Sunday 27 April 2014

Scotland by Rail - the West Highland Line, Glasgow - Mallaig

Monday April 21st 2014

blog post 1 -
The West Highland Line: Glasgow to Mallaig
(voted top railway journey in the world in the Wanderlust Travel Awards.)

An exciting development in my ScotRail-supported Scotland by Rail work - a scene for the station at Mallaig. There's a faded display board there, quite big - 75x120cm. A painting of mine will replace it.

This week I made my first research trip: up on Monday, overnight in Mallaig (The Mission bunkhouse - basic but absolutely adequate, and a single room at a great price), back on Tuesday. Half the afternoon and all evening in Mallaig on Monday, whole day until 4pm on Tuesday. It's amazing to go so far and see so much all in one day. It does lead to rather an overload of photos so I'm breaking my trip into three blog posts.

I started from home, so Burntisland to Mallaig.

- 7.22am from Burntisland, the once daily (on weekdays) Fife - Glasgow direct commuter. It's normally very quiet. On this Easter Monday it was dead. A misty day, refreshing cool after three or four of bright sun.

spot the oystercatcher
- change at Linlithgow to reach Glasgow ten minutes sooner (the Fife commuter goes via Falkirk Grahamston, not Falkirk High). Time at Linlithgow to check on the Tesco-roof-oystercatcher, nesting again, at least the third year in a row.

- 9.03am leave Glasgow Queen Street for Mallaig.

ship graveyard

Where Jennifer's parents stay. Spot Jennifer still in bed?
- 10.04am, pulling in to Garelochhead. A gannet was flying high and solitary over the loch, white wings shining in morning sun, black tips almost lost against hill behind.

- Loch Long - The Cobbler, fully visible! A few patches of snow.

- Loch Lomond. Inversnaid on the far shore where we spent last new year.

- 10.55am - Crianlarich, 60 miles from Queen Street. This far along the line crows seen are mostly hooded - silver sheen body, black head and wings.

- The Horseshoe Curve
One of the most stunning spots on the line.

- a few groups of red deer seen as we go increasingly north. On Rannoch Moor the deer appear a slightly greyer-brown than the red-brown of the heather in this sun. Ravens hang over the moor, and a couple of hooded crows, much smaller. Crossing the lovely old black and white sign, 'CORROUR SUMMIT 1350ft (411m) ABOVE SEA LEVEL', the highest point on the line.

- Loch Treig, a crow nearly keeping speed with the train.

just beyond (or just before) the Monessie Gorge
- Tulloch Station, an excellent bunkhouse hostel where we stayed four or five new years ago. Then Monessie Gorge where the River Spean cuts deep and narrow (through "garnetiferous quartz-mica-schists of the Leven Schist Formation", according to the British Geological Survey.) A grey wagtail wagged down by the peat-brown dark water.

a rubbish photo of eight very impressive locks

Caledonian Canal, approaching its end

- Ben Nevis appears, then Fort William. Depart Fort William 12.48pm, five and a half hours since leaving Burntisland. Look for Inverlochy Castle ruin, then Neptune's Staircase locks (eight of them) on the Caledonian Canal, then a whitewashed and rustic round tower lighthouse on the Corpach pier. A swallow flew over, my third of 2014.

spot the people having lunch (Glenfinnan Station Museum Dining Car)

- Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter) and views of the monument and Loch Shiel

- beautiful bits

- Loch Eilt where little Scots pine islets dot the water, and cameras are raised yet again (if they've ever been laid down).

- Lochailort station where brother Roan and I once waited to be picked up by our friends Kittie and Paul on route to a fantastic walking weekend on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

- Our Lady of the Braes church on hillside beyond Lochailort.

- then Eigg and Rum appear beyond the area, and the sun is shining, and the sea and sky are hazy blues.

- and now, at 2.09pm, you're in Mallaig.

How to get there:

Trains to Mallaig leave Glasgow twice in the morning, once at noon and once after tea. Trains back leave Mallaig terribly early, a relaxed 10am, late afternoon, and just after tea. Check it all before you leave of course - up-to-date timetables on ScotRail website here.

It would be enough just do the journey, there and back, you'll remember it for a long time. But try to stay at least overnight night so you can enjoy Mallaig too. I'll write about that in post 2.

In post 3 - over the sea to Skye (for only £7.70, return)


  1. I will be retracing your steps on Tuesday 29th April. Travelling by train from Lochawe to Crianlarich, changing trains and then on to Glenfinnan for a meeting with the Lochaber CRP steering group.
    Staying in the camping coach overnight and then back to Fort William on Wednesday for a further meeting and back to Lochawe arriving at 20:50hrs. Cannot wait for the increased train service to Oban starting on Sunday 18th May!

    Jim Wilkin

    1. Thanks Jim, it's an amazing route. Hope you enjoyed as much as I did.

  2. Hi Leo
    Congratulations regarding your sign commission. Big challenge to come up with an appropriate image for such a complex subject.
    Also enjoyed your quick sketches on board a moving train. It's quite a challenge to capture an image that's there one moment, then gone the next. All that one can do is to make a quick mental note and a few lines, then hope that you've retained enough information to fill in the blanks later.
    Best wishes,