Scotland Diaries: Three Ravenclaws and a Slytherin Walk into a Bar Car

Sunday, August 18

Soundtrack: “Hedwig’s Theme”

Itinerary:

  • leave Glasgow for Oban
  • lunch at Oban Fish & Chip Shop
  • drive to Fort William
  • depart on the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig
  • sightsee in Maillaig
  • dinner at Ben Nevis in Fort William
  • drive to Spean Bridge and check into cottage

Oban
The 2.5 hour drive from Glasgow to Oban takes you through Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It makes for stunning scenery but a white-knuckled driving experience, especially if you are Americans just adapting to sitting on the right side of a vehicle on the left side of the road. Elizabeth was our steadfast driver for this leg of the trip, and I can’t give her enough high fives for her excellent, Toretto family-level skills navigating narrow winding roads while trucks barreled towards us on our right at full speed (oh, and in the pouring rain, for additional funsies).

now entering the Highlands

We had lunch at Oban Fish & Chip Shop, and the haddock was  fresh, perfectly cooked, golden flaky deliciousness. I’d say it was well worth driving out of our way to make the stop, but that’s easy to say as someone who never got behind the steering wheel.

Fort William/Jacobite Steam Train
This is it nerds, the big Harry Potter moment that I’d been looking forward since the second I bought my plane ticket to Scotland. The Jacobite steam train departs from Fort William to Maillaig twice a day, and its route over the Glenfinnan Viaduct was famously used as the journey to Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. I can’t tell you how many travel blogs I scoured to figure out the best way to view the Glenfinnan Viaduct from aboard, so I will give you the full scoop here:

  • Book your tickets on the Jacobite as early in advance as possible. This train fills up fast, especially during the peak season.
  • You want to sit as close to the back of the train as possible so you can get a good view of the front steam engine as it curves around the viaduct. Aim for Carriage G, or as close to it as you can.
  • This part is hard because the seat numbers make no goddamn sense (everyone was in the wrong spot when we boarded), but for the route Fort William -> Mallaig, you want to be on the left side of the car when facing forward. For the return trip Mallaig -> Fort William, you want to be seated on the right. The view of the aquaduct is best when traveling northwest (from Fort William to Mallaig) so do your best to get your photos and have your big nerdgasm moment on the first leg of your journey (assuming you’re going roundtrip).
  • If all else fails and your assigned seat is terrible, start jockeying for a spot at any window on the left side of the train shortly before arriving at the viaduct about 45 min or so into the ride. There’s windows in the passageways between each car, located near the bathrooms. Slide the window down to get the best possible photo, and keep a tight grasp on your phone. You should get a clear view of the train turning west, steam trailing behind, and the rolling green hills in the background. There will likely be a horde of tourists standing on the hill to get photos and videos of the train in motion.
  • Congrats, you’re now at Hogwarts! Please check in with your House Prefect for the password to your Common Room.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up as we crossed the Viaduct. It was a perfect storm of events that got us into exactly the right place on the train at the right time, and my heart was bursting with gratitude for this fantastic adventure I was on with my fellow witches. We spent the rest of the train ride purchasing ciders and chocolate frogs from the bar car and reveling in the view of the lochs, the ocean, and hillscapes too green to seem real.

Mallaig
The Hogwarts Express allowed for a 90-minute layover in Hogsmeade Mallaig. There’s a lot of cute coffee shops, gift boutiques, and Harry Potter-themed merchandise to browse through. I’ll be real, I was celebrating pretty hard on the train so most of my memory of Mallaig involves having to pee and looking for a bathroom.

Mallaig

Spean Bridge
By the time we left Fort William for Spean Bridge, it was dark out. This made for some more harrowing driving, and it is especially jarring to see headlights coming at you fast from the “wrong” side of the road. Thankfully, we eventually found our cottage and got settled in for the night, though we’d have to wait until the morning to appreciate the charm of the area in the fresh light of day.

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