Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mallaig and the West Highland line

We had nothing in particular planned for our last day in Fort William  After wandering aimlessly for a couple hours, breakfasting at Cafe 115 along the way, we decided on a whim to take a trip on the train somewhere.

Thus we ended up on the train out to Mallaig, a small port on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands.  Our route took us through some breathtakingly wild and gorgeous land.  We found out later that the West Highland line is considered the most picturesque train journey in the United Kingdom.

Glenfinnian Viaduct
Serendipity smiled on us this day. This route crosses the Glenfinnian Viaduct, which is often used in the Harry Potter movies.  It was even more impressive to see in person, even though we couldn't really pause to absorb the sight (the train keeps moving - it's not the Jacobite Steam Train).

View from the train, heading back to Fort William
Typical Scottish hills, vivid green, rocky, and worn with the passing of ages.

View from the train, heading back to Fort William
We passed many more harbors like this as the train worked its way northwest of Fort William.  It was along this route that the mercurial Scottish weather revealed its tamer side: grey and overcast skies, a nippy wind.

View from the train, heading back to Fort William
Church of Our Lady of Braes stands out against the bleak landscape.

View from the train, heading back to Fort William
I felt a tug of sea longing when we passed this bay.   

Mallaig harbor
We arrived at the end of the line (literally for the West Highland line) in Mallaig.  It struck me as a hard, flinty sort of place, resolutely maintaining its perch on the edge of Scotland in spite of hard winds and the toil of making a living from the sea.  As it was a Sunday, the harbor was quiet and we didn't get a chance to see any fishboats at work. 

Mallaig harbor
We saw some battered boats that were still in use and covered with all sorts of tools that only a fisherman would know how to use.

We had lunch at the Tea Garden.  It had a pretty outdoor seating area covered with climbing vines and potted plants of all shapes and sizes.

I got fish and chips while J. tried cullen skink, a soup made with haddock, potatoes and cream.  We had tea, of course.

Mallaig harbor
After lunch, we walked around the harbor to take in the views.

Looking at Skye
This is the closest we got to the Isle of Skye.  We toyed with the idea of catching a ferry to Skye, but after comparing the timetables of the ferry and the train, we realized we would have to hop right back on the ferry after half an hour on Skye in order to catch the train back to Fort William.

Seagull chicks on the railroad tracks
I watched these seagull chicks while we waited for the train back to Fort William. They blended in perfectly with the the rocks within these train tracks.  I found the idea of these brash birds as babies highly amusing.

View of Loch Eil from train, heading back to Fort William, Scotland
The train runs along Loch Eil for a while.  The weather brightened as we headed back to Fort William.  Such prolonged, cheerful sunniness was unusual: another one of our stereotypes (blustery weather, wind with prying fingers, mist hugging the heather on the lonely Highlands) bit the dust.

View of Loch Eil from train, heading back to Fort William, Scotland
Back to Fort William, always in the shadow of Ben Nevis.


Jenni said...

These images make me think of some of the Juliet Marillier books. Next time you go, will you take me with you?

Laura said...

Of course! I still have my England envelope with the $2 in it from our college days...