Beautiful photos and videos on Instagram can certainly sell a product or service. Even something expensive. This happened to me one evening about six months ago when I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and stopped at a gorgeous video from @CastlesOfScotland, an account with a million followers.

That one video immediately led to looking at more Scotland castle videos. And more. Then I mentioned to my wife Yukari Watanabe Scott that I loved the feed and she said that she did too.

“Let’s go to Scotland and stay in castles!”

“Sure!” Yukari replied.

The next morning, we dug into calendars to find a week in the Spring we could go and quickly booked our air tickets. After some research, Yukari discovered Diana Gray at Scottish Clans and Castles who helped us organize our journey, suggesting small castles and guest houses to visit and stay in that are off the well-worn tourist path.

We rented a car, drove over 600 miles, walked another 50 miles, visited about a dozen awesome castles, and stayed at several amazing places all in the Western Highlands.  

Here are some of the places we stayed:

Leading up our journey, I was thinking about shooting some of my own Instagram worthy photos. Initially, I was thinking (of course) of castles, but then I discovered the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts ExpressGlenfinnan Viaduct is on the West Highland Line in Inverness-shire, Scotland. It’s famous because the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies used this location.

It turns out the Jacobite Steam train, run by Scotland’s West Coast Railways, was used in the Harry Potter filming and it passes over the viaduct several times a day.

My quest was hatched.

There’s a perfect spot for shooting an Instagram worthy photo, but it takes some effort. The 125-year-old viaduct is in an out of the way place. There’s a parking lot, but you need to arrive an hour before the train arrives so you can get parking space. Then it’s about 15 minutes up the hill and then a 45-minute wait (in the cold and rain for us) for the train.

waiting for train at Glenfinnan ViaductIt is a festive atmosphere up there with all the Harry Potter fans. It kind of reminds me of a Space Shuttle launch, with people counting down to the big moment.

The first sign of the approaching train is a puff of smoke before it rounds the bend. Then, as it nears, a whistle is heard. More smoke at the perfect Instagram moment and then we see people waving from the train cars.

I sort of wanted a passenger to moon the photographers but didn’t see that.

Thanks to Yukari for agreeing to join me for this epic photo opp!

I’m often critical of social media these days. The Meta AI algorithms used in services like Facebook are tuned to reward polarization, and I have written a lot about that.

However, Instagram often surprises and delights me.

We had a fabulous time in Scotland earlier this month and it never would have happened without Instagram. 

inside castle

Pre-dinner glass of wine at Mingarry Castle!

 

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