Fun facts: Discover the West Highland Line

Last updated: Monday, 11 September 2023

In this edition of fun facts, we’re taking a look at the stunningly beautiful, world-famous, West Highland Line.

The West Highland Line is one of the most scenic railway lines in the world and has many a story to tell along its 164-mile journey from Glasgow Queen Street to Mallaig. Passing through stunning landscapes, this is a journey that once taken is never forgotten. So, whether you’ve already had the pleasure of travelling or you have it on your bucket list, here are nine things you might not know about this outstanding railway line.

1. The Highest Station

Corrour station with scenic backdrop

Corrour is Britain’s highest mainline station, sitting 1,340 feet above sea level. The station also has no public road access and can only be accessed by train or a 20-mile walk. Every year, around 12,000 people visit the Corrour Estate to truly escape from it all in this remote wilderness.

2. World's first mass concrete structure

The Glenfinnan Viaduct (made famous by the Harry Potter films) was the world’s first structure to be built of mass concrete. The 21 concrete arches that sit at the head of Loch Shiel were built by ‘Concrete’ Bob (Robert McAlpine).

3. A unique warning system

The Pass of Brander stone signals, between Dalmally and Taynuilt, are part of a warning system that advises train drivers to exercise caution in the event of a rock-fall. A screen of wires, linked to semaphore signals, was erected on the mountainside and in the event of one or more wires being broken, signals in each direction would be automatically placed at 'danger'.

4. Floating train tracks

When the West Highland Line was built across Rannoch Moor, Britain’s biggest upland bog, the builders had to float the tracks on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes.

5. UK's most westerly station

Arisaig is the most westerly station in Great Britain, being further west than Penzance! The name Arisaig literally translates from Gaelic as 'Safe Place' and sits on the sheltered shore of Loch nan Ceall.

A view over the bay at Arisaig with islands in the background

6. Home to Long John Silver

Arisaig is also the home of the actual ‘Long John Silver’ on which Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) based his character when writing ‘Treasure island’. RLS came from a very long line of Lighthouse Civil Engineers so when his father was visiting the Lochaber area to investigate locations for Northern Lighthouse Board locations, with the young RLS in tow, RLS remembered seeing the very tall John Silver in Arisaig, who apparently stood seven feet above the ground.

7. Longest station road

Rannoch Station on the West Highland Line is at the end of Britain’s longest ‘Station Road’ – sitting 18-miles long! It was built west from Kinloch Rannoch along the north shore of Loch Rannoch to the new station, to provide access for construction materials to the West Highland Railway when this was being built.

8. A buried horse and cart

The Mass Concrete Viaduct on the West Highland Line, Mallaig Extension at Loch Nan Uamh, between Lochailort and Beasdale has a Horse and Cart buried within the structure. Buried alive at the time as extraction and rescue were out of the question! X-ray photographs exist to prove the position of the Horse and Cart.

9. A train carriage for cyclists - a UK first!

ScotRail Highland Explorer service on the West Highland Line

Our dedicated bike-carrying Highland Explorer carriages run on the West Highland Line and are a UK first! As well as 20 spaces for cycles, there’s lots of space for luggage and 24 seats for weary legs to rest after an adventure.

To learn more about this stunning railway line, have a listen to our audio tour created by Geotourist. You can listen from home and transport yourself to the wilds of Scotland in your mind or follow along as you travel this outstanding journey.

Listen to the West Highland Line audio tour

Experience the West Highland Line for yourself

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