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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail is magical walk for Harry Potter fans – but muggles need to plan for parking problems


By John Davidson

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Beinn an Tuim above the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Beinn an Tuim above the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

There’s something magical about the sight of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, whether or not you’re a fan of the Harry Potter films that make this place a magnet for movie lovers.

The pioneering concrete crossing was opened in 1901 and has always been something of an attraction, but when it carried the Hogwarts Express it became synonymous with the Potter franchise.

There are two Munros beyond the arches, but they would be for another day. This little family trip would involve a much shorter trek of a few miles and keep one of our avid Harry Potter readers happy.

I’d planned to get there early, knowing that it can get busy when the Jacobite steam train is due to cross the viaduct, and start the walk with the possibility of seeing the train while on route.

Matthew 'the engine' leads the train along the hillside path.
Matthew 'the engine' leads the train along the hillside path.

However, as ever, we set off a little bit later than planned and ended up in the mad dash for parking.

It must be awful for people living locally as cars cause chaos trying to find somewhere to stop. I hadn’t anticipated it would be quite as bad as this; it looks like there just isn’t enough space for the demand in the high season.

Having given up and headed to a layby much further along the main road, we sat it out and waited for the masses to start departing before we finally returned to find a space in the car park beside the National Trust for Scotland visitor centre.

If you do fancy giving this lovely walk a go, please park responsibly and try to avoid the times around the Jacobite crossing.

The path that makes this circular route possible was constructed on the Glenfinnan Estate in 2012 by the Glenfinnan Station Museum. This also makes a great stopping off point on the route, with some interesting history about the railway and a dining car and ice cream stall also located at the station.

The Jacobite train approaches Glenfinnan station.
The Jacobite train approaches Glenfinnan station.

We set off, following the path from the back of the car park that leads over a bridge then alongside the river towards the viaduct. After a giant tree stump, the viaduct trail and viewpoints are signposted straight across a track on a rougher path that starts to climb towards the left-hand side of the impressive structure.

It was warm work as the weather belied the forecast for a colder spell in the west, and we found ourselves in searing sunshine having been prepared for much chillier conditions.

Climbing directly underneath one of the arches, the path offers great views of the viaduct as well as the surrounding hills and Loch Shiel. Due to the popularity of the trail, especially when the steam train is passing over, a series of viewpoints have been built into the hillside. We stopped at one of these above the railway for a bite to eat and saw the local ScotRail service head across the viaduct.

The path beyond here is easy to follow and well constructed, though it is unsurfaced and does include rocky steps, boggy bits and some boardwalk. Matthew, the youngest of the children, was enjoying being “the engine” at the front of our own little train of people, with Clara, Jennifer and myself making up the carriages!

A view to Loch Shiel from the high path.
A view to Loch Shiel from the high path.

The views over Loch Shiel were breath-taking and, as we paused at the official viewpoint to take them in, we saw the Jacobite begin to approach the viaduct in the distance. We waited and watched it cross then pass below us on the way to Glenfinnan station, which we would arrive at shortly too.

We continued along the path to pass under the railway by a tunnel, then crossing a miniature railway that is under construction before following a longer boardwalk section through woodland to emerge at the station.

In this heat, ice cream was definitely the order of the day, so we queued up at the snow plough stall and cooled off before taking a look around the museum.

The return journey was fairly straightforward, as we headed down the access track for the station then carefully crossed the main road, turning right onto the pavement on the far side.

The Jacobite train leaves Glenfinnan station in a puff of smoke.
The Jacobite train leaves Glenfinnan station in a puff of smoke.

Before the bridge and hotel, a track goes sharp left to pass a number of houses (and works in progress). After a metal barrier it continues as a path through woodland to emerge at the end of a minor road, which you follow straight ahead past the Glenfinnan House Hotel.

This road leads back to the main road close to the car park – but it can get busy with people searching in vain for somewhere to park at those peak hours, so again careful planning is needed to avoid the worst times.

We finished our walk with a visit to the Glenfinnan Monument, which pays tribute to those clansmen who followed the Jacobite cause in the 1745 uprising, and the stony beach at the head of a shimmering Loch Shiel.

It made for a lovely finish to this delightful little walk, though I did suggest to the kids that next time we do it in the winter when it’s much quieter!

The Glenfinnan Monument.
The Glenfinnan Monument.

Route details

Glenfinnan viaduct trail

Distance 3.5 miles / 6km

Terrain Clear path with rock steps and uneven surfaces, steep in places; tracks; minor road; main road crossings

Start/finish Glenfinnan community car park (car parking charge)

Map OS Landranger 40; OS Explorer 398

Timing is everything for this beautiful walk taking in the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct

Clara at the far side of the tunnel near the station.
Clara at the far side of the tunnel near the station.
The girls make their way along the path towards the viaduct.
The girls make their way along the path towards the viaduct.
Siagn points to the viaduct trail and viewpoints.
Siagn points to the viaduct trail and viewpoints.
A view through the arches.
A view through the arches.

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