10 great Scottish railway routes

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A NEW book, Scotland From The Rails: A Window Gazer’s Guide, is set to be published by Bradt Travel Guides on Monday.

Here, its author Benedict le Vay shares some of his favourite routes. He says: “It is hard to know what to leave out as no Scottish rail line is boring. But it’s easy to know where to start …”

1. The West Highland Line

The most scenic railway line in the world. Don’t take my word for it, but as adjudged independently by thousands of travellers. All I can say is I have travelled every line in Britain, and this is the king of the lot.

There are so many superb ways it sits in the landscape, such as that fabulous horseshoe curve after Upper Tyndrum. The way it conquered the impenetrable wastes of Rannoch Moor and then climbs carefully down the side of Loch Treig and follows a beautiful river-carved gorge.

A train approaching the Horseshoe Curve on the West Highland Line, after leaving Upper Tyndrum. Picture: National Railway Museum/SSPL/Getty Images

Then to continue, ideally on Britain’s most successful steam service, The Jacobite, over the world-famous and Harry Potter-starring Glenfinnan Viaduct, is just a treat after treat. The stories and legends are great yarns too.

2. The Kyle Line

The line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh – for Skye – is just lovely, and not too long. It passes via the lovely old station at Dingwall and then over the top in beautifully bleak country to a sensational finale, winding through fascinating places along Loch Carron, with sweeping views of mountains and Skye. And apart from an avalanche shelter, they somehow did it without major viaducts or tunnels.

Stromeferry on the banks of Loch Carron. Picture: Getty

3. The Far North Line

Nothing remotely like this outside of Norway, this route from Inverness to Wick and Thurso just goes on and on through majestic landscape: bleak moors, dramatic lochs, herons, cormorants, seals, lonely villages and lonely halts until you can stand on the coast and look at Orkney, watching the chilly waters of the North Sea swirling and fighting the great waves of the Atlantic. You have conquered Britain’s most northerly railway. Fabulous.

4. The Highland Main Line

Just spectacular as it goes from Glasgow or Edinburgh straight up the middle to Inverness. Despite its name, it creeps through the dramatic Pass of Killiecrankie on a single track, but elsewhere it soars on two magnificent viaducts, swoops past looming mountains, climbs Britain’s highest rail summit, and rushes across grassy plains past famous distilleries. A splendid way to spend an afternoon.

 Author shares the fascinating stories behind new travel guide Scotland from the Rails

5. The Oban Branch

You know, if it were not for its illustrious neighbour, the West Highland Line, this route might be judged the loveliest. The views along Loch Awe are just – well – awe-inspiring, and the tales about this line are terrific too, such as its own “rock piano” (a very strange safety device).

6-9. Days out from Edinburgh and Glasgow

Head from Edinburgh to the charming and historically fascinating seaside town of North Berwick, or down the new Borders Railway to Tweedbank and take a stroll to lovely Melrose. Then there’s Glasgow to the sensational station at Wemyss Bay for ferries to Bute, or to Largs further down the coast where the superb art deco Nardini’s ice cream parlour (due to reopen on April 2) is not to be missed. All guaranteed to be great days out.

A poster produced for the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to promote rail travel to the seaside resort of North Berwick on the east coast. Picture: Getty

10. South-west Scotland and the Ayrshire coast

Much overlooked by tourists, but well-known by Scots from many a summer holiday, this is lovely countryside inhabited by “Oreo cows” (Belted Galloways) and fabulous towns such as Dumfries, a place with many a yarn to tell, or that splendid run down the coast through Troon and Ayr and over the high moor and down through twisting river valleys to Stranraer.

Scotland From The Rails: A Window Gazer’s Guide by Benedict le Vay is published by Bradt Travel Guides on Monday (February 15), priced £14.99

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