Sunday, 12 November 2017

The West Highland Line. Sketches.

On Friday I did something some of my friends regard as crazy - I took a day-return from Edinburgh to Mallaig.

I was lucky with the weather; it was more or less as I hoped all the way there. On the way back it was too dark to care, but I had three books with me.

On the way I was doing thumbnail sketches out of the window all the time. My art teacher said I ought to make a blog-post of them, so I have. Here they are.

The first section of the line from Glasgow Queen Street goes down the Clyde estuary, though Dumbarton and on to Helensburgh. It was near Helensburgh that I saw the first snow of the trip. Once the Cobbler came into view we were well into the Highlands. The snow line was around 750m, and there it stayed  for the rest of the way.

After Arrochar the line goes up Loch Lomond and over the watershed to Crianlarich. We frequently saw stretches of the West Highland Way. The foreground trees were as beautiful as the hills beyond, with rich autumn colours. But there was little hope of drawing them from a moving train.

Above Crianlarich the line takes a great curve round a corrie under Ben Dorain, whereas the main road goes straight on. After Bridge of Orchy it takes off across Rannoch Moor, where no road is. There is a station at Rannoch (just reached by road) and on at Corrour, reachable only on foot (or off-road equivalent).

Across the moor there kept being sights of magnificent snow-covered hills to the west. Although I have walked a lot of Glencoe and the Mamores in my time I could not be sure what was what; but that did not make the view any less. After Corrour we went down by Loch Treig. The hillside there is so steep one marvels at the engineers and navvies who built the railway.

Then we went down the Spean to Fort William, and a grey shower swept in, so I drew houses instead of hills. After Fort William the train does not turn; it sets off backwards. But that was no matter. There was so much room that I could dot from seat to seat as the view called. On the whole I preferred to be on the sea side. The sketch of Loch Eil, incidentally, was made of multiple views, as I was able to glimpse through the trees.

At Glenfinnan the voice of the ticket collector rang out, reminding us that we were crossing the Harry Potter Viaduct. The weather had cleared again. As we go down towards the sea at Loch Ailort there is one of my favourite sections, where the line goes the other side of Loch Eilt from the road. One feels in the heart of the hills.

Finally the line goes north up the Atlantic coast. There is Loch na Uamh, here Charles Edward Stuart landed in July 1745. Then there is a fine view of the extraordinary Sgurr of Eigg. So, with a glimpse of the white sands of Morar, we drew into Mallaig at about 1.30.

Next time you have a day off in Edinburgh or Glasgow, why not do likewise?

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