finding the Hogwarts Express
If you, like most kids who grew up in the grips of the mysterious and at times mocking Harry Potter era, have ever dreamt of seeing Hedwig flying towards you with an invitation to escape muggle reality, then I’m here to deliver some devastating news. It’s probably never going to happen. Trust me, I am as heartbroken as you. But the good news is that there’s a way for you to do the next best thing.
Ride the Hogwarts Express.
The Hogwarts Express is in fact a famous steam train, the Jacobite, taking passengers on a 135-kilometre journey through mysteriously misty lochs and the never-ending green hills of the Scottish Highlands. Not only can you book your own seat on the train, but you can book yourself into the very compartment where Harry Potter sat on his own journey to Hogwarts (well, when he wasn’t stealing Ron Weasley’s Father’s flying ramshackle of a car or jumping into fireplaces and onto the cobblestones lining Diagon Alley). All the Jacobite needs now is a food trolley to sell Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes and Liquorice Wands.
The train’s journey through the Scottish countryside has earned it the title of being one of the ‘greatest railway experiences in the world’. You’re not alone if you think that such an incredible journey would surely set you back a few barrels of butter beer. In fact, many people I have spoken to have had their disdain from never having received their Hogwarts invitation quickly replaced by surprise. The whole experience costs £35. Yep, just £35! Links to buying tickets can be found on this website, and I highly recommend booking tickets well in advance because (unsurprisingly) Hogwarts Express tickets sell out faster than a hungry buckbeak chasing flying ferret heads.
If hearing all this still hasn’t already stamped a sold sticker on your adventuring brain, then I’m sure the chance to wander around the wonder that is Fort William and the Glenfinnan Viaduct will most definitely sway you.
One of the stops featured on the Jacobite journey is Glenfinnan station. Here you’ll have time to stretch your legs and explore the area of Fort William. Fort William, the largest town in the Highlands and situated at the southern end of the Great Glen, lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. I’ve been there three times and I am still obsessed. Its beauty is unlike any other. Just behind the tourist centre is a path that will take you to the best viewing spot for the Glenfinnan Viaduct. In the summer it will be very obvious because there are herds of people filing along the trail to the top. The winter sees a drastic decline in the number of people who visit Fort William and, though less obvious than in the summer, the start of the path is signposted so you can’t miss it.
Luckily for us, we were the only people at Fort William when we stopped there on our wintry Scottish road trip. This afforded ample time for my very Australian family to entertain the people in the tourist centre before we eventually ventured to take advantage of being able to take photos without any stray heads making inconvenient appearances into our shots. My mum, whether intentionally or not, saw this as an opportunity to replace the lack of distracting humans in photos with her thumb that she had placed over the lens of my camera. Now, whenever I look at those photos, there’s a little bit of her in them. Her inherent hate of being in photos herself means that this is probably the closest thing I’ll get to having a selfie with her and, really, I’m not going to be mad about that.
Would I go back for a fourth time?
Yes, one million times yes.
Visit in winter. Just pack a few extra layers and gloves because the wind packs a chilling punch when you reach the top of the viewing point. Or, if the layers aren’t enough, hire a human shield to stand in front of you to take one for the team. I hired my brother for this purpose. He was most definitely inebriated from Scottish whiskey come most afternoons so had his own (boozy) blanket to keep him warm.
Are you thinking of adventuring around Scotland and unsure where to start?
Check out some of my posts on Scotland:
How many castles can you humanely fit into one trip?
The best castles in Scotland
Edinburgh: what to do, where to go and best rainy day activities (because it rains A LOT!)
Hiring a campervan in Scotland: do’s and definite do not's
Why I think Scotland would be the best place to live
(The reason most of the links above don't work is because I haven't actually strung the words together for them. But keep an eye on this space because they will make their feature in due time!)