Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple . . .
J U L Y — Between Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye we stayed a night at Fort William, which is mostly just the last outpost before the endless west but also home of The Jacobite — West Coast Railway's gorgeous old steam train and the Harry Potter films' Hogwarts Express. Never mind that the day's trip out to Mallaig and back is consistently rated the Top Rail Journey in the World. Yes?! Yes. Getting tickets was a whole mess of ridiculous (We bought the actual literal last ticket online. Ticket. Singular. There are two of us.) but John is a superhero (Got up early. Waited in the rain to be the very first in line for day-of sales. Let me sleep.) even despite most every other human at the station falling under the terrible, horrible, not very good at all spectrum (You know, the kind who call a mile an inch and black a clean white just to get what they want). We came away with two tickets in the end . . . in different carriages. At opposite ends of the train.
But because my husband is also impossibly personable and actual poster child for the Beatitudes' pure and righteous, we pulled away with the two of us comfy-cozy together on the only truly Harry Potter carriage of the whole train (Ha! Take that, you darkly Death Eaters in your karmic cattle cars!), sharing a fancy-pretty sliding-door compartment with a family John had met in the morning rain, brothers with their daughters on holiday — Scottish to every hair of a Highland thistle —and the two youngest tiny enough to count for one so as to make room for seven people across six seats. We shared seats, we shared sandwiches, the men argued football, us girls raced up and down the corridors sticking our heads out windows and coughing up steam ash and pointing at particular beauty and crying for magical joy, etc. Remembering it now is akin to all the light and softness I feel for childhood, a luminescent space outside of time.
Sure, the Harry Potter part was neato. We saw the famous viaduct from CoS and Dumbledore's island from HBP. The day was darkish and wet, which made the mingling steam and mist a thing of Tolkien-envy. But the very best bit was having our rather bad beginning (those mean people really lit up our Inner Despair for Humankind) met with such immediate and abiding antidote. Those gracious Glaswegians with their hearts and souls and nobleness. We made friends. We swapped life stories. We shared a small day of wonder. Which, come to think of it, was the most Harry Potter part of all. Good does triumph; love conquers all.
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OTHER THINGS: if The Jacobite's on your itinerary, brave the early morning and the horrid people! All tickets sold online fill up the basic carriages in the way back, whereas the very first from the 50 day-of sales put you in the Harry Was Here seats up front.
Returning to Compartment D after our lunch hour in Mallaig, the littlest Scot presented John with a love-heart rock from the beach. Which was after all the wide-eyed admiration from across the table but before the parting postcard promising penpalship. Have I mentioned I may have married the Pied Piper? We were already essentially at the ends of the earth, but these girls would have followed him still.
Also does the other cousin not have a wee touch of the young Amy Pond about her? Or was it just the accent?