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Issue 33 - Right on track

Scotland Magazine Issue 33
June 2007

 

This article is 10 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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Right on track

Mark Nicholls samples an unforgettable four-night rail journey across Scotland in the style of the Orient-Express

Few journeys compare to that which is offered by the Royal Scotsman. Based on the style of the Orient-Express, this is a train that has a unique combination of comfort and luxury while transporting passengers through some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery.

With a selection of journeys from one-to-seven nights, the Royal Scotsman is a ‘rail special’ in every sense of the word: coaches of state cabins, dining cars, a comfortable lounge and an open observation platform at the rear for wonderful views.

With excursions and set down points, the tours take in visits to whisky distilleries, castles, lochs and picturesque harbours, seal trips, a chance to fish for salmon on a Scottish estate, or simply sit and sip Champagne while taking in the passing landscape.

All journeys begin at Edinburgh Waverley station, with passengers led to their waiting train by a piper. The Scottish lament still resounds as the deep burgundy coaches draw out and head north through the suburbs of the capital and across the monumental Forth Rail Bridge into Fife as guests from places as distant as Germany, New Zealand or America, meet one another for the first time.

Afternoon tea is taken as the train winds through the Angus towns of Arbroath and Montrose to Aberdeen, halting at Keith to let guests disembark for a traditional Scottish ceilidh at the Strathisla distillery of Chivas Regal, before rejoining for dinner in a quiet siding where the train ‘stables’ for the night.

The food, cooked freshly on board in the galley kitchen, is an exquisite aspect of this journey. The restaurant of The Royal Scotsman has a menu that changes daily and includes dishes of duck, pork, halibut, langoustines, scallops from Kyle of Lochalsh, salmon from the River Tay and Aberdeen Angus beef, plus traditional Scottish desserts such as crachan (roasted oats, raspberries and cream).

Dining is a great tradition on the Royal Scotsman, alternating from informal meals to formal dinners that are sumptuous affairs with a dress code of black ties and cocktail dresses.

Yet the atmosphere on the four-day ‘Classic’ Royal Scotsman tour is convivial as the intimate group of passengers, anywhere between 16 and 36, relax or talk over drinks in the lounge of the Edwardian-style observation car or wander out onto the observation platform for a better view and some Scottish air.

Cabins are spacious, comfortable and cosy, of rich mahogany decor, historic prints on the wall, and all with en-suite toilet and shower, a writing desk and broad open windows that draw in the view of the passing Scottish landscape.

Day two of the 650-mile tour begins with a gentle tug from the locomotive. It’s 6.45am and we’re on the move. Breakfast is leisurely (from 8-9.30am), as the train heads to its northernmost point at Tain and a stop at the Glenmorangie whisky distillery before back aboard for lunch ahead of the spectacular journey on Scotland’s iron road to the west, the West Highland line, which is arguably Britain’s most scenic.

The line passes Loch Luichart and the Torridon mountains, which are so old they contain no fossils with geologists suspecting they were formed before any life began.

The journey takes in breathtaking terrain; through Achnasheen, the climb to Luib summit and Achnashellach forest before descending to Strathcarron to follow the edge of Loch Carron through Attadale, Stromeferry and Duncraig.

At Plockton, the train sets down passengers for a boat trip on the loch to see seals and enjoy the views across to the Isle of Skye and the Applecross Mountains or to simply wander around the picturesque village. The evening ends with a formal dinner on the train and entertainment in the observation car from fiddler Ronan Martin.

For the third day, the Royal Scotsman retraces its route across the Highlands.

This is the beauty of such a rail journey: taking a breakfast of Arbroath smokies and perusing the morning newspapers while enjoying the glorious views on a remote and wild landscape of lochs and hills, gulleys, streams and isolated halts.

The train then heads south for a coach detour to see Ballindalloch in the Spey valley, one of Scotland’s most romantic castles. It has been the home of the Macpherson-Grant family since 1546 and is renowned for its wonderful gardens.

Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell and her husband Oliver are delighted to give Royal Scotsman guests a personal tour of their home and estate.

The night halt for the Royal Scotsman is Boat of Garten station on the private Strathspey Railway where passengers enjoy a formal dinner of pan-friend langoustines served with warm tomato consommé and followed by roast rump of Perthshire lamb and minted crushed potatoes, before settling to listen to tales from Highlander Ray Owens who brings life to the stories of Scottish heroes in his own inimitable style.

The final full day is a chance for morning activities on the Rothiemurchus estate in Aviemore, from fly fishing, clay pigeon shooting or a country walk.

Later the train moves on towards Dunkeld, stopping for a private visit to Glamis Castle, the seat of the Earl of Strathmore and the childhood home of the Queen Mother.

The journey ends as it began, back through Fife with breakfast on the move with a mid-morning arrival at Edinburgh Waverley.

The key to the Royal Scotsman is its emphasis on good company, relaxation and personalised – aspects that complement the excellent food and the beautiful landscape the train passes through.

It is certainly the trip of a lifetime, and perhaps there’s no better way to enjoy Scotland.

Factfile
The Royal Scotsman range of journeys is:
Wee Dram (one night) combining Glamis Castle and the historic town of Stirling (£870)

Highland (two nights) experiences the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands and includes visits to Blair Atholl, Inverness and the traditional Scottish outdoor activities at the Rothiemurchus Highland Estate (£1,680)

Western (three nights) travels along the West Highland line to Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute to enjoy the Western Isles with a walk along the beautiful white sandy beaches at Morar (£2,440)

Classic (four nights) the quintessential Royal Scotsman journey and one of the most popular with highlights including the Isle of Skye, the picturesque village of Plockton and Ballindalloch Castle (£3,080)

Grand West Highland (five nights) combines the scenic Western and traditional Highland journeys (£3,710)

Grand North Western (seven nights) combines the Classic and scenic Western journeys (£4,940)

The Royal Scotsman train was created in 1985 and since November 2004 has been part of the operation of luxury rail company Orient-Express Hotels, Trains & Cruises. Prices are per person and inclusive of accommodation, excursions, food and drink on the train, which operates seasonally and runs until October 22 this year.

For reservations 0845 077 2222 or from outside the UK +44 (0)207 805 5100 or visit www.orient-express.com

GNER
For GNER mainline services connecting London to Edinburgh tel: +44 (0)8457 225 225 or visit www.gner.co.uk

Edinburgh
www.edinburgh.org

Ballindalloch Castle
+44 (0)1807 500 205 or www.ballindallochcastle.co.uk

Rothiemurchus Visitor centre
+44 (0)1479 812 345 or www.rothiemurchus.net

Glamis Castle
+44 (0)1307 840 393 or www.glamis-castle.co.uk