On the Jacobite train: the most disappointing train journey ever

That day, we took the Jacobite train from Fort Williams to Mallaig (return journey), to experience what I thought would be one of the greatest railway journey of my life (maybe I’m a bit dramatic here but you get the idea ;-)).

I’ve read so many good reviews about the Jacobite train while I was planning my trip to Scotland that I got intrigued ! It was a bit pricey (£34 for a 82 miles journey per person) but everyone seemed so enthusiastic about it that I thought it was worth the price. I really wanted to see the Glenfinnan viaduct that was featured in the Harry Potter films and in their website, it was described as the highlight of the journey. That sealed the deal !

We arrived at the station in the morning and the train was waiting for us. It was very exciting as we could visit the locomotive and take some pictures. The weather was not that great but the weather forecast looked promising for the afternoon.

We entered in the train and I faced my first disappointment of the day. The carriage was filthy, old, crowded and…. the windows were so dirty and scratched that it would have been impossible to take pictures during the journey. I tried to stay positive as I saw it was possible to open a window in the in-between carriage compartment. That was my plan b.

While waiting for the viaduct to come into sight, I soon realised that it was not going to be a tour and that we were not going to get any information about the viaduct, the train or the landscape or whatsoever. It was just a train journey that we paid twice the price of a regular journey. Did I feel bitter ? Yes.

The viaduct came into sight and everyone in the compartment got the same idea as me and rushed to the in-between carriage compartment. It was ridiculous, people were angry and packed in a 2 metres square cold and windy place and everyone wanted to get a shot of the viaduct. I was not too disappointed as we were really close to the Glennfinnan train station and I was hoping to have more opportunities to take pictures over there. How wrong I was.

GIN00146

We arrived a few minutes later at the Glenfinnan station for a 40 minutes break. It took us 15 minutes to get off the train (don’t ask me why I’m still clueless) before realising that we couldn’t see or walk to the viaduct from there as it was too far away. EXCUSE ME ? I was starting to become very fed up with this, and had that unpleasant feeling that we had been tricked into one of these huge tourist trap. There was just NOTHING to do in this station.

Back in the train, I took a few pictures from the open window on our way to Mallaig. They haven’t lied, the landscape was very pretty despite the grey sky…. but we were basically following the main road.. nothing you couldn’t have seen if you we had taken our car. I was trying to stay positive, but everything was going wrong. Everything.

We arrived in Mallaig and we were determined to make the most of this disastrous trip. We rushed out of this train and started to explore the town. We climbed on top of the hill in order to have a good view of the town. It was very pretty, the sun was out and the water was so blue ! It really lift our spirits. But once again, there was really nothing to do over there.

Mallaig
Mallaig

After two hours spent over there and a comforting fish and chips, we took the train back to Fort Williams. I spent the whole journey next to the window in the in-between carriage compartment and tried to take a couple of pictures of the landscape.

Then it started raining again when we reached the Glenfinnan viaduct.

Back in Fort Williams, it was time for us to forget about that horrible day and drive to Isle Skye, our next stop.

I still wonder why no one mentioned in their reviews that you will get no information at all (it’s not a tour, it’s just a train journey), that it will be dirty, crowded, uncomfortable, smelly, noisy and that you won’t have a lot of opportunity to see the damn Glenfinnan viaduct !

If you want to go there, take your car, drive to the viaduct, have a little walk around and drive to Mallaig if you really want to check out the city (but it’s not that amazing). AVOID this tourist trap, seriously, it’s so bad. I think people are so annoyed to have paid so much for a train journey that they feel obliged to leave a good review, to pretend they have enjoyed themselves and have not wasted their money. That’s my explanation anyway unless people have really low expectation about everything. EVERYONE looks so disappointed in the carriage, everyone was expecting something else. But I’m sure at the end people will tell to others they had a great time.

Have you ever done that ? Being over enthusiastic about something because it was hard to admit that you didn’t enjoy yourself or that it was a mistake ? I think we all did. Maybe time helps to forget about bad trip memories. Today, I have to admit that it didn’t feel that bad, but this is the transcript of what I wrote in my travel journal. I wanted to write something that was close to how I felt when I visited it :-)

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107 responses to “On the Jacobite train: the most disappointing train journey ever

  1. That is terrible! I’m sorry that ride was so disappointing. I can totally relate especially when you’ve set some expectations and it doesn’t deliver. I’ve had a share of disappointments as well. May I ask when you went to Scotland? I wonder if the weather is always raining over there.

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  2. Sorry to hear it was disappointing and that it was more of a tourist trap.

    Yes, I’ve experienced something like that. I took a tour to see yellow-eyed penguins in New Zealand. That part was amazing. Along the way you could go and see albatross at Taiaroa Head at an extra cost. It was such a waste of money. We had to stay behind glass in the building, there was no possibility of taking any pictures up close or even seeing the albatross life size. Even with maximum zoom on my camera taking photos through the window, the birds looked like seagulls and not majestic, huge albatross that I was hoping to see. Such a rip-off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that must have been a disappointment. I can imagine. Especially if you were picturing real size albatros in your head.. that’s the problem when the advertising is a bit weird.

      I hope it won’t happen again for both of us :-)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yup, it was. Oh well, we live and learn. I think everyone has these stories. I too hope it won’t happen again for both of us, but you never know up front, haha. And last time in NZ I did briefly see an albatross when I took a ferry to Stewart Island. No extra charge ;-)

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  3. I’m sorry it was so disappointing. I would have hated being crowded together like that and not be able to see a view. It does have a lot to do with expectations doesn’t it? The reviews led you to believe it would be a very different kind of trip. Some steam train trips can be lovely. This one sounded awful though. Thanks for your honesty about your experience. It’s important not to gloss over the facts when sharing a travel destination. You don’t want others to waste their money and be disappointed too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How disappointing! I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and was always quite excited about one day riding the Hogwarts Express. I’ll definitely be removing it from my bucket list though – thanks for the honest review and sorry you had such a crappy time. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip :)

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  5. It’s always disappointing to get excited about something and expect one thing and get another. Your review will clarify the experience so others know what the train ride will be like. You managed to get some beautiful shots, nonetheless. Happy New Year to you and yours!
    ~ Jeannie :))

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  6. So sorry you did not enjoy the experience of riding on a steam train – that is why it was expensive (though for UK train prices it’s not so bad) as you pay for that experience – slow travel, the genuine chuggety-chug of a steam train, the noise of the whistle, the smoke (which causes the windows to be grimy). It probably wasn’t what you were expecting and that always leads to disappointment. I think I would have enjoyed the ride – and you did get some lovely photos. And yes, you could have done it in the car, but again this is why it is a different experience. I drive, but occasionally I have taken a steam train, just for the change and to relax. Maybe when you get to my age (someone who remembers steam trains) it’s more of an experience than for you. I think the popularity of this particular route – due to the HP films – has caused it to be overcrowded and that is not nice. Mallaig does look very picturesque even if there is nothing to do there (I’m thinking lunch and a glass of wine – another good reason to take the train :-D ) and your photos of it are gorgeous.

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  7. Sorry to hear you had a bad journey. I’ve never been on the train myself, more because of the cost! I think you should contact http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk and let them know of your disappointment. I would.

    I have been to Glenfinnan though and it’s definitely better to drive from Fort William to Mallaig. You can stop where you want, when you want. At Glenfinnan there is a small exhibition, tea room, shop, the monument and you can climb up a hill at the back to view the viaduct and indeed walk as far as you want!

    Also on the road to Mallaig there is pretty Arisaig on the coast road with beautiful white sandy beaches like Camusdarach and Morar. There is so much more to see by car and if the sun is out then even better.

    I agree that Mallaig doesn’t have much to see, so it’s usually a quick visit, and something nice to eat. Or pop on the ferry to Skye :).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it’s definitively better to drive. You can stop whenever, hike a little bit and enjoy the countryside and the sea as well. We should have done that and take the ferry to skye instead of driving all the way up there.

      Thanks for the comment !

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I almost took that train! Gosh thankfully Indid not. Sounds awfull..thanks for the review, hopefully it will catch people attention before spending money and their holiday time!
    Mallaig is pretty! I love that place 😊

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    • I may get the chance to hike around this viaduct next time I’m around. But this train journey is really not worth it. I can’t even say it would be a nice experience for kids because there is nothing to do during the whole journey.

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  9. Hello Gin,
    Happy New Year :)
    I’m sad you were disappointed with the train trip (I would feel the same way too!) but the photos you made are so beautiful as always. Looking forward to another great year :)

    Best wishes,
    Takami

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I think your photos turned out beautiful, regardless of the crappy weather and train ride. I love the picture of the viaduct in the rain, and the little red umbrella that you can see :) I can empathize, I hate being so excited about something like that, only to be completely disappointed in the end.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh, yes, we’ve experienced this kind of disappointment! Although I usually try to have a positive attitude and probably sugarcoat some bad experiences when talking to others, I would never write a good review of a bad time for strangers. In fact, I do write some negative reviews on occasion to warn potential travelers. If it’s any consolation, I think your viaduct photos are wonderfully misty and evocative!

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  12. What a disappointment, Gin. The anticipation must have been great only to be so let down. I can honestly say that I don’t hold back…if an experience was bad everyone will hear about it…maybe with some humor but not diminished. Your next trip has to be better. :-)

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  13. Sorry you were disappointed, think its really for the nostalgia of the steam train. Mallaig is a port town but definitely not a city! We have driven around the area and visited different places and enjoyed it but it was October and way back then everything was closing! Nice scenery though :)

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  14. That’s a shame it was a disappointment for you. I have great memories of this trip from when I was younger. Of course I went pre – Harry Potter so there wasn’t a clamour of people wanting to see a viaduct! It never used to be marketed as a tourist thing. It was just a scenic rail journey that connected two towns. Having once paid over £80 for a 2.5hr train journey between Aberdeen & Edinburgh, I actually think your ticket price was cheap. Train travel outwith city stops is not a cheap form of travel in the UK.
    Mallaig is a port town serving Skye & the small isles. So in terms of what there is to do there, it is to get on a boat to explore some islands. Hopefully you had a better time in Skye. Ironically, Skye is marketed as THE island to visit in Scotland but it is actually my least favourite, partly because over multiple visits I’ve been repeatedly drenched & had a few car troubles on the island so it always has a negative association for me. It’s sad when a negative experience overshadows a beautiful place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • oh gosh, £80 this sounds really crazy. I have to admit that I’m still not used to the price of the train tickets here in the UK. It’s really more expensive than in Belgium (probably because it’s private companies that are running it and not the state) but the service is impeccable and wonderful. I suppose it’s the price to pay for on time trains :D

      I really enjoyed skye despite being there under the rain (and despite the midges). But Mull has definitively stolen my heart :-)

      Do you plan to go back to Skye this year when you will visit Scotland ?

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      • No Skye for me this time. I’m focusing on places I’ve either never been to or barely remember so as I’ve been to Skye relatively recently, it won’t be included on this trip, ditto with Mull. I am excited to go back to the Orkney Islands though as haven’t been there since I was school age.

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  15. Les photos sont magnifiques mais je comprends ta frustration . Lorsqu’on imagine ou que l’on rêve d’un voyage , c’est une grande déception quand tout ne se déroule pas comme prévu .
    Soyons positifs….tout ira mieux une autre fois ;-)
    Agréable fin de semaine à toi .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oui tu as raison, et puis ce n’est pas la fin du monde. Ce post est une réaction à vif, une retranscription de mon carnet de voyage. Aujourd’hui, avec du recul, je ne pense pas que c’était si terrible que ça ;-)

      Bonne fin de semaine !

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  16. Coucou, même si je ne comprends pas tout l’anglais, j’ai pu saisir quelques mots clés. C’est vrai que sur le coup, c’est râlant. En tout cas, merci pour ces quelques photos qui me font voyager.
    Good evening for you (C’est anglais ça ? :-D )

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  17. Ugh! I could feel your frustration through your writing. I do find that some touristy places that are just so overcrowded really are a disappointment. We had a snorkeling trip recently in Mexico like that. Post to follow in the weeks ahead. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This reminds me of our train trip in Sedona. But, the ads didn’t lie. It was a trip through Green Valley Canyon (I think). Our car was beautiful, we paid for the upgraded car, the light refreshments were exactly what they said, and they did have viewing cars. However, how much of the Arizona desert can you enjoy before it all looks the same–there and back–four hours without getting off.

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  19. I can feel your frustration, it happens when we have high expectations – but at that price it was justifiable!
    But, i guess the views made up for everything you experienced! The last one is so gorgeous a sight…you did see the viaduct :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I should stop having high expectations while travelling. Usually, believe me, I don’t. I’m always happy doing what we do. But here, I think it’s the feeling I’ve thrown away my money that really made me angry.

      I saw it, very briefly but at least I saw it ;-)

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  20. Yes this is probably the most touristy thing one would do in Scotland. Good to have read this as I definitely plan to do this eventually, and I think I still want to do it though I will know what to expect. I was actually thinking of getting off at Glenfinnan station and hiking around a bit, possibly near the viaduct itself, and I’ve found several hiking routes around that area. Do you think that would be a feasible plan? Your photos did turn out great though. Mallaig looks so nice especially with the clear water!

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    • If you know what to expect, you won’t be disappointed. The problem is I completely misunderstood what I was going to see. My bad.

      I think you can get out at Glenfinnan station but then you can’t continue the journey till mallaig but you can catch up the train on the way back. I think I should have done that. So I would have had the train journey experience and the viaduct sightseeing :-)

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  21. I think Gin for many it is the romance of steam that makes people take the journey. For some. just to be pulled through the landscape by a steam locomotive, even if they saw nothing, would have made the journey worthwhile for them. As you rightly pointed out, the romance of steam is a bit of a myth because steam locomotives rely on burning coal and burning coal produces huge amounts of soot. It was generally a dirty, smelly way to travel and the costume dramas that show ladies in beautiful white dresses alighting from steam locomotives with not a smudgy sooty mark to be seen is down to the costume department alone, not the mode of transport.
    I’m sorry you had a disappointing day but for the steam buffs, this will have been a good day. I’m not one of them incidentally, a steam buff that is. I took the train to the top of Snowdon recently, there was a steam option. As we ascended I could see those in the steam train being kippered with the coal smoke blowing through the carriages. I remarked at the time that the arrival of the diesel locomotives won’t have come too soon for so many.

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    • Yes, it makes sense. I think for people who like trains it must be have been a must. It was very dirty indeed ! Since I was taking pictures with the window opened, I ended up with a black face :D

      I’ve seen the little train you are talking about when I hiked snowdon in September :-) It looked quite cute. At some points during the hike, I wish I was in it ;-)

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  22. What a shame – it’s so disappointing to have a big let down like this. I had read about this travel journey too and quite fancied it – second thoughts for sure now, great tip about getting the same views but taking the car!!

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    • I think it depends what you want to get from the trip. If you like train journey and if you take the trip for that reason only, you won’t be disappointed. I thought I had booked a tour, and I was expecting some information during the journey and also the possibility of seing the viaduct :-) Oh well, at least I have something to tell ;-)

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  23. Well, at least you did capture some nice photos, although not on the level I’m sure you had hoped. I have found the trips I have the highest hopes for seem to always let me down. I wonder, if it’s my high expectation. Sorry the trip wasn’t what you hoped for.

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    • I think it’s not good to have too many expectations while travelling. It can ruin a trip. Usually, I’m easily pleased so I was quite shocked of my feelings and my reaction. At least I have done it, I have no regret and I know it’s not for me ;-)

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  24. Have seen this train journey on a travel programme, Gin, and thought I’d like to do it some day – possibly not now!! Sorry you had such a poor experience though at least you did manage to get some good shots in despite the awful weather!

    Liked by 1 person

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