Mallaig – Armadale – Broadford – Kyle of Lochalsh – Inverness

I’ve wanted to do this trip for as long as I can remember. Start in Mallaig, onto Skye by ferry, off by coach then to Inverness on another of the great railway journeys.

My first look outside at 7am wasn’t especially promising. It had rained overnight and was still drizzling. I could barely see Skye, a mere 5 miles across the water. I showered and headed down to breakfast as it opened at 7:30. I was the first one in, followed by the first few of a group of 19 Polish bikers, who were in excited mood for the day ahead and not really paying attention when the staff tried to seat them together, taking up most of the tables in groups of 2 and 3. They then went straight for the hot food, meaning that when I wanted some scrambled egg, there was none left.

I got chatting with a family I’d met on the train the previous day, when they sat at the next table. We were all booked onto the 9am ferry, so shared our respective plans over breakfast, before collecting our bags and heading for the ferry. They were British expats to Australia, back on an extended tour of Europe and had 5 days planned on Skye. Apparently they were “avoiding the winter” though a quick look suggests that the weather in Sydney was almost identical to here.

The rain had stopped and whilst I was still wearing wet weather gear “just in case” it turned out to be unnecessary. The earlier storms had created low cloud and mist and the views on the crossing were stunning, with mild seas making for a really special trip.

In Armadale the ferry turned, as it had on the way out of Mallaig. Foot passengers have to wait for the vehicles to go before disembarking. I said goodbye to my new friends and settled down on a bench to do a bit of work. I had an hour before my bus so had time to wander on the small beach after attending to assorted requests.

The bus dropped me just on the edge of Broadford, for my coach connection to Kyle. Unlike the ferry (£3.50) the bus and coach are covered in my rail pass. The road runs along the coast with great views on both sides. I was amused by bilingual road sign with the names of all three destinations being equally challenging in either English or Scottish Gaelic.

Unfortunately the coach was over 10 minutes late on what was already a 15 minute connection. I should have continued the extra mile into the middle of Broadford and changed there, rather than waiting at the side of a road in the middle of nowhere, that didn’t even have a marked bus stop.

The bridge connecting Skye to the mainland is not like anything else, being quite steep sided. I don’t mind it though. The crossing is quite dramatic, with great views in all directions. I was glad that I was at the front of the coach with a view forwards.

The delay with the coach meant I only had time for a quick look around Kyle, and didn’t get to the museum on the station, something I was reminded of by a very friendly volunteer from the museum, who was selling maps of the line on the train, as a fundraiser. I will get to the museum some time. Last time I was here (by car) it was closed.

Very few passengers boarded the train out of Kyle, but from Plockton it became very busy. I’ve not travelled this line before, and the views are as beautiful as I’d expected. As far as I know it is the only west to east coast line in the country. It first runs beside Loch Carron before climbing onto moorland, finally descending to the east coast and Inverness, a journey of around 85 miles in two-and-a-half hours.

The flood plain of the River Ness is huge. The train winds through Dingwall, Muir of Ord and Beauly, before taking a coastal line down the south side of Beauly Firth into Inverness.

Kessock Bridge over the Firth, just north of the city, is always a landmark that brings a smile for me, whether it means I’m arriving in Inverness or I’m simply passing through on my way to the far north.

I was a bit early to check in (sadly no room at the iconic Royal Highland adjoining the station, on this trip.) I took my time walking along the river and arrived just a couple of minutes before the owner of the guest house.

Being on the right side of the city it would have been a shame not to explore the Caledonian Canal. I’ve been here before but it is a super location, with the canal extending into the Firth, where the water is deeper. Scottish Canals staff were working on the mechanism of two of the locks, but no boats were on the move.

The swinging railway bridge is a very unusual feature. I’d passed over it an hour earlier and while I was here two more trains also crossed. By now it had turned into a lovely warm day and the cold and wet of the morning was long forgotten.

I went back to my room for a while – this is meant to be a relaxing break after all – before heading back into town to a favourite haunt.

I discovered Black Isle Brewery Bar & Rooms several years ago and have since introduced several friends to it. As well as brewing pretty much everything themselves, they also make great pizza, and everything is as locally sourced as possible, and is organic. Highly recommended.

I wrapped up the evening with my first ice cream of the trip. It’s rare to find stracciatella outside Italy, even if they don’t (yet) serve it in brioche over here. Adding honeycomb on the top made for a strange combination but both were lovely.