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What to do if the Jacobite Steam Train is cancelled

What to do if the Jacobite Steam Train is cancelled

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If you’re booked to go on the Jacobite Steam Train, you may be wondering if your journey will go ahead. The latest update from West Coast Railways is that the Jacobite will be operating in 2024- although with a reduced daily timetable and less carriages than usual. For a service that is usually fully booked over the summer months, this raises the question of whether all customers will be accommodated. So what should you do if you’re caught out? My advice is don’t let this stop you from visiting this gorgeous region- have a backup plan in case your booking is affected. Never fear, because I have two excellent solutions for you.

The train journey on the West Highland Line from Fort William to Mallaig has been made legendary by the heritage Jacobite Steam Train. The journey weaves through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery, following a similar route to the Road to the Isles- an iconic drive that takes you from the Scottish Highlands to the west coast.

Recently, there has been some anxiety over whether or not the Jacobite Steam Train will operate due to issues with its door-locking system. Recently I visited this area seeking solutions- is Mallaig and the surrounding area still worth visiting if the Jacobite Steam Train isn’t running? Or should travellers go elsewhere? What I discovered is the Road To The Isles is a thriving foodie destination, with passionate and entrepreneurial locals, and some of the most glorious scenery in the Scottish Highlands.

In this travel guide, I provide two options: a different train that operates the same line as the Jacobite, and a self-drive option. Both are excellent alternatives and if possible, I encourage you to spend at least three full days here.

There is so much more to this picturesque region than Harry Potter- and I encourage you to spend a few days in this area lapping up the beautiful scenery, bright white sands, craggy coastline, and starry skies.

This article is sponsored by Road To The Isles, the official destination marketing organisation for this part of the West Highlands of Scotland.

Planning Your Trip

I have created a map with all the attractions mentioned in this article. You’ll find it at the end of this post!

Solution 1: Catch the Scotrail Train to Mallaig instead

The Scotrail train stopped at the Glenfinnan Station

Did you know that Scotrail operates the exact same route from Fort William to Mallaig?

On this journey you will cross the mighty Glenfinnan Viaduct before passing through the historic Glenfinnan Station, all the while experiencing Scotland’s most scenic railway. While the experience of riding a heritage train is fun, the star of the show is undoubtedly the scenery- which is exactly the same no matter which train you board.

There are also a few benefits to taking the Scotrail train instead:

  • This train is quicker- it takes just 1 hr 23 minutes
  • Scotrail trains have larger windows, for a better view of the scenery
  • A greater number of trains operate this route (four trains per day in each direction Mon-Sat, and three trains on Sundays)
  • You can spend more time exploring Mallaig and the surrounding area

Purchase your tickets when they become available on the Scotrail website 12 weeks in advance. Do not leave it too late as there will be many passengers who were travelling on the Jacobite switching to the Scotrail service.

>> Book your Scotrail train tickets

Things to do in Mallaig

The village of Mallaig

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that the train journey is the main attraction- in reality, there are plenty of fun experiences to be had once you disembark the train. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do in and around Mallaig.

Take a boat trip to ‘Europe’s Last Wilderness’

 Inverie village on the remote Knoydart peninsula

Western Isles Cruises has a variety of boat trips departing from the marina, but surely one of the best trips you can take is to the Knoydart Peninsula, known as ‘Europe’s Last Wilderness.’

Visit Inverie, the lone village on the Knoydart Peninsula that is only accessible by boat or an arduous 18-mile hike on foot. Enjoy a dram at Scotland’s most remote pub- The Old Forge. The pub is community-owned, serving the 120 residents and travellers who venture to this remote part of the world.

The trip to Inverie takes 30 – 45 minutes in each direction.

There are sailing trips that line up with train departure times, so you’ll be back in time for your train back to Fort William.

Wildlife Boat Cruise

Western Isles Cruises also has wildlife tours; there is a 1-hour Wildlife Tour and a Canna Puffin Tour that is 3.5 hours. On these trips you’ll have the chance to spot orcas, basking sharks, minke whales, dolphins, porpoise and seals.

Visit the Mallaig Heritage Centre

The Mallaig Heritage Centre

Situated adjacent to the railway station, the Mallaig Heritage Centre is a rich repository of stories, movies, artefacts, and exhibitions, collectively narrating the history of West Lochaber, its inhabitants, and its scenery.

A snapshot of history

The area encompassing Mallaig, Arisaig, Morar and Moidart in Ardnamurchan is known as The Rough Bounds (An Garbh Chriochan). Up until the beginning of the 1900s, it was one of the least-visited areas of the British mainland, only accessible by an arduous hike through the glens or by sea. This is most likely why Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped here after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden, to sail over the sea to the Isle of Skye.

Visit the West Highland Tea Company

The new West Highland Tea Company studio

The West Highland Tea Company shop is located across from the train station, and a must-visit for tea lovers. The shop is owned by local Rachael, who after travelling the world, came home to set up her tea shop.

The ingredients for her teas are sourced from all over the world and include a range of special blends, which are Rachael’s own unique recipes – such as Sleepy Ewe, Munro Blend, West Highland Earl Grey and the Highland Fling Tea which are hand blended in Mallaig.  

The West Highland Tea Company shop also stocks a variety of gifts and products (many with a tea theme). It’s a fun wee gift shop

This spring, a brand new tea studio and shop is opening just around the corner- so you can sit down and enjoy a brew while watching Rachael and her team at work!

Glenfinnan Candles

The West Highland Tea Company also stocks Glenfinnan Candles– one of my new favourite candle ranges! Inspired by her home region of Lochaber, these candles are handmade by Fiona on the shores of Loch Shiel. My favourite scents are Bothy Nights and Ceilidh.

You can also buy her candles via her website.

Bloom and Graze

The Bloom and Graze horse box and one of their Graze Boxes

Visiting Bloom and Graze was a highlight of my time in Mallaig. Located in a horse box, this colourful ‘grab and go’ eatery is a must visit for coffee, toasties, traybakes and ‘Graze boxes’- which contain a variety of fresh Scottish produce and artisan foods.

Recommendations: Order a Graze Box to enjoy on the train journey back to Fort William, or at your accommodation. I also recommend the Crunchie and Bounty traybakes- absolutely delicious!

Buy pastries from The Bakehouse & Crannog

The Bakehouse might just have the tastiest pastries in Scotland. I heard about this bakery from several people before my trip to Mallaig, and it certainly lived up to its reputation!

Located next to the harbour, enjoy a coffee and a croissant while looking out to the boats bobbing on the water.

Also be sure to try one of the daily bread specials- and if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, take some away to enjoy later.

Next door to the bakery is home to the ‘Crannog’ pizza takeaway, where you can enjoy artisan pizzas like no other. Be quick or order ahead as they are a sell-out!

Recommendations: Try the sourdough bread- it’s unbelievable!

Mallaig Art Gallery and Shop

The Mallaig Art Gallery

Are you looking for something unique to remind you of your trip to Scotland? Then be sure to call into the Mallaig Art Gallery and Shop.

They sell beautiful artwork from local Scottish artists and further afield in the UK. They also sell jewellery from local Scottish designers.

Recommendations: They have a wonderful selection of art by Ron Lawson- I especially love his puffin prints!

The Fish Market Deli


The Fish Market Deli on Station Road sells a selection of fresh seafood sourced from all around Scotland.

Owner Caroline hails from three generations of fisherpeople from Mallaig; her grandparents were fishers, her parents owned the Fish Market Restaurant, and now Caroline has converted the restaurant into a deli.

There is also a cafe above the deli, where you can enjoy coffee and cake.

In the summer they will be introducing takeaway barbecue trays for visitors to take away and enjoy!

Restaurants in Mallaig

If you’re looking to sit down and have a meal, I recommend The Tea Garden Cafe and the West Highland Hotel.

Lunch at The Tea Garden; Dinner at the West Highland Hotel

Solution 2: Drive the Road To The Isles

Driving the romantic Road to The Isles has been on my bucket list for years, and recently I made this magnificent journey and it lived up to every expectation.

The drive begins in Fort William and takes in Glenfinnan, Lochailort, Arisaig, Morar, and Mallaig. You can continue onwards to the Small Isles (Canna, Muck, Rum and Eigg) and Inverie (Knoydart) by taking a boat trip from the marinas in Arisaig and Mallaig.

The drive follows a similar route to the train; in fact, the West Highland Line will accompany you on much of your journey.

It takes just one hour to drive, however, take your time because there is plenty to see along the route.

Prince Charlie’s Cairn

Travelling this route by car means you have more freedom to stop and explore winding roads and hidden gems. The only issue with travelling by car is that because the villages of Morar, Arisaig and Mallaig are small, finding a place to park can be an issue, particularly in the summer months.

Please be respectful when parking your vehicle- and only park in designated parking areas.

I encourage you to spend at least three nights in this area, as there really is a lot to see and do. It’s also one of the best places in Scotland to slow down and immerse yourself in nature; there’s an abundance of white sandy beaches to explore, walks, and wildlife to spot- so don’t rush. Slow down, and reconnect on the Road to the Isles.

>> Hiring a car? Car hire is available in Fort William and also locally from Morar Motors.

Things to see and do on the Road To The Isles

Glenfinnan Monument and Visitor Centre

The Glenfinnan Monument with Loch Shiel in the background

The Glenfinnan Visitor Centre is well worth a visit, and helps to tell one of Scotland’s most significant moments in history: the Raising of the Prince’s Standard which signalled the start of the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

The visitor centre is located next to the Glenfinnan Monument, a monument dedicated to the brave men and women who fought and died for the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A model of the Raising of the Prince’s Standard

There is also another popular reason to visit this location- it’s also the location of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by the Harry Potter movies.

The Visitor Centre is free to visit, and has a wonderful gift shop with all proceeds going to the National Trust of Scotland.

Loch Shiel is one of Scotland’s most historically significant and unspoiled natural treasures and you can enjoy a cruise where it is possible to view Golden Eagles, White Tailed Eagles, Red Throated Divers, Hen Harriers, Red Deer plus a wide variety of other wildlife, while learning the History and Geology of this special, remote and unspoiled part of the Highlands of Scotland.

Glenfinnan Coffee Co


Glenfinnan Coffee is surely the coffee cart with the best view in Scotland. Situated in a horse box next to the famous Saint Mary and Saint Finnan Church, be sure to stop in here for a caffeine fix.

Grab a coffee for the road or relax and take in the views of the church and Loch Shiel.

Things to do in Arisaig

Arisaig

Go on a boat trip to see the Small Isles

A trip down the Road to the Isles isn’t complete without visiting some of the neighbouring islands, and luckily Arisaig Marina has several boat trips that visit the islands of Rum, Muck, Eigg, Canna and the Isle of Skye.

Arisaig Marina offer both landing and non-landing trips to a variety of destinations.

There is also a cafe and gift shop at the marina that sells some lovely pieces- including artwork by Hope Blamire.

The gift shop at Arisaig Marina

Over the sea to Skye

For those of you who would like to visit the Isle of Skye, Arisaig Marine has the Loch Coruisk & the Black Cuillins boat trip, which visits the west side of the island. The boat lands for three hours, giving you ample time to explore.

Visit the Land, Sea and Islands Centre

The Land, Sea and Islands Centre

The Land, Sea and Islands Centre is a heritage centre in Arisaig, documenting the social, cultural and natural history of the area.

Run by local volunteers, the Land, Sea and Islands Centre is located in the old smiddy (blacksmiths) and offers a fascinating insight as to what living in Arisaig was like across the centuries.

During my visit, I was engrossed in the library collection, which features records and books about the history and geology of Arisaig. I could have easily poured through the books all day, reading about the role the village played in history.

The centre also has a great wee gift shop which sells books and gifts, including locally made jewellery.

Dine at The Old Library Lodge

The Old Library Lodge

The Old Library is a traditional lodge and restaurant located on the waterfront.

Dinner at The Old Library was a highlight for me. Picture this: an intimate setting surrounded by white-washed stone walls with a roaring fireplace, and sea views from some of the tables.

I tried the Isle of Skye lamb followed by the cheesecake and both were delicious!

The Old Library also has comfortable bed and breakfast accommodation.

Dinner at The Old Library

Grab lunch at Sound Bites Cafe

This cheesecake is delicious!

Sound Bites Cafe is a quirky cafe on the main street in Arisaig; the walls proudly display many signed records by famous artists including Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, AC/DC, and more!

Recommendations: Try the yummy Biscoff cheesecake and their famous stacked burgers.

Things to do in Morar

Loch Morar

Morar is a wonderfully wild hidden gem tucked between Arisaig and Mallaig.

One of the best places to reconnect with nature and just be is Loch Morar, known as the West Coast’s best-kept secret and deepest body of freshwater in the British Isles. This tranquil loch is a walkers paradise; follow the road that runs alongside the north of the loch. This WalkHighlands guide is a good one to follow.

Take a pair of binoculars with you on your walk; you’re likely to spot a variety of birdlife and wildlife, including otters, red deer, and sea eagles. One unforgettable moment I had was when a heron flew right above me!

Recommended Accommodation

The view from Litua near Arisaig

There is a variety of accommodation to choose from. To see a variety of options, visit the Road to the Isles website. Here are some of my recommendations on where to stay:

  • West Highland Hotel (Mallaig) – Located in the heart of the village, the West Highland Hotel is a beautifully decorated restaurant and hotel with a wide variety of rooms for all budgets. Rooms start at just £90 per night- and there is a new set of luxury apartments, complete with hot tubs with sea views!
  • Litua (Arisaig) – If you’re looking for a luxury self-catering property with beach views, Litua is the perfect choice. Litua is located on an active croft, and is a short walk from several stunning beaches. The house sleeps 6. They also have a static caravan that sleeps four, which can be booked alongside the house. There are plans to build a one-bedroom apartment on the caravan site.

The West Highland Hotel in Mallaig

Map of attractions

Have I inspired you to explore the Road to the Isles?

For more information follow @RoadtotheIsles on Facebook and visit roadtotheisles.com to plan your west coast adventure!

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