Flying over Glenfinnan viaduct on Scotland’s Harry Potter train is wicked

Surrounded by snow dusted mountains 21 slender white columns suspend a crescent shaped viaduct 30 meters above the river Finnan, but nothing can match the majesty of soaring over it abroad the Harry Potter train. The Jacobite steam train clatters the ‘iron road to the Isles’ through one of Europe’s empitest landscapes, all moorland, snow capped mountains and lake bottomed glens.

400,000 visitors enjoy this Highland mountain-scape each year, it regularly features on lists of the world’s greatest railway journeys and the Scotsman newspaper rates the viaduct the number one place in Scotland for Harry Potter fans to propose. The train even has its own tune.

But with great popularity comes great consequence. Harry Potter was lambasted by two Popes for ‘promoting witchcraft and the occult’ and being a ‘subtle seduction deeply distorting the roots of Christianity in the soul’. Much as Rowling was criticised by the Pope, Glenfinnan viaduct also endures kickback, from Tripadvisor:

  1. Alison, was unimpressed, saying the structure is “just a big, ugly Harry Potter bridge”.
  2. Judette from Portugal agrees, saying the bridge was deceptive & “looked bigger in Harry Potter”.
Okkkkay. Pinch out to zoom in

Muggles eh? No soul.

So why do they keep coming?

Ron’s driving skills... Would you believe he’s been awarded a UK driving license? Mental 🤯

How much did the Ministry of Magic fine Arthur Weasley for enchanting his car?

Class, witness, I see little difference between an Inferi* and Potter. And about as much intelligence.

Potter, not just your time, but all our time is wasted whenever you open that abjectly, abjectly sad contraption you call a mouth.

* brainless dead 🧟

And the joy was worth every coin. (But don’t tell Molly that 😱)

Draco: (drops his ladle in his cauldon & almost falls to the floor laughing & hugging himself)
Look Goyle... poor Weasley’s woolly jumper must have finally crawled into his empty, starved head. Can't blame it, I wouldn’t want to be seen in public with a Weasley either.

Snape: Even the most empty headed can be debilitated by a correctly brewed Addler potion. 10 points to Gryffindor for facility, -15 for this...

Ron: 🥴
(Harry & a red-faced Hermione are desperately grasping Ron’s arms to keep him atop his stool)

Snape: Let us all learn from Weasley’s pitiful spectacle & sniff prudently hereafter.

When Ron barrel-rolls the car hearts pop into mouths & the Viaduct is remembered, along with its surrounding mountains, as a green & pleasant land.

If you can enjoy the hill roaming preparation & anticipation of the Jacobite steam train coming, or can be enthralled by the heroic ‘Outlander’ Jacobite reclaimation that was born here, then Glenfinnan will be a place of rosy memory.

Get the most from your visit

Harry Potter dangles from the Weasley car chasing the Hogwarts Express along Glenfinnan viaduct
Glenfinnan viaduct graced three Harry Potter films

I’m Sam a Harry Potter tour guide of Edinburgh. This is my guide to my favourite Harry Potter filming location. Including: the film’s great fire, the history of the bridge & area, the activities nearby and how to get there.

Robert McAlpine left school at 10 and went down a mine becoming a coal miner. He then became a bricklayer, and at 22 formed his own construction company Sir Robert McAlpine, which continues as a major employer to this day.

The Fort William to Mallaig extension line begun in 1897 was the firm’s most famous. But his ambition may have over-reached.

Glenfinnan viaduct was originally planned to be built from local rock, ‘mica schist’, but that was too hard and difficult to cut to a smooth finish.

Trained as a bricklayer, “Aha”, said McAlpine, “We’ll use concrete”.

The longest concrete bridge at the time was Borrodale viaduct at 38.9 meters. McAlpine needed to span 380 meters, and not even on the straight, a crescent.

building Glenfinnan viaduct for the Harry Potter train
"It’ll be fine" he said

The hardest part was carving through the hard rock on the shoulder of each hill, so the viaduct didn’t need to be built even higher, new pressurised water boring techniques had to be employed.

At 380m it was then the longest concrete bridge in the world and it remains the longest concrete rail bridge in Scotland. Accounting for inflation today it would cost £2¼ million. Thanks to his trail blazing use of concrete Robert McAlpine became known as ‘Concrete Bob’.

McAlpine’s embrace of new innovations empowered him to achieve more bang for the buck and his company grew rapidly. During the interwar years it was reflected McAlpine “seemed to have been involved in every major building and civil engineering project that ever hit the headlines of the day.”

Harry sets Glenfinnan alight

On February 22nd 2003 Warner Brothers had been driving the Hogwarts Express backwards and forwards over Glenfinnan viaduct all morning when sparks from the train’s funnel alighted the heath.

There had been no rain for 10 days and the fire quickly raged across 100 acres of heather.

4 Highland fire crews rushed to the scene and marvelled, they said it was “absolutely spectacular, it looked like the whole hillside was up in flames”; it was the largest fire they’d ever seen.

So they summoned a helicopter to bomb the blaze with water. The helicopter’s round trip was too slow and the fire reached into a forestry plantation and made it kindle.

At one point the fire raged along a one mile front and the local residents had to be evacuated. The Scotsman called it “Harry Potter and the Fields of Fire”.

The film crew helped put out part of the blaze and 20 hours later, 06.30 in the chill before dawn, the fire was finally extinguished

The filmmaking was, of course, paused for the firefight.

The Harry Potter train steaming across Glenfinnan viaduct after a fire
When filming resumed it looked like Mordor

The estate lodged a claim of £100,000 with the film’s insurers to replace the young trees. With the creation of a car park for pilgrimming Potterheads amidst some of the saplings, the whole affair has proved to be a boon for Highland Goblins.

Book sculpture of the Harry Potter bridge
A book sculpture in Edinburgh celebrating the Harry Potter train

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Scotland was always the spiritual home of the books with Goblet Of Fire the movies came home. Filming the Great lake tri-wizard tournament challenge beside Glenfinnan’s Loch Shiel made it the most Scottish of the Harry Potter movies. While Loch Morar, first seen slipping past the windows of the Hogwarts Express, was used for close up shots.

Many other locations were used, Glenfinnan viaduct amongst them.

Muggle studies 101

Railways were invented in Britain but upon encountering a steam engine the former Muggle Prime Minister and Napoleonic war hero the Duke of Wellington remarked

“I see no reason to suppose that these machines will ever force themselves into general use”

Clearly a man who didn’t ace divination.

Before railway travel Muggle transport was by road, canals or ships hopping from port to port. Everything was highly affected by the weather, journeys took days or weeks.

Railways made everything faster. They began to take off in the 1820s for the transport of goods but Scotland pushed back.

In 1828 the Monkland Railway conducted trials to see how heavy a train could be hauled by a horse.

A big Clydesdale horse called “Dragon” pulled a train of 14 loaded coal wagons, weighing 45,400 kg (45 tons), for seven miles. The journey took 1 hour 40 minutes with Dragon steaming heavily. Horse-power was cooked.

Dragon, a giant Clydesdale horse drags 14 loaded coal wagons, mental
Dragon, a giant Clydesdale horse drags 14 loaded coal wagons, mental

In 1692 the British wizarding community had committed itself to the International statute of secrecy, but at the start of every new year at Hogwarts the skies above Britain were full of broomsticks, carpets and Thestrals, cauldrons dangling from them, flying North. Nothing went unnoticed, it was a total nightmare.

Inspired by the new locomotives in the summer of 1830 the then Minister of magic Ottaline Gambol took action...

Where exactly the Hogwarts Express came from has never been conclusively proven, although it is a fact that there are secret records at the Ministry of Magic detailing a mass operation involving one hundred and sixty-seven Memory Charms and the largest ever mass Concealment Charm performed in Britain.

The morning after these alleged crimes, a gleaming scarlet steam engine and carriages astounded the villagers of Hogsmeade (who had also not realised they had a railway station), while several bemused Muggle railway workers down in Crewe spent the rest of the year grappling with the uncomfortable feeling that they had mislaid something important.

For us, like the Muggles, the magically smooth and fast railways made passage safer, no thunderstorms to skirt as we broom up North - Charity Burbage

Steam train to Mallaig

A pipe band tune composed by Mary-Ann MacKinnon

Glenfinnan monument & visitor center

On the edge of Loch Shiel is an 18m high tribute to those who fought in the Jacobite uprising. It stands on the point where Bonnie (pretty) Prince Charlie, of the exiled Stuart kings, landed in Scotland in 1745. He raised his standard here mustering a Highland rebellion.

To get close to the monument, and climb it’s narrow stair you need to book a ½ hour tour at the visitor center. The visitor center describes the

In July of 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie landed here, gathered troops and proceeded to steam roller over the British army, at the battle of Prestonpans they were flattened. By September he was outside Edinburgh.

Our councillors drew up their courage and visited Charlie’s camp, asking for peace. Charlie would have none of it. So on Sepetember the 17th the councillor returned and the Jacobites swept through the city gates right behind them 🤦

Charlie was famed, the dashing romantic exiled prince, returned to his ancestral home, Edinburgh. He threw some balls at Holyrood palace and

King of the Jacobites Bonnie Prince Charlie poses for Allan Ramsay
he was painted by Allan Ramsay

English smashing Bonnie Prince Charlie was in full bonnie bloom and copies were distibruted throughout Scotland as properganda posters.

However Charlie’s precious headstart on the disorganised establishment was being squandered. At the end of October, weather atrocious, the Jacobite army marched down to conquer England.


By December they had made it all the way down to Derby, 120 miles outside London. The city was in a mass panic, Londoners were scrabbling to withdraw money from the banks while the King was preparing to flee 😱

Charlie could feel the English heart beating in his hand and was all for pressing on but Charlie’s Scottish Lords were torn, they had reached so far and accomplished so much, but they were 4500 men and a 7000 strong English army guarded London. Charlie had led them to believe there would by English support even enthusiastic French. There was none 😞

While the Scottish Lord’s contemplated, legend has it Dudley Bradstreet, a British government spy, arrived and briefed the Scottish Lord’s about a 9000 strong force at Northampton. There wasn’t. But this tipped the uncertain Lords into retreat to their homeland, the Highlands.

Where they were ultimately defeated at the Battle of Culloden. Charlie himself escaped, but that’s another tale.


The Jacobite monument is topped with an anonymous highlander who died for Charlie’s cause (see ⬇).

In 1897 Highlanders had feared a bridge built entirely from concrete would spoil the pristine landscape around Glenfinnan monument.

A £10 note shows Glenfinnan viaduct & the Jacobite monument
But the Jacobite monument (center) has been cast into shadow. Harry Potter’s viaduct is now the area’s most famous icon

Glenfinnan station dining car

Open May - October

Glenfinnan station dining carriage
Glenfinnan dining carriage has no view whatsoever

Rich brown wood panelling, lush navy blue seats with white head rests and matching carpet, curtains tied with a bow. One thing however isn’t authentic. The toilets. They’re clean!

It serves light lunches in a special setting and is beloved by Tripadvisor.
For evening meals book the dinning car.
Eating here gives you free entry to the museum...

Glenfinnan station museum

A charming museum about the engineering of the bridge and the setbacks faced. The Jacobite steam train actually pauses at the station for people to enjoy the museum.

Railway poster of Glenfinnan viaduct

My favourite thing is the railway posters. You can buy postcards of them at the museum, attach them to the feet of an owl and they’re like skis.

Glenfinnan station museum
Glenfinnan station museum

Glenfinnan station sleeping car

Sleep in a ye-olde railway car. Sleeps upto ten. A bunk can be hired from £35. If you want to do some hiking around Glenfinnan the sleeping car is perfect. But beware opening the windows in stuffy midge season, my friend’s exposed legs were a feast 😱

It’s a 91m climb up from the River finnan to Glenfinnan station, 55 minutes circular route. Tap "Glenfinnan Viaduct Circular" for detail

This is my walk, I’m so happy I did it; it made for a more invigorating, intrepid and, thanks to the wee station museum, satisfying visit. The viewpoint to the East of the river is cinematic but too quickly accomplished, good for when it’s rainning I think.

Quidditch - dangerous? Ha! Try...

The Jacobite steam engine had to brake near Glenfinnan station after the driver spotted two old women standing beside the line. And on the same journey the driver had to file a report about a man with a tripod set up amidst the tracks diving aside, the poor driver must have nearly had heart failure.

British Transport police have been doing their nut, in 2017 there was a 16% increase in railway trespassing, as Harry Potter fans disembark the Jacobite steam train at Glenfinnan station and walk directly back down the tracks to the viaduct in the face of incoming trains!

The Police are warning visitors ‘look you’re mere Muggles [ you’re not going to be able to stupify a 300 ton steam train ], if you trespass on the railway and are struck by a train, the consequences could be extremely serious and probably fatal’.

Bah, physics.

A horse load of trouble

Building Glenfinnan viaduct using whole new processes was not without it stresses and legend has it a horse backed up it’s wagon to pour rubble into one of the hollow piers supporting the bridge. It was led back a step too far, the cart fell backward into the pier, dragging the horse down with it, a 30 meter drop.

There was no time for winching the broken horse out, so more rubble was simply poured on top.

In 1987 Professor Roland Paxton drilled boreholes in the only 2 piers large enough to admit a horse and inserted fisheye cameras into them. No evidence was found. On the basis of gossip from Glenfinnan hamlet he tried the same at Loch nan Uamh Viaduct further along the rail line, to the same result, it was just full of rubble. Were they pulling the Fred and George?

In 2001 Professor Paxton tried again. The large central pylon of Loch nan Uamh Viaduct was investigated using X-rays, transmitted through walls 3 meters thick, many hours were spent interpreting the results.

Loch nan Uamh Viaduct on the edge of a Loch houses a horse buried in rubble
The wreck of a cart was found a horse standing upon it, within the thick pier

A plaque from Sir William McAlpine was unveiled correcting the legend and vindicating the professor’s dedication and determination.

JACOBITES Loch nan Uamh Viaduct is where Bonnie (pretty) Prince Charlie fled mainland Scotland for France after his Highland rebellion’s defeat at the battle of Culloden

Catching the bus or train from Edinburgh for the Harry Potter train

See Traveline Scotland. If you’re staying near Haymarket station, it would be easier to depart from:
Haymarket Edinburgh

Driving to Glenfinnan viaduct

When the train crosses the viaduct

As of October 2023 be at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, or a viewing point, by 10:45 AM or 15:00, to see the cream of their generation heading to the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry steaming across the viaduct, or returning home. Double check the train crossing times on the Jacobite website.

the Harry Potter train crosses Glenfinnan viaduct in Autumn
It’s sooo smaaall 😉


145 miles away, about 48 hours walking, are my Harry Potter tours. You could always Apparate.

Book a loving Harry Potter tour of Edina

520 miles away is King’s Cross station, where the Hogwart’s Express departs from platform 9¾. Takes it about 9½ hours to Glenfinnan.


Glenfinnan station museum kindly provided some of the images.
Book sculpture by Thomas Wightman.

Mount Your Broom!

NEW: Cycle tours of Edinburgh exploring our scenic hinterland & tracking JK’s progress, with a seasoning of Harry Potter inspirations.

Put the rubber to the pedal, break the fusty Fidelius charm & discover where Edinburgh’s most celebrated adopted daughter has lived, written & mastered Minecraft beside her son, for the last ~30 years.

Weave through sleepy villages down past tranquil lochs, wind up cobbled alleys & a craggy volcano to take in our iconic, crenalated skyline. A refreshing ½ day romp around Rowling’s true world.

A detective’s magnifying glass indepth
JK Rowling’s writing pad writing strategies
Harry Potter’s wand magic
reviews stink