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Issue 27 - Intensive training

Scotland Magazine Issue 27
June 2006

 

This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Intensive training

In the first of a new series on days out by train, Mark Nicholls takes a trip on the Eastern coast line

The rail route between Edinburgh and the granite outpost of the northeast, Aberdeen, is one of the most exhilarating Scotland has to offer.

For a start, you experience two incredible feats of engineering, crossing great rivers in the process: via the monumental Forth Bridge soon after leaving Edinburgh and the Tay Bridge just before arriving in Dundee.

There are golf courses, beaches, dramatic coastal scenery, inviting towns and villages and picturesque landscapes, all visible from the carriage window. And from the various stops there are historical sites and visitor centres to call at or opportunities to explore some of Scotland’s finest destinations.

Dundee is a good location as a base to explore this region by train.

Perth is just 20 or so minutes away in one direction and Aberdeen slightly more than an hour on First ScotRail’s regular services, in the other. In between are numerous halts in the undulating Angus landscape at towns such as Arbroath, Carnoustie and Stonehaven.

Booking a Freedom of Scotland Travelpass through First ScotRail allows you to roam across Scotland at your leisure for four to eight days and the pass is also valid on some coach and ferry services.

You can hop on a train at Dundee at any time of the day and head north, back south, or inland to Perth and return whenever you want, even pausing at one of the small towns on the way.

Starting in Dundee, a city with a long maritime history, you can see two famous wooden ships that are permanently docked on the waterfront: Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery, which took him to the Antarctic, and HM Frigate Unicorn, the oldest British-built ship still afloat.

Meanwhile, Verdant Works is a centre that offers an insight into how the people of Dundee lived and worked more than a century ago when one of the main industries was the manufacture of jute.

Four miles east of the city lies the seaside town of Broughty Ferry where ‘the other half’ lived. Once regarded as the richest square mile in Europe, it was home to the wealthy Victorian textile barons who shaped Dundee’s fortunes.

Dundee also has numerous restaurants, shops, theatres and bars to return to after a day’s excursion by rail.

Taking the train west from Dundee brings you to Perth on the River Tay, which was once Scotland’s capital city. Scone Palace was the original home of the Stone of Destiny where 42 of Scotland’s kings were crowned. The home of the Earls of Mansfield, the palace has magnificent art collections, hundreds of acres of garden with woodland walks, shops, restaurants and the unique Murray Star maze.

Next stop south of Perth is the world famous Gleneagles Hotel, standing amid panoramic views and its own challenging golf course.

If you were to head north from Perth, the railway calls at Pitlochry and Blair Atholl.

Pitlochry Dam and Fish Ladder is a popular attraction, where salmon negotiate the specially constructed ladder allowing them to bypass the dam into the man-made Loch Faskally.

The line leads into stunning countryside and three miles north of Pitlochry is the Pass of Killiecrankie. The story of the famous battle in this tree-lined gorge is featured at the visitor centre.

Further on is Blair Atholl, a traditional stone built village in Highland Perthshire with pony trekking, mountain biking, guided walks or golfing.

The Atholl Country Collection folk museum portrays Highland life in a bygone era and has a working water mill. Blair Castle, the seat of the dukes of Atholl, has 32 rooms open to the public, each displaying a wealth of arms and artworks.

If you want to head to the home of golf, take the train from Dundee back across the Tay Bridge into the Kingdom of Fife and to Leuchars, a stepping off point for St Andrews.

St Andrews Links has long been renowned as the original home of golf and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, formed in 1754. The course hosted the 2005 Open Championship.

Staying with Open Championship courses, a few stations north of your base in Dundee and into Angus, is Carnoustie where the 1999 Open Golf Championship was played and won in the most exciting fashion by local boy Paul Lawrie, who comes from just up the line in Aberdeen, in a fourhole play off.

The final stations into Aberdeen all have a story to tell as the line passes through the Angus landscape, frequently offering dramatic views of the coastline.

Arbroath is a picturesque coastal town and famed for the tiny smokehouses that prepare the famous local delicacy of Arbroath Smokies, haddock smoked slowly over burning woodchips.

Also worth a visit is Arbroath Abbey, founded in 1178, where in 1320 Scotland’s nobles swore their independence from England in the Declaration of Arbroath. The full history is told in a new visitor centre.

Montrose hosts the Montrose Wildlife Basin Centre, while further up the coastline is the lovely harbour town of Stonehaven. Nearby is the spectacular ruin of Dunnottar Castle, the ancestral seat of Clan Keith, set high on a cliff and visible from the train to Aberdeen. In 1990, it was the dramatic setting for the film version of Hamlet.

Ten minutes further is Aberdeen, Scotland’s third city and the United Kingdom’s oil capital. Bars, shops, restaurants, museums, galleries, beaches, a harbour and imposing buildings give the city its character.

So often referred to as the Granite City from the stone used in its buildings, Aberdeen has much to offer.

Old Aberdeen has many historic buildings.

King’s College at the centre of Aberdeen University is fascinating, while along the old cobbled High Street places of interest such as the Art Gallery, Marischal College, the Maritime Museum, Provost Skene’s House, the harbour and the shops, bars and restaurants in and around Union Street are all within walking distance.

Aberdeen also has three cathedrals. St Machar’s Cathedral (Presbyterian) has a magnificent heraldic ceiling from 1520, while St Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in King Street retains strong links with the United States, so much so that a young John F.

Kennedy came to see it for himself. There is also St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Huntly Street.

From Aberdeen, there are numerous opportunities for an onward journey. Ships leave for the Orkney and Shetland islands, there are good air links, and the railway line continues north with a frequent service to Inverness.

From Inverness – the Highland capital – the route thrusts on to the very top of Scotland to Thurso, branches off west over stunning terrain to the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Western Isles, or returns south to Edinburgh and Glasgow via Perth.

Links
First ScotRail: www.firstscotrail.com or tel:+44 (0)8457 550 033 for tickets, timetables and more information.

Freedom of Scotland Travelpass allows for any four out of eight consecutive days travel for £96 or any eight out of 15 consecutive days travel for £130.

The pass is valid on all scheduled daytime passenger trains for journey wholly within Scotland and also includes GNER and Virgin trains, plus 10 per cent discount on Caledonian Sleeper Standard fares when travelling to and from Scotland.

Perthshire Tourism: www.perthshire.co.uk
Angus and Dundee: www.angusanddundee.co.uk
Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board: www.standrews.co.uk
Aberdeen and Grampian Tourist Board: www.agtb.org