Compass Buster #9: Fort Augustus to Oban

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August 18th 2016
Published: April 5th 2017
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Today was the day I think we were most excited about as we were of on the Hogwarts Express! When booking the trip there was the option of paying extra to take the Jacobite Steam Train and being a fan of Harry Potter, I just had to do it!

We left Fort Augustus after breakfast and headed to Fort William, where we would catch the train. On the way, we had a short stop at the Commando Memorial. What a beautiful spot! The Commando Memorial was built in 1951 by the sculptor, Scott Sutherland, to honour the original British Commando Forces. It is located near Spean Bridge village, overlooking the training area the Commandos used. You can see Ben Nevis in the background. It was such a peaceful place. Knowing nothing about the memorial, I am glad we stopped there.

We drove onwards to the town of Fort William. We alighted the bus at the railway station as this is where we would be catching the Hogwarts Express. Our driver went and got us our tickets and then we made our way onto the train. Since we were cheap, we had just paid for the normal, standard tickets. Our carriage was just like a normal train carriage, not one of the compartments that Harry and his pals sit in when they are heading to and from Hogwarts. The train departed at 10:15 am. The journey to Mallaig would be 84 miles. After the conductor came around and checked our tickets, they came around with the food trolley. A brew and a Tunnocks Tea Cake were just what I needed and I sipped and munched on those as the train passed through the gorgeous countryside. We came to the Glenfinnan Viaduct around 10:45. The train going over the viaduct is one of the iconic scenes from the Harry Potter films. I was sitting on the wrong side of the train, so had to stand up to get a good view. It was stunning. Also one of the girls offered to take a picture with my camera out of the window. I have never been so nervous as she held my camera out of the window. This is the one time having a neck strap on it would be appropriate.

We arrived at Glenfinnan Station at 10:58. We had about twenty minutes here. We had a quick look in the guard box and took some pictures from there and of the train. The pictures didn't turn out so good, there were just too many people. We wandered up the platform and we got to see the fancy compartments on the train, I wish I had more money, as I would have loved to travel in either the fancy restaurant car or one of the proper compartments Harry and co. travel in. The queue for the one toilet in the station was ridiculous, but needs must. We had to sprint back down the platform to reach our carriage, we didn't make it and had to get on at some random carriage and walk the rest of the way down inside as the train was pulling way from the station. We spent the rest of the journey chatting and getting a sneaky little nap in.

The train arrived in Mallaig at 12:25 pm, I managed to get some better pictures of the train. I love how retro looking the images are that are painted on the side of the engine. We had a bit of time to explore the village and get some lunch. The problem was the town was rammed with everyone getting off the Jacobite Steam Train. We managed to find an upstairs cafe and ordered some sandwiches. There was a complete lack of urgency from the staff, they were going so slow. I think it would have been quicker if we had made our own sandwiches. However, when the food did arrive, it tasted good. We headed down to the carpark as the bus had driven over to meet us. The carpark was next to the water and we got some gorgeous views of the surrounding area. The little village across the way definitely looked like one of those tourist ads for Scotland.

Back on the bus, we drove back towards Glenfinnnan. We were heading to the viewpoint where we could see the viaduct and the Glenfinnan Monument. The climb up the hill was a little steep and muddy, but totally worth it for the views. It was a postcard view, absolutely stunning. We could see the viaduct that we had crossed. It was nice to come back and be able to see it from a different angle and get some photos. It's just a shame we didn't get to see the Jacobite Steam Train going across it. The viaduct was pretty, but I think I actually preferred the view down of the Glenfinnan Monument, which is situated at the head of Loch Sheil and the hills are surrounding it. The Glenfinnan Monument was built as a tribute to the clansmen who fought and died for the Jacobite cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The Monument marks the spot where the Prince's Standard was raised on the 19th August 1745. It was part of the last attempt to restore the Stuart family to the throne of Great Britain and Ireland.

Our bus needed re-fueling so our guide dropped us at Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William, so that we could stretch our legs as it would be boring to go and sit while the bus got filled up with petrol. Inverlochy Castle was built in 1280 by John Comyn, who was the Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber. There isn't much left of the castle as it is now just ruins. There are metal gates up to stop you from entering. So we couldn't go inside and just had to take a walk around the circumference. Some of the group scaled the outer wall, while the rest of us chilled. To be honest, it probably wasn't worth stopping at. Back on the bus, our guide said that since we had plenty of time, we could head to Glencoe today instead of tomorrow. Definitely, a wise decision as we would be heading out tonight and would probably have sore heads the next day. Glencoe was stunning, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere as there were no houses or other people around. It felt like we had the whole glen to ourselves. We had a lovely little wander about and I enjoyed taking in the gorgeous scenery. There was a little stream with a bridge over it, where we spent a while chilling.

We arrived in Oban around tea time. We headed straight to the hostel and got checked in. This was the first place to request a key deposit on the trip. Since I wanted to keep my money for that evening. I used my passport instead, I would have to remember that they had it, and to pick it up again in the next morning when checking out. We were staying in Oban Backapckers, it was really nice, a good common area and our dorm room was massive. I scored a bottom bunk, however it was right by the door. Since we were having a big night out, going to a Ceilidh, to mark the end of the trip, we all trouped to the showers to get ourselves preened. We were starving, so once we were ready, we headed out to get some food.

Oban looked like a cute little town and seemed quite built up and civilised compared to some of the other places we had stayed. We marveled at seeing all the high street names. We headed down to the water and went to the giant Wetherspoons for our dinners. Wetherspoons must be the place to be in Oban on a Thursday night because it was rammed. We finally managed to find a spot, where we could put a load of tables together for our group. After looking at the menu I headed to the bar and joined one of the long queues there. Waiting in line took ages, and I was glad when I finally got to place my order. The highlight of queuing was one of the lads behind the bar telling his mate, he was sick of life in very blunt terms. If I were in his position, I would feel exactly the same. We had to wait ages for our food to turn up. I had a chilli burger, which was decent. Because it took so long we missed the rendezvous back at the hostel, so just made our way to the Ceilidh ourselves.

The Ceilidh was at the Skipinnish Ceilidh House, we had to pay to get in, I think it was only about a fiver and were given a free drink token, which could only be used after midnight. That was obviously a ploy to keep us there later. We found the others, dumped our stuff, and made our way to the bar. This place totally reminded me of the local nightclub I used to frequent when I was in Sixth Form, it was like stepping back in time. The Ceilidhstarted not long after we had arrived.I think in total it lasted for a couple of hours. We were taught four dances, I did three, sitting out for one of them. It was fun and knackering. You have to be fit to do this. I am surprised that I managed to do three dances as i have zero coordination and don't like dancing. The band, I think it is the blokes who own the Ceilidh House, were amazing. I really enjoyed listening to them. However, it was the young girl who was doing solo dances that stole the show. She was utterly fantastic. She was just a wee thing, about 15-16 years old if that. She could move. I was mesmerized watching her. So talented.

Once the Ceilidh was over, the place turned into a nightclub. Yeah, it was definitely like being back at school. We wanted to stay to use our drink tokens but to be honest I think it would have been better if we had left. The locals had turned up once the Ceilidh was over and there is only one word to describe them: rough! Some of the lads were definitely spoiling for a fight. We had a laugh dancing and drinking. By about 1 am, i was done in, so staggered back to the hostel.

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