Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Twenty Three
14 & 15 August 2020
The drive to Glenfinnan took just an hour, which was really pleasant, and the whole way I was excited to see this highly iconic location, made famous by the Harry Potter films. This is SO well photographed here, that I wasn’t expecting any original shots, but I did hope I might be able to at least capture the gorgeous steam train, the Jacobite, for myself.
I started off parking in the National Trust car park and had a look around for any pay and display signs, only to discover there was no overnight parking allowed. This was going to cause me an issue. I wanted an evening and morning shot if I could, but if I couldn’t stay here, I needed another plan. I got back into Fred and drove up and down the road for a bit but no other possible parking spots caught my eye. There was literally nowhere to park BUT the NT car park! Then I noticed a car driving into an open bit of land next to it, and followed to investigate. Here I found some rough land where there were a couple of campers and several other cars parked up. I looked around and saw a sign asking for donations to stay here. I was happy to pay a bit to these people because this was far more suited to my needs. I believe they were hoping to build a car park with the funds… if so, I can only hope that they are going to allow overnight stops in an Aire fashion, because that’s what is needed here.
After I was parked up, I decided to go for a wander, and headed towards the viaduct. As I began my walk the first thing I saw was the Jacobite steaming across it in the distance! It looked fabulous, so I excitedly followed the pathway closer. As I got to the bottom I took a few photos of the viaduct itself -built in 1897/98 by Robert McAlpine & Sons and carrying the railway line from Fort William to Mallaig – and then I headed up to the viewpoint.
Here I sat with a bunch of people for the next hour or so, waiting to see if the train might return. It didn’t, but I learned that it passes through here only 4 times a day, once in each direction in the morning, and then again 4 hours later in the afternoon. It clearly is more of a tourist trip than a regular train ride with a frequent timetable as I originally thought. Once I knew the times however, I planned to be back here first thing, to hopefully get the iconic picture I dreamed of! I went back to the camper for some dinner, and then took a short walk to the Glenfinnan Monument that is also near this location. The light was failing by now, with no strong colour in the sky, so I just planned a position to take some photos for tomorrow, and went back to the camper to settle down for the night.
In the morning I was up bright and early, and took the hike back to the viewpoint. I was one of the first here, and there was at least an hour to go, but the area started to fill really quickly. As more people arrived, so did the heat for the day, and we were all plagued horribly by hungry midges. None of us wanted to move though, steadfastly hanging onto our precious spots that clearly became more precious as each minute passed. Eventually we were rewarded with the sound of a steam train chuffing in the distance… and then it appeared! It looked awesome from this spot, but to my disappointment, the daytime heat meant that the beautiful plume of smoke I hoped for, wasn’t visible. I snapped a constant stream of pictures anyway (see header pic) just so that I could at least get something that reminded me of this magical moment. The train slowed and tooted, released a big bit of (invisible) steam, and the driver and fireman both gave us all a big hearty wave before the Jacobite picked up speed again and chuffed off on its way to Mallaig. Something about all of this was highly magical despite the pictures not being perfect. If you are ever here in the summer months, (the train runs from April to October) I highly recommend coming just for this!
Everyone began to wander away, and I headed up further on the path, finding a fantastic view of the whole valley with Loch Shiel in the distance. There is another viewpoint, that goes up from the National trust car park (I think you need to pay to go on this walk though), but I didn’t take that today, and will try that one next time I am here. I suspect it’s better for photography than this one, with the monument and the loch more central to the view, but I was happy with this sight for today. As I stood taking in the view, I considered what I wanted to do with the rest of the day. I was disappointed in there not being any smoke, so it seemed a good idea to try again a bit later, but maybe from the other side – and so, as I had about 4 hours to kill, I decided to have a casual walk all around, and to go and see the monument in more detail.
The Glenfinnan Monument, erected in 1815, commemorates all those that died during the Jacobite rising in Scotland in 1745. The rebellion started here with a gathering of the first clansmen who awaited the arrival of (‘Bonnie’) Prince Charles Edward Stuart and raised their standards in support of his claim to the Scottish throne. The figure on top of the monument is of a generic Scottish clansman, representing all who joined in support, and was added a little later in 1835.
You can visit, and climb to the top apparently, even standing next to the clansman, but as we were still in the midst of the Covid pandemic, it was closed to the public today. For me, this was probably a bonus, as getting this photo tourist free might be a much greater challenge normally. I preferred the morning light on the monument too, as the sun was now shining on the clansman’s face rather than on his back. With the hills behind in contrasting lights behind him, this was a much better photo for me than the snap I had taken the night before. I took River for a casual paddle in Loch Shiel and then gently wandered back to Fred for a spot of lunch.
After this I made my way back to my second viewpoint, and fell in love with the view from this position. It looked incredibly beautiful from this side of the glen, with more of the mountains visible from this side, and the viaduct setting clearly visible and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I could see all the crowds beginning to gather in the spot I was at this morning, and was quite amazed at just how many people the spot attracted. As I waited the familiar sound of a chuffing steam train approached, and I relished the fact that I was here all on my own on this side. I think I am much happier with the shot from here too, although as the train slowed to toot its horn, the steam at that point evaporated to nothing very quickly. The best steam came before it slowed I feel.
Once the train left, the crowds on the other side started to leave, but I waited… and sure enough, 10 minutes later, this mornings train came through on its return journey. I took a few photos of this one too, until I realised the locomotive was back to front. I hadn’t realised steam trains did that!
Once this train left, I made my way back down and looked at leaving myself. I really liked Glenfinnan, and I am sure there was a lot more to explore here, but for now, I was just playing tourist. Next time, I will plan on stopping longer if I can, and to really have a deep look into the area. I really hope this car park is still here when I do! I looked at my map, and realised that most of this section of my tour was pretty complete, so I decided to see if I could take a leisurely drive down to Castle stalker, and see if I can get an evening or dawn shot of that.
I did the drive, taking a thoroughly enjoyable 2 and a half hours getting to Portnacroish at 6pm, but I really struggled on where to park. I found ‘Castle Stalker View’ on the hill before the road wound down closer to the castle. It had a view overlooking the loch alright, but it was too high for what I hoped for. I drove to a lower spot, but there was nowhere to pull over, except at ‘The Old Inn’, which had a tiny car park for patrons only. Beyond that it looked to be a private road to some cottages. After I drove up and down for a little bit, I didn’t know where to go, and in the end, feeling a little frustrated, I just left! I wasn’t sure WHAT I could do! If anyone knows where to park for a photo lower down, please let me know!
With only Corpach still on my list to do, I drove back there in the hope that I could at least get the shots here that I wanted. It took another hour of driving and I got there just as the sun was setting. I grabbed my camera and headed to the canal lock quickly, realising when I got there, that I had mere seconds before the sun would be gone, I didn’t try to get any closer to the boat because of this, and instead grabbed the only shot that I could, without loosing this light. It looked SOOOO beautiful with all the colours tonight, but it was already fading!
…and then it was gone. I considered going to the boat and taking the shot there, but the light looked flat already, and I was very uninspired. Did I want to try the lighthouse shot… well, no, not really. The water wasn’t smooth because of the ripples here tonight and nowhere near reflective enough for the shot I had in mind there, so I left that too. I went back to the camper realising suddenly how tired I was now, and decided that I would simply have some tea and check out the next highest tide for the dawn shot. It looked like the best time for this was actually going to be in 2 days… so I stopped here for the night and planned a different location for tomorrow instead.