Glenfinnan Viaduct


The trail:

  • Location: Scotland
  • Categories: Summer / Autumn / Highland / Mountain / Coastal / Wood / Rural / Lake / River
  • Duration: 3-4 Hours
  • Distance: 7.5 miles

Walking the trail:

  • Summary: Visit the magical Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous from the Harry Potter films. Watch the Jacobite steam train make its crossing then head into the valley beyond to make this trip a good Scottish countryside hike rather than just a tourist attraction visit. Really not to be missed if visiting Scotland's highlands.

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Ever wanted to see the famous Hogwarts Express railway viaduct bridge featured in the films? (Minus Harry Potter hanging out of a flying car) Well you can quite easily see it and for free!  Free you say!...keep reading...

This trail located north west of Fort William in Scotland was one of my favourite walks during a recent trip to Scotland in September 2020.

One downside (for me personally) to visiting places like this is that it is obviously a prime tourist location. Trying to park in the main visitor centre carpark is likely to be challenging!

When visiting tourist locations like this I always try and avoid the tourist infrastructure side of it and plan a hiking route that allows you to safely park away from the chaos allowing you to visit the location as part of a bigger trail. This isn't always possible with some scenic locations but here was pretty perfect as a multiday trail called the Knoydart Trail runs straight past the Viaduct northwards winding through a mountain valley.

There is a big free parking layby about half a mile past the Glenfinnan railway station where you can easily park and walk down to the station. This is where you pick up the main tourist trail which takes you up to multiple viewing areas of the viaduct on its western side. You get some great views of the viaduct with the mountains behind so is well worth walking. If you're clever you can time your trip to see the Jacobite steam train that runs between Fort William and Mallaig every day. A train you can book and ride, classed as one of the most scenic railway routes in the world. Having driven between Fort William and Mallaig I can definitely confirm this to be very true. Link to the train schedule and booking below:

From here you walk down to the base of the viaduct and this is where the main tourist walk will take you back to the main visitor centre or train station carpark. 

However, this trail heads north through the mountain valley keeping left of the river Finnan. (following the Knoydart trail) This valley walk is pretty stunning and quickly feels pretty remote as the river gets bigger and louder and buzzards can be seen flying overhead high up in the mountain slopes. 

After a mile and a half, you cross a small wooden planked suspended bridge which is exciting and good fun to cross. Beware Its a tad wobbly and does not conform to modern health and safety measures, but is perfectly safe! Once across the bridge you head back south on the other side of the river. You come to a part which turns left and winds uphill which I will describe as the "secret" viaduct viewing route! This winds you up a fair bit of elevation (600ft) along a wooded path. Once it opens at the top you will have a fabulous view looking back down to the viaduct and the river Shiel behind.

I timed myself for the 3.15pm(ish) return journey of the Jacobite from Mallaig which was well worth it. I could see across the valley to the tourist viewpoints which were super busy (I have a long-range zoom lens!) and I was sat enjoying a different perspective.

You retrace your steps, cross over the bridge and head back to the railway station and to where you parked. There is a small dusty railway museum at the station should you want to visit for more history on the station and location.

The route altogether come to just under 8 miles. It's a great little adventure full of movie sights, mountains, rivers, bridge crossings and much more. I'm quite keen to explore more of the Knoydart trail in the near future as this valley walk looks like a hidden gem of a walk. maybe next year!

If you're interested in walking this route, feel free to message for more information.

GPX route also available.