I have become a recent convert to rail travel, I must admit. Over the last few years, my eyes have been opened to the many incredible rail journeys that exist around the world, and how they offer unparalleled views deep in the landscapes of the country you are travelling through. Scotland by rail
Scotland is no different. Of course, when we all think of Scotland we think of castles, mountains, kilts, and of course, haggis! But add ‘iconic rail journeys’ to that list because they are just as worthy!
There’s just something about it… the scenery is absolutely magical, it’s just fantastic… and this is a good way of seeing Scotland” – Gwen, fellow Travelmarvel passenger
Our recent 9-day Travelmarvel adventure in Scotland began and ended in the capital of Edinburgh and took us deep into the Scottish Highlands in the west of the country. Our main mode of transport was on some of the world’s most spectacular train routes; journeys that also connected us with some of the country’s most iconic sights.
We began on the West Highland Line, which took us to Fort William, a town lying in the shadow of Ben Nevis, and gave us our first views of the incredible Scottish countryside.
One of the highlights of travelling Scotland by rail are the views you get out of large (often panoramic) windows on both sides of the carriage. With the freedom to get up and move about the car, you don’t have to miss a second of the landscapes unfolding around you.
The city soon turned into quintessential scenery that we had, up until that point, only ever seen in pictures. Moody Scottish moors, peaceful glens, dramatic lochs, and of course, a sprinkling of rain to make sure the stereotype stayed true!
We followed the western bank of Loch Lomond and started to climb through the dramatic scenery this region is known for. Our tour director Sandra tell us that the scenery is different with every trip, due to seasonality and of course, the weather.
It was the perfect situation for our Travelmarvel group to get to know each other. We had all joined the tour in Edinburgh the day earlier and the train journey allowed us to spend some quality time with each other, get our maps out, share our travel stories and swap notes. We were to spend another eight days in each other’s company after all.
We always try and find a holiday that includes a train journey. We love steam trains and obviously later we get the Jacobite… Trains are a part of this country’s history – they brought this country together as well as England and Scotland. Through time we all used to work and play in our own little area, but once the lines opened up suddenly towns met each other, and counties met each other – this is part of this country’s history and heritage” fellow Travelmarvel passenger Roger tells me.
Our introduction to the Highlands was nothing short of mesmerising and we all knew by the end of the day that Scotland had set the bar high when it came to captivating rail journeys. We couldn’t wait to see what else was to come.
And after a few days spent in the area of Glencoe, experiencing the lochs, castles, canals and islands, we were all ready for what many of us felt would be the highlight of the entire trip… the Jacobite Steam Train.
Not only is the Jacobite an incredible locomotive, but it takes passengers on one of the most iconic rail routes in the world. A route that has been made even more famous thanks to a certain ‘boy wizard’….
That’s right! The Jacobite Steam Train starred in several Harry Potter films as the ‘Hogwarts Express’ and the journey over the curving Glenfinnan Viaduct is now immortalised as the route to Hogwarts.
I love the fact that each of my fellow travellers was anticipating this journey for their own reasons. Some loved Harry Potter and wanted to travel in the footsteps of the famous literary legend. But some simply loved steam trains, and this is touted as one of the greats.
This is one of the main train journeys’ that I wanted to go on while we were on this trip, so yes, I am excited” Chris tells me.
I can confidently say that I loved the experience for both reasons. There is something so captivating about watching a steam train in action. The driver (ironically an English man!) even allowed me to throw some more coal on the fire to power the locomotive before we departed, and I was confident that the Jacobite was ready for action.
I loved the rhythmic clickety-clack of the tracks as the train slowly wound its way through valleys, around hills, over rivers and lochs and even stopping at quaint little stations along the way. It was like a musical accompaniment to the journey. This was a ride to be savoured and the train was in no hurry. We could watch the scenery go by and not miss a beat and of course, the anticipation for the Glenfinnan Viaduct crossing was building by the minute.
I chatted to a passenger with a Harry Potter wand in her hand, obviously on the train for that very reason. She had also found that the scenery was just as impressive as the famous scene she was now a part of, and this seemed to be a very common sentiment in the carriage. We truly had a front row seat to Scotland’s splendid beauty.
The curve around the viaduct might have only lasted around a minute but every passenger on board was glued to the windows and savouring the experience. Spanning a length of around 1000 ft and a height of around 100 ft above the ground, we had incredible views over Loch Shiel and the famous Glenfinnan monument, erected to honour the Jacobite clansmen who gave their lives in the uprisings of 1745.
It was definitely one of those times where, upon the train’s arrival into the final station of Maillag, everyone released their breath and knew we had experienced something special.
After making our way north-east to Inverness and exploring some of the famous surrounding sites including Urquhart Caste and Loch Ness, it was time for another special rail journey; the Kyle Line.
The Kyle Line takes passengers from Inverness to the rugged west coast through some of the dramatic scenery in the country. Passing the Torridon Peaks, a distinctive mountain range, past lochs and moors, the isolated mountain of Ben Wyvis, and finally finishing with amazing views of Skye, the journey is as wild as it is beautiful.
Terry, one of our fellow passengers put it perfectly;
We’re off the main road, so you see things you wouldn’t see on the main road…”.
Ending in the town of Kyle of Lochalsh, it is the perfect location from which to visit one of Scotland’s most famous castles, Eilean Donan.
Our final rail journey took us back to where we started, Edinburgh. The journey from the north to the south of Scotland by rail is a little over three hours and allowed our group to reflect on the journey we had been on.
We loved the different carriages… with great views of the passing countryside and the fellowship in the group. We have visited places we might not have seen otherwise and met good people along the way” my fellow traveller Lorraine tells me.
And as Robert, another passenger, so eloquently put it;
I have now marked it off my bucket list and other people should… It is a destination that is stunning.. and the scenery outside the windows its breathtaking isn’t it…”
And I couldn’t agree more!
Have you seen a country by rail, and if so, which one? Tell us below in the comments!