Friday 12 June 2015

"Potter"ing around Glenfinnan

Glenfinnan, a sleepy village on the banks of picturesque Loch Shiels, is only a short distance from Fort William. The place features prominently in the historical map of Scotland with Bonnie Prince Charlie triggering the Jacobite movement by raising the royal standard on its hills in 1745. To commemorate the event, the Glenfinnan monument was erected on the banks of the loch in 1815. It's other significance is in its visual appeal when a spectacular 21 arch viaduct, rising to 100 ft and spanning the valley, was built in 1897 as part of the very significant West Highland Railway.

In present times, the Gelnfinnan monument maintained by the National Trust is a prime tourist attraction while crossing the magnificent viaduct against the breathtaking views of the loch and the monument forms the highlight of the scenic rail route between Fort William and Mallaig. It is made even more memorable by the Jacobite steam engine plying the route. And then happened the Harry Potter movie series. The Jacobite train crossing the viaduct in dark stormy nights became an iconic scene, and it didn't take long for the world to prefix both the train and the viaduct by 'Harry Potter'.

The Jacobite train runs only during summer months. I was visiting Rum and Canna in May and decided to have a stopover to catch a glimpse of this iconic view. The train service had just about started. It was the first week. Needless to say, it is immensely popular and a must-do for all die-hard Harry Potter fans. The website gives the details:

So, on this beautiful, sunny Thursday afternoon, I found myself sprinting from work to Haymarket rail station. I had been delayed by last minute emergencies at work, which seems to have an intuition for my plans. I managed to get to the platform only minutes before the train to Glasgow rolled in. Change of trains in Glasgow Queen Street while taking care I got on the right coach as later in the journey the coaches would split in Crianlarich, one half going to Oban while the other to Mallaig. I ensured I was in the correct half. As the train leaves the city making its journey to the heart of the highlands, the beautiful transition of scenery has always made me happy.

It was a glorious afternoon. I was having fun clicking photographs on my mobile phone camera. Leaving the city, soon we were passing sea lochs glistening in the bright afternoon sun, then bifurcated through Arrochar, keeping the Cobbler on the left and Loch Lomond on the right, followed by the Crianlarich hills and then went around the prominent peak of Beinn Doraine looming into view just before Bridge of Orchy. The train then rolled through the vast expanse of the desolate Rannoch moor until we reached the land of the really serious Munros. By the time Ben Nevis appeared, it was already dark.
The photographs on my Facebook post

It feels very different when you pass through the same landscape that you have walked many times, it is a different...
Posted by Breaking out Solo on Friday, 15 May 2015
And a few more while the light lasted...passing through Rannoch, clicked on phone camera
Posted by Breaking out Solo on Friday, 15 May 2015

The train emptied in Fort William, leaving only a couple of passengers. An elderly man, who I later realised was a missionary, decided to come over to my seat and brought out his stack of literature. He started to hand me the booklets written in different languages. He was taking the message to the people, that's what he said. As I was politely trying to fend him off, the train rolled into Glenfinnan. I crossed myself.

I had booked a bed at the Glenfinnan station coach for the night. It is a vintage railway carriage that has been converted to sleep up to 10 people. It is difficult to get bookings here especially on weekends. My previous attempts at staying here had failed, but this time I had planned well in advance and that too for a weeknight. Here is the website with the details, though I would suggest calling them up rather than emailing them:

It was quarter to eleven when I walked down the stairs from the railway station. At the bottom, Hege was waiting for me. She was the manager. I had informed about my late arrival during my booking and really appreciated her waiting for me at this very late hour, could not thank her enough. She showed me in.

The place was a surprise. I had expected to see some beds arranged in an empty train coach but this place had been retained as an actual coach, a static one though. The bigger cabins had double beds while the smaller ones had been set up with bunk beds by the common corridor. The coach even had a separate kitchen, sitting area, toilet and a shower room. My room was tiny with a bunk bed, the top one remained empty. Given the size of the rooms, they don't let strangers share rooms, Hege explained. She was right, it was indeed cosy. I had already eaten on the train, so had my shower and went to bed.

The forecast for the next few days, wasn't the best, and Friday, which was today, was expected to be the worst. I met my fellow boarders over a lazy breakfast in the kitchen. As we talked one of the guys very kindly made me a cup of tea. He was visiting from the Midlands and was to return the next day. I had my friend Neil coming over for a short visit. I had first met him at the hostel in Crianlarich where he was the staff a few years ago, and we had been out on a few walks around Scotand since then. We had planned to go on some nearby walks, weather permitting before I left for Mallaig. After breakfast I walked up to the viaduct and waited for him there. He arrived soon.

We were still catching up, when the train appeared at the other end of the viaduct. It was 10:40am. A toot and a big puff of smoke announced its arrival. I had always imagined this to be an amazing experience, and I was not disappointed. The train trundled along slowly on the viaduct. Moreover, I got the photographs I was hoping for, so could not be any more elated. The viewpoint we were standing, is to the west of the viaduct. I realised it is better to take the photographs of the train from the front, while it travelled towards Mallaig. On its way back to Fort William, chances are the smoke would get in the way.

The train makes a short stop at Glenfinnan station and through the trees we could see the smoke ejecting from the engine. The few other onlookers who had gathered for the trainspotting had started to dissipate. We stayed there for a while waiting for the train to leave with its visitors, before turning back to the cafe. This is also a converted railway carriage adjacent to the sleeper coach.

By the time we finished our coffees accompanied by delicious homemade scone served with clotted cream and jam, the rain had arrived. The forecast had stuck to its words. We decided to walk down to the Glenfinnan monument, visiting the spectacularly located Saint Finnan church on the way.

I sneaked in a free entry to the monument as my friend had a NTS membership. A short flight of stairs lead to the top of the monument accessible by a trapdoor. We were caught unawares with our backpacks as the trapdoor was at an awkward angle and had a narrow opening. I was surprised at the absence of any warning or instructions to leave heavy backpacks behind. Getting down was a lot more scarier, needing to balance my bag and my camera while I manoeuvered the awkward angle on the steep steps. Would definitely suggest leaving heavy bags behind and also to be not offended if someone is not allowed to the top due to their size. Our guide mentioned an instance when someone with a big girth ignored requests and was actually stuck in the narrow opening. After a good bit of help involving some pushing and pulling, he was finally let free after about half an hour's effort.

Though the views from the top was breathtaking, the sky had unfortunately opened up. Low clouds obscured the hills as we stood in the pouring rain and biting wind making a futile attempt at looking interested in the enchanting story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite movement which our guide was narrating with a lot of enthusiasm and drama. We were allowed thirty minutes at the top, but we escaped much earlier.

We headed over to the visitor centre for some shelter and our lunch. Dried and warmed up, even though it was raining, we decided to walk around for a while. The bothy at Corryhully was what we had initially planned for, but the weather and the late start did not make it feasible. We decided to follow the river for a while and then turn back. Just as when we were walking under the viaduct, the steam train came rumbling through, tooting and puffing on its way back from Mallaig. Probably they let the steam out when the train is on the viaduct just for the visual impact.

After an hour we felt we had done enough and with the weather deteriorating, I decided to get the earlier train to Mallaig. As we were walking back, we were stopped by the estate manager on his Land Rover for a chat. The incredibly rubbish weather inevitably made its way into our conversation. Back at the comfort of the cafe we warmed up over a hot drink as I waited for the train which was due in half an hour. It was the regular train, a normal one this time and it arrived promptly. Bid farewell to Neil as I hopped on the train and he went for some Munro bagging. The lady at the cafe had downed the shutters and I saw her getting on too. The section from Fort William to Mallaig is considered to be the most picturesque train journeys in the world, but in that weather, the views hid in the mist. Thankfully I have travelled this section enough number of times to be able to beat the Scottish weather at least for once.

Next day I would be travelling to the Small Isles...follow the story
Canna - the smallest of the Small Isles
On the Isle of Rum

Keep following at Breaking out Solo

No comments:

Post a Comment

A blog is not a blog without comments. So, please do leave your thoughts...thank you! :-)