fellow tourists making their way to the viaduct, to see the train.
It was here that I got my first unwelcome dose of reality. All of the photos I’ve seen of the so-called Harry Potter train on the viaduct show it from somewhere up above it: an angle that it now became blatantly obvious would only be possible if we were to climb one of the hills next to the bridge.
Because we’d arrived late, there was no time to do that, though, (And because we had Max with us, we figured it probably wouldn’t have been the wisest decision anyway) so we hurried across the muddy ground that separated us from the bridge, choosing a spot pretty much at random.
This was our view:
I’ll be honest, I was disappointed. Admit it, you are too, aren’t you? You’re probably wondering why I’m even writing about this, given that I was obviously too far away to get a decent view of the stupid train. You’re right: I was. (Don’t call the train ‘stupid’, though. I’m warning you…)
There didn’t seem to be much of an option, though, so we stood and waited… and waited. We waited until we noticed people were still walking past us to climb the hill nearest the viaduct, and that’s when Terry suggested I run on ahead and see if I could make it up there too before the train arrived.
So I ran like Forrest Gump through the rain, and I finally got to the hill… only to realize I now had no idea how long I had until the train was due to appear. The timings had gone completely out of my head, and the phone signal wasn’t good enough for me to be able to quickly Google ‘timings for Jacobite steam train’, so I just stood there for a few minutes, in an agony of indecision. I was now much closer to the bridge itself, and while I knew I’d get a better view from the hill, I ALSO knew that, knowing my luck, I’d be halfway up it when the train arrived, and my view would be so obscured by trees that I wouldn’t get to see the thing AT ALL. And leave it to me to travel hundreds of miles and run through the mud only to NOT see the very thing I came for.
(I know, all this angst over a TRAIN, right? To be honest, I don’t even LIKE trains all that much under normal circumstances, but I had come here to see this particular train, and you better believe I was going to do it. From a distance. And possibly from behind some trees.)
Rather than risk missing the Jacobite Steam Train altogether, I decided to just stay where I was, and accept that it was as good as it was going to get for me that day. I was still standing there a few minutes later, when Terry and Max caught up with me, and, once I’d explained my predicament, Terry decided to take matters into his own hands, and climb the damn hill.
I was still convinced there wasn’t enough time to do that, so I stayed with Max, and, again, we waited… and waited… and waited. We waited at least three times as long as it would’ve taken us just to climb the freaking hill, in other words, but I’m actually not too mad about it, because when the train finally appeared on the bridge, Max was so excited he ran towards it waving, and that’s how I got this shot:
Which, to be totally honest, I actually like better than the one Terry got from the hillside:
The Jacobite Steam train looking very blurry as it crosses Glenfinnan Viaduct
Photos aside, seeing the train go by was a pretty cool experience. People cried and everything. The people were not us, I hasten to add, but I must admit, I hadn’t anticipated that Max would be so excited, or would run towards it the way he did, and my eyes might have been just a little bit damp as I watched him.
The best part, however, was yet to come.
Me being me, I needed to use the bathroom by this point, so we headed back to the visitor centre to use their toilets (Er, that’s not ‘the best bit’, by the way. Just to clarify), then got back into the car to be on our way. Just as we pulled out of the visitor centre’s car park, though, we heard the sound of a steam engine approaching, and looked around to see a cloud of steam seemingly floating above the road.
“Is that the train again?” I said surprised. And, sure enough, there it was:
As it turns out, the railway track runs right alongside the road, and as we were heading in the same direction as the train, we got to travel alongside it for several miles, during which it passed through some stunning Highland scenery on its way to Mallaig. Our view might not have included Glenfinnan Viaduct this time, but it did include a gorgeous selection of lochs and mountains – plus, of course, the train itself – so it ended up being one of my favourite memories from our day of trainspotting.
If you’d like to see the Jacobite Steam Train for yourself – or even ride it – you’ll find the train timetables here, along with some more information. And just remember: the best views aren’t necessarily from the top of the hill…*
(*They mostly are, though.)