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Edition #189  January 1, 2013

Destination: Kyle of Lochalsh

Photographer: Joseph J. Petric

                                                                      Photo by Joseph J. Petric

Destination: Kyle of Lochalsh

In the past six years, I have made three trips to Europe to experience train riding, and, of course, to visit countries I had only seen in photos or travelogues on TV. All three of my adventures started in Great Britain, after an eight-hour flight from Chicago to London. On the first two trips, accompanied by my wife, Janine, certain compromises needed to be made to assure that we both had a fulfilling vacation.

Initially inspired by the BBC series, Great Railway Journeys of the World, Michael Palin’s trip through Great Britain was one that I had wanted to duplicate. Obviously, many things had changed since 1980, when Palin set out for Kyle of Lochalsh. But most of the trip could still be done.  However, it was not to be accomplished on our first or second visit.

We had much to see and do in 2006, a three-week, ten-country trip. Our only British train riding was to Oxford and Gloucester to visit Harry Potter movie locations. Janine is an avid fan. After that, it was Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Nice, sleeper train to Rome, Italian Eurostar to Venice and Slovenian Pendolino to Ljubljana. We attended a family wedding and visited cousins in my ancestral homeland of Slovenia before moving on to Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, and back to London for our flight home.

In 2008, we spent two weeks and tried to fill in some gaps, including more train riding in Great Britain. We even made it all the way up to Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen, but, alas, no Kyle of Lochalsh.

A three-week trek in 2011 would finally pay off. I spent two weeks on the continent with my two brothers and one sister, which included five days in Slovenia to visit family, and time spent touring Paris, Rome, Venice and London. My sister and one brother returned home, leaving my brother Bernie and I to spend a week in Great Britain.

We sampled the high-speed Javelin train to Dover, rode the Night Riviera to Penzance, worked our way to Cardiff and back to London to catch the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. Upon arrival, we had enough time to eat breakfast, drop our bags at the hotel and board a train to Thurso and Wick, the farthest north you can go by rail in Scotland. We also had excellent fish ‘n’ chips during our layover in Wick.

The next day, Bernie decided to stay in Inverness to do laundry, so I boarded the train to Kyle alone. The ride and scenery were just as I had first seen in the video 31 years ago. The two-car DMU I was riding replaced the locomotive hauled train that Palin got to ride, but the route and the destination were the same. The sunny weather that I had enjoyed for almost three weeks disappeared as the train worked its way through the cloudy weather along Loch Carron.

As the train stopped at the Kyle of Lochalsh station, I detrained and was immediately pelted by the wind-driven mist, which felt like sand on my face. Gone was the station sign that Michael Palin carted off in 1980. Also gone was the ferry that he boarded for the trip to the Isle of Skye, since replaced by a bridge. You can now take a bus from Kyle to work your way to Armadale and ferry to Mallaig and continue by rail back to London. But I will save that for the “next time.” I always need an excuse to return. But I was headed back to Inverness, Edinburgh, and Darlington, to get to the Esk Valley and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for their Fall Steam Gala.

There was no one to even take a picture of me at Kyle of Lochalsh. However, it did stop misting, the sun came out and I was able to record my train at the station with a rainbow in the sky. I suppose that was a reward for my persistence.

Joseph J. Petric

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