We couldn’t believe our luck when, perched on a windswept hillside overlooking the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, we began to hear the distant clacking of a train over the pitter-patter of drizzle.
Arriving at the scenic spot in the midst of a whistlestop tour of Lochaber, we had no idea whether the steam engine, known to Harry Potter fans as the Hogwarts Express, was running – let alone what time it might puff its way across the picturesque bridge.
But while admiring the stunning structure and its dramatic mountain backdrop, an image straight out of Hollywood appeared before us as the train emerged from the mist with clouds of steam trailing behind.
The Mecca for Potter fans is increasingly popular (while we were there, work was taking place on a new car park doubling capacity at the landmark) but it is just one of dozens of options for visitors to the west Highlands.
An hour or so later I would find myself standing in the middle of a boat gently swaying from side to side in the Knoydart peninsula, having ventured to the middle of the deck to get that perfect photograph.
But when the views are as spectacular as those offered during the trip aboard the Western Isles Cruises vessel as it sets sail from Mallaig harbour – with the isles of Skye, Rum and Eigg dominating the horizon – it is worth putting up with some unsteady footing and the odd lashing of sea spray to capture the moment.
Western Isles Cruises offers a variety of tours, but the most popular – and best for those wanting to pack plenty into the day – is the one-hour wildlife cruise.
As well as the breathtaking panoramas, other highlights included a visit to a rocky outcrop occupied by a colony of seals and a sighting of a passing pod of porpoises cresting above the surface in unison.
It was mostly a relaxing amble across the waves, with daily sessions at 12.45pm and 5pm from April to October to fit around train times costing only £13 each for adults (with children and dogs allowed on board for free).
Upon returning to dry land, there are several seaside diners for visitors to pop into to warm up.
We opted for the Tea Garden Café, which boasted an impressive offering of local seafood to complement the nautical theme of the décor inside, along with some delicious baked goods. It is a good idea to leave plenty of time for driving between destinations. If you are anything like me, your eye will constantly be caught by the amazing vistas and you will want to pull over to admire them and grab a quick photo.
It seemed like around every corner there was another stunning sight – often accompanied by another shift in the ever-changing weather conditions.
Mountains cloaked in gloomy grey clouds one moment would be glowing gold in autumn sunshine the next.
We brought the day to a close by taking in the sunset at the Commando Memorial statue at Spean Bridge, and admiring the magnificent panoramic views of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor afforded from the hilltop viewpoint.
My base for this recent whizz around Lochaber was the Stronlossit Inn, nestled among the Grampian range in Roybridge, a lovely hotel which is ideally located within easy reaching distance of a number of attractions such as the Highland Wildlife Park, Glencoe and the Ben Nevis and Dalwhinnie distilleries.
Arriving there on a rainswept Thursday at the end of October, we spent the evening plotting how to make the most of the Friday in the comfortable hotel room before heading downstairs for dinner.
The food at the Stronlossit is undoubtedly its greatest strength – and a peek in the guest book confirmed that other guests felt the same way, with many going out of their way to praise the quality fare.
We would later learn that the hotel is being looked after solely by husband and wife duo Gabriel and Oana Burdea – with Gabriel serving the meals prepared by Oana. This certainly gave the place a homely feel.
Staying in a hotel in the midst of a global pandemic can be an unusual experience. And it was made bittersweet by the fact there were no other guests there during our two-night stay.
It is clear the hospitality industry is doing all it can to operate carefully and ensure its survival, and we felt safe at all times with the appropriate Covid-19 safety measures in place.
Gabriel and Oana told us they were planning to redecorate the hotel during its closure between December and February, so they are clearly looking ahead to a better 2021.
And for anyone else planning to get away from it all next year by exploring Scotland, I couldn’t recommend a better place to do it.
With so much to see and do, I will make it a longer stay next time.
- The Stronlossit Inn Roybridge, Fort William PH31 4AG
- Call: 01397 712253
- Visit: www.stronlossit.co.uk
- The hotel is offering two nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast for £119 per person or three nights for £159 per person until 30 April.