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Scotland West Highland Line - Fort William to Mallaig

I’ve been wanting to travel on this line for more years than I care to remember, so it had a lot to live up to! Often described as ‘the Line to the Isles’ it regularly features in the list of top Railway journeys in the world. It definitely lives up to this description.


The railway from Glasgow to Fort William was completed in 1894. The extension to Mallaig was approved the following year and the line across some of the most challenging landscape in Britain was eventually opened in 1901.

Built by Robert McAlpine, perhaps the most famous structure on the line is the Glenfinnan viaduct, one of the first rail viaducts to be built of concrete. The viaduct was built by manual labour with horses carrying materials . There is a story that a horse backing up a wagon to pour rubble into one of the hollow piers of the viaduct, backed too far, toppling backwards into the pier, and was sealed up. Originally thought to be an apocryphal tale, the skeleton of a horse was discovered in one of the piers of the Loch Nan Uamh viaduct by maintenance staff using X-ray equipment...

I did the journey from Fort William to Mallaig on the Scots Rail train rather than the (more expensive) Jacobite Train. They both follow the same route, the only difference is you are in a two or four unit rail car.

The route map is taken from this website.
Mallaig Line.jpg

The train was very busy with booked parties and also holiday makers using it to reach Mallaig for the ferry to Skye. The best views are on the left hand side of the train as it leaves Fort William.

Leaving Fort William, the railway crosses the River Lochy


It then swings inland to Banavie where it crosses the Caledonian Canal with Neptune’s Staircase, with its eight locks, rising up on the right hand side.


At Corpach, the railway line and A830 now run side by side along the shore of Loch Eil.



A bit further on is the small pier exporting timber products.


It is a very pretty run along the shores of Loch Eil, across the the gentle wooded slops on the far side and up to to mountains .




Leaving the loch, the line follows the flat valley floor heading towards the mountains.


The line swings to the north to the impressive 21 arch Glenfinnan viaduct crossing the River Finnan.


Glenfinnan is a small disperse settlement surrounded by tall mountains.


There are views down to Loch Shiel with the Glenfinnan Monument.


The line continues to climb between the pass between the mountains.



The West Highland Line - Fort William to Mallaig cont...

Beyond the pass, the line drops steeply through mixed deciduous woodland to Loch Eilt with its small islands.



Just after Lochailort Station on the left is the tiny disused Roman Catholic chapel of Our Lady of the Braes, which served the long deserted townships of Ardnish and Polnish.


The line cuts through the mountains with a tunnel and viaduct with a view of Loch Ailort.



Across another pass, there are views of the sandy beach at the top of Loch nan Uamh.




After Beasdale, there are views across to the mountains of Skye and the Small Isles of Rhum, Muck and Eigg.


Arisaig village is to the south of the station and there was views across the Skye.


The line crosses the low lying flat and boggy area before Morar.



The road and railway cross the Morar river with glimpses of the white sands of Morar. In the distance are the mountians of Skye.




The line then climbs up past the tiny Loch Doilead.


And then drops down to run along the shore of Glasnacardoch Bay to Mallaig.


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