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Steam train to the Isles

Taking in some of Scotland’s best scenery, this classic steam train ride passes many historic spots associated with the Jacobite Rebellion as well as quaint towns, towering mountains and sweeping valleys.

En route you'll cross the viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter films, pass sea lochs and historic monuments, and finally arrive two hours later in the bustling fishing town of Mallaig, a gateway to the Isles.

The leisurely pace of the train provides a good opportunity for getting photographs of the passing landscape, spotting wildlife on the hills and in the water, and simply for relaxing as you soak up the scenery.

The 42-mile journey takes around two hours in total and begins in Fort William, the largest town in the Highlands. Fort William sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the country's highest mountain, and the landscape here is striking. As you pull out of town, the clouds of steam shift to reveal the steep sides of the surrounding mountains and the rugged peaks above.

The train soon passes Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks on the Caledonian Canal, which between them raise the canal's level by 20 m (66 ft). Continue through the Glenfinnan Valley along the north shore of Loch Eil, toward the Glenfinnan Monument.

The monument sits at the head of Loch Shiel and is a poignant memorial to the clansmen who fought and died in the Jacobite uprising, an attempt to return Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) to the throne.

From here, travel over the 14-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, a distinctive piece of engineering that features in the Harry Potter films as the route of the Hogwarts Express railway line. From the viaduct you can enjoy wonderful views down over Loch Shiel.

Stopping at Glenfinnan, you have time to visit the station, which while still fully working serves as a museum to the story of the West Highland Line. The exhibition space recounts the history of the railway and the men who made it.

Past Glenfinnan the landscape becomes more stark, wild and desolate although the hues are still vivid. Look out for wildlife, particularly birds and otters, as the train skirts close to the loch shore. Just after Lochailort the train meets a sea loch, and if the weather is fine you can see the smaller islands of Rum, Eigg and Muck.

The journey ends in Mallaig, a thriving fishing community which is connected to the Isle of Skye by ferry. Here you can wander about the town, enjoy a lunch of fresh fish or seafood in one of the many restaurants or continue on to the isles.

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Audley Travel specialist Aislyn

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Experience it for yourself

You can enjoy this activity as part of the suggested tours below, or we can weave it into a trip shaped entirely around you.