As a proper Harry Potter fan it has always been on my bucket list to do the journey on the Jacobite train from Fort William to Mallaig. Normally though the tickets for the journey are booked out months in advance. So you actually need to know specifically when you will be in Fort William to do the train journey. I cannot tell you how popular that train journey is – honestly. I was once staying in a B&B in Inverness, where I met a lady who did like private tours across Scotland. She told me about an American family who’s daughter wanted to get married on the train. They would have wanted to book the whole train for it. Note: There was no man to marry yet… 😂
After tourist attractions were opening up again after lockdown ended beginning of July, I saw an advert on Facebook that the train would also be running again from the 14th July. Thinking that now probably not many international tourists would be around, it was the perfect time to finally get this done.
I spontaneously booked a weekend at the end of August in Fort William and the train journey. They were supposed to send me the tickets 5 days before the day of the trip via email. 2 days before, I still had no ticket. I tried to call – not occupied because of Covid. Emailed – no response. 1 day before I was supposed to head of to Fort William I messaged them on Facebook – and guess what: I had a response within one hour. What is the point of having an official telephone number and email address when you don’t use it? Anyways…
I got my ticket and off I went to Fort William Fridays after work. I stayed at the Alexandra Hotel in the town centre. First time I booked a hotel for one of my trips. Normally I always stay in B&Bs or self-catering huts. But with accommodations still being cautions it was almost impossible at the time to find a place to stay other than a hotel or camping place. The hotel has done really well with safety measures and I did not feel anxious at all. I had dinner in my room the first night and in the big dining room the second. Food was not great though… but well. But the room itself and the bathroom, especially the shower, were great and the hotel is only a short walk from the train station.
I had the journey booked for Saturday morning at 10:15h. I got myself some snacks and drinks for the journey as I was not sure about catering and got on the train. They also did very well with adhering to social distancing. I had a complete 4 seat space for myself. Obviously we all had to wear a mask during the journey but I did not find that too bad. Generally I think it was the best decision I did that journey back then because it was not at all busy and you did not have to share your seat with strangers.
The weather was not to great but at least we had some nice views along the journey. I only had 2nd class booked so from the inside it was like sitting in a normal train if we are completely honest. 1st class is all nicely decorated and has a kind of Harry Potter or Orient Express flair. Tickets are considerable more expensive though. But you also get an afternoon tea with it there. So I would definitely do the journey in 1st class again at some point but with a friend or potential partner.
It was kind of cute how many people were standing along the tracks trying to get snaps of the train or just waving at us. Note: I would do the same 😄. We had good views across Loch Eil despite the grey clouds and when you then enter into the part where the hills start, it is pretty nice to just sit and watch without driving yourself and watching the road. I also had quite a good view on when we were passing the viaduct in Glenfinnan.
It is a great thing to see the train coming over the bridge standing on the hills. It is super cliché but just makes a really nice picture. But it is always super busy now because everyone wants to get that shot.
It was a bit sad that is was so rainy, as the views across Loch Shiel are pretty nice in the sun or at least with some sunshine through the clouds.
We arrived in Mallaig around 12.30h and had gorgeous sunshine. But wow – it must be hard for that little town with all the influx of tourists at once. And the train was not even full! But it felt super crowded in the little town. Plus those that arrive by car or the normal train – especially those coming and going to Skye on the ferry. Most people queued to get into the pubs and restaurants to get lunch. Others did like a boat tour which is timed to be back in time for the train leaving back to Fort William.
I got myself a lunch box at a café with some salads and tuna sandwich and a strawberry tarte. I sat by the harbour to eat and then walked along the water exploring the place further outside of the crowded centre. At 2 o’clock the train was leaving again. I was hoping to sit on the other side than before to actually be able to experience both sides during the journey – but no 😪
That is the only thing that was a bit disappointing. All together, I had a really nice journey even though the weather turned even worse again going back to Fort William.
Over all I find the price quite expensive if I am being completely honest. You get the same views taking the normal train from Fort William to Mallaig. Unless you go 1st class. Then the atmosphere is probably a bit different. In terms of the views from the train – you could do the same for half the price with the normal train. Just saying ;). I still found the overall experience very nice and would definitely recommend doing it.
For now, the Jacobite will be leaving for its winter stay near Glasgow but will be running again from April 2021.