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Harry Potter Train & the NC500, SC


May 22nd, 2022

We awoke Sunday (Fran’s dad birthday – he would have been 89) to guess what: another foggy wet morning  We were not optimistic it would clear before the afternoon but it is what it is.  We drove back into Fort William for breakfast and decided to park here for the night as it was closer to the train station.  We did some chores and then went to do some looking for some plastic bins to help Doug organize the outside cubby and lost track of time a bit.

The Jacobite is a steam locomotive -hauled tourist train service that has been operating under various names and with different operators every summer since 1984. It has played an important role in sustaining a scenic route.

The Jacobite runs a distance of 41 miles between Fort William and Mallaig, passing through an area of great scenic. The route is also the same shown in the Harry Potter films. The company running The Jacobite provided Warner Brothers with the train used as the Hogwarts Express in all of the movies and allowed them use of the route of The Jacobite for filming. The locomotive used to pull the Hogwarts Express in the films, the GWR 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall, is presently located at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter and can be seen during studio tours.


The train crosses the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct (a location made famous in the Harry Potter films) which overlooks Loch Shiel and the Jacobite monument. The trip ends in Mallaig, a busy fishing port and ferry terminal with services to Skye and the Small Isles. (see pic above)

We realized it was almost time for our train at 12:43 and it was leaving at 12:50!  Fran ran to the station in the hopes of holding it while Doug went to put the plastic bins in Minou.  They told her he had two minutes to get there and she messaged and phoned him but couldn’t get him.  They wouldn’t hold the train.  He arrived just as it pulled out of the station.  The conductor had said if we drove right away to Glenfinnan we could catch the second half of the ride (and the longer part) but we’d not see the Glenfinnan viaduct.  So we decided to do that as the tickets are non refundable and at least we get part of the experience.  Man, it was a bummer.

We drove quite quickly and passed the train

so we figured we’d make it and we did.  We waited about no more than a few minutes before it pulled into the station:

There was about a 30 minute stopover here for people to get out and see the station, get a snack or an ice cream cone (which we did) and then re-board for the remainder of the journey.

When you book tickets you get seated at a table for four; our table mates were two sisters, Fiona and Joe.  They were from England but Fiona has been living in Australia for many years and Joe has lived a few places.  As the weather had lightened up but not cleared, we could see the views out the window which unfortunately was not that clear due to the on and off sprinkles and the steam from the locomotive but it was a pretty green countryside dotted with lochs (lakes) and hillsides.  All of our photos through the wet windows did not turn out.  It was disappointing.

We found the countryside does not have the numbers of agricultural animals as Ireland does and we figure it’s the boggy wet ground.  You do see some sheep and cattle and even some really cute “hairy coos” – more on that later – but for the most part the fields are empty and you don’t see the fences rock or bush like Ireland and England.

We arrived in Arasaid – the most westerly train station in Britain where the train stopped but you could not disembark (just a switch of tracks fro the trains swapping out directions) and then on to Mallaig, on the coast. Here we had a two hour layover in the sprinkling rain.  The town has  a large harbour and runs a ferry to a nearby island but is comprised of about three streets in the village.

The coolest thing is the little Harry Potter Shop in a small alley called Hagrid’s alley (not Diagon Alley as In the  Harry Potter books).

Actually on the train they came round with a trolley of drinks and snacks and also with a trolley of Harry Potter souvenirs as well.

Around 4 we decided we’d find a pub and have a beer to Fran’s dad (would have been his birthday today) and after checking out a few found one we could sit at the bar in (most others were full).

We also ordered some “chips” for a snack and then headed back to the train for five – it was still sprinkling….

We got off the train in Glennfinnan just in time – no announcement or anything so we were lucky we knew where we were – and got back in Minou to return to Caol for the night (saved us 4 miles driving back into Fort William as we were going to have to head back this side of town in the morning anyway).  We first tried out the bins to see if they were going to work for Doug’s plan but there were a tad too large so back into Fort William we went to return them and go back to this morning’s parking lot.

We had a very quiet night  and in the morning had hope of a better weather day.  As we drove north out of town towards Loch Ness, the sun even came out for a while but by the time we arrived in Drumnadrochit where the visitors’ centre is located, it was raining once again.

Loch Ness is the largest body of water in the British Isles and contains more water than all the other lakes and rivers combined!  It stretches for almost 37 km / 22.5 mi and while not the longest lake it is the largest. It’s 2.7 km / 1.7 mi wide and covers a surface area of 56 km2  /21.8 mi2 . It is connected to a couple of other long skinny lakes via the Caledonian Canal and boats can navigate through the country from one sea to the other.

We stopped at a pullout to make breakfast and to see if we could spot “Nessie” with no luck. 😉

We spent about a half hour at the visitor’s centre and did the Loch Ness Monster exhibition.

It was well done.  You wander through the building watching about five short films about the history of the “monster” through time since the 1930’s.  While it has never been found many theories as to what people did see were put forward and they al made sense  A great deal of study has taken place and no creature has been uncovered.

We left and went to find propane as our tank was getting low as we’ve had to use the furnace lately – that darn rain makes you feel colder inside.  We’d seen on one of our apps that it was hard to find up north so we saw two stations on our route and the first one panned out.  It is SO much easier to fill our tank here in Europe than it was in Latin America.

We drove as far as Tain and found a parking area on the shore and spent the afternoon and night there while it rained and rained.  Upon arriving though, it was barely raining so we went for a walk into the village which is kinda neat as most of the buildings are made of the same stone.

It was here in Tain that we began to see random statues of Hairy coos.

We returned to Minou just as the rained began to drizzle and become rain once again and it poured and poured for quite a while.  IT was on an off until around 7 when the sun actually popped out for a few minutes.

Tuesday, we awoke to so so skies with a forecast of mostly sunshine; we could only hope!

We left Tain and made our way north along the east coast of the route they call the North Coast 500 here in Scotland.  We do not think we’ll do the entire circle, but you never know; plans can change!

A famous castle in Scotland is Dunrobin – it’s described as a “fairytale” and is quite large.  The prices to enter seem to suggest a lot of commercialism so we thought we’d just try and see it.  It’s before 9 in the morning and the gate was open and we had a perfect view down the tree lined entrance:

As it was not open we drove right up and snuck back out the same way.

As we continued north towards Wick, we saw some of the Scottish cows called “hairy coos” right by the side of the road so Doug pulled off onto a side dirt road so we could see them up close without being on the highway.

The Highland is a, able Scottish breed of rustic cattle.  It originated in the Scottish Higlands and the Outer Hebrides islands of Sclotland and has long horns and a long shaggy coat with “bangs” hanging over its face.  It is a hardy breen to withstand the intemperate conditions of he region. 

They are a breed particular to Scotland and the Scots try to keep the breed pure.  We think they are adorable!

In the city of Wick we came across the shortest street in the World – it has ONE building on it.

We reached the “end of the road” at John O’Groats and the sun was in full force.  It had been on and off rain and sun all the way up but here it was clear and gorgeous with wonderful views to the Orkney Islands.

John O’Groats is named after a Dutchman, Jan de Groot.  In 1496 King James IV granted De Groot the ferry franchise between the harbour here and the Orkney islands which was at the time still a relatively new acquisition by Scotland

This place is often touted as the northern most point of Great Britain but in fact it is a little further northwest along the coast at Dunnet Head so of course, we had to head there and we were glad we did as we saw many sea birds including puffins!

They were flying so fast but we ventured down another path and saw some on the cliffs.

There is of course, a lighthouse here with more views of the islands.

Doug has been doing the genealogy of his birth father’s family, the Mowats, for several years and much of the family comes from a town here in Scotland on the north coast called Thurso.  He had looked online for some Mowats in the area and we tried to find one in the adjoining town of Castletown with no luck.

We got into Thurso and had two addresses; first one was a lady name Laura who was married to a Mowat but he wasn’t home.  She invited us in and gave Doug some information and we stayed about ten minutes.

Next was another woman named Sandy who was married but a Mowat but Jimmy had passed away a few years ago.  She had a friend over name Mary, and they invited us in for soup and sandwiches as they were just sitting down to some.  So kind.  We stayed about an hour sitting in the back yard in the warm sunshine and although Doug’s not sure they were the same Mowats he decided we’d seen enough of them as he wasn’t get much new information.

Now we’d driven over 100 miles today we thought since the sun was shining we’d better move on down the coast things always look better in the sunshine, right?

We saw a lovely beach near Betty Hill

but moved further west across Kyle of Tongue

To Ceannabeinne Beach – well what a good move that was!  The beach here is soft white almost Caribbean like sand and the water is a lovely colour.  We parked up on the cliff above and walked down with drinks to walk the beach and, naturally, Fran had to put her feet in the water!

We spent a pretty quiet night parked there considering we were less than 3 metres from the road.  We had some sheep neighbours in the evening and saw the beach as the clouds began to move in for tomorrow’s rain.

Wednesday morning we awoke to dry but cloudy skies.  No sooner had we left the beach and it got cloudier.  We stopped in Durness to get some fruit and checked out their award winning beach which was pretty nice.


We continued down the NC 500 and the rain began and was more off than on.  We stopped at Kylesku Bridge to take a peak:


Then moved on to Eada A’ Chalda water falls for a short hike

And across the highway was Ardvreck Castle.  It actually hardly rained on these two hikes.

We proceed back to the coast on an arm of the NC500 to Archmelvich to see it’s beach (also award winning) and do a short hike to see Scotland’s smallest castle: Hermit’s castle

The castle was built in the 1950’s by an English architect who left the area shortly after building it.  He only spent one weekend in it after it was complete.  The castle was vandalized in the 1970’s when the windows were smashed and the door was stolen.  The reason it’s called the “hermit’s castle” lies in the design of the doorway: it’s only a slit about a foot wide and this design is said to be the concept of an anchorite’s (or hermit’s) cell. 

Afterward we took a stroll on the beach here which is also lovely white sand – who knew Scotland had beautiful beaches – just no palm trees!

We then took a side road to a campground for the night.  It was only early afternoon but it’s raining and we want hot showers etc. so a good time to quit for the day.  We purchased some tickets for some highland games next weekend (they seem to be held all over the country at various weekends all summer) so we have to plan accordingly to arrive in time for Sunday.  Fran has booked us a campground for two nights that weekend.

We arrived at the tiny village of Altandhu to a campground called Port A Bhaigh and got settled in. It’s right on the sea with its own beach but so far it’s raining so we are not in a hurry to see it!

The sun popped out its head mid-afternoon and we wandered over to the beach to check it out; not very nice; one side rocky, one side sandy but lots of seaweed and not very inviting but the water looks lovely in the sunlight.

That afternoon for happy hour we went to the pub across the road from the campground intending to also have dinner but turns out they have limited seating and you have to book – even in this remote location!  So we had a beer toasting Fran’s mom’s birthday (she would have turned 90!) and returned to Minou.

Thursday morning it was again very changeable weather and we left mid-morning to make our way to Ullapool to stock up on groceries.

We don’t have too many miles left to do before Saturday so we decided to make that today’s destination as well and found a roadside layby to spend the rest of the day and then night close enough to the city to still get a cell signal.  Doug was beginning to experience some tooth pain this afternoon after drinking some hot chocolate (Timmy’s, of course!) so we may need a dentist soon.  As per usual, it rained on and off all night and continued in the morning but seemed to have bigger breaks in between.

Friday morning the tooth pain had not subsided much so at our first stop of the day, before the short hike we called a couple of dentists open before 9 with no results.

We did our hike to see the Falls of Measach and the Corriehalloch Gorge:

Upon returning to the parking lot and we tried some more offices.  The first so “no can’t help you “ and one even said, “we only take registered patients” but one said try calling back after 1:30 to see if there were any  cancellations; then another said let me take your  number and ten minutes later called back with a 1:50 pm appointment.  Great, we can make that work.

We had one more stop before reaching the city of Inverness (both the start and the end of the NC500) and that was Rogie Falls.

So then it was directly into the city where we went downtown and with some difficultly found parking.  We went to Mickey D’s for some egg McMuffins before walking around; here in the UK breakfast is served until 11.

It began to sprinkle and when we left the restaurant we saw a “Poundland” across the street.

This is the UK’s version of the dollar store.  We went inside looking for containers for the outside cubby and found some but didn’t want to carry them around so we continued walking and will return later.

Like most of the towns/villages/cities we’ve seen in Scotland most of the buildings in Inverness are made of stone:

We went to the famous “Leaky’s 2nd Hand Bookstore” where Doug could have spent hours (and our kids’ inheritance!) if we stayed long enough!  It’s a small quirky looking shop with a mezzanine level and lots and lots of books.

Then we wandered over to see the Inverness Castle from the outside

And went to buy the containers before returning to Minou, sorting out the storage bin and went to the other side of the inlet to park near the dentist and possibly spend the night.

In 8 years of travel we’ve never been this wet!  It has rained some every day since we came back from Canada!  The temperatures are rather cool for us but not cold, cold.  It reaches into the mid teens most days but not all and drops to around 10C at night.

Doug saw the dentist and she did an x-ray but could not see any issues with his roots or tooth.  She suggested waiting a while and Doug asked if he could get some amoxicillin in case it was an infection and she gave him some but asked that he wait a couple of days to take it.  So we were able to leave Inverness.

We drove out to Fort George nearby to take a look at the grounds but opted not to pay to go inside.  It’s huge though.

We then drove to Clava Cairns – ancient burial grounds dating back to 4000 BC – again older than the pyramids!

There were four “cairins” here and some ceremonial stones in circles around three of them.

This a a free historical site and it has a decent size parking lot where we figured we’d spend the night as there were no “no overnight parking” signs.  There were a coupe of other motorhomes here doing the same. There are no facilities except a 4G cell signal – works for us!

This week our new website is up and running though there could be a few hiccups – let us know if you encounter any issues please.   

UPDATE:  the second post that was with this week’s email has a lot of issues so I’ve deleted it and rescheduled.