Glasgow – West Highland Railway – Fort William – Hogwart’s Express – Glenfinnan Viaduct – Mallaig – dolphins – Isle of Skye – Kyle Line – Scottish Highlands – Inverness
GLA flights available from: London-Luton (Easyjet); London-Gatwick (Easyjet); London-Stansted (Easyjet & Ryanair).
INV flights available to: London-Luton (Easyjet).
This trip can be made in either direction (ie from Inverness to Glasgow too), and I recommend making the trip in that direction (Inverness to Glasgow) for two main reasons: depending on your timings, you are more likely to spend your first night in Inverness (if you arrive late in the day), or on the Isle of Skye (if you arrive early in the day); and if you also want to include a trip on the Jacobite steam train (aka Hogwart’s Express), making the trip in this direction means that you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to do so (or even in the dark!). Remember, travel should be enjoyable and fun.
1. Glasgow Airport (GLA) to Glasgow city centre (Glasgow Queen Street Station to Glasgow Central Station).
You have a few options to travel between Glasgow Airport (GLA) and central Glasgow:
1. The first of these is by far the easiest. The number 500 shuttle bus.
This bus will take you directly from Glasgow Airport to central Glasgow’s Buchanan Street Bus Station. And as the first train on this route actually leaves from the nearby Glasgow Queen Street Railway Station, it is a simple 5-minute walk.
2. The other option is to travel, by local bus, to Paisley Gilmour Street. And take the Glasgow train from there.
However, you will end up having to take a bus anyway, so it makes more sense just to take the 500 bus directly to Buchanan Street Bus Station.
There is another reason why Option 1 is easier. The train tfrom Paisley Gilmour Street train station actually arrives in Glasgow at Glasgow Central Station. So you will need to transfer between both Glasgow train stations. Admittedly, there is not a huge distance between Glasgow Central station and Glasgow Queen Street station, and it is a very easy walk (although if you have any sizeable luggage, I would definitely spend a few pounds and take a taxi). But I would always recommend that you simply take the 500 bus directly from Glasgow Airport to Buchanan Street Bus Station.
2. Glasgow to Fort William (train – the first part of the West Highland Railway).
There’s a good reason why this railway line is regarded as, not just one of the most amazing railway journeys in the UK, but one of the most amazing railway journeys in the world.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacle.
3. Fort William to Mallaig (train – the second part of the West Highland Railway).
[The Jacobite steam train (aka Hogwart’s Express) or the “regular” ScotRail train].
There are actually two ways to make this spectacularly scenic journey by train.
Harry Potter fans just have to take the Jacobite steam train (aka Hogwart’s Express). As does anyone else who just loves the romance of steam. Operated by West Coast Railways.
The other, and cheaper, option is to take the “regular” ScotRail train.
4. Mallaig to the Isle of Skye (Armadale) (ferry).
It takes just minutes to walk between the train station and the ferry terminal in Mallaig (see the map above). Tickets for the ferry can be bought in the ferry terminal, or in advance via the ferry operator’s (Caledonian MacBrayne) website: www.calmac.co.uk
Booking your ticket in advance, which you print at home and just show as you board the ferry, is a good idea – as it is just one less thing to do on the day.
Duration: The ferry crossing takes just 30 minutes And you can always see the land, the majestically beautiful land, on either side at all times.
This is actually a pretty spectacular way to arrive on the Isle of Skye. With the Cuillin mountains as a backdrop. Also keep an eye out for dolphins during the crossing, as they like to swim in the bow-wake of the ferry.
Mallaig is a pretty little fishing port. And is the one place on this route that I would most recommend as a place to spend a night (or two).
5. The Isle of Skye (Armadale) to Kyle of Lochalsh (bus).
It takes just seconds to walk to the bus stop at the Ferry Terminal in Armadale (see the map above).
Just one bus (number 51) takes you all the way from Armadale to Kyle of Lochalsh (where the next train journey on this route begins). There is no need to prebook your bus journey, just pay the bus driver as you board. From the bus stop at Kyle of Lochalsh, it is just a few minutes walk to Kyle of Lochalsh train station (so slose that you can actually see it if I remember correctly?)
However, the bus travels via Broadford, where you can connect to the Portree bus. And Broadford itself is a good base for your time on the Isle of Skye (especially for the Cuillin mountains which are located in the south of the island, and which you will already have had a good look at). However, for Kyle of Lochalsh, just remain on the bus.
Armadale itself is a VERY small place, so I would recommend that you take the first bus out.
The entire bus journey between Armadale and Kyle of Lochalsh takes just 50 minutes (25 minutes to Broadford).
6. Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness: The Kyle Line (train).
People continually rave about how the West Highland Line is the most beautiful railway in the UK. Well, having previously travelled on both that line and the Kyle Line, and in my very humble opinion, these people are mistaken.
The Kyle Line, especially the western section, is every bit as beautiful. And because it is a wee bit harder to access, you will have as many seats, and as much space, as you would like.
Duration (between Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness): 2 hours 40 minutes.
Tickets: You can buy your ticket, in advance, on the train operator’s (ScotRail) website: www.scotrail.co.uk
Tickets are usually also available from the ticket desk in Kyle of Lochalsh Railway Station.
Where to eat in Inverness once you get there? I have it on very good authority, that Platform 8 is the current place to eat in Inverness city centre, and is excellent. Both in the quality of the food, and in value for money.
7. Inverness city centre to Inverness Airport.
Bus: Number 11 (Stagecoach JetBus). Duration: 25-28 minutes.
Taxi: Available from immediately outside of Inverness train station. To prebook, Tel: 01463 222222. Duration: 15 minutes.
These “virtual” journeys are just my way of continuing to see the world, now that the progression of my ataxia means that lengthy travel is no longer a possibility for me. Hence the detail. By planning the journey in such detail, I end up knowing the route so well that I feel like I have been on it myself.
So if this article has inspired you, saved you some valuable time (or even just saved you a few pounds/euros/dollars), please show your appreciation by making a donation to Ataxia UK (registered charity), by following this link:
100% of your donation goes directly, and immediately, to Ataxia UK (plus an additional 25% if you are a UK-taxpayer and have ticked the “Gift Aid” box).
And a personal request?
Share a photograph, that you take at some point on your journey, with me on Twitter. Not necessarily your “best” photograph, but the one photograph that will forever remind you of your journey.
That way I can live a little piece of the journey through your eyes.