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Traveling the Real Hogwarts Express

Glenfinnan ViaductThe Hogwarts Express plays a big part in the adventures of Harry Potter. Ron and the Weasleys help him find the elusive Kings Cross Platform 9 3/4. The magical steam train is Harry's escape from the Dursley family. It's on this train that he meets Hermione and later Remus Lupin and the Dementors.

Like many other Harry Potter film locations, the Hogwarts Express is based on a real life train. A trip to the Scottish Highlands can be your chance to sit in the same carriage and dream about your own trip to the magical world.

The Jacobite Steam Train, part of the West Coast Railway Company, runs from Fort William to Mallaig with a stop at Glenfinnan station. This extension is also known as the Iron Road to the Isles — Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean.

For Harry Potter fans and their families, specially arranged travel tours are attracting those with a renewed interest in the magic of the railroads!

Here's a virtual taste of what they'll find:

The trip starts at Fort William where you'll get to see one of the most famous locomotives in history up close... and if you are lucky, you'll get to meet the conductor and engineer who were on the train when the movies were filmed. They have plenty of stories to share and are happy to provide autographs to fans.

The movie version of the Hogwarts Express was powered by a Hall 4-6-0 steam engine — number 5972, known as 'Olton Hall.' Steam engine Olton Hall was built in 1937 in Swindon, and was one of 330 locomotives created by designer Charles Collett.

The actual engine on your trip will probably not be the Olton Hall, 5972, but it will be a steam engine that looks very much like the one used in the Harry Potter films, and it does travel the route including the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The engine is complete with coal car and pulls 4 cars or carriages.

Harry, Ron and Hermione meet for the first time aboard the Hogwarts Express.

Riding aboard the "real" Hogwarts Express on the Jacobite Steam Train in Fort William, Scotland.

Not all carriages are alike

Carriage 'A', the first class carriage is set up for tea and scones served during the ride. The second class carriages, 'B' and 'C' have open seating with tables, but no scones are served. You can purchase refreshments on board.

Be sure to book ahead. The trip from Fort William to Mallaig runs once a day on weekdays from mid-May to mid-October. During June and July weekend trips are added, but even with that you'll find the seats sell out fast.

Remember that locals take the trip to savor the fresh seafood in Mallaig on a special lunch outing. Tourists enjoy the unique experience and the amazing scenery. Steam train buffs have always been fascinated by the ride and when you add Harry Potter fans to the mix... you have full trains!

Hogwarts train carriage
Harry Potter fans will recognise the
long corridors and enclosed seating
compartments aboard the "real"
Hogwarts Express.

If you want the authentic "Harry Potter" experience, make sure to book your seats in Carriage 'D' which is set up with the Harry Potter style compartments.

This historical steam engine, and other carriages used in the film, were provided by the West Coast Railway Company who graciously agreed to paint them the bright red that fans expected for the movies.

You'll almost certainly recognize the interior of carriage D. The long corridor with compartments on the side will transport you in imagination to the world of Harry Potter.

If you close your eyes you may hear the rattle of the cart with magical goodies for the students on their way to Hogwarts or the whisper of the Dementors against the windows!

The real Jacobite Steam Train won't have any travelers heading to Hogwarts, but you'll find plenty of Harry Potter souvenirs to take home, including replicas of the Hogwarts Express to posters of the steam train from the movies.

Magical Scenery

The Jacobite Steam Train journey is not just for Harry Potter fans. Steam train buffs and everyone who enjoys spectacular scenery will find this short 84 mile run a trip to be remembered.

The surrounding area remains a prime stop for walking tours through the Scottish highlands and the scenery is spectacular and not limited to the steam train. The route takes you past Ben Nevis, the UK's tallest mountain where you may still see snow on Midsummer's Eve!

You'll pass the shortest river, the Morar, and the deepest freshwater lake, Loch Morar, where you may catch a glimpse of the Morag, the Loch Morar creature, a less famous relative of the Loch Ness monster. Enjoy the views of the deepest saltwater lake, Loch Nevis. Other scenic beauty and tourist attractions along the way include Inverlochy Castle, The Great Glen, Caledonian Canal and Neptune's Staircase.

See if you can recognize the beaches featured in the movies Local Hero and Highlander as the train steams by them. Even if you haven't seen the movies, the dazzling expanse of silver sands will catch your attention.

Hogwarts locomotive

What: The Jacobite "Hogwarts" steam train

Where: Fort William, Scotland

Tickets: can be purchased on site or online via Paypal or credit card at West Coast Railways.

When: The morning run at 10:20am aboard the Jacobite runs May - October from Monday to Friday, and on weekends from mid-June to mid-September. Additional afternoon service begins on weekdays from June to August.

Getting there: By train, from Glasgow to Fort William. By car from Edinburgh, take the M9 to Stirling then the A84, A85 (to Crianlarich) and A82 to Fort William.

Glenfinnan Viaduct - A big, real-life 'set' used for the Hogwarts Express, this famous viaduct was built in 1901. Steam train travel was the most modern way to get around at the turn of the 20th century and the West Highland Railway expanded its route to allow passengers and freight to get from Fort William to Mallaig.

The stunning viaduct is made up of 21 arches curving gently above the Glenfinnan Valley. As the train travels across the viaduct you'll have a good view of the Glenfinnan Monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie with Loch Shiel as a backdrop.

If you'd like to get a photo of the train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct you can set up near the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre about 11:20 AM as it passes on the way to Mallaig or about 3:00 PM (15:00) as it makes the return journey to Fort William.

The time may be off by a few minutes so get there a bit early and be prepared for a crowd as the train passes by.

The Glenfinnan Visitor Centre is just down the road from Fort William along the A830. It is accessible by bus or car, but check ahead to make sure the road is open. The roadway is narrow and repairs may cause long delays or shut off traffic completely.

Other stations along the route to the shore include Banavie, Corpach, Loch Eil, Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Beasdale, Arisaig, Morar, and Mallaig. The train makes a regularly scheduled short stop at Glennfinnan, 16 miles west of Fort William, on it's way to Mallaig. Enjoy the friendly visitor center and the Railway Museum before getting back on board.

Two stops before the end station, Arisaig holds the distinction of being the most westerly railway station on the British mainland. If you take some time out to explore there on a clear day you'll be rewarded by the the dramatic water views which include the "Small Isles" — Canna, Eigg, Muck, and Rum and the southern tip of the Isle of Skye.


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