Branch Line Britain - celebrating Britain's minor railways

Scottish - Mallaig review 1

Mallaig railway station

28/7/14 Fort William to Mallaig

Traction uses: Class 156 2-car DMU
Weather: Sunny
Single track all the way with passing places
Departs: Fort William: 16.19
Arrives: Mallaig: 17.43
Frequency of trains: four per day

The train had started as the 12.21 from Glasgow Queen Street to Mallaig and should have been 3 or 4 carriages in formation but was only two in formation. The train was only about a quarter full, with mainly tourists after being virtually full all the way from Glasgow.
It left from platform 2 as platform 1 had a Jacobite Express steam train in place, which left for the depot as soon as we came in. We leave on time and almost immediately the guard begins to check our tickets. We are soon on a single track going about 30 mph past the signal box and semaphore signals. We turn left at Fort William Junction onto the Mallaig branch. We pass some sidings and Fort William depot on the right. The Jacobite train is there along with a Class 57. We then go over the River Spean. There are plenty of houses on the left and it is quite flat, though you can see Ben Nevis behind them in the distance.
We then go very slowly across the A830 road and the Caledonian Canal before coming to a halt at Banavie station. It looks like a new station with a small aluminum shelter and a new red brick signal box which controls the level crossing and swing bridge for the canal. There is an impressive staircase of locks on the right to be seen and then we speed up. The A830 runs beside us on the right as we pass through a wooded area. We then stop at Corpach station, another single platform station, with a medium sized wooden building painted grey-blue. There is the usual aluminum shelter next to it.
Loch Eiil is now next to us on the left and we go past the BSW Timber Group wood yard with an old siding going into it. We go through a short pine forest before seeing the loch again, with some high mountains beyond it. The next stop is Loch Eil Outward Bound, one of those unusually named stations on the rail network. It has a small wooden shelter on its single platform and we leave on time at 16.36. We continue by the side of the loch where you can see a salmon farm out in the loch.
We slow down as we pass through the request stop station of Locheilside, which is again a single platform station with a small shelter. The A830 runs alongside us on the right and then we finally come to the end of Loch Eil, but there is still the flat flood plain of the river that flows into it.
You can see impressive mountains on both sides getting ever closer. We speed up to 60 mph on unwelded track and start to climb. It becomes more wooded and the track curves to the left and we cross over the A830, and then curve to the right. We go through a cutting, still climbing and see the river far below us on the left.
After another rock cutting we begin to slow as we come to the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, famous from the Harry Potter films. We slow to about 10 mph as we cross the curving viaduct and many passengers take photos. As it curves so much you are able to photograph it as we travel across it. There are spectacular views on both sides. On the left is the start of Loch Shiel and the Jacobite Monument far below. On the right can be seen more mountains.
Soon after the viaduct we come to Glenfinnan station, which has two platforms. On the left side is the main station building, which is also the Glenfinnan Museum and is coloured cream and green. Opposite is a smaller wooden shelter also painted cream and green. The station looks pretty with flowers on the platform and there is a signal box on our platform. Beyond the main building are a couple of dining cars as well as a siding with a snow plough and three yellow track vehicles. The opposite platform has another train in it and we leave first at 16.55, bang on time.
We leave on an embankment and continue to climb up to the highest point on the line. We are in a valley with the river below us on the left and the A830 on our right. It's almost like going through a gorge. We then go into a rock cutting followed by two tunnels in quick succession, before we start to descend again. You can now see Loch Eilt on the right as the track twists and turns as we descend. There are two high peaks above us on the left.
The A830 goes over us and the track curves to the left. We pass through another rock cutting and then come to a stop at Lochailort station. It is a single platform station with a small shelter on it, which looks like it has been recently updated. It looks like it is in the middle of nowhere. We go into another tunnel and then through a cutting before we emerge to see Loch Ailort on the left. Although it is open to the sea, you think it is an inland loch as the sea can't be seen from here.
We pass through another short tunnel and then see an isolated white church on a hillside to our left. The A830 crosses over us again and after passing through another rock cutting the small Black Loch or Loch Dubh appears on our right. We are still descending and after passing over a short viaduct you start to see the open sea on the left down Loch Nan Uamh. We go over the Glen Mama viaduct and then enter a short tunnel and start to climb again.
There is now a great view on our left out to sea, but we go into another two tunnels and then over the A890 again. We pass through a deep cutting and pass through Beasdale station without stopping. It has a single platform with the main building painted in cream and green. Next to it is a small dark wooden shelter. We see more rocky mountains on the right and pass through another tunnel. We are quite high up from the sea here but are descending through woodlands now.
The train curves sharply to the left with the road below us on the left doing the same. We are on an embankment quite high up and then come to a stop at Arisaig station, which claims to be the most westerly station in Britain, according to the plaque on the wall. It has two platforms with the main station building on the left. It is painted in cream. On the right platform is a cream coloured wooden shelter and a small train made out of whiskey barrels.
There are now views across the estuary here as the isles of Eigg and Rum start to appear opposite us. You can see lots of yachts moored below us. We start to go north again now and you can see the coastline up to Mallaig ahead. We cling to the side of another high mountain and then start to descend once more. We move inland for a short while and have flat marshland on both sides now. After passing through a short cutting, we go over the Morar viaduct with Loch Morar on the left. We come to a halt at Morar station with a single building on the left.
On the last stage of this forty mile journey we pass through more rocky scenery, descending all the time, turning both left and right. We pass through another rock cutting and then emerge to see the Isle of Skye quite close to us on the left.
The A890 is below us on the left with more rocks on the right and then we start to see houses as we approach Mallaig. The station is an island station with two platforms. Therer is another Jacobite steam train on the right platform, hauled by 44871. There is a small aluminum shelter on the platform and a station building with ticket office at the end of the platform, plus two sidings. MC