One of our ‘side trips’ involved three trains in a circular journey to the north. We have a number of these organised, generally during the weeks, with weekends based in Edinburgh. This means that we are away when my children are at work and able to catch up with them and the grandchildren at the weekends. This is my first visit back to Scotland since my mother died in 2019, so it makes it easier to go travelling.
I have always been keen to make the train journey from Glasgow up the west coast to Mallaig, so we started planning this a while ago. The challenge was how to get back (apart from the reverse journey). It therefore made sense to include one of the other iconic Scottish railway journeys – Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness.
Glasgow to Mallaig
Checking out of the Stables Cottage in Cambuskenneth at 06:30 on Monday morning to park the car and walk across to the railway station, we arrived in plenty of time for the train to Glasgow and our connection for the main leg of the journey.
The attraction of this railway route is, of course, the stunning landscape, so we were fortunate to be seated on the left hand side of the train with views across Gareloch, Loch Long and the northern section of Loch Lomond.
Arriving at Crianlarich, the train split with the front section going to Oban and ours going to Mallaig via Fort William. One of the main features as we pulled into Fort William was the sight of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, with a few remaining patches of snow. After a short stop alongside the ‘Harry Potter’ train getting ready to depart, we were off to Mallaig. This section takes us across the Glenfinnan Viaduct at the head of Loch Shiel, made famous by the Harry Potter movies.
We finally arrived at Mallaig at about 14:00, but not able to check in to our hotel until 15:00. The afternoon was spent relaxing and wandering around the town (which is very small), with dinner of fish and chips at the quay side from one of the local takeaways.
On the way back to the hotel, we heard a piper and discovered that the local Mallaig and Ardnamurchan Band was setting up to practice, much to the delight of the tourists (and us).
Mallaig to Inverness
After another early start we boarded the ferry for the short crossing to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, with the next section to Kyle being the most challenging of this trip.
We had planned to catch buses from Armadale to Broadford and then from Broadford to Kyle, but this last route had disappeared from the timetables!
K decided to ask the CalMac receptionist, Flora, at Mallaig about taxis and other potential alternatives. The outcome of this was that she and her husband, William, were due to drive to Kyle and offered us a lift! Travel problem solved.
It turned out that Flora’s brother, Donald, who they were meeting for breakfast, was the driver of the train we were catching to Inverness.
As a result of the quick connection to Kyle we had a bit of time to spend there. I had an ongoing saga with PIN numbers for my Scottish bank account so we paid a visit to the local branch to find it closed. Apparently, it is only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday – such is the nature of remote areas.
We boarded our train in time for our lunch of sandwiches. Before we set off, we saw William passing on the platform. The next thing was that he and train driver, Donald, came in to speak to us. As a result, we had a direct connection to the driver of our train.
Unfortunately, we were on the right hand side of our coach, with the best views from the other side, making it rather difficult to take photographs. Nonetheless, the scenery was spectacular as we passed through villages and towns that I had last visited as an early teenager on family holidays, the most striking of which was Plockton. We also passed through a couple of towns that featured on the walk from the Scottish Border to Cape Wrath that I completed with a couple of mates in the late nineties. A lot of memories were triggered.
Inverness to Stirling
The final leg of our three trains journey was from Inverness back to Stirling. This is a journey that I had taken many times in a previous life, so it was with some disappointment that for most of the way the track was bordered by tall shrubs and trees making the views rather blurred and looking out the window a bit hypnotic. By the time we reached Pitlochry, we were both looking forward to getting off the train.
On our arrival into Stirling, we had a 20 minute walk back to the car and a 45 minute drive to my daughters house in Edinburgh where we were to stay until our next adventure – to Orkney.
The whole trip was very worthwhile, we saw some amazing scenery and I re-connected with some memories from the dim and distant past.