Scotland is a very popular destination now, and with the Highlands and Islands grabbing a spot in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019 list, its popularity is likely to continue soaring. And there’s a myriad of reasons for this. Dotted with medieval castles, standing stones and whisky distilleries, whether you wish to pit yourself physically against the land or drink in its history and culture, it will not disappoint.
Discover why the Scottish Highlands are a fabulous destination and how travelling Scotland by train will offer the best experience.
The far north of the Scottish Highlands
The Romantics knew a thing or two about solitude and the Scottish Highlands are one of the few remaining places in Europe where you can still find the space to enjoy it.
But you don’t have to travel solo to be left speechless by the magnificent beauty of the Highlands. It’s a landscape that offers mysterious lochs, gentle hills and rugged peaks, empty sandy beaches and turbulent tides which will thrill and inspire.
The Far North Line takes you north from Inverness along the North Sea coast to Thurso and Wick. For 4 hours enjoy the varied landscapes from peat bog to woodland and salmon rivers.
This is where train travel comes into its own – you have all the time to stare out the window at the wild and remote land, spotting Skibo Castle across Dornoch Firth or Cabisdale Castle near Culrain, rather than wondering whether you should have taken that left turn 15 miles back. [more]
Jump off at Invergordon and find large, bright murals decorating the sides of 17 buildings, illustrating the town’s industrial and social heritage. A veritable outdoor art gallery.
Or why not stop at Dunrobin Castle, seat of the Duke of Sutherland? A castle has stood there since the Middle Ages, with some of the old walls still visible in the courtyard. It was remodelled in the 19th century in the Scottish Baronial style by Sir Charles Barry, the architect who created the Houses of Parliament in London. The formal gardens were influenced by the French style, more than a hint of Versailles’ gardens are evident in the design.
Thurso is the most northerly station of the British Isles and from nearby Scrabster you can head to Orkney by ferry.
Coast to coast across the Highlands
An alternate from Inverness is to travel the Scottish Highlands by train, coast to coast. The Kyle Line runs alongside shimmering lochs and open moorland to the Kyle of Lochalsh, offering fabulous views of the Highland landscape and breath-taking views of Skye at the end of the line.
If you’re a fan of the BBC TV series Hamish Macbeth, you’ll want to explore the primary location for the series. Disembark at Plockton station and stroll around the picturesque village on the shores of Loch Carron. Just along from Plockton is Attadale Gardens, a horticulturalist’s dream with views of Skye and sculptures scattered throughout.
The castle, carefully restored between 1911 and 1932, had been left ruined for around 200 years having previously served as a defensive measure against raiding Vikings and latterly a Jacobite garrison.
With its castellated bridge connecting to the mainland, the castle’s defensive days are over but it’s now a popular attraction – you could also get married there if you fancy!
West Highlands and the Jacobite Steam Train
Harry Potter fans will delight at the West Highland Line which leaves Glasgow heading to Oban or Fort William and Mallaig, but there’s more to this line than a single cinematic moment.
Views… we keep talking about them, but truly the views are impressive from the window as you travel the West Highland Line. Red deer will appear silhouetted against the skyline, The Trossachs tower out of the land and the desolate wilderness of Rannoch Moor brings the words of Romantic poets to your ears… they are awe-inspiring.
Head north to Fort William and Mallaig and you will pass the highest altitude station in the UK and you will see the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. If you’d like to ride the Jacobean Steam Train, alight at Fort William and enjoy a trip to the fishing village of Mallaig via the Glenfinnian Viaduct. [more]
From Mallaig, you can catch the ferry to Skye and the Small Isles or spend time walking around the village before catching the return train to Fort William.
Luxury train travel
For those who fancy luxurious train travel reminiscent of Edwardian times, the Belmond Royal Scotsman will relight the romantic flame of travel.
It is certainly not cheap, but the elegance and sophisticated service is evident from the moment you board. Private cabins, polished mahogany panelling and furnishings of tweed and Highland wool soothe you into your journey.
Not only is the scenery worth marvelling at, so are the stories of your fellow travellers as you mingle in the train’s elegant bar and restaurant. With a choice of journeys including Heritage Homes and Gardens, Taste of the Highlands and the Scotch Malt Whisky Trail, this is exploring Scotland by train, the deluxe way.
Start your Highland Experience in Style
Before you head into the magnificence of the Highlands, why not relax at CLC Duchally Country Estate in Perthshire, known as the Gateway to the Highlands.
Set in 27 acres of parkland, Duchally Country Estate is served by Gleneagles Station which is frequented by the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston and the long-distance – Inverness to London King’s Cross – Highland Chieftain Service, ideal for lovers of train travel.
Relax in a luxurious lodge or stylish hotel room, enjoy the spa and leisure facilities, dine in the award-winning Monteaths restaurant and partake of a whisky or the Estate’s own Gatehouse Gin in the Whisky Bar. A great start to a holiday exploring the Scottish Highlands by train.