Wednesday, 3 November 2010
From Knoydart to Leeds
So I had been looking forward to today's journey from Mallaig to Leeds even before setting off for Knoydart, knowing that the kind people at Gore-Tex were able to pick up the tab. Even the fact that it would take over 10 hours and require four changes wouldn't stop me enjoying what must be one of the most scenic routes in the British Isles.
The highlight, of course, takes place early on, with the section between Mallaig and Glasgow following much of the famous West Highland Railway. The unusual names of many of the stations on this line - Ardlui, Crianlarich, Arrochar - suggest a time when English was not the first language for the original inhabitants in this corner of Scotland.
And so it proved. The line passes some stunning scenery, and some notable places to boot; at Arisaig a sign informed me that I was at the the Westernmost station in Britain, whilst coming into Fort William the train passed the famous Neptune's Staircase, the longest staircase lock in the United Kingdom and a marvel of industrial engineering. Going over the famous curved viaduct at Glenfinnan was also a fun experience even if I'm not a bona fide Harry Potter fan.
But the most impressive section of the railway traverses Rannoch Moor, a vast wild expanse of desolation that must have proved a particularly difficult task for the navvies working this route at the end of the 19th century. Our train took us through Corrour - the highest mainland railway station in the UK a full 10 miles from the nearest road - and stopped briefly at Rannoch, allowing us to explore the station and get a feel for the isolation of the area.
Having left Mallaig at a shade after 10 in the morning - we'd left Doune on the western tip of Knoydart by boat an hour earlier - the fourth and final train pulled into Leeds at 9pm. I've always thought it strange how travelling can be so tiring when all you have to do is sit there and let the train do its job, and by the time we neared our final destination I was pretty exhausted. But I'd also had a fantastic experience exploring part of Britain by rail and was immensely pleased that I was able to; the cost of the one-way ticket was over £100. I just wish that it was a bit cheaper to do so more often...