Thursday, 5 March 2015

Days 5-6: Fort William/Mallaig - 4-5 March 2015

As there was no train connection from Inverness to Fort William, we had to take a coach down the highly scenic but winding A82, leaving both of us feeling a bit the worse for wear after a bout of travel sickness on the way down. We took a taxi with all our bags to the accommodation, which sadly was not up to par and so we spent around an hour trying to find somewhere else to stay. Luckily, we managed to find a vacancy for two nights in a lovely guesthouse with twin room and breakfast (plus bath) for a fairly reasonable fee given the last minute nature of the request.

Park in the centre of Fort William with  Glen Nevis behind.
Prior to moving our bags across to the new place, we had a drink in the Corpach Hotel (in the village where we were staying), which was run by an elderly couple in their late 70's/early 80's. The place was dreadfully dated, being very much stuck in the 1940's in terms of decor and furnishings, and really looked like nothing had changed since then - the dining rooms and bedrooms which the owner showed us were set up exactly as they might have been then, and seemed to have been expecting guests for many years.

Inside the Nevis Mountainsport centre.
Despite this, the coal fire in the drinking area was very welcome, and there was something genuinely touching about the couple who ran it's determination to keep going and the community spirit present as they sat there discussing things with a neighbour and the dog at their feet in front of the fire. One could easily have imagined oneself as having gone back in time, and there was definitely a lingering feeling of faded glory of another time about the place. Local workmen were reportedly in residence, with a cook on hand of 25 years employment to make homecooked dishes for them at the end of a days work - I left feeling strangely sad but contented for the experience of having witnessed this.

Map of the route to Mallaig
The next morning we had a nice breakfast before heading into town for a brief meander along the high street and it's few shops before taking the train to Mallaig, known more popularly as the West Highland Railway and for being the most scenic railway journey in Britain.

Glenfinnan Station, home to the famous viaduct featured in the Harry Potter films.
Sadly, the mist and rain of the day meant many views were obscured to say the least, although it was possible to get a feel for how the route would be in summer, with spectacularly high narrow waterfalls cascading down into the valley from the mountainous peaks above. It was with some amusement that I listened to the formal announcement by the train guard for us 'ladies and gentlemen' to please take out our cameras for the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, which would not yield any spectacular pictures today. I settled for buying a postcard at the end of the line, with a mental note to come back later in the year when the weather improves!

View of Mallaig Harbour area.
Our end destination was Mallaig, one road in, one road out, and the last area of settlement before ferries across to Skye and the Hebrides etc. This really is as remote as it gets here in this part of Western Scotland. Mallaig itself was wet and windy, consisting of little more than a harbour, a pub, several coffee shops, a restaurant and a couple of gift and bookstores.

Couple of postcards as a memento of my journey.
Still, it had everything needed by the weary traveller (since most people are just passing through to or from the islands). We ate in a licensed restaurant, enjoying a delightful Cullen Skink (delicious fish soup with salmon, cod, vegetables and crusty bread) as well as a thoroughly non-Scottish beef bourguignon with dumplings, which was simply delicious. Mum had a glass of wine, while I had a cheeky but highly affordable (at £2) dram of whisky, served properly with ice and water as you would expect in these parts.

Mountain pass view from the train to Glasgow
After eating we perused the few gift shops (me buying a CD celebrating artists from a local Highland music festival and some Scottish tablet) and Mum getting a little colourful dog teddy with Mum on it as an early mother's day present. We then headed back to wait in the train station for the 16.05 back to Fort William, which had not moved since we arrived - always an interesting aspect of train journeys in rural places, and very different to the hustle and bustle of train stations in England I visit on a regular basis!

Highland dog on a windy station in Loch Lomond & the Trossachs national park.
Sadly tomorrow we head back down to Edinburgh via Glasgow and home on Saturday, but I feel this has generally been a very successful trip in which I have experienced more Scottish cultural life and activities than previously (particularly the Whisky tastings). I now need to return again at some point with a view to taking some whisky distillery tours and doing more active things like walking and cycling and getting out to the Islands. As a rest and relaxation holiday though, I couldn't wish for more, and will certainly be back sooner next time (certainly in less than 3 years!). Alba gu braith (Scotland forever)!

P.s. Good to see Celtic lose to St Johnstone after Aberdeen's 4-0 drubbing at the weekend ;)

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