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.
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.