West Highland Line: Glasgow to Oban or Fort William and Mallaig
Considered by many to be the most scenic rail journey in the world, the West Highland Line leaves Glasgow behind and delves deep into the wild west coast.
Take the West Highland Line to Mallaig to travel the Glenfinnan Viaduct – used in the Harry Potter films for the Hogwarts Express.
There’s a lot more to it than that, though. This is a side of Scotland you can only see from the train – a Great Scenic Rail Journey that carries you north along the west coast, through the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The line splits at Crianlarich, carrying you either past Loch Awe to Oban, or high up to Rannoch Moor, through remote wilderness and on to Fort William and Mallaig.
Look out of the window
You’ll travel through a daunting landscape of mountains, steep-sided lochs, and heather moors. Keep an eye out for red deer, silhouetted on a skyline or half-hidden in the heather. You’ll pass some of the smallest, remotest stations on the network – a few buildings, and nothing more for miles around. And you’ll be glad you’ve come by train, passing through country where no roads were ever built.
Highlights: true cinematic landscapes
Look out for
- The Glenfinnan Viaduct on the Mallaig line, curving high over the waters of Loch Shiel
- Views of the Cobbler as you approach Arrochar, with its unmistakable rocky pinnacle
- The mighty Ben Lui, halfway between Crianlarich and Loch Awe on the Oban line
- The steep-sided Monessie Gorge, taking you close to the River Spean on the Mallaig line
Consider stopping at
- Ardlui at the tip of Loch Lomond – for challenging hillwalks and unbeatable scenery
- Arrochar & Tarbert – for Loch Lomond cruises
- Crianlarich, Tyndrum or Bridge of Orchy – to join the West Highland Way
- Falls of Cruachan on the Oban line – for a free tour of the hydro-electric power station inside Ben Cruachan, the ‘Hollow Mountain’
- Arisaig for views of Rum and Eigg – a beautiful peninsula, perfect for walks along the shore of Loch Nan Ceall
It doesn’t take long to leave Glasgow behind, heading west along the Clyde to Helensburgh, and then north via Garelochead and Loch Long. And from there, you enter a world of deep forests, towering mountains and mirrored lochs.
The line divides at Crianlarich, taking you to Oban, or Fort William and Mallaig.
Westward to Oban...
The train sweeps along the north edge of Loch Awe, in the shadow of Ben Cruachan. Look out for Kilchurn Castle, a 15th century ruin at the head of Loch Awe.
The train leaves the loch and pushes on along the River Awe towards Loch Etive. Look out for the frothing rapids at the Falls of Lora near Connell, before the train makes its way into Oban. From there, the ferries take you on to Mull, Iona and the Outer Hebrides.
...or North to Mallaig
Heading north from Crianlarich is a real spectacle, beginning with the remarkable Horseshoe Curve that enters, circles and leaves the glen beneath Ben Dorain.
Then the landscape empties into the broad wilds of Rannoch Moor – where the line floats over the peat bog that stretches to the mountains far in the distance on all sides.
If you like to tick these things off, you’ll pass the UK’s highest altitude train station in Corrour. You may also recognise it from scenes in Trainspotting. As the train pushes on to Fort William, keep an eye out for Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak.
Beyond Fort William, you’ll trace the iconic curve of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, probably the most famous piece of rail track in the world after being used by the Harry Potter films as part of the route to Hogwarts.
The route to Mallaig takes you past Lochs Eilt, Ailort and Nan Uamh – all starkly beautiful – before arriving at Morar’s sandy shores, yet another cinematic location, this time Local Hero. The final stretch into Mallaig brings glimpses of Skye, which is just a short ferry trip from the port.
- From Oban, catch the ferries to Mull, Iona and the Outer Hebrides
- From Mallaig, it’s a short hop on the ferry to the small isles, and Armadale on the Isle of Skye
- After enjoying Skye, cross the Skye Bridge to Kyle of Lochalsh and take the Kyle Line to Inverness