Make Tracks for Scotland: Highland Train Journeys

It may be to do with emotional scenes of greetings and farewells; it might be the fact that I can lose myself in the blur of passing countryside; it may just be a bit of nostalgia for a bygone era, but to me there is something so romantic about a long distance train journey.  (Admittedly, I am a hopeless romantic).  Whenever I’m on a train where the doors are opened from the outside by sliding down the window (EastCoast trains have these doors), as well as having an urge to lean out and wave, there’s a tiny part of me that imagines for a second that I am going to open the door onto a scene from the 1920’s.

Or maybe I think train travel is romantic because I’m a Scot, and the scenery I’m used to seeing from the train window is of rugged mountain, winding river and atmospheric loch; beautiful and romantic whether cloaked in mist or shimmering in sunshine.  I may be biased about my homeland, but I think the Scottish landscape is an incredibly romantic backdrop to any journey.  And travelling by train has to be the most relaxing way to experience Scotland’s natural beauty.

The West Highland Line

Once voted ‘the most scenic train journey in the world’ by the readers of Wanderlust and frequently featured in lists of top train journeys, you may have high expectations for The West Highland Line – it will not disappoint.  It is actually a tale of two lines; running north from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig, and forking west at Crianlarich to Oban.  The journey from Glasgow to Crianlarich features stunning views of Gare Loch, Loch Long, Loch Lomond and Falls of Falloch.  From Crianlarich the line continues west through Glen Lochy to Dalmally, snaking around Loch Awe, along Loch Etive, into Glen Cruitten and down into Oban.

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The northern section from Crianlarich heads into the wild and wonderful Rannoch Moor.  From Carrour (the highest train station in the UK, at 450 metres above sea level) you travel past Loch Treig and through Glen Spean to Fort William.  Continuing the last section of this truly spectacular journey, the train hugs Loch Eil and ascends to Glenfinnan, crossing its famous 21-arch viaduct (featured in the Harry Potter movies) with views across Loch Shiel.  The line then passes Loch Eilt and Loch Ailort; from here you can enjoy coastal views before the train pulls into the picturesque village of Mallaig.

And if, like me, you love the romance of an old-fashioned steam train puffing through mountainous and loch-splashed landscape, you can journey on The Jacobite steam locomotive during the summer, on the Fort William to Mallaig section.

The Highland Line

A popular train journey, this line is the Perth to Inverness section of the Edinburgh, Glasgow and London routes.  Like the other scenic rail journeys in Scotland, it is breath-taking in all seasons, but Perthshire is particularly lovely in the autumn when fiery shades ignite the countryside.  From Perth the journey takes you north through the Grampian Mountains, passing the charming towns of Pitlochry and Blair Atholl.  Enjoy views of the isolated Drumochter Pass before the train heads into the Highlands, stopping at Newtonmore, Kingussie and Aviemore, where the Cairngorm Mountains tear the skyline.  From Aviemore the journey winds over the Slochd Summit and down into Inverness.

The Kyle Line

The train journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh is my favourite of all the lines in Scotland, perhaps because it’s on my doorstep.  From Inverness the line skirts along the edge of the Beauly Firth, and juts up to Dingwall before veering west through Strath Bran and Glen Carron.  The first time I made this journey I was spellbound by the scenery; the remoteness of the landscape has a hauntingly beautiful feel.   The track tucks in past Loch Carron and meanders past the lovely village of Plockton (well worth a visit) before arriving in Kyle of Lochalsh.  This journey was also featured in the first of Michael Palin’s ‘Great Railway Journeys of the World’ series.

Plockton

If you’re travelling around Scotland this year by rail make sure you download the View from the Train app from Scottish Natural Heritage.  Available for journeys from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Inverness and Aberdeen, and Glasgow to Oban (as an app or MP3 files), you can listen to descriptions of the history, landscape or wildlife of the areas, in around 10 audio clips per journey.

So what are you waiting for?  Make tracks for Scotland and see its natural beauty unravel before you, as you enjoy some truly unforgettable journeys.  Prepare to press your face against the glass and be mesmerised.  Just don’t forget your camera.

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