The first time I went to Doune Castle, in Stirlingshire, I was conflicted between my love of history and castles and my interest in Monty Python, the castle having featured in the Holy Grail. I’ve been back several times since and the castle love wins just about every time. I had the same sort of sense in Glenfinnan last weekend. I am a history buff, a lover of beautiful scenery, a train nerd, a very proud Scot and a Harry Potter fan.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct, which I crossed on a Scotrail train the following day, is a beautiful piece of engineering, certainly, and it conveys regular passenger services as well as steam trains, though it is probably best known for featuring in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was the architecture for me, though, and nary a thought of a flying Ford Anglia crossed my mind. We walked up a path and there were a right few folk of many nationalities heading the same way to get photos. I got my own pictures and looked for a moment. I wasn’t thinking so much, instead just drinking in the scenery, letting my eyes follow the lines of the viaduct and the hills beyond.
By Loch Shiel stands the monument to the 1745 Jacobite rising. Charles Edward Stuart landed at Loch nan Uamh, near Arisaig, and his standard was raised at Glenfinnan. I get irritated at how Scottish history gets reduced to certain events and certain people, mainly men. It gets too romantic, losing nuance along the way. Glenfinnan is a busy place mainly because of the romantic history though it has a great beauty beyond the tartan stuff. The monument stands at the head of the loch and it is a dramatic vista, best appreciated behind the monument where you can’t see the bloody thing. We sat there for a few minutes, looking up the loch and letting the peace drop slow. It was possible to shut out the road noise and even the steady stream of others nearby getting their photos. A bit of Zen, right there.
Reaching Glenfinnan the next day, my train stopped by the Jacobite steam train. Many of my fellow passengers turned to the window and took photos of the train. I wasn’t fussed. I was just looking forward to crossing the viaduct, being able to appreciate the sweep of the landscape from a wonder of Scottish engineering. The scenic, beautiful and functional, all there in varying measures, all to be quickly seen before the gaze turns with the next bend. It’s why I love trains, Scotland and history and all at the same time I could be a lover of all of them at the same time.