Glenfinnan is a village in the Western Highlands of Scotland, between Fort William and Mallaig (ferry port for Skye and the Small Isles). Standing at the head of Loch Shiel, it's famous as the place where "Bonnie Prince Charlie" launched his 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The railway to Mallaig here sweeps over the valley on the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct, used as a location in several films and TV series. The viaduct also features on the Bank of Scotland's (2007 series) £10 note.
Glenfinnan is on the West Highland Railway, with trains operated by ScotRail. Four trains a day (one on Sunday in winter, two in summer) run from Glasgow Queen Street via Arrochar (for Loch Lomond), Crianlarich and Fort William to Glenfinnan, continuing to Arisaig and Mallaig. These trains split at Crianlarich, with part of them going to Oban, so you need to be in the right section. An adult day return from Fort William to Glenfinnan is about £7.
The Jacobite steam train runs April-Oct between Fort William and Mallaig. It's a six-hour excursion (depart 10:15, return by 16:00) which stops briefly at Glenfinnan for photos. An adult day trip is £38 standard, £60 first class, child £21 / £33; single tickets (standard only) are £32 adult, £19 child. Mid-May to mid-Sept there's also an afternoon train (14:30 - 20:30). The morning excursion connects with the Caledonian Sleeper from London.
Glenfinnan station is off the main road at the western edge of the village: it's been prettified into a museum (May-Oct daily 09:00-17:00) including the signal box. A sleeping car has been converted into a bunkhouse, sleeps up to ten. A dining car offers light refreshments.
A walking trail leads from the station to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, half a mile east. You only get a brief view of the viaduct from the train (although it will be going slowly at this point), but sit on the left of the westbound train for the best views of the viaduct, the Glenfinnan Monument and down the loch.
Glenfinnan stands on the "Road to the Isles" A830. Fort William (junction with A82) is 17 miles east, Mallaig is 25 miles west.
Glenfinnan is on two bus routes from Fort William, operated by Shiel Buses. The journey takes 30 mins; an adult return is £4.30. Bus 500 to Mallaig runs four times a day Monday-Friday, but only once on Saturday and Sunday. Bus 502 to Acharacle only runs once a day Monday-Saturday.
Glenfinnan is a small village and it is possible to walk everywhere. There is a track that runs from the top of the village to the bottom, named the back track. It has a foot bridge in the middle and is therefore only accessible by foot. There is now a pavement on the main road from the very top of the village at Tor An Eas, to the bottom, at the National Trust for Scotland.
Car parks: National Trust for Scotland (for a daily fee of £3) at the visitor centre the car park at the bottom of the glen (turn right instead of left into the village at the crossroads), and both hotels also have their own car parks. On busy days, there is a shortage of car parking in the village.
The train station is at the top of the village, with the main bus stop's at the station road entrance (beside the red phone box) or at the crossroads at the bottom of the village. Make sure you hail the buses to stop.
- 1 Glenfinnan Viaduct. Magnificent 21-arched concrete railway viaduct, opened 1901, curling round the valley at the head of the loch. There is a viewing platform above the car park at the visitor centre which can be reached in about 5 minutes walk. For a better view use the free car park further up the route, then 15 to 20 mins walk takes you under then behind the viaduct, giving a nice close up view. Both paths are mapped out on signs in front of the visitor centre as are times of the passing steam trains.
Films that have used this location include Ring of Bright Water, Charlotte Gray, Monarch of the Glen, Stone of Destiny and (endlessly) the Harry Potter series. But they don't include Stand by Me so please do not walk onto the viaduct! It's an active railway line, you're trespassing and you might get squished.
There's a legend that a horse and cart tumbled into one of the pylons during construction and became entombed. Extensive modern imaging failed to detect it, but in 2001 it was found in another viaduct 15 miles west, at Loch nan Uamh.
- 2 Glenfinnan Monument. In 1745 "'Bonnie Prince Charlie" crossed from France to try to reclaim the throne for his father James, who'd tried himself and failed in 1715. Charles landed first in the Western Isles then came to the mainland with a force of some 1000 men. On 19 Aug he launched his uprising here by raising his "royal" banner - that of the Catholic Stuart dynasty, who'd been deposed by the Protestant Hanoverians.
His force grew, marched on and occupied Edinburgh unopposed. He quickly routed a counter-attack at Prestonpans, then set off into England again unopposed and with hopes high. Everything was going so well, how could they fail? Some 15 miles west of Glenfinnan is "The Prince's Cairn", where in Sept 1746 Charles finally fled into exile in France, with his cause lost forever, his supporters slain in battle or put to death, and the Highlands suffering harsh military reprisals.
- Loch Shiel is a 17-mile-long fjord - a valley carved out by glaciers that used to be an inlet of the sea, but dammed by glacial rubble to become a fresh-water loch. There are boat trips on the loch and walks on the forestry trails beside it - look for otters and eagles. The wooded islets contain remnants of Scotland's primeval forest. None of the surrounding hills count as "Munroes" but several are "Corbetts".
Glenfinnan is in an area of hills, loch and beautiful scenery. Here are a few recommended walks:
- The Village: from the red phone box on the main road, start towards the top of the village, but take the first right down a bumpy track. This is the "backtrack". Follow the path down and across the foot bridge. When you reach the tarmac road, turn right and follow the road to the pier. At the pier, take the shore path to the left, and you will end up at the Glenfinnan House Hotel. Walk across the front of the lawn, and you will find yourself upon the road again. Straight across the road, there is a footpath leading up to the church. You will have to cross someone's drive to carry on here. At the church there is a fantastic view of the loch. At the church car park, and the main road, you can either take a right down to the bottom of the village and the glen, or take a left to take you back to the top of the village. The main road in the village is single track and has some beautiful little beaches if you just step off the road.
- The Loch: from the Monument take the path left around the loch to come onto its east shore. An old bridge takes you over the River Callop where there's a choice of routes. You could go east, inland, on the trail besides that river up towards Callop village and glen. Or stay on the lochside heading south, using the Forestry dirt road that goes all the way to Polloch. Further trails ascend above Polloch towards Strontian on Loch Sunart: this would be a serious expedition with an overnight bivvy.
- The Glen: park at the foot of the glen. There's a tarmac road up the glen but only the residents up there may drive it. The road leads under the viaduct, and parallels the river up as far as the bothy, 4 miles, before giving out into hill trails. Various swimming spots and views along the way.
Loch Shiel at the foot of the village is a good place to swim. It's rocky and shallow to begin with, then widens with a sandy bottom. Strong swimmers can get to the island and back. Obvious but please remember: it's fresh water so you don't float as well as in the sea. And it's not as warm as it looks, especially in early summer when the water temperature takes a month or two to follow the air temperature, so it's still March in there.
The River Finnan, up the glen, is quieter and has pools to splosh in.
- Glenfinnan Gathering and Highland Games are held annually on the August weekend closest to the 19th, the anniversary of Bonnie Prince Charlie launching his uprising. The next will be on Sat 18 Aug 2018. Games involve athletics, wrestling, piping and dancing, caber-tossing, and much swirling of kilts. The event is held on Jacobite Monument Field, prominent on the left as you enter the village coming from Fort William. The event starts at 11:30 and goes on till 5pm, with a hill race in the afternoon. Later that evening there is the Games Dance.
- Glenfinnan Fun Day: family-oriented event usually held in June each year on the lawn of Glenfinnan House Hotel. Sports, wacky races, games & slides, local produce stalls. The date of the 2019 event has not been announced.
Glenfinnan has no grocery shops (nearest: Corpach, 12 miles in the direction of Fort William), clubs or bank machines, although many places do accept credit cards as payment.
- There is a shop at the National Trust for Scotland, selling souvenirs, books, post cards and other miscellaneous items.
- There is a small shop at the Station Museum on the platform at Glenfinnan Station.
- There is a candle shop at the top of the village (opposite the Prince's House), selling all kinds from the best midge candles in the area (and very handy they are too!) to gorgeous scented candles, all hand made on the premises.
- Glenfinnan House Hotel. Bar meals and restaurant, open to non-residents. Set menu, specials and extensive wine list available.
- The Prince's House. Bar meals and restaurant, open to non-residents. Set menu plus large board of specials available every day. Chef here is brilliant
- The National Trust for Scotland Cafe. Daily 10:00-16:45. Sandwiches and soup available at lunch time. Tea, coffee and cake available all day every day.
- The Carriage. Daily 10:00-16:30. Sandwiches, soup and home baking available all day every day.
Both hotels are open to non-residents, with a wide selection of alcohol, bar meals and soft drinks. Glenfinnan House Hotel has a dart board, and the Princes House (or Stage House) has a pool table.
- 1 Glenfinnan House Hotel, Glenfinnan PH37 4LT. Elegant hotel on the shores of the loch, built in 1755. The scenery and ambience mean it's often booked up for weddings in summer. Doubles from £130 to £240 per room.
- 2 The Prince's House (just west of station). Small 3-star hotel built in 1658 as a coaching inn and still nicknamed The Stage House. B&B from Single £80 to Four Poster room £250.
- 3 The Sleeping Car, Glenfinnan Station. Built in 1958, this sleeping car has many of its original features. With a total of 10 beds, dining area, lounge with TV and bathroom, this is a scenic budget get away. Bikes are available for hire also. Bed £15, ppn, whole coach £130.
- The nearest town of any size is Fort William 17 miles east, at the foot of Ben Nevis (for climbing, skiing and mountain biking).
- Good beaches in the vicinity are Glenuig (17 miles, go west to Lochailort then left towards Acharacle), Camusdarach (21 miles, take straggly old road after Arisaig) and Silver Sands (Morar, approaching Mallaig).
- Ferries to the Small Isles (Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna) leave from Mallaig daily. Day trips may be possible, and boat trips also run from Arisaig.
- Over the sea to Skye: ferries run from Mallaig to Armadale; or go around by road across the Kyles of Lochalsh Bridge.
- Ardnamurchan Point is the most westerly point on the mainland of Great Britain, and in some ways more remote than the islands. Drive west to Lochailort, follow the road south along the coast to Kilchoan and continue west until the road runs out.
- For the Isle of Mull by public transport, return to Fort William, then take the bus (one per day M-Sa) to Kilchoan for the short ferry crossing to Tobermory.