Author J.K. Rowling was traveling by train when the inspiration for Harry Potter came to her, and the train motif has carried along throughout her series in the form of the famous Hogwarts Express. What few people realise is that the Hogwarts Express is actually a functioning steam train, running through the Highlands of Scotland as The Jacobite Steam Train.
One of the most famous locomotives in history, steam engine number 5972, named ‘Olton Hall’, and is powered by a Hall 4-6-0 steam engine, pulling 4 cars or carriages behind. This lovely steam engine, and other carriages used in the film, were provided by the West Coast Railway Company. Olton Hall was built in 1937 in Swindon, and was one of 330 locomotives created by designer Charles Collett.
Although filming occurred in several locales, the most memorable scenes were shot along the route where the Jacobite Steam Train runs. In fact, the most notable scene was shot with the Hogwarts Express crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a few miles from Fort William. Filming was done at King’s Cross railway station, at North Yorkshire Moors Railway, on board the train itself, and most importantly crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Glenfinnan Viaduct has 21 arches, follows a curving path for 416 yards, and is 100 feet high. At the time of construction, it was the only concrete built viaduct the world had ever seen! Combining Harry Potter notoriety with the incredible views of Glenfinnan Monument and Loch Shiel make the viaduct an attraction all its own.
The Hogwarts Express plays a key role in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In it, Harry meets Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, later to become his best friends, on his first trip in the Hogwarts Express. Much like many British boarding schools prior to 1950, Harry is put on the private train at the beginning of the semester and met again at the end of semester by his family (aunt and uncle). Other notable characters having scenes on the train include Neville Longbottom, Remus Lupin, Luna Lovegood, Draco Malfoy, and Horace Slughorn.
The Jacobite Steam Train is part of the West Highland Line or Iron Road to the Isles (Gaelic – Rathad Iarainn nan Eilean), which runs from Glasgow to Mallaig, and itself travels between Fort William and Mallaig weekdays from mid-May to mid-October, and weekends in June and July. Although the actual engine will not be 5972, the train is very much like that used in Harry Potter, and travels the route across the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
In 2008 it departs Fort William at 10:20, arriving in Mallaig at 12:25. Its return journey departs Mallaig at 14:10, arriving in Fort William at 16:00. Fares along the Fort William to Mallaig run range from £16.50 for a child standard round trip ticket, up to £43.00 for an adult first class return.
Reliving the Harry Potter magic by taking a trip on Hogwarts Express is a grand day trip. However, many would like some photos of the train while crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct. It crosses near the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre about 11:20 and 15:00, though times may vary by several minutes, so plan ahead. The Glenfinnan Visitor Centre is just down the road from Fort William along the A830, and is readily accessible by bus or automobile.
The Jacobite Steam Train journey is one of the finest in the world, despite its brief 84 mile run. Its route is spectacular, passing many impressive sites in the region. These include Britain’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis, its deepest freshwater Loch Morar, shortest River Morar, deepest saltwater Loch Nevis, and most westerly railway station on the mainland at Arisaig. Stations along the route include: Banavie, Corpach, Loch Eil, Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Beasdale, Arisaig, Morar, and Mallaig.
Other scenic beauty along the way includes Inverlochy Castle, The Great Glen, Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase. Then there’s the view from Arisaig, where on a clear day, one can see the small isles of Canna, Eigg, Muck, and Rum, as well as portions of the Isle of Skye. There is always the possibility of seeing Morag, the lesser known sea monster, which resides in Loch Morar according to legend (Nessie has always been more popular). Silver sandy beaches seen in the movies Local Hero and Highlander are also along this route.
Although most widely known thanks to Harry Potter fame, the Jacobite Steam Train, or Hogwarts Express is a wonderful adventure, allowing travelers to explore and see many of the finest sites in the Highlands of Scotland. The journey begins in Fort William!