Anyone who has ever slogged to work on a commuter train can be forgiven for thinking that railway travel has lost its magic.
As the train trundles past grey, monotonous buildings, the only reason to raise your eyes from your phone is to check if you’ve reached your stop.
How about reigniting the magic with a railway holiday in the Scottish Highlands? The Great Scottish Railway Journey replaces urban sprawl with lochs and mountains – transporting you back to a time when train travel was a treat, not a chore.
Covering some of Scotland’s best scenery and most iconic sights, read on to discover our five favourite railway journeys in the country (all of which you can experience on this memorable self-guided holiday) …
Glasgow may be Scotland’s largest city, but it disappears surprisingly quickly as you depart Queen Street Station and travel west along the River Clyde. Before you know it, you’re venturing into the hills and glens of the magical Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park.
The train sweeps along the banks of Loch Awe in the shadow of Ben Cruachan (keep your eyes peeled for Kilchurn Castle, a 15th-century ruin sitting at the head of the loch) before pushing on along the River Awe towards Loch Etive. Look out for the frothing rapids at the Falls of Lora, before you arrive at the picturesque seaside town of Oban.
All aboard the Hogwart’s Express! The Jacobite Steam Train features in the Harry Potter films as Harry and chums travel across the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct. Not a Harry Potter fan? This is often called ‘the world’s greatest railway journey’ and is sure to be enjoyed by Muggles too.
Board the train at Fort William and journey into a world of extremes as you pass Britain’s highest mountain, deepest sea loch, and most westerly railway station, before arriving into the busy wee port of Mallaig. You’ll have time to wander around the craft shops and the harbour and enjoy a relaxing lunch (the Chlachain Inn serves the freshest mussels I’ve ever tasted), before enjoying the journey all over again on the return to Fort William.
Inverness is the capital of the Highlands and feels cosmopolitan and connected, but it’s only after travelling out of the city that you appreciate just how wild and untamed its surroundings are. The Scottish Highlands is known as one of Europe’s last great wildernesses, and the Kyle Line transports you right into the middle of it.
From Inverness, the train glides along the banks of the Beauly Firth (one of the best places in the UK to see bottlenose dolphins) before crossing into a spectacular landscape between Loch Luichart and Loch Carron where you can see the great hulks of the Torridon Peaks in the distance. And on the last stretch towards Kyle of Lochalsh, the views towards the Isle of Skye are literally breathtaking.
Keen to follow in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, wealthy Victorians flocked to the Scottish Highlands in their droves in the 19th century. A railway line from Perth to Inverness first opened in 1863 – allowing the first tourists to venture into what is now the magnificent Cairngorms National Park.
The Strathspey Steam Railway is a nostalgic throwback to the Victorian era, with a restored locomotive travelling through lovely scenery between Aviemore and Broomhill – setting of TV series Monarch of the Glen. Keep your eyes peeled for some of Britain’s rarest wildlife, such as golden eagles, ospreys, pine martens and wildcats.
Scotland is packed full of natural beauty but it has its fair share of architectural wonders too, with the Forth Bridge being (arguably) the most iconic. This cantilever bridge stretches for 1.5 miles across the Firth of Forth – an unbelievable feat of engineering made even more impressive by the fact that it was built almost 130 years ago!
As the train crosses this UNESCO World Heritage Site you’ll enjoy great views of two other bridges – the Forth Road Bridge (built in the 1960s) and the brand new Queensferry Crossing (due to open in August 2017). This is the only place in the world where 3 bridges from different centuries sit side by side, and it’s a magnificent sight!
If you’re looking for a car-free, stress-free, environmentally friendly way to explore Scotland, look no further than the Great Scottish Railway Journey.
Sit back, relax, and focus solely on enjoying the spectacular landscape. Who said railway travel has lost its magic?