When it comes to traveling by train in Great Britain, nothing compares with the West Highland Line of Scotland. The magnificent 164-mile scenic railway originates from Queen Street Station in Glasgow but with frequent service between Glasgow and Edinburgh, travelers staying in Scotland’s capital have easy connections. A change of trains to the West Highland line is necessary in Glasgow, however.
The West Highland train is not an express. Plan for five hours or more between Glasgow and Mallaig. Many riders travel to Mallaig to catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye.
The four-carriage trains pull out of Glasgow roughly paralleling the River Clyde. It doesn’t take long for rugged mountain terrain to plunge into picturesque lochs through a scrim of morning mist. Soon the double tracks merge into a single serpentine ribbon of steel with promises of bold new adventures ahead.
One side of the train is no better than the other. Just choose a seat and be get ready to be awed while shuffling back and forth to witness the majestic scenery that streams past the windows.
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Before long a U-shaped valley known as Glen Douglas guides travelers toward the “bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” made famous in song.
The train divides at Crianlarich with two carriages traveling to Oban and the other pair to Mallaig.
At Rannoch Moor, with its eerie “Hound of the Baskervilles” aura, the train is the only way across the boggy, pockmarked moonscape with its outcroppings of rock and otherworldly atmosphere.
Fort William, the largest town in the region, nestles in the shadow Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain at 4,400 feet. Fort William is a popular jumping-off spot for travelers not wanting to venture to Mallaig.
Those who do journey onward are in store for the indescribable beauty of Glenfinnan Viaduct with 21 arches that curve southward toward Loch Shiel. Summer travelers can enjoy crossing the viaduct aboard a steam-powered train.
The end of the line is Mallaig where frequent ferries are available for visits to small islands like the popular Isle of Skye.
This is rail travel as it was long ago. Scotland’s West Highland Line is a memory in the making.
Bob Taylor of Charlotte leads group tours and organized the Magellan Club. Find his “Travel Better With Bob Taylor” blog at charlotteobserver.com/travel.