Make Tracks on Scotland's Great Rail Journeys
Take in the best of Scotland’s scenery – from the spectacular Highlands to the banks of Loch Lomond – on a romantic rail journey writes Steve McKenna.
Thanks to its wealth of picturesque landscapes, Scotland attracts its fair share of cyclists, trekkers, climbers and road trippers. But it’s even nicer to be able to sit back and soak up the spectacular scenery, while absorbing snippets of Scottish history and culture, from the cosy convivial comfort of a train carriage.
When travelling by rail, you needn’t worry about navigating hair-raising bends or steep mountain passes, or getting caught up in any “dreich” weather (a popular Scots word for when it’s not so pleasant outside). You can enjoy a fabulous array of journeys, from regular passenger services to romantic steam trains.
The West Highland Line
An experience you definitely shouldn’t miss is the West Highland Line. Departing from Glasgow’s Queen Street station, it threads up the west coast, revealing glimpses of Scotland that you can only see from the train, as roads have never been built in some of the more remote rural areas.
After skirting a hillside ledge above Gare Loch – the site of an important naval base during World War II – the train passes by Loch Lomond and through The Trossachs National Park, a region that spawned the 18th-century Scottish folk hero Rob Roy McGregor and provided idyllic inspiration for some of the country’s best-loved literature.
As the train continues into the myth-drenched Highlands, a patchwork of peat bogs, forests, mountains, streams and heather moors unfurls before your eyes, and it’s worth keeping a look out for free-roaming wildlife such as red deer, or herds of Highland cattle. The train stops in Fort William, a town that lies in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s loftiest summit – and it’s the springboard for another memorable rail trip.
The Jacobite Steam Train journey is aboard a vintage steam locomotive that resembles the Hogwarts Express from the Harry Potter films. It actually travels part of the same route as that fictional train, crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct, a 21-arched marvel of Victorian engineering that curves by Loch Shiel. Gazing out of the window, you won’t see the Gothic spires of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (CGI was used to create it) but you might glimpse the towering Glenfinnan Monument.
Crowned with the figure of a lone kilted Highlander, it honours those who died in the 1745-46 Jacobite Risings, which were fought in an attempt to put Prince Charles Edward Stuart on the British throne. It was in Glenfinnan that Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he was known, raised his army for that ultimately doomed campaign against King George II. The Jacobite journey ends at Mallaig, a fishing port with views across to Skye, and other Scottish islands such as Rum and Eigg.
The Kyle Line
There’s one more captivating train ride further up the coast: the Kyle Line, which snakes its way east to Inverness, crossing the Caledonian canal and passing the seaside town of Plockton, sparkling lochs, wooded hills, valleys and bleakly beautiful moors. From Inverness, you can head back south by train, too, railing it past the famous whisky distilleries of Aviemore, the mountainous wilderness of the Cairngorms National Park, and the Victorian resort towns of Perthshire, before alighting at Edinburgh’s Waverley station, where the sound of bagpipes is never very far away.
Experience this stunning Scottish scenery for yourself on the 9 Day Edinburgh, the Highlands & Islands tour. Alternatively, head further afield by rail for a close-up of Europe's mountain views on the 14 Day Grand Alpine Explorer.
Images courtesy of: Bruce Davis, extravagantni