My magical train trip along the Harry Potter viaduct – spellbinding even through muddy and rain-streaked windows (no wonder a fanfare plays as you trundle over it)
- The ‘Harry Potter viaduct’ lies on the Fort William to Mallaig line, at the head of picturesque Loch Shiel
- Ted Thornhill travels the route – but discovers that this viaduct is just one of many cinematic moments
- READ MORE: The English historic sites that saw a HUGE boom in visitor numbers in 2022
My train is just seconds away from trundling over the renowned ‘Harry Potter viaduct’ in Scotland.
I know this because an automated announcement has sounded over the PA system: ‘Cameras at the ready, we’re about to pass over the Harry Potter viaduct!’
Then an uplifting fanfare plays as we travel along the Glenfinnan Viaduct (to use its official name), which thanks to its appearance in three Harry Potter movies, now equals the likes of the Tower of London and the Golden Gate Bridge in the fame stakes.
And even though I’m viewing the immense 21-arch, 30-metre-high (100ft) curved structure through the muddy windows of a two-carriage ScotRail ‘Sprinter’ train – a far cry from the Hogwarts Express – it’s still utterly spellbinding.
Watch the short video I shoot through the train window as the viaduct comes into view and you’ll hear me blurt out ‘wow’ – and the young girls in my party (my five-year-old and daughters of the friends I’m travelling with) scream ‘we’re on it, we’re on it!’
The official name for the ‘Harry Potter viaduct’ (above) is the Glenfinnan Viaduct
On the left is the Glenfinnan Viaduct’s Harry Potter debut in the Chamber of Secrets movie. On the right – Ted Thornhill’s view of the viaduct as his ScotRail ‘Sprinter’ train crosses it
The 1,250ft-long bridge lies on the Fort William to Mallaig line and understandably hogs the limelight, but there are plenty of other cinematic sights along this 30-mile route – including other Harry Potter filming locations – that make it one of the great railway journeys of the world.
The journey on the line, completed in 1901, kicks off with a show-stopper – Ben Nevis. Britain’s highest mountain (1,345m/4,412ft) looms over Fort William and is visible as the train arcs away to the west.
Even when its summit is obscured in cloudy weather, its presence adds indisputable drama to the proceedings.
A few minutes after departure, on the right-hand side, there’s ‘Neptune’s Staircase’, the longest staircase lock in Scotland, which raises the Caledonian Canal by 19m (62ft).
The train then skirts eight-mile-long (13km) Loch Eil prior to the majesty of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which crowns one end of picturesque Loch Shiel.
The bridge was completed in 1901, but it was 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second movie in the Harry Potter franchise, that brought the bridge to the world’s attention.
In the movie, we see Harry and his friend Ron Weasley in a flying Ford Anglia car being chased by the Hogwarts Express as it puffs over the viaduct.
The bridge returns in Harry Potter three – the Prisoner of Azkaban – with the train grinding to a halt on the bridge on a stormy night as the terrifying ‘dementors’ go on the attack.
The 1,250ft-long Glenfinnan Viaduct lies on the Fort William to Mallaig line and understandably hogs the limelight, but there are plenty of other cinematic sights along this 30-mile line, writes Ted
We are treated to some of this atmosphere on the return journey, when we cross the bridge in pouring rain.
By the time viaduct appeared in the fourth Potter installment – the Goblet of Fire – it was a celebrity among concrete constructions.
Beyond the viaduct, as mentioned, the treats keep coming.
Ben Nevis looms over Fort William and makes for a show-stopping start to the train journey to Mallaig
A few minutes after departure from Fort William, passengers are treated to the sight of ‘Neptune’s Staircase’, the longest staircase lock in Scotland, which raises the Caledonian Canal by 19m (62ft)
The jaw-dropping Loch Eilt, which makes an appearance in two Harry Potter movies – the Prisoner of Azkaban and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The line between Fort William and Mallaig hugs the shoreline
The viaduct over eye-catching Loch Nan Uamh, which lies just south of Mallaig
The Glenfinnan Viaduct was completed in 1901, but it was 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that brought the bridge to the world’s attention
Besides the breathtakingly rugged hills and mountains, there’s cute Glenfinnan Station, the most westerly station in mainland Britain – Arisaig – and the jaw-dropping Loch Eilt to behold.
Harry Potter fans may recognise Loch Eilt from the Prisoner of Azkaban – Hagrid skims stones across it, and one of its tiny islands, Eilean na Moine, is used as the final resting place of Dumbledore in the last Potter movie, the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
Passengers have a riveting view of Eilt as the line hugs the shoreline, with the A380 – ‘The Road to the Isles’ – hugging the one opposite.
Prior to Mallaig on the ‘Iron Road to the Isles’ look out for lochs Ailort and Nan Uamh – they’re easy on the eye, too – and prepare to be utterly transfixed by the way the line and the A380 twist around each other before arriving neck and neck at Mallaig, a few hundred metres from the harbour.
Cameras at the ready – from the moment you set off…
For more on the Fort William to Mallaig service visit www.scotrail.co.uk/train-times/fort-william-to-mallaig. The best way of reaching Fort William from London? On the Caledonian Sleeper. Full review to come.
‘Prepare to be utterly transfixed by the way the line and the A380 twist around each other before arriving neck and neck at Mallaig (above), a few hundred metres from the harbour,’ writes Ted
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