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"The Jacobite" express operated by West Coast Railways of Carnforth, runs between Fort William and Mallaig in the West Highlands of Scotland. I had the pleasure of being on board on 19th September 2006, so I thought I would give potential travellers a little taste of what goes on. The 84 mile round trip takes you through what is regarded by many as the most scenic rail journey in the British Isles. I do not think people exaggerate when they say this !

To travel on this service you should purchase your ticket in advance through the bookings hotline 01524 737751. Although it is sometimes possible to pay on the day, the train is normally fully booked, a lot of people turn up on the day hoping to travel, but get disappointed. It happened to me once. However, this method ensures every passenger has a seat and that they can travel in comfort.

Both first and second class accommodation are available. A first class return from Fort William will now cost £41, and a second class £28. (correct for 2007 season) Child fares and single tickets are available. I travelled first class and can say that the extra is well worth it. Apart from the obvious extras in first, bigger seats, more leg room etc, you are offered complementary tea, coffee and biscuits for the journey. When I travelled, first class was immediately behind the locomotive on the way to Mallaig, so whilst taking in the mountainous views I got all the sounds ( and the steam ! ) of the loco. All these little niceties made the cost of a first class ticket great value. 

Only minutes into the journey, you get to experience yesteryear sounds and smells, courtesy of your locomotive of the day, when I travelled it was ex LMS Black Five 4-6-0 45157, "Glasgow Highlander". People in the know tell me this loco is in fact 45407 "Lancashire Fusilier" in disguise. As the train gathered speed, many passengers reminisced in the unique atmosphere that main line steam travel provides. The beautiful mountains and lochs were intermittently obscured by the huge clouds of smoke and steam as the loco puffed, panted and wheezed its way along. Any conversation with fellow passengers was held at the next volume level up from normal if you wished to be heard !  Occasionally, being heard was out of the question as the train enters several tunnels along the route where the loco seemed to turn to maximum volume. At the same time people clambered to close windows, to prevent puffs of steam bellowing through the windows. All part of the fun and charm of days long gone I thought. Although back in days it was considered neither fun nor charm!

To the amusement of most passengers on our journey, the same convoy of cars and a coach were parked up in nearby lay-bys every time the road met the railway along the route. The occupants of which were all stood waving and the drivers of the vehicles beeped their horns as we passed each time. We heard our loco crew interacting with their audience with a loud whistle ! Modern road vehicles certainly have the advantage here, but, nobody was in a hurry!   

 There are many highlights to be enjoyed from the comfort of your seat. First of course is the magnificent site of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.      

Further along the line, about 15 miles, is Glenfinnan Viaduct which when built was the first structure to be built only of concrete. It is a 21 arch structure that spans 416 yards. Glenfinnan Viaduct may be better known to some as the Harry Potter bridge. Both the line to Mallaig, and the viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films.

If like I did, you want to take pictures of the viaduct whilst crossing, I would advise you plan your photo shoots and claim your space at the door window well in advance to get the best shots. As you will shortly see, each window on the left ( in direction of travel to Mallaig ) is quickly swarmed upon. If your at the back of a queue, you have no chance !

Shortly after the viaduct is Glenfinnan station. The train makes a brief stop here whilst the loco regains its breath. Passengers are allowed to leave the train to look around the station museum, which gives a history of the line. You will have to be quick if you want to look, as the queue to get in was as long as the train when I was there ! There is a small fee to get in, and all proceeds go to the up keep of the premises which are beautifully restored.  

On the trains descent towards Mallaig after some gruelling climbs from Fort William, you catch the first glimpse of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day you will be able to see the Islands Rhum and Eigg. Rhum is furthest out, it is easily recognised by its mountain peaks compared to the relatively flat Eigg. Our loco and its crew take full advantage of gravities assistance on occasions like this and the train makes a fine site to line side spectators, of which there were many, as it gains as much speed as possible in readiness for the next climb. It has been known for the train not have enough speed to reach the top of a summit and has had to reverse and make another run for it!     

Upon arrival at Mallaig there is plenty of time to admire the locomotive as, once again it regains its breath before running around its train to depart for the sidings for a well deserved rest. You have around an hour and a half to look around Mallaig before the return departure. This is just the right amount of time for a pint, or pot of tea on the harbour front whilst taking in the fresh highland air and scenery.

Mallaig is a busy fishing port, having thrived after the arrival of the railway in 1901. It is also the main gateway to the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides. 

After your refreshing stop at Mallaig, it is time for the return trip. The loco works harder to reach Fort William as it is up hill most of the way. I was sat in what was then the rear coach, the loco often visible on bends, providing an impressive sight from the comfort of my chair. All this whilst sipping a cup of tea. How much more civilized can you get ?

All in all, the whole experience scores an easy 9 out of 10 from me. I think most people can appreciate what is being provided here, whether enthusiasts or not. The value for money therefore is excellent. 

 

David Hood.

 

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A special thank you to Richard Taylor, Glyn Jones and Paul Martin who's work can be seen in more detail at www.steamgalories.co.uk/  and Chris McKenna who's work can be seen at www.railfaneurope.net  All persons mentioned here kindly gave permission for their work to be used on this page.

© Intertrains 2007 onwards

 
"The Jacobite" awaits its passengers at Fort William on a wet morning in September 2006.
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Ex LMS "Black Five" comes to boiling point and blasts off on its journey to Mallaig.
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Here she is at speed around 15 minutes into the journey, working hard to keep pace. With all the sound effects, it was much to everyone's enjoyment!
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45407 "Lancashire Fusilier" A.K.A 45151 "Glasgow Highlander", having just left Tyndrum Upper and approaching the horse shoe curve at Auch. En route to Glasgow Queen street on the 3rd September 2005.
Photograph courtesy of Glyn Jones
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Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous to many by the Harry Potter Films.
Photograph courtesy of Paul Martin

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A regular performer on the Jacobite is ex LNER K1, 62005, "Lord of the Isles" seen here posing at Fort William.
Photograph courtesy of Chris McKenna

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Another regular Jacobite performer is LNER designed  B1, 61264, delivered new in 1947 to my home town of Harwich.
Photograph courtesy of Richard Taylor

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Ex LMS 8F, 48151, seen here on a main line excursion, also makes appearances on the Jacobite.
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Mallaig Harbour. You can take in the views here from the bars and cafes nearby.
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A typical view to be enjoyed during your leisurely stop.

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