Scotland’s most famous railway line is the brilliantly engineered West Highland Railway, running from Glasgow to Mallaig via Fort William. The line is in two sections: the southern part travels from Glasgow Queen Street station along the Clyde estuary and up Loch Long before switching to the banks of Loch Lomond on its way to Crianlarich, where the train divides with one section heading for Oban. After climbing around Beinn Odhar on a unique horseshoe-shaped loop of viaducts, the line traverses desolate Rannoch Moor, where the track had to be laid on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes. The train then swings into Glen Roy, passing through the dramatic Monessie Gorge and entering Fort William from the northeast.
The second leg of the journey, from Fort William to Mallaig, is arguably even more spectacular, and from June to mid-October one of the scheduled services is pulled by the Jacobite Steam Train. Shortly after leaving Fort William the railway crosses the Caledonian Canal beside Neptune’s Staircase by way of a swing bridge at Benavie, before travelling along the shores of Locheil and crossing the magnificent 21-arch viaduct at Glenfinnan, where the steam train, in its “Hogwarts Express” livery, was filmed for the Harry Potter movies. At Glenfinnan station there’s a small museum dedicated to the history of the West Highland line, as well as two old railway carriages that have been converted into a restaurant and a bunkhouse . Not long afterwards the line reaches the coast, where there are unforgettable views of the Small Isles and Skye as it runs past the famous silver sands of Morar and up to Mallaig, where there are connections to the ferry that crosses to Armadale on Skye.
If you’re planning on travelling the West Highland line, and in particular linking it to other train journeys (such as the similarly attractive route between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh), it’s worth considering one of ScotRail’s multiday Highland Rover tickets.