FORT WILLIAM, Scotland (Reuters) - Often voted the world’s greatest train journey, the voyage from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig in the Scottish highlands defies superlatives thanks to its stunning views and wild landscapes.
Several of the stations have no villages to accompany them, they are just stopping off points for hikers or skiers. But it is not all wilderness, with Fort William a decent-sized town packed with food and drink options.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a weekend trip in the area.
12:21 p.m. - Don’t even think about driving, the train is the only way to go on the near four-hour trip from Glasgow Queen Street to Fort William. Just sit back, relax and take in the breathtaking scenery (www.scotrail.co.uk/).
Glasgow - the perfect arrival point by air - is a large industrial city but still has its charms, especially George Square adjacent to the train station. Pick up some snacks for your journey nearby.
The modest train heads out of the city and along the Clyde river before turning and heading into the mountains, passing the famously idyllic Loch Lomond.
2:30 p.m. - Grab a drink from the frequent trolley which makes its way through the carriages as the train rattles past evocative sounding stations like Bridge of Orchy and Corrour, the highest railway station in Britain.
At 408 meters above sea level, there is nothing at Corrour except one station building, swamps, towering hills and wild deer. There is not even a proper road.
4:09 p.m. - The train trundles into Fort William with Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis, 1,344 meters high in the background. The town on a lake is full of small guest houses but also has bigger chain hotels like the always comfortable Premier Inn (www.premierinn.com).
7 p.m. - A walk down Fort William’s High Street, with the mountain breeze coming in off the lake, will freshen you up ready for dinner.
There are numerous options including decent Indian and Chinese restaurants but to sample some of the local cuisine, head to a pub like the Grog and Gruel (www.grogandgruel.co.uk), which serves Scottish classics like smoked salmon but with a twist. The selection of local beers is also huge.
10 a.m. - Breakfast at your hotel and if you do not fancy the long climb up Ben Nevis, then it is back to the train station - this time for a shorter two-and-a-half-hour round trip to the small coastal port of Mallaig.
12:12 p.m. - The train sets off around the loch for a picture perfect view of Ben Nevis with Fort William beneath.
The best is yet to come through with the train heading to Glenfinnan, site of the mainland invasion by British monarch pretender “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in 1745. A monument visible from the train marks the spot on the banks of Loch Shiel, with stunning mountains rising up out of the water on both sides.
Harry Potter fans will recognize the viaduct at Glenfinnan from its use in the blockbuster films when the “Hogwarts Express” passes over, and such is the beauty of the place that the train crew will hand out free postcards detailing the view.
1:34 p.m. - Mallaig is a sleepy seaside town where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye, but ignore the actual harbor at your peril. For in the shallow waters live a family of seals who often pop up to say hello.
A small handful of eateries are available for lunch in Mallaig including the An Cala cafe, which offers wifi and delightful scones plus a late Scottish breakfast cooked to order.
4:05 p.m. - After a wander round the small windswept harbor trying to catch a glimpse of that elusive seal, it is time to get back on board the train and retrace the route back to Fort William, crucial if you missed any photographs on the way there.
8 p.m. - Back in Fort William there is plenty of choice for a second dinner, with two large supermarkets belying the remote setting for those who are self-catering.
11:40 a.m. - After a Scottish breakfast which differs from the English variety with the addition of black or white pudding (cooked blood with a meat and oatmeal filler), it is back to Fort William station one last time for the trip back to Glasgow.
Make sure to sit on the opposite side of the train from your trip up in case you missed something like a sheer rock face, plunging stream or a group of wild deer led by the most elegant of stags, antlers and all.
1 p.m. - Grab a sandwich and a surprisingly decent bottle of wine from the drinks trolley as the marvelous mountain countryside rolls on by. The trip is nearly over so savor every last look.
3:31 p.m. - You arrive back in Glasgow with plenty of time to catch a flight home and take a quick flick through your photos as you remember a journey of a lifetime.
Editing by Paul Casciato