Proudly pinning on my Gryffindor prefect’s badge, I stake my claim to the open window between the carriages and take aim with my camera for the perfect shot.
We’re on board the world-famous Jacobite steam train – better known as The Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films – and taking in some of Scotland’s most impressive scenery from Fort William to Mallaig.
As we approach an oppressive, dark tunnel, the train slows, billowing steam in our faces and the cameras go crazy, as fans attempt to capture the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which has appeared throughout the popular film series as the bridge to Hogwarts.
That evening, my hair’s speckled with soot, a welcome souvenir from the Jacobite.
Our train journey was the highlight of a day that began early, waiting with my husband Ron outside the Hampton by Hilton Glasgow Central, which we chose for its excellent position and service.
Kilted Stuart, our driver-guide from Discover Scotland Tours, greeted us, before collecting 14 more participants. Settling on the luxury mini-coach, we appreciated the company’s ethos of small group tours.
Stuart drives along Loch Lomond and we’re transfixed by the views, passing Ben Lomond (3193 ft), Scotland’s most southerly Munro, and Inchconnachan, island home to some unusual residents – capercaillie and wallabies!
Stuart regales with tales of Scottish outlaw-turned folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the Battle of Culloden. We are amazed to learn of gold in the rocks nearby.
Finally we’re at 1,480ft, where it’s too cold for sheep, and sporty tourists can enjoy the nearby Glencoe ski centre.
It’s spectacular in the Glen of Coe, including The Three Sisters, mountains known as Faith, Hope, and Charity, and it’s not hard to see why James Bond producers chose this region and nearby Glen Etive as the backdrop to Skyfall.
Back in Glasgow, we have time to explore a city full of history, spectacular architecture and extensive culture.
It’s a few minutes’ walk from the hotel to Sauchiehall Street, with its popular shops, including department store Watt Brothers, which was founded more than 100 years ago.
Mackintosh At the Willow is a striking building and notable internationally for being the only surviving tea room designed completely by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Smart, buzzy Buchanan Street quickly becomes our favourite while en route to George Square to take the City Sightseeing Glasgow hop-on and hop-off tour bus.
Passengers smile as we pass the statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse, complete with a traffic cone on his head. What began as a student prank in the 1980s is now an iconic Glasgow landmark.
We bus past Glickman’s Confectionery, started by Isaac Glickman in 1903, and still run by the family.
You can buy delights such as macaroon cake, frying pan lollies and soor plooms, a green boiled sweet.
Also on the bus route is Riverside Museum, an impressive collection of transport, and an old, cobbled Glasgow street.
Children particularly will enjoy car and motorbike walls, while the waltzer and fairground memorabilia trigger memories for older visitors.
Berthed nearby, The Tall Ship (Glenlee), built in Port Glasgow and now a museum ship, is a reminder of this city’s shipbuilding past and a nod to some of the most famous ships that began life here, including HMY Britannia, Cunard Queens and RMS Lusitania.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is a must-visit, if only for the startling installation, Floating Heads, which involves more than 50 white heads with differing emotions, created by artist Sophie Cave, which hang over the foyer.
We enjoyed the large collection housed within The French Gallery, as well as the impressively-preserved Sir Roger the elephant, which arrived in Glasgow around 1900 in a travelling menagerie and quickly became a beloved icon.
Glasgow’s most haunting, bizarre, but enthralling attraction is Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. Eduard Bersudsky, who lived in Leningrad, made kinetic sculptures (kinemats) from scrap and old furniture.
After he met Tatyana Jakovskaya, they founded Sharmanka, which opened in St Petersburg in 1990 and the pair arrived in Glasgow in 1996.
We’re mesmerised by the colourful, intricate, moving sculptures enhanced by music.
Jerusalem of Gold plays and I’m startled to see a figure of a crucified man wearing a kippah. It’s certainly a talking point.
Elsewhere in Glasgow there are more kippot – Shalom Tartan ones, on sale at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre (SJAC), based at Garnethill Synagogue, the country’s oldest purpose-built synagogue, which opened in 1879.
We’re interested to learn more about the community, which arrived in Scotland in the late 1600s. There are boxes of historical material and display cabinets of artefacts. With an extensive computer database, the SJAC welcomes research and family history enquiries.
SJAC’s Fiona Brodie tells us about a lottery-funded centre, which will open next year and include new public services, a Scottish Holocaust-era Study Centre, and guided visits.
At the synagogue’s Shabbat morning service, I scan the exceptional decor. Cantor Eddie Binnie and the choir sing beautifully, and Ron is honoured to be called up to dress the Sefer Torah.
We’re made so welcome, and the kiddush is a delight as we enjoy more Scottish hospitality – we unquestionably had many cups of kindness in Scotland.
Louise stayed at Hampton By Hilton Glasgow Central, in West Campbell Street, where rates for a queen double room, including breakfast, start from £87 per night (hamptoninn3.hilton.com). She travelled by Virgin Trains (virgintrains.co.uk), which offers standard class fares for London to Glasgow, from £30. Useful websites: sjac.org.uk and visitscotland.com
- Loch Lomond
- harry potter
- The Hogwarts Express
- Fort William
- Hampton By Hilton
- Glenfinnan Viaduct
- Discover Scotland Tours
- Ben Lomond
- Rob Roy MacGregor
- Bonnie Prince Charlie
- Glen of Coe
- The Three Sisters
- Sauchiehall Street
- Watt Brothers
- Mackintosh at the Willow
- Charles Rennie Mackintosh
- Buchanan Street
- Glickman's Confectionery
- Isaac Glickman
- Riverside Museum
- The Tall Ship
- HMY Britannia
- Cunard Queens
- RMS Lusitania
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- The French Heads
- Sophie Cave
- Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre
- Eduard Bersudsky
- Scottish Jewish Archives Centre