Monday, 10 August 2015

9th August - Mallaig and the Hogwarts Express!

Ok so I cheated a little today, when I got off the ferry in Mallaig I found out that the Harry Potter express runs through there, so I decided that it would be a really great idea to travel on it’s iconic route across the aquaduct to fort William.  It’s a little out of my way but given the miserable weather I have been enduring I decided I would treat myself!

I had a coffee in Mallaig in the mission café, I then had a wander around the town for a little while, there is a small stone cliff alongside one of the roads and even in this poor weather it was strewn with wildflowers and colour so I had to take a photograph.
I found a secondhand bookshop, however they weren’t organised and just couldn’t find something I wanted to read.   It came near the time for the train to arrive so I made my way across to the station and awaited the train.  Whilst there I met a german lady who was on a bike more laden than I was, she was touring around solo enjoying herself and she too lamented the weather, the wind and the prices they were charging, it was like meeting a female version of myself… very unsettling.  Her English was functional but limited, she was hoping to go to Ireland but couldn’t figure out a good way to get there so I showed her the route down to Campbeltown and wrote the details for the Kintyre express, she asked me twice if I was sure that there was a ferry from there so I got out a map and showed her the ferry symbol and got the number for her to book, she loved the look of the route.

Pretty soon the train arrived and a deluge of passengers spilled out of the carriages, people with cameras literally elbowing each other to get a photograph of the engine the Jacobean as if it was going to dissolve before they got a chance.   Soon everyone left the station and I got some photos of my own and a small video as it backed up ready to turn around and hook back up to the carriages the other way.

I got a ticket and managed to negotiate a seat with the conductor as it was standing room only but he found me something and a place to put my bike.   I decided to wait on the train rather than head back into Mallaig which would be awash with people by now.  Strictly speaking this was taking me off my route but I figured riding back out from fort William would make up for it and I would soon be back on track, this was just one of those happy coincidences I wasn’t prepared to miss.
I sat in my carriage and could smell the engine and hear the steam venting for all the world like a kettle left on the boil, as passengers began to board I could see all the excited children and every second word was harry potter related.   There was the usual mix of German/French/American and Canadian tourists who were having a great time, the atmosphere was wonderful with almost a childlike innocence.

I was sat in Standard class which didn’t have the elegance of first class, but the carriage took me back to my own childhood where I remember these carriages still being in service! I was joined by some Belgians a father with his two teenage children.  They played cards and we swapped some stories of our travels, they showed me a great photo of some Dolphins they had seen near inverness.

The train journey definitely had a Harry Potter theme, as we passed through various places the guard would announce “dumbledores final resting place”  the XXX aquaduct where harry potters car flew..

The scenery from the train was beautiful but as always the weather was atrocious.   There was a charity rafle for some whisky, I didn’t win but there was a family next to me who were scotish I believe.  They had bought a lot of tickets and when the winners were called the son had won one of the minatures, his brother reminded him that the miniature had cost less than his tickets.

Travelling through this country and through Skye you can see why they are used as film locations even those hills with scars where mining had taken place were beautiful providing a contrast to their surroundings.   The landscape is criss-crossed with rivers and everywhere there is wildlife.  As the train passed through and the whistle would blow, birds would take to flight en-masse and sheep would scatter in panic.

The names of places I had passed through came to me, and I realised that I was forming a mental map of the country, the abstract places that I could not recall for so many years were now firmly anchored geographically so that for the first time in my life I started to have a good felling for the geography of my own country.
Pretty soon I had arrived in Fort William and said goodbye to the Hogwarts Express (aka the Jacobite), I would remember this as one of the highlights of my trip.  I had visited Fort William in 2013 on my JOGLE so knew the layout roughly only this time I didn’t need a visit to the A&E (I was knocked off my bike on the previous visit).

I went to the tourist office and enquired about any late rooms free, the lady located one and then she said it would cost me £4.00 to tell me and book it lol, nothing free today.   I decided to pay up and got a booking and an address just up the road from the city centre.  My landlady for the night was a lovely lady we stowed my bike and my kit.  I headed out for food and Weatherspoon’s had a two for one meal deal on so I had a miniature steak pie with veg and a baked potato for the other with cheese.

I wandered up and down the high street for a short while and then made my way back to the B&B, whilst there I met my landladys husband, who turned out to be the train driver on the Hogwarts express, he had been my driver today and had driven the train in the films!

My room was small but very comfortable, again it was one of those B&B’s where you are made to feel like one of the family, it had all those little extra touches that a mother would think of, extra chocolate biscuits by the coffee!

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