After flying across the Atlantic Ocean, one of the best ways to get settled in the UK is to take a seat on a train. My wife, twin daughters and I recently travelled to Scotland from Canada, and after landing in Edinburgh, we went straight to the downtown Waverley railway station to catch a ride north to the small Highlands city of Inverness.
Edinburgh is really hopping in the summer, thanks to a string of lively festivals (such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world) and tourists who descend on the capital from around the world. We wanted to save the urban excitement for the end of our time in Scotland. Escaping the bustle and crowds of Edinburgh, we found our first-class seats (reserved with passes from ACP Rail) and within minutes had crossed the Firth of Forth and were surrounded by a patchwork of green pastures and rolling hills sprinkled with sunshine.
We had booked a rental car for some of our travels — but I was relieved to not have to immediately attempt driving on the other side of the road.
Low clouds tumbled off mountains on both sides of the tracks as we zipped further north, passing through the stunning vistas of Caingorms National Park. Small cottages were roofed with slate and turf; stone bridges and steeples peppered the horizon. The views became bigger and the towns and roads smaller as we travelled. More nature, fewer people. A couple cans of lager — and cookies and crisps for the kids — from the snack cart and we were all set. A perfect start to our holiday.
The ScotRail network of tracks covers almost the entire country, from the developed Edinburgh-Glasgow corridor to Wick (near the northeast corner of the country) and Stranraer in the southwest, where ferries depart for Northern Ireland. Key stops include Inverness, the gateway to the Highlands; Fort William, the outdoor activity capital of the UK; and Kyle of Lochalsh, just across the bridge from the legendary Isle of Skye.
And with train travel, perhaps more so than any other motorized means of movement, the journey can be just as amazing as the destination. ScotRail promotes a collection of scenic rail routes, including the distilleries, salmon rivers and golf courses of the Far North Line to Wick, and the West Highland Line, which departs from Glasgow and crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct (which is used in the Harry Potter films) amid a landscape of mountains, steep-sided lochs, and heather moors. “You’ll pass some of the smallest, remotest stations on the network — a few buildings, and nothing more for miles around,” the ScotRail website says about the West Highland Line. “And you’ll be glad you’ve come by train, passing through country where no roads were ever built.”
So, what are you waiting for?