Ten months of hard work were over – I was unemployed and it was time for another road trip. We drove up north past Loch Lomond to the mighty Glen Coe, which I had briefly visited before. This time, though, we passed right through the heart of the majestic landscape. Words cannot do justice to the sight of awe-inspiring mountains proudly standing amidst dramatic rainclouds and sweeping valleys. To add to the spectacle, a parade of dozens of super cars – Ferraris, Astons, porsches, you name it – came roaring past us as we stopped to take pictures. Rarely outside of a Top Gear episode does one witness the sound and thrill of so much horsepower in such an exotic location.
Our destination on the first night was Fort William. We were already blown away by the surrounding landscapes but the vista across Loch Linnhe from our room at Crolinnhe Guesthouse was particularly idyllic. We drank tea in the garden overlooking the loch and popped champagne in the evening before pottering down to Crannog seafood restaurant on the pier for dinner. You couldn’t ask for a better location for a restaurant and the food did not disappoint either. I had salmon trio to start with gravadlax, followed by half a lobster and more mussels than I’ve ever seen before. These were the sort of mussels that make you realise just how bland those frozen mussels you get at supermarkets are – you just cannot beat fresh seafood.
For nearly a year we had been waiting for an opportunity to board the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig and the next day we finally did it. The Jacobite railway and in particular the Glenfinnan Viaduct is famous for starring in the first two Harry Potter movies and is widely regarded as one of the best steam railways in the world.
After a couple of photo opportunities stood in the drivers’ cabin by the burning coals, we departed Fort William at 10:15. You can pay extra for champagne en route and a seat in a Harry Potter style cabin complete with sliding doors, but we just took the standard seats for £34 each. The train books up weeks and sometimes months in advance, so don’t expect to just rock up and hop aboard.
Shortly after Ben Nevis and Britain’s only Gondola blurred past the window, the aforementioned Glenfinnan Viaduct was upon us. It was every bit as glorious in real life and worth every bit of soot that got in my eye as I lent out the window drinking up the view. Just after it is the island and loch famed for being Dumbledore’s final resting place. You can appreciate why Hollywood would choose to film in this part of the world – blockbuster stuff indeed.
You can check out my Jacobite Train video here.
There were brief stops at Glenfinnan and Arisaig before we arrived at Mallaig at 12:20. Whilst the locomotive ran around the train (there is no turntable in Mallaig) we explored the picture perfect seaside town. From the harbour, the Small Isles, Knoydart and the Isle of Skye are visible and we were lucky enough to have perfect weather, bringing out every colour of every little fishing and cruising boat. Mallaig is truly charming and worth the trip even if you don’t go by the Jacobite train (but why wouldn’t you?)
The return journey left at 14:10 and took the same route back. This time we knew when to expect the best vistas and had our cameras at the ready. It was a fabulous journey and I’d highly recommend it as a unique way to explore the Highlands.
We spent the night ‘glamping’ in a yurt in Fort William. The field had magnificent views of the Nevis range and felt like a proper camping experience. Our yurt was the ‘sweetheart yurt’ complete with cute heart shaped pillows, candles etc!
Our destination the following day was the Isle of Mull. We drove to Oban on a beautiful late August morning and got the passenger ferry across to Craignure. After an hour or so we drove onto Mull and were instantly blown away by the exotic landscapes of mighty mountains and azure sea.
We drove west as far as we could along to Fionnphort on the tip of the Ross peninsula. Here the beach was like something in the Mediterranean and we could see across to Iona. The waters were crystal clear and though it was chilly, it felt like paradise.
From the southwest corner of Mull we drove back along single track roads to the northwest corner and Tobermory, famed as being the filming location for hit BBC children’s programme Balamory. The colourful harbour front buildings were instantly recognisable and it was every bit as picture postcard perfect in real life. We were staying in The Highland Cottage Hotel, a charming boutique B&B with views overlooking the harbour. We checked in and strolled down to the harbour where we had a great surf and turf dinner at MacGochans. Tobermory reminded me of a smaller, cuter St Ives with the same gorgeous quality of light and excellent fresh seafood on offer at its eateries.
I’d recommend the Isle of Mull to anyone – the ferry may be pricey but this stunning island is completely worth it.