The real Hogwarts Express

As the world marks two decades since Harry Potter came into our lives, Britain has gone a wee bit mad for any connection to the teenage wizard.

Photo by Ester Marie Doysabas on Unsplash.

In honour of the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘s publication, VisitBritain released an interactive map of Harry Potter destinations. The British Library is hosting a special exhibition, there’s a new exhibition of costumes from the films at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour and the line at Platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross is longer than ever.

As an avid fan myself, a ride through the Scottish Highlands on the real-life Hogwarts Express was a bit of a bucket-list item for me – and what better time to do it than when Harry Potter fever is sweeping the nation.

I’ve watched the films and read the books more times than I can count, so pulling up to the Highlands’ Fort William Station and seeing steam pouring from the oh-so-familiar train was somewhat surreal.

It seemed slightly bizarre that regular people of all ages were waiting to board, rather than just young British witches and wizards.

It was also a bit disappointing that the snack cart didn’t offer jelly beans of every flavour imaginable, or chocolate frogs that could climb out of my hands – Pringles and Coke never seemed so dull. However, aware that there is a difference between fact and fiction, I got past it.

The famous 21-arch viaduct as seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Photo by Sandra Ahn Mode on Unsplash.

The two-hour journey takes you from Fort William to Mallaig, a port town on the northwest coast, and the scenery you pass is immediately overwhelming.

Fort William sits just in front of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, and the surrounding area is an abundance of towering green hills and icy looking lochs.

The day we travelled, thunderstorms created an ominous-looking sky, it felt as though dementors might board the train when we stopped briefly in Glenfinnan (they didn’t).

The most memorable moment for me was going over the 21-arch viaduct – known by many now as the Harry Potter bridge, owing to its prominence in the second film.

I saw no flying cars overhead, but crossing the viaduct was still a joyful moment, particularly looking out from the back carriage and having a view of the rest of the train going over the arches.

The Mallaig village is well set up to cater for Jacobite guests, with a range of shops, cafes and fish and chip options. It’s not Hogsmeade, but it’s still an enjoyable couple of hours.

After walking round the village, and now thoroughly fed and watered, the ride home was a pretty sleepy affair – dozing intermittently as I watched deep valleys and stretching green landscape pass.

IF YOU WANT TO GO:

The Jacobite runs from late April to late October, and also runs a special winter service in December. Return tickets start from £35 per adult.