Scotland by rail vacations

’You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye’ is from the famous Scottish song ‘The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’. And although a self drive vacation is an option, one of the bonniest breaks is to discover Scotland by rail. A tailor made trip by train, whereby you can ‘hoot’ your way through the Highlands, stopping at stunning hotels and guesthouses along the way is really one of the most relaxing ways to sit back and savour Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage. You can choose your season and length of time, the number of stops and also your route of course, with the help of experts who understand how tiresome it can be sussing out rail tickets. But also how reassuring and restorative it can be to have someone help you do it all by rail.

What does a Scotland by rail vacation entail?

So where can you go, and what can you do? And is it really all organised for you? No ticketing website nightmares? In reverse order, yes, it is all organised for you as that is the joy of a tailor made vacation. As for where you can go, well, there are various good options. An eight-day vacation around Scotland by rail starting in Glasgow, in the west, starts with a journey on the West Highland line which puffs past Loch Lomond and then into the wilderness wonders of Rannoch Moor. And from there on in, you have Highlands heaven really, with a very popular overnight stay being in Spean Bridge, in the heart of Scotlandís Great Glen and with its own railway station of course.

Using a taxi to enable quick transfers, you can then head to Fort William, on the shores of Loch Linnhe to begin one of the most historic and heart-stoppingly gorgeous train rides, the Jacobite steam train. This takes you over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct all the way to Mallaig Ė gateway to Skye, stars, and pure Scottish solace. Even after a stay on Skye you still have time to explore further north by train on a weeklong trip. This rail journey from Glasgow to Skye can also be done as a wonderful four-day trip, if you havenít got a week to spare.

Heading North

Your next leg, if you have time to head further north, is up to Inverness on the Kyle Line, because it starts (or ends, of course) on the coast at Kyle of Lochalsh, and takes you on a 120km journey to the north coast at Inverness. Traveling in the shadow of highland greats such as the Torridon Peaks, and alongside ancient forests and bogs, this is the sort of remote terrain where people still put their hands out on the platform to request the train to stop.
Travel Team
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Far North Line

If Inverness isn’t far north enough for you, you can also ask your tour operator to arrange a trip on the aptly named Far North Line which goes from Inverness to Thurso and Wick. This is a wonderful route not only for exploring the rivers where salmon leap, the peat moors that go on forever and some very distant but delicious distilleries, but also the best way to start an adventure out to the Orkney and Shetland archipelagos. The port of departure for those is Scrabster, which is close to Thurso, the country’s northernmost railway station.

After Thurso, the only other way is back down south again, taking a train to Pitlochry in Perthshire’s highlands which passes through one of Scotland’s two national parks: the Cairngorms National Park. After enjoying this pretty town, enveloped by hills and valleys with wonderful hill walking and cycling to be had, there are also equally gorgeous country hotels all with roaring fires and a fine dram just waiting at the end of the line.

Getting there and back

Most tailor made railway vacations in Scotland will also link you up with Edinburgh, the capital city, accessible in two hours from Pitlochry for example. Or you can join up with the famous Caledonian Sleeper train to take you all the way to London if you like. Get on in Pitlochry at 11pm and wake up to the sound of Big Ben at 8am.

Even the Caledonian Sleeper has a Highland route and a Lowland one. No matter which route you take, however, you will experience the most restful and soulful way to start or end your car free vacation in Scotland. A vacation that is eco and yet totally exhilarating. In some ways slower but, as itís all organised for you, it is all the more relaxing. And given that those Victorians had a knack for knowing exactly where to put a railway to make it dramatically beautiful, you are guaranteed to see the country in ways that going by car will never beat, no matter which road you take.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: 96tommy] [Intro: mentrea] [Heading North: Richard Szwejkowski] [Far North Line: Rob Faulkner]