Glenfinnan – Monuments and Steam Trains

Well, I must be honest.

I believe that on Day 10, Thursday, June 12th, 2008, I left a wee bit of my soul on the Island of Skye.

How do you leave home, knowing that you may never see it again? Such were my thoughts, as we left Skye that morning.

All of which may have contributed to the fact that we missed our late morning ferry to Mallaig. Oh darn. More time on Skye.

But leave we must, and so we packed our little car and headed south. I was sad to do this, because my heart was truly in Skye, and each mile farther south left my heart aching for that beautiful land.IMG_6108

On the bright side, whipping out my telephoto lens, I got a few really nice shots of Eilean Donan Castle as we headed back to the mainland.

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Great place, that Eilean Donan. Somehow I can see Jamie Fraser there, striding up to the front gates, demanding – well, I don’t know, demanding something. (Oh for Pete’s Sake – just read “Outlander” already, if you haven’t…)

And speaking of Jamie Fraser, today we were heading to Fort William. But we had a couple of important stops to make along the way. Our objectives for the day were to see the Glenfinnan monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie, and to catch a glimpse of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which hosts the Jacobite Steam Train (aka the “Hogwart’s Express”) twice a day.

So, we headed southeast on the A87, through Glen Shiel, towards Glen Garry.

We made it to Invergarry, and stopped at the Invergarry Hotel for a bite to eat. A very nice place, with very friendly staff and very nice food.

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The area in general was really pleasant, and we hung around for a while after lunch.

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We pressed on, following the shore of Loch Lochy. Which was quite beautiful, I might add.

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We got to the town of Fort William with no trouble, and hooked a right on the A830, towards Glenfinnan. The Glenfinnan Monument to the Bonnie Prince is beautifully situated on the banks of Loch Shiel. We were going to be directly opposite the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which some of you may know has been featured in a few of the Harry Potter movies. The real-life Jacobite Steam Train – aka the Hogwart’s Exppress – makes a daily journey across the viaduct, from Fort William to Mallaig.

Now I would have dearly loved to catch a glimpse of the train, on it’s way back to Fort William, but knowing that it only passed through twice a day, I didn’t have much hope that we would be in the right place at the right time. Glenn and I are very relaxed travelers, and the word “schedule” generally doesn’t mean much to us when we’re on vacation. So I was prepared to shoot a few pictures of the viaduct, and call it good.

We pulled in to the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center, and purchased two tickets for Prince Charlie’s monument. We took our time meandering through the gift shop on our way out the door that led to the walkway to the monument. As we walked through the door, Glenn paused, and looked at me.

“Do you hear that?”, he said.

“Hear what?”, I answered.

“Listen – it sounds like – like a STEAM TRAIN!!”

And so we ran, camera bag and purse flapping pell mell in our wake, we ran as fast as we could toward the viaduct.

I’ll be darned if we didn’t accidentally show up just in time to see the Hogwart’s Express!

I felt just a tad guilty; there were obviously folks who had been camped out there all afternoon, waiting to see the train, with their tripods securely in place, and here we were showing up at the last minute, like wedding crashers arriving just as the shrimp cocktail is served.

But what a sight it was, to a crazed Harry Potter fan such as myself.

Once again, Scottish serendipity.

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Glenn shot some decent video, which I will hopefully post here soon.

Feeling a lot like Ralphie on Christmas morning after he discovers his Red Rider BB gun hiding in the corner, we headed back toward the Bonnie Prince’s monument.

The monument is simple, yet very moving. Knowing the way that history turned out, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for Charlie, but he got a nice monument out of the deal. I’ve also heard it said that it is rather ironic, that on the monument, his back is turned to the Highlands, where most of his support came from, in the form of the young Highlanders who were willing to die for him.

But you can’t stand there, and not be moved. If I believed in fairies at the Kilmuir graveyard on Skye, here I believed that had I lived in the Highlands during the ’45, I would have traveled down out of the hills to rally here with the Prince.

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We left the monument and wound our way back east toward Fort William.

The wonderful folks at Clans and Castles had arranged for our room at the Highland Hotel, which was not really a hotel, but a bed and breakfast. The place was charming, but the best part about it was the view that we had from our room, which overlooked Loch Linnhe.

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Fort William is a great little town to walk around in. There are plenty of shops and pubs, and we could have easily spent more time exploring there. Since Fort William is close to Ben Nevis, which I believe is the highest peak in the UK, there are a lot of sporting shops, offering everything from hiking boots to cozy jackets.

Speaking of hiking, Scotland’s beauty makes her a popular destination for hikers of all abilities, and Glenn and I kicked around the idea of maybe on our next trip trying out some of the easier routes. Being no strangers to camping, and not being dead yet, we figured that we could probably handle it. The thing is, after experiencing the lodging and cuisine that Clans and Castles provided us with on this trip, it would be hard to eat cold beans and roasted weenies, on the next go-round.

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We had dinner at one of the pubs, but to tell you the truth, we were so tired from the events of the day that I don’t really remember much about it. There was a pretty important football/soccer game going on that night, so everyone seemed to be glued to the television sets, watching the game.

We made our way back to our hotel, and passed out in our beds overlooking the loch.

(With visions of steam trains dancing in our heads. Or my head, at least.)

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