West Highland Line
What was voted more scenic than the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Trans-Mongolian Railway, and the Trans-Manchurian Railway? Answer: the West Highland Railway Line in the Western Highlands of Scotland, and the village of Crianlarich has a branch station sitting right on this beautiful rail journey, with one line heading up to Fort William and Mallaig, and the other heading west out towards Oban.
The West Highland Line begins in earnest after Helensburgh Upper station , and terminates in Fort William. There are three different services on the Line:
Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig – trains run north to Fort William, where the West Highland Line officially ends, and continue northwest on the beautiful Mallaig branch line, which crosses the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, where Harry Potter was filmed.
Glasgow to Oban – trains run north to Crianlarich, as part of the Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig service, and then a couple of carriage will leave the West Highland Line and head off west on the scenic line to Oban. This passes the beautiful Loch Awe and the foot of Ben Cruachan, a mountain complex containing a vast hydroelectric system.
London to Fort William – trains run on Scotrail’s Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston to Fort William. The sleeper is high in quality, with very comfortable berths and usually a seated carriage. The restaurant buffet car even has leather couches!
For the latest timetables on the West Highland Line, check www.scotrail.co.uk. Travelling on the line is really a fantastic experience. Time goes by very quickly as some of the country’s most beautiful scenery slips past at your fingertips, and the staff on the trains even give out free postcards of the area! Look out for the station names in Gaelic, which are in green text.
The stations from Glasgow to Fort William are as follows:
Glasgow Queen Street
Your journey is most likely to begin at Glasgow’s Queen Street station. Most trains to Oban and Fort William / Mallaig depart from here; generally two coaches will be going to Oban, and two coaches to Fort William and Mallaig. Queen Street station is in the heart of Glasgow city centre and there are excellent facilities in and around the station.
Your train will usually first call at Dalmuir, a Glasgow suburban station.
This is, architecturally, quite an interesting station. Dumbarton is a sizeable town to the west of Glasgow – attractions include Dumbarton Castle, which sits on Dumbarton Rock, a volanic plug on the banks of the River Clyde.
Helensburgh Upper marks the beginning of the West Highland Line. This is a small station serving a residential area.
There is not much of touristic interest in Garelochhead.
Arrochar & Tarbet
If you are taking the train to Tyndrum, you will alight at this pretty little station, which serves Arrochar and the nearby village of Tarbet. The station is in the traditional Victorian style typical of stations on the West Highland Line, and offers pleasant views of surrounding hills including Ben Lomond.
This small station serves the village of Ardlui, which is perfectly placed to climb Ben Vorlich and for good views of Loch Lomond.
This is a great station for climbing nearby Munros. Ben More, Stob Binnein, Cruach Ardrain, Beinn Tulaichean, An Caisteal and Beinn a’Chroin are all within easy walking distance of the station. Crianlarich is also right beside the West Highland Way.
Crianlarich is the point at which the train typically splits into two parts, with a couple of carriages continuing north on the West Highland Line, and a couple of carriages heading west towards Oban. Both are very pretty routes. It is interesting to get off the train and watch it being decoupled (or recoupled), but don’t stay off too long – it’s a while till the next train! Crianlarich has a good hotel, a tearoom and several bed and breakfasts.
Tyndrum is a strange village – it actually has two train stations! Tyndrum Upper sits on the West Highland Line, whilst Tyndrum Lower sits on the Oban line. The reason for this is that when the two lines divide at Crianlarich, the Oban line runs up the west side of the glen, whilst the West Highland Line runs up the east side of the glen (it can be amusing when coming back down the glen, seeing the other train race you down the glen to Crianlarich!). These two lines used to be owned and operated by different train companies. Tyndrum Lower was the station on the Oban and Callander Railway, whereas Tyndrum Upper was the station on the North British Railway. Both are now owned and operated by the same company, with the Oban branch being the only part of the old Oban and Callander Railway still existing – the rest was mothballed.
Tyndrum is on the West Highland Way, and this is a good point to get the train to take you further north or south on the Way. The village has the famous Green Welly Shop, a petrol station, a campsite with good facilities and a couple of bed and breakfasts. If you are prepared for a one-hour walk-in, you can also get off at Tyndrum Upper or Tyndrum Lower to climb the excellent Tyndrum Hills – Ben Lui (also spelt Beinn Laoigh) is a wonderful climb from its eastern side, and being the highest Munro in the area, commands magnificent views in all directions. The final climb up the northern ridge of the corrie is a real treat. Ben Lui is accompanied by four other Munros, which can all be climbed together in one long day, or on two shorter days: Beinn a’Chleibh, Ben Oss and Beinn Dubhchraig.
Bridge of Orchy
Despite its tiny size, Bridge of Orchy contains a fire station, a school, a hotel and a bunkhouse. The village sits at the southern extremity of the Rannoch Moor, one of Europe’s largest expanses of wilderness, and supremely beautiful. The train station sits right on the West Highland Way, and is right at the bottom of two excellent Munros with wonderful views in all directions – Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh. The ascent path for these actually starts beside the train station itself. Other Munros which can be climbed from here on two separate days (or one long day if you’re very fit) are Beinn a’Chreachain, Beinn Achaladair and Beinn Mhanach.
For a less active alternative, try taking the train to Bridge of Orchy and walking the single track road to Inveroran, a couple of miles away, where there is a hotel. The track snakes beside beautiful Loch Tulla, whose waters always seem to be rippling with rising trout. There is excellent fishing in the area, though permits must be obtained.
The train line is now absolutely alone as it crosses the impressive Rannoch Moor, and you can relish looking out of the train window and seeing nothing but mountains and moorland. The Moor is in fact one gargantuan bog, and the track actually sits on floating brushwood. Relish this part of your journey – which last from Bridge of Orchy to Tulloch – it is particularly beautiful crossing the Rannoch Moor with the sun setting out over the mountains to the west.
Rannoch station is very pretty and has a tearoom on the platform. There is one road linking the train station to the outside world – it goes east towards Kinloch Rannoch and Pitlochry, and ultimately to the A9 trunk road.
This is officially the most remote train station in the UK. You won’t find any roads here – there is now a bunkhouse – but you will see mountains and moorland all around you, and the occasional path snaking from the train station to the surrounding peaks. Beinn na Lap is a modest climb from the west end of Loch Ossian, which sits a short distance to the east of the train station, and the Corbett of Leum Uilleum sits noticeably to the west of the station. Corrour Summit is also the highest point on the West Highland Line.
Corrour station was used in the filming of the hit film Trainspotting, starring Ewan MacGregor.
Tulloch station is just around the corner once the train has run down the east coast of Loch Treig. There is a bunkhouse with very friendly proprietors on the station platform itself, and Tulloch station can be used for climbing surrounding Munros.
If you want to head into the very impressive Mamores, a chain of high mountains to the east of Ben Nevis, get off at Roybridge and head south. There is a hotel and a bar in Roybridge.
Spean Bridge sits to the north-east of Fort William, and is a few miles from the Commando Memorial.
Fort William marks the official end of the West Highland Line (though the train can be taken to the northwest towards Mallaig – see www.mallaig.org.uk for excellent information on the area). Fort William (An Gearasdan in Gaelic, which means The Garrison) sits at the end of the West Highland Way, and is a sizeable town with excellent facilities. It also sits at the bottom of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles. There are plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts, and there is also a supermarket, hospital, petrol station and bus station.
Fort William is also close to Neptune’s Staircase, an impressive ladder of locks climbing towards the famous Caledonian Canal. The town also sits on the shores of Loch Linnhe.