Planning a trip on the Jacobite steam train? Here’s how you can make the most out of your trip…
Have you ever been on a steam train? No? Well, until last week, I hadn’t either. I also thought it probably wasn’t something I would ever do. Steam trains are just for train
nerds enthusiasts, right? Well, actually not.
Admittedly, I booked this experience because my boyfriend is actually one of those train nerds. I thought it would be something he would really enjoy. However, having now taken a trip on the Jacobite steam train in Scotland, I realised that it’s really something anyone can do and enjoy. It was actually a great thing to centre a short trip away around and that’s why I’m here sharing my experience with you folks.
The steam train I booked was the Jacobite steam train, which has been rated one of the best steam train journeys in the world. It goes over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct in the Scottish Highlands, which makes for an amazing photography opportunity, and there’s lots of other gorgeous Scottish scenery to enjoy on the way. You might even spot some deer or other wildlife. The table opposite us spotted a stag on our trip!
Still don’t have a clue what I’m on about? The steam train has also been made most famous due to it featuring in the Harry Potter films, where was known as the Hogwarts Express. For me, it seemed like a good way to pack a lot into a short trip as well as being a pretty unique experience. So let’s take a look at everything you need to know about the Jacobite train!
Steam train timetable
Here’s what your day will look like when you catch the Jacobite train…
|10:15||Jacobite steam train leaves Fort William|
|12.26||Steam train arrives in the port town of Mallaig|
|14.10||Steam train departs Mallaig on its return journey|
|16:03||Jacobite steam train arrives back in Fort William|
The Jacobite steam train: my verdict
I’m actually surprised at myself writing this, but thought the Jacobite steam train experience was totally enchanting from start to finish. If you think it’s just going to be like rocking up for an ordinary train journey then you’re very much mistaken.
The train is waiting on the platform when you arrive and it’s basically just asking to be photographed. Expect to see clouds of steam billowing out of the sides of the carriages, which equal old-fashioned charm and create a real sense of magic. The steam also makes the perfect backdrop for your holiday photographs. Definitely make sure you take a look at the front of the train, and get a customary selfie (or ten) if you’re anything like me.
You may be wondering what it’s like inside the Jacobite steam train. Well, we were seated in the standard class section of the train. Honestly, it was really quite ordinary inside the train, which isn’t to say it wasn’t nice. There are some lovely old-fashioned features but to me it just felt like a regular train once you’re on it. I do have to say that all of the staff on the train were super lovely and friendly and that really made the experience.
The journey itself is lovely and relaxing, with beautiful scenery to admire as you whizz along. Keen to capture photographs of the Glenfinnan viaduct? Well, the conductor announces when you’re approaching the viaduct on both the outward and return journey. That means you have plenty time to get prepared and ensure you’re poised and ready to take the best photographs. FYI, you get to the viaduct around one hour into the journey.
The terminus destination is the port town of Mallaig and once you arrive you’re free to do as you wish. You can get lunch, wander around the small selection of shops, or explore the harbour and try to spot the resident seal. You can even hire bikes if you want to go a bit further afield. It’s short and sweet, yes. However, it’s not too big a place so it feels like a leisurely couple of hours rather than like you’re rushing around trying to cram everything in. Once your two hours are up you catch the train back to Fort William. All in all, I had a lovely day and would definitely recommend doing it yourself!
The Jacobite steam train as a Harry Potter fan
I thought I would include a section on everything you need to know about the Jacobite steam train – sorry, Hogwarts Express, as a Harry Potter fan. If you’re a Harry Potter fan then you probably have a whole lot of questions. What is the Hogwarts Express called in real life? Where is the Harry Potter train in Scotland? How do I book the Harry Potter carriage?
First up, if you’ve made it this far then you’ve probably figured out that the train is called the Jacobite steam train and it’s based in Scotland. It very much caters to Harry Potter fans. Just as an example, the train conductor introduced herself over the intercom as Professor McGonegal. There were also lots of people kitted out in full Harry Potter fancy dress. It was the day before Halloween but I have a feeling it wasn’t that unusual! So here’s how you can make the most of your experience as a Harry Potter fan…
It all starts at the time of booking. If you’re a serious Harry Potter fan then you may be interested in booking the Jacobite steam train Harry Potter carriage. This is the traditional compartment carriage that you’ll recognise from the films. It’s definitely worth considering if you want the full Harry Potter experience! I imagine it gets booked up well in advance so you’ll probably have to be super organised if you want to book it.
The next thing is you definitely want to check out is the shop on board the train. It’s accessible from the platform and is stocked with Harry Potter merchandise along with steam train and viaduct souvenirs. It’s only small but its definitely worth planning it in. I would advise arriving early so you have time to root around without feeling rushed.
What about when you get to Mallaig? Well, you may be interested to know that there’s a recently opened Harry Potter shop in Mallaig that you might want to explore. It’s located down Haggard Alley and is only a two-minute walk from the train station. It’s easy enough to find. Turn right when you come out of the station, walk past the harbour, and you’ll see it on your right. It’s popular and the queue was pretty big when we were there. Due to Covid-19 they are only allowing three muggles at a time to enter, so just bear in mind that you might have to wait a while.
Questions about the Jacobite steam train experience
How much does the Jacobite steam train cost?
Let’s get to the nitty gritty – prices! Here’s a full list of prices below:
|Standard class seat||£43||£26|
|First class seat||£65||£45|
|First class table for two||£73||£73|
|First class compartment||£65||£45|
It’s also worth noting that the train doesn’t run all year around. It only runs from April through to November and shuts down over the winter.
Where does the Jacobite steam train leave from?
The Jacobite steam train leaves from Fort William, which is a town in the Western Scottish Highlands. The train station is well sign posted as you come into the town so you shouldn’t have any issues finding out where you’re supposed to be. We didn’t get loads of time to explore Fort William but I would love to see a bit more of it if I had a chance in future.
How do I get to Fort William?
Good question. You can get a train to Fort William from Edinburgh, although it is a fair old hike. It takes nearly five hours and requires two changes; one at Glasgow and one at Crianlarich. It’s a little easier getting to Fort William from Glasgow, with only one change required at Crianlarich. However, it is still a nearly four-hour train journey in total! For both of these trips you might be all trained out before you even get on the Jacobite!
We drove to Fort William (or Glencoe rather) from Dundee, which took around three hours in total. My advice would be to arrive the night before so you’re well rested and have plenty of time to get to the train station for 10.15am. You don’t want to risk getting delayed and then missing the Jacobite completely. Knowing public transport in Scotland, that’s a distinct possibility. Don’t leave it to chance – stay somewhere the night before.
What time does the Jacobite train leave Fort William?
The train leaves the station at 10.15am. There’s parking available at the station and it’s a small station with no barriers to get through, so you don’t have to worry about trying to find the platform. If I was a bigger Harry Potter fan I might make a joke about platform 9 and ¾ right about now!
There’s also a well-stocked coffee shop at the station at Fort William if you want to top up on caffeine levels before you board. However, there’s also a trolley on the train. I wanted to get a coffee but we didn’t in the end. I was glad actually, because it would have just been another thing to juggle while trying to get a lot of photographs before the train left.
How long is the Jacobite steam train ride?
The journey to the town of Mallaig takes around two hours, so you’ll arrive in Mallaig just after 12 midday. You’ll get around two hours to explore Mallaig, with the train departing at 2.10pm. You’ll arrive back in Fort William at around 4.10pm. The perfect day really!
What is the Jacobite steam train seating plan like?
As far as I could see it’s all tables on the train, rather than individual seats, which is quite enjoyable and gives you a bit more space. There may be a bit confusion when you’re sent your tickets because you’ll get a ticket that says 15b and 15f, for example. Are those seats together?
Well yes, they are. F stands for forward and b stands for backward. That means if you’re a couple you’ll be sitting at a table opposite each other. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions right now your party will be allocated a table to yourselves. There was just two of us but we had a four-person table to spread out at, which was quite lovely actually.
Are dogs allowed on the Jacobite steam train?
The good news is that yes, they are – but not in first class. You can only have dogs in the standard class section of the train and they have to stay on a lead at all times. There were actually plenty of dogs on the train when we were on it, which was lovely. So there it is: if you’re wondering if the Jacobite steam train is dog friendly then it definitely is!
Can you buy Jacobite steam train tickets on the day?
Honestly, I wouldn’t advise it. According to their website there are sometimes tickets available to buy on the day, but you don’t want to travel all the way up to Fort William and then not be able to get on the train.
With everything happening with Covid-19 it doesn’t look like they’re operating at full capacity, so that means there’s even less chance of getting a ticket. You might also end up paying more than you want to – if there’s only first class tickets for example. I would recommend buying your tickets in advance and planning a trip around it.
What are the Jacobite steam train first class seats like?
I didn’t get a close look at the first-class seats – being standard class riff raff after all – but even from the platform you could see the fringed lamps on the tables of the first-class carriages, which hint at a little more decadence than can be found in standard class.
As you would expect, it’s all a lot fancier. You can expect gold brocade chairs, tartan curtains, and wooden panelling all adding to its old-fashioned charm. As I mentioned above, it’s also in the first-class section of the train that you’ll find the old-fashioned compartment that you see in the Harry Potter films. Even I remember the scene where Harry, Ron and Hermione are sitting in the train compartment on their way to Hogwarts!
If you are a big Harry Potter fan and you want to have the full experience I would definitely recommend booking the compartment if you can – get dressed up and everything!
Is there food served on the train?
Yes, there’s a trolley service on the train that has tea, coffee, and snacks – biscuits, crisps and the like. However, if you travel in first class you can add on additional services such as a cream tea to your trip at the time of booking – very fancy! My advice would be to think about what you want to do when you get to Mallaig. Do you want to go to one of the local restaurants for lunch? Or do you want to hire bikes or go on a boat trip… which wouldn’t leave you enough time to eat. It’s up to you. I was quite happy ordering lunch in Mallaig but if you’d prefer to be out and about exploring when you get there then definitely eat on the train. You can bring your own food but due to Covid-19 restrictions alcohol isn’t permitted.
Where can you stay when you get the Jacobite steam train?
The obvious place to stay when you get the Jacobite is Fort William, as that’s where the train leaves. However, when I was looking for accommodation I did find Fort William on the expensive side – probably because it is a big tourist destination. I’m a big Airbnb fan and I’d much prefer to stay somewhere I really like that’s a bit further away rather than something I’m not keen on. So we opted to stay in Glencoe, which is a half hour drive away.
Where can you stay in Glencoe?
We opted to stay in Caman Stay in Glencoe, which as I said I booked through Airbnb. It’s a self-catering micro lodge and it was everything I was looking for from our stay. It was cosy, quirky and very cute. As soon as I saw those gorgeous green metro tiles in the kitchen area I knew it was a place after my own heart. It’s called a micro lodge for a reason, however, so it is TINY. Bear in mind that you will have to like the person you’re staying with a lot.
That said, the space is well designed and stylishly decorated. TBH that’s something I often find difficult to find in self-catering accommodation in Scotland. Often there’s a lot of twee and tartan! Is it just me?
So what can you expect from Caman Stay? There’s a full-size couch to relax on, a cute kitchen space with hob and a fridge, a full-size double bed, and a bathroom with lovely exposed pipework and a shower. There’s also a TV, a box of DVDs to choose from – we ended up watching Silver Linings Playbook – and a treat box stuffed full of snacks. You’ll find a share size bag of crisps, chocolate treats, Oatso Simple porridge oats that you can have for breakfast, and some lovely elderflower juice. Amazing!
The best part is there’s also a wood-burning stove in the lodge. As someone who specifically chooses places to stay based on whether there’s a wood-burner or not this was probably another one of the reasons that swung Caman Stay for me. With the Scottish weather being its usual charming self – it rained pretty much the whole time – it was lovely to be able to cosy up in the lodge with the fire on and listen to the elements outside.
There’s also a lovely bit of space outside with a table and chairs. If you are lucky enouhg to get nicer weather than us you could spread out there and even enjoy some alfresco breakfast or some evening drinks.
FAQs on Caman Stay…
|Is there parking at Caman Stay self-catering micro lodge?||Yes|
|Is Caman Stay self-catering micro lodge dog friendly?||Yes|
|Are essentials provided at Caman Stay self-catering micro lodge?||Yes|
|Is there wi-fi at Caman Stay self-catering micro lodge?||No|
Caman Stay prices:
It costs £110 per night to stay at Caman Stay, along with a £37 service fee. That took the total cost of our stay to £257 for the two nights.
Where can you eat in Glencoe?
When I was choosing the Caman Stay my ears pricked up when I read in the reviews that there was a dog friendly restaurant in Glencoe just five minutes’ walk away. It can sometimes be tricky to find dog friendly spots in places you’re unfamiliar with, especially when you’re arriving late, so this seemed super convenient. The place was the Glencoe Gathering.
The Glencoe Gathering was just as lovely as expected. For one it had super friendly staff who made a great big fuss of our pup Casper and even fed him a couple of treats. He was happy from the off! Despite arriving at 5pm and knowing that the Covid-19 restrictions meant it closed at 6pm we were determined to make the most of it, even if we couldn’t order alcohol.
We both ordered the scallops with chorizo and black pudding, which was just ridiculously yummy. I’ve not had scallops in an age so it was a real treat. It came served on a bed of rocket with a wedge of lemon on the side, as well as a generous portion of chips. Honestly, it was so tasty!
The menu was admittedly a little bit on the pricey side by my usual standards – the scallops were £20.50 for example – but the quality of the food was really great. I guess I didn’t mind spending a little bit extra for a such great experience. I was on holiday after all, right?
As an aside, the Glencoe Gathering also do a great takeaway service. On the second night of our stay we ordered takeaway from here so that we could enjoy it from the comfort of the lodge with a crackling fire – and a large glass of red wine for me. I ordered the highland ham and pineapple pizza, sans mushrooms, which was really tasty. So if you’re looking for a restaurant in Glencoe I’d definitely recommend the Glencoe Gathering.
And if you want to read about more foods you should try in Scotland then have a look at my post on the 25 Scottish foods you should try!