IT was once a quiet, serene Highland gem, full of Jacobite history and bursting with stunning scenery.

But back in the early 2000s, Glenfinnan was handed the poisoned chalice of accidental fame through being chosen as a location for the filming of the Warner Bros Harry Potter films.

West Coast Railways – which runs The Jacobite steam train that crosses the viaduct - provided the steam engine and carriages used as the Hogwarts Express.

Potter fans have since flocked in their thousands to catch a sight of the train chugging along the 21-arch viaduct.

Throw in the gargantuan impact of social media and viral online content and you now have a place home to around 150 residents creaking under the pressure of playing host to a globally-recognised film site.

In 2019, a whopping 500,000 people visited Glenfinnan – an almost three-fold increase from four years before.

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So far this year – compared to the same period in 2019 – visitor numbers are up 10% with 230,000 descending on the Lochaber hamlet.

Behind the figures and pandemonium of tourists are residents who are struggling to live out their daily lives.

“It’s really chaotic,” Ally Entwistle, chair of the community council, told The National.

“It creates a huge problem when the first train goes over. People will do almost anything and park anywhere, throw children out of the car to cross the main road to see the viaduct.

“It brings out the worst in people, just awful behaviour that is dangerous. It’s horrible really to watch it unfold.”

Kate Forbes, the MSP for the area, added: “The levels of congestion are just remarkable. Harry Potter is a global phenomenon and it feels like the globe is coming to Glenfinnan.”

In peak seasons, by 9am, the car parks are full. Drivers then park on any smidgen of tarmac they can find, blocking driveways and clearways, and reversing and turning dangerously on the A830 that runs through the hamlet. Anything for a glimpse of that train.

At the centre of the issue is that while the National Trust for Scotland runs the monument – a tribute to the fallen Jacobite clansmen – no one organisation is taking ownership of the global tourist attraction the viaduct has become.

The steam train is run by West Coast Railways, while the railway line and viaduct is owned by Network Rail, and the land surrounding the bridge is owned by Glenfinnan Estate.

The National: Drivers park dangerously in Glenfinnan once car parks are full Drivers park dangerously in Glenfinnan once car parks are full (Image: National Trust for Scotland)

To try and get to the bottom of what can be done to solve the problem, a summit was recently organised by Hege Hernes of the West Highland Community Rail Partnership – an organisation that acts as a bridge between the community and rail network – which invited along organisations including VisitScotland, ScotRail, Highland Council, Police Scotland, NTS and NatureScot.

It came on the back of a report commissioned by the partnership which made dozens of recommendations including the launch of a website which would tell people how to visit Glenfinnan responsibly during their holiday, data collection and live streaming of the train.

Hernes is also calling for a parliamentary review into the West Highland Line to be relaunched.

She said: “There was a lot of recommendations but no steer on who should be doing it. We felt it shouldn’t be up to volunteers to coordinate the public sector.

“Before Covid, Humza Yousaf as transport minister set up a parliamentary review into the line. We almost got a report and then Covid happened. We need to start that review again. All that work has been wasted otherwise.”

Hernes sees that review as being part of a key mission – to get people out of cars and onto the train.

ScotRail runs a service all the way from Glasgow to Mallaig, passing through Glenfinnan, while people can also get to the hamlet from Fort William.

But most will still turn to their vehicle rather than book a scenic trip on the iron road, so there are questions as to how ScotRail can better market the journey and invest in newer trains.

The National: Kate Forbes has said one organisation needs to take ownership of growing tourism in GlenfinnanKate Forbes has said one organisation needs to take ownership of growing tourism in Glenfinnan (Image: Kate Forbes)

Emily Bryce, operations manager for NTS in Glenfinnan, said one of the organisation’s main aims to encourage people to use the railway more while there are also plans to expand the unsuitably small visitor centre – the only place where there are public toilets.

“Nobody wants to transform the village into a massive multi-story car park,” she said.

“We want to try and retain the spirit of the place. We’re keen to work with the community on how we can encourage people not to come by car and use alternative transport.

“As a conservation charity we are very passionate about telling the story of Glenfinnan and it’s a great opportunity having all these people come to engage with the National Trust and its amazing story, but what we actually spend a lot of time doing is firefighting rather than what we’d all like to do be doing which is sharing the stories of why Glenfinnan is special.”

Efforts have already been made to try and bring the situation under control. With Scottish Government funding, a second car park was introduced in 2019 on top of the one at the NTS base while yellow lines are set to be put down on the trunk road imminently.

But Forbes, who chaired the summit, insists these are only short-term fixes and says an over-arching organisation needs to grab hold of this growing problem and own it to save a community simply trying to get on with their lives from becoming resentful of excitable visitors.

“You can take the approach of just paving over the Highlands into one massive car park and it would destroy the place,” said Forbes.

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“I’m of the view there needs to be one body in charge of this. In the absence of that, it’s expected the community take a lead and everyone else comes in behind. That’s not fair.”

Phil Campbell, ScotRail head of customer operations, said: “ScotRail is committed to supporting tourism and rural economies across the country, including on the West Highland Line.

“Investment in recent years by ScotRail and Network Rail – in refurbished trains, dedicated cycle carriages, and upgraded signalling equipment– shows our commitment to the route.   

“The introduction of our Highland Explorer carriages on the Mallaig branch, which calls at Glenfinnan, has provided both locals and visitors to the area with more seats, more luggage space, and access to an additional toilet on board.

“In the years to come, we’ll continue to work to support tourism, sustainability, and bring wider economic benefits along Scotland’s most scenic railways by replacing all our diesel trains with a low carbon alternative.”   

A Transport Scotland spokesperson: “The West Highland Line Review Group was set up to consider the services on the West Highland rail corridor, find opportunities to integrate rail services with other transport modes as well as promote active travel. The review will conclude with a report providing a number of recommendations to improve the travel experience, boost the local and regional economy, help to develop sustainable tourism and improve connectivity for local communities.

“The project was paused due to the pandemic in 2020. With ScotRail and the Caledonian Sleeper now in public ownership we intend to restart it in the coming months.

“We will then bring together original and new contributors to review the existing evidence, gather new evidence, and the report will take account of the effects of the pandemic and the changing travel habits of passengers since the review was started.”