West Higland Way, Fort William to Glasgow 30/08

August 30, 2008 - Fort William, United Kingdom

A description of the trainride I made from Fort William back to Glasgow(only described from glasgow to FW)

At Glasgow, pulling out over the same lines that haul ScotRail services east and north. At Cowlairs, you turn left through Maryhill and Westerton and uphill to Kilpatrick, with the graceful lines of the Erskine Road Bridge in view. You're running parallel to the River Clyde, cradle of so many great ocean liners. Then it's on to Bowling, where the Clyde estuary broadens before you.

After Dumbarton, you cross the River Leven and at Craigendoran you veer to the right and on to the West Highland Line proper.


Helensburgh Upper was the home of Henry Bell while he perfected his steamboat 'Comet', launched in January 1812 at Port Glasgow on the south bank of the Clyde. Crowds on the shore scattered as the smoke belched from her funnel, racing across the water at 5mph! A new era was born.

Gare Loch is the first of many lochs you'll see, with its history as a military submarine base, but also popular with weekend yachtsmen.

At Garelochhead station you have a panoramic view of the village. Soon on the left, you'll see slender Loch Long. The jetty below is Finnart deep-water terminal, where tankers discharge their oil to be pumped by pipeline to Grangemouth, 60 miles away to the east.

Loch Long vanishes briefly, as the hills become more like mountains; then on the right its Glen Douglas, which leads to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Loch Long returns, with its distinctive shape of Ben Arthur, known as 'The Cobbler', a favourite with mountaineers and walkers.

The road curves away through Glen Croe to Inveraray, where the castle is home to the Duke of Argyll, Chieftain of the Clan Campbell.


A few minutes beyond Arrochar and Tarbet station, Loch Lomond appears on your right, dominated by Ben Lomond. Across the loch is Inversnaid, the area once roamed by Rob Roy MacGregor, legendary warrior, robber and folk-hero. He used to question captives in a nearby cave - and he was prepared to dip them in the loch to extract information.

You're travelling along the flank of mighty Ben Vorlich. High above is Loch Sloy - watch for the huge pipes carrying the loch waters under the tracks to the electricity-generating house below.

The line descends almost to the water's edge at Ardlui station, and then it's a hard 15 mile climb up to Glen Falloch. Inverarnan Water foams under the line. In the glen stand ancient Scots Pines, remnants of the Caledonian Forest which once covered the land.

You cross over the Dubh Eas Water on a viaduct and are about the same height above the water as the Forth Railway Bridge is over the sea. Soon you'll see the Falls of Falloch on the right, and then you're in Crianlarich, where the line divides, with the southern branch swerving west to Oban.

At Crianlarich, the northbound fork of the West Highland Line climbs quickly to Tyndrum Upper and around Beinn Odhar to a unique horseshoe bend.

On then to Bridge of Orchy, well known to walkers and climbers. To your left is the ruin of Achallader Castle, stronghold of the Fletchers. Then it's on through Crannoch Wood, another vestige of the Great Caledonian Forest. The forest was probably cleared to rid the country of wolves, wild boars and outlaws. It still attracts naturalist, botanists, geologists and birdwatchers galore.

At Gorton Crossing you start on to the wild Rannoch Moor, with its peat bogs, streams, tiny lochs, boulders, streams and old tree stumps and roots. The West Highland Walkway from Glasgow to Fort William skirts the moor, but only the railway crosses this vast wilderness; this was achieved by 'floating' the line across the moor on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes.

Rannoch station, with its chalet-style building and Swiss birch shingles, stands near Loch Laidon. Pulling away from Rannoch, you can see the Black Mount and Glencoe, one of Scotland's premier skiing centres.

At Corrour Summit you are 1350 feet (450 metres) above sea level - the highest point on the line. Before reaching Corrour, you pass through Britain's only snow shed at Cruach cutting. The shed protects the cutting from winter snowdrifts, which can pile as high as houses.

To the right is Ossian, one of Scotland's highest lochs at 1269 feet (430 metres).

As you travel alongside Loch Treig, you gradually swoop down 415 feet (135 metres) until you're almost at water level.

At Tulloch you are virtually due north of Craigendoran, but now you head west into the Braes of Lochaber. The glen narrows until Monessie Gorge, where the River Spean roars through the white rocks, sculpted smooth by its ferocity. It's on your left, slightly below rail level.

A little beyond Roy Bridge on the left is Keppoch House, ancient home of the Chiefs of the Clan McDonald. And just past Spean Bridge, high on the hill to the right, stands the monument to the commandos, who trained here during the Second World War.

Ben Nevis looms ahead. At over 4400 feet (1465 metres), its Britain's highest mountain. And big - its circumference at the base is 24 miles. You'll see Inverlochy Castle before the train glides into Fort William.

Fort William has excellent shopping, ideal for your holiday souvenirs! You can also visit the West Highland museum and - if you're good on mountains - consider a hike up Ben Nevis, where you'll get spectacular views of the Cairngorms, the peaks of Wester Ross and out over the sea to the Wester Isles. But do make sure you're properly equipped for the climb.

 

 

 


Pictures

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