31 Aug Dancing on Ben Nevis and Riding the Hogwarts Express
We packed so much into our short stint in Scotland; our week in the Highlands was filled with fine food, beautiful but rainy walks in the countryside, a visit to Loch Ness and plenty of sightseeing. Some of my favourite days were spent exploring the Fort William area, riding the Hogwarts Express steam train and taking the gondola half way up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, for an evening of dancing.
Fort William Sights
Compared to the tiny villages in the Highlands, Fort William is a bustling metropolis with a train station, high street, supermarket and plenty of pubs and restaurants. We shopped there for fleeces and umbrellas to cope with the weather, fuelled up on tasty meals and took refuge from the rain in the small Highland Museum which showcased some of Fort William’s history.
Afterwards we headed just outside of the town to find Inverlochy Castle, which was pretty small and ruinous but I love a castle and this one was definitely picturesque enough to warrant a visit; it was also free. Just down the road we discovered Neptune’s Staircase, a set of eight canal locks; we stopped to watch a boat navigate through them while we took in the surrounding mountain scenery.
Since my Dad is a lover of whisky and ale, a tour of the Ben Nevis Distillery was a must. During the tour we did learn about the brewing process but all that really sticks in my mind is the yeasty smell coming from some steaming cauldrons, the warming free taster shot and the fact that the Government charge an 87 percent tax on whisky!
Ben Nevis Gondola and Ceilidh
We couldn’t leave the Highlands without visiting the famous Ben Nevis, so on a Friday evening we took a gondola ride half-way up the mountain to take in the views and experience a Scottish Ceilidh – an evening of music and dancing. I was surprised by how much fun we had learning dance steps and embarrassing ourselves in front of strangers; the spectacular sunset views out the window of the never-ending mountain peaks and shimmering lochs formed an incredible backdrop to a memorable evening.
A Journey on the Hogwarts Express
If you’re a Harry Potter fan you’ll probably know that not only were most of the books written in Scotland but many of the film locations can also be found throughout the Highlands. One of the things I was most excited about for our trip to Scotland was getting to ride a Hogwarts-Express-style Jacobite Steam Train through the mystical landscapes captured in the Harry Potter films.
The popularity of Harry Potter means a trip on the original Jacobite train on the West Highland Railway costs a whopping £34 per person. We saved money by taking a local train instead for just £14 which went the exact same route to the tiny harbour-town of Mallaig. The wind was bitterly cold and the rain icy and constant when we disembarked, shivering our way around long enough to take pictures on the pier and spot some seals before taking shelter in a pub.
A couple of days later when the weather had cleared up somewhat we took a trip to the Glenfinnan Viaduct to join the crowds taking pictures of the steam train making its way across the viaduct, echoing a famous shot from one of the Harry Potter films. To get the best vantage point we took a walk through the hills, stopping for a picnic and some jumping spots along the way. We also found time to have tea and cake in an old dining car at Glenfinnan station before getting into the Harry Potter spirit by posing for some hilarious broom shots!