Fort William to Mallaig. Or possibly Eden.

And last week another on my ‘must do’ train trip lists: the train from Fort William to Mallaig. Starting early on a misty, cloudy morning and travelling through into bright sunlight.

This, I think, is the most beautiful trainline I have ever travelled. It runs through mountain passes, across wide river valleys, along the side of lochs and eventually along the coast to the small port of Mallaig.1 Utterly stunning.

The beauty was so overwhelming it felt almost physical. For the first time I understood the phrase ‘achingly beautiful’. When you see these places, from the train, or out on the boat around the bay, there’s a sense of longing and even sadness.

Why is it that beauty sometimes makes us sad? One of the standard answers is to do with its transient nature: the idea that it is evanescent, it will pass away. But I don’t think that can be the case here. Ben Nevis, after all, has been around a fair old time and will continue to do so.

I wonder if it’s something to do with a sense of exile. We can look but we cant touch. I see it through the train window but I can never really live in that perfection. Not in this life, anyway. We are – currently – exiled from Eden, and in the words of Saint Joni, we all want to ‘to get ourselves back to the garden.’2

  1. We didn’t travel on the steam train - it was booked up for months in advance by the Harry Potter fans. But I saw it waiting in the station as we returned. Will have to do that another day. ↩︎

  2. Joni Mitchell, Woodstock ↩︎

Nick Page @nickpage