Jacobite Express Steam Train traversing Glenfinnan Viaduct.

This morning, we departed our Inverness lodgings and drive south, down Scotland’s Great Glen (valley) with first stop about half way down Loch Ness at Castle Urquhart.

Castle Urquhart

Castle Urquhart, Loch Ness

This site attracts high volumes of tourist visitors as it provides an excellent platform for viewing Loch Ness and its elusive monster.This is a quality site with much to offer including a short, introductory film, refreshment facilities, gift shop and stunning views over the Loch.

Loch Ness (North) from Castle Urquhart.

There has been a fortification on the site for about 1500 years, dating back to Pictish times. Like the vast majority of surviving stone castles in the British Isles, Urquhart has its genesis in the 13th century. Initially under control of Alan Durward the castle was extended by the powerful Comyns after 1275. Subsequent milestones:

  • Oscillated between English and Scottish control during the 14th century Wars of Independence.
  • Post 1390, the threat came from the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles in the West of Scotland.
  • Captured by the MacDonalds in 1452 but regained by the Scottish Crown four years later.
  • Plundered by MacDonald clansmen in 1544-5
  • Partly blown up by defenders at time of Jacobite uprising in 1689 to prevent opponents gaining advantage.
  • Subsequently a deteriorating and romantic ruin.

The facilities of this once great castle were extensive and included:

  • Ditch and drawbridge.
  • Gatehouse
  • Guard Room
  • Constable’s Lodging
  • Water Gate
  • Outer Close
  • Chapel
  • Great Hall
  • Inner Close
  • Grant Tower, as shown below. This is the most prominent feature and named after the Grant family who held the castle in the early 16th century.

The Grant Tower below attracts many visitors who climb the narrow stairs to the top to benefit from the stunning views over the loch.

Loch Ness (South) from Grant Tower.

Next, we continued south to Fort Augustus which sits at the location where the Caledonian Canal joins Loch Ness.

Fort Augustus

  • Population about 650 persons.
  • Distance, about 160 miles from Edinburgh and 35 miles south from Inverness entailing journey times of 3.5 hours and 1 hour respectively.
  • Well endowed with hotels and other accommodation plus shops, restaurants and visitor attractions.
  • From here visitors can avail of boat trips on Loch Ness.
  • Home to an impressive flight of five locks on the Caledonian Canal. Latter dates from 1822 and is now primarily used by pleasure boats. Designed by famous Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford.
  • Closely linked with the 18th century Jacobite uprising in that (a) the village was renamed Fort Augustus (after Prince William Augustus, third son of King George II) consequent upon construction of a British military (redcoat) fort in 1742 and (b) the same Prince William (Duke of Cumberland) was head of the army which defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746, about 40 miles to the north.

Our arrival coincided with a number of boats passing through the flight of locks on the canal to enter Loch Ness.

Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus.

Boats exiting the Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus

Next, we continued south towards Fort William with brief stop at the Commando Monument, Spean Bridge.

Commando Monument

Commando Monument, Spean Bridge.

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge was unveiled  in 1952. It was erected to commemorate a unit of British special forces who were raised during WW2 and trained in the area from 1942 onwards.

The monument is made of cast bronze and was sculpted by Scott Sutherland ( 1910-1984).

Spean Bridge is some 8 miles N.W.of Fort William.

The monument is set on a prominent location which offers good views of the Nevis Range of mountains, including Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.

Mountains from Commando Monument.

Next, we moved on, through Fort William to Glenfinnan.


Summary information as follows:

  • Name: Derived from ‘Fingon’s Glen’. Fingon was an Abbot of Iona in the 14th century. There is also a connection with the surname Mackinnon.  Today, Glenfinnan is famous for (a) the landing-place of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and (b) the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct over which trundles the Jacobite Express Steam Train during the summer months.
  • Glenfinnan Viaduct: Built 1897-1898 as part of the West Highland Railway which opened in 1901. Construction was undertaken by ‘Concrete Bob’ McAlpine who was an early proponent of the then new construction material of concrete. The viaduct, has twenty-one arches, reaches a height of thirty metres (98 feet) and is 380 metres (1248 feet) in length.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

  • Filming: The location has become famous for filming, particularly the Harry Potter series following which the viaduct has become unofficially known as the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’ .
  • Loch Shiel: A 28 km ( 17.5 miles) long lake at the northern  head of which stands the Glenfinnan Monument.

Loch Shiel

  • Glenfinnan Monument:This  dates from 1815 and was constructed to commemorate the landing of Bonnie Prince Charlie in August 1745 in an ultimately doomed attempt to win back by force the thrones of Scotland and England for the Stewart cause. The Monument is 18m (60 feet) high and is surmounted by a statue of a kilted highlander.The Monument is now cared for by Scotland’s National Trust.
  • Jacobite Express: This steam train service operates from May to October over the line between Fort William and Mallaig, a 134 km (84 mile) round trip which has been described as one of the world’s great railway journeys. The train is very popular with fans of the Harry Potter series where the train was used as the Hogwarts Express.

Finally, we returned to Fort William and our lodgings for the night. Tomorrow we tour the West Coast.

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