There is no magic on this Hogwarts Express.
The day had arrived for our much-vaunted, much-awaited ride on the Jacobite train, the world-famous Hogwart’s Express and the iconic ride over the Glenfinnan viaduct. Ever since we got the tickets last June, it’s been on more than a few occasions when I would imagine what the trip would be like and always looked forward to the day. Their website wasn’t the most helpful, frankly, and even after calling to buy tickets, all we could get were seats that were apart, and we were clueless as to where the seats were located. Knowing that the left side of the train was the better side didn’t matter in this case. Not a good experience to start and very much a foreboding of what was to come.
As our drive began in Helensburgh, it meant a two-hour trek to reach the station in Fort William over a route that was equal parts gorgeous and magnificent. The weather wasn’t the best nor the worst, it was drizzling for the most part but we were in a comfortable vehicle, free to stop at any point, driving along some of the most beautiful scenery there is, and I felt lucky to be there.
Arriving at the train station, paying for long term parking was a chore as none of the machines could completely process the transaction, even after trying four different cards, until finally one did. 10 hours for £4 wasn’t too bad. The train station itself was a small one and looks to have been around the block a few times. With no visible sign where the train would stop, we had to ask an attendant who thankfully confirmed we were at the right place. Weather I can take, but dysfunctional parking machines and confusing lack of signage are just laziness. After a quick and cheap lunch at a classic Scottish restaurant, we hurried back to find the train had arrived – and sadly it was every tourist for themselves. People clambering on and inside the steam engine meant we could barely get any decent shots but this was nothing next to the seating debacle to come.
Neither Teko nor I could understand the seat numbering and thought there was something wrong with our ticket order. After we’d found my seat with the help of an attendant we discovered someone was occupying it, hoping we could switch seats. It looked like seat assignments were rarely followed so off we went to look for seats where we could sit together and had to play musical chairs before settling down on the right, i.e. wrong, side of the train. At this point Teko just completely gave up and sat in misery for most of the trip. We passed by the Glenfinnan viaduct around a third of the way, and as for the scenery, it was to a lesser degree the views we drove past to get there. It was one of the longest two hours ever.
Once we reached our last stop in Mallaig, I was already lost in impatience, the drizzling weather adding to my malaise. There is nothing of interest to do in Mallaig and with no earlier train departing we were obliged to stay there for another two whole hours. The only option to pass the time away was an early dinner, which luckily was a satisfying breaded monkfish at The Cabin but with one hour left to waste we ended up back at the station and waited mostly inside the train cabin amongst the most annoying family of Malaysian tourists who just couldn’t find it in them to behave appropriately. The group decided to eat their takeaway food inside the train, chewing with mouths open, burping without abandon, loudly talking across the cabin as though no one else was there. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, however, our assigned seats on the way back were smack dab in the middle of their group, apparently displacing some of their members, and, paranoia aside, am quite sure we were the topic of one or two Bahasa discussions along the way. It was another two hours later when we were finally back in Fort William, with yet another two hours of driving, over single carriageway roads in pitch black darkness, ahead of us.
Suffice it to say, I am no longer a fan. To spend six hours on a train trip whose highlight is a one minute crossing over a cinematic viaduct is time and money ill-spent. The minimum needed to enjoy such a journey would require a left-side window seat going and a right-side window seat coming back, no previous exposure to Scottish landscapes, and a desire to not just go through a Harry Potter experience but just as well to see the Scottish countryside – preferably in first class. The moment the Jacobite ‘Hogswart Express‘ train and I cross tracks again, if ever it happens, would be a miracle. That’s a magic trick I just have no patience for.