The Leadhills-Wanlockhead railway, the highest UK narrow gauge adhesion railway
The Leadhills-Wanlockhead railway, the highest UK narrow gauge adhesion railway

Ten of Scotland’s greatest train journeys

Some of the greatest and most scenic train journeys in the world are to be found in Scotland.

Here, in no particular order, are our ten favourite railways lines.

1. Aviemore to Broomhill

The Strathspey Steam Railway, a restored 20-mile line which goes from Aviemore, through the osprey country of Boat of Garten and Nethy Bridge, before finishing at Broomhill, is part of the original Highland Railway. With its spectacular backdrop of the Cairngorms, it passes through a dizzying array of woodlands, moorlands and mountains. Try the onboard meals – fantastic!

2. Perth to Arbroath

Several railway experts we spoke to recoiled in horror at the prospect of us including this unheralded journey, which forms part of the Edinburgh-Aberdeen line, but we’ve got a soft spot for this trip along the Tay Estuary. Much of the journey is alongside a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the sheer diversity of wildlife you can see makes this a journey worth undertaking.

3. Keith to Dufftown

The 11-miles ‘Whisky Line’ on Speyside links the world’s malt whisky capital, Dufftown, to the bustling market town of Keith. Restored and reopened by local enthusiasts, it remains one of the most scenic and enjoyable journeys in the country, with the line winding through the leafy Spey valley and through wooded Strathisla glens. Break your journey at Drummuir and visit the castle’s gorgeous walled garden.

4. Ayr to Stranraer

Described as ‘the great hidden secret of Scottish railways’, the line south from Ayr is full of hidden treasures, with views of the Southern Uplands, the three kingdoms – Ireland, Man and Scotland – and views across to two of Scotland’s most beautiful islands, Ailsa Craig and Arran. The panoramic views as you climb from Pinmore to the peak of Dow Hill are worth making the trip for.

5. Wanlockhead to Leadhills

The Leadhills-Wanlockhead railway, the highest UK narrow gauge adhesion railway

Nestled high in the Lowther Hills in Dumfriesshire, this tiny Thomas The Tank Engine-style narrow gauge steam train is one of the great hidden railway gems. Running from the gold mining centre of Wanlockhead, which is the highest village in the country, to Leadhills, this railway was originally built to transport lead to the Clyde Valley, but is now run intermittently by a group of volunteers. The steep, rolling hills make for a gloriously bleak backdrop for the two-mile journey.

6. Crianlarich to Mallaig

The West Highland line is achingly beautiful and includes the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for its part in the Harry Potter films. Consistently voted the most scenic railway journey in the world, from Crianlarich you wind through Glencoe and across Rannoch moor, and on to Spean Bridge and Fort William. The journey to Mallaig through Glenfinnan and Lochailort to Mallaig is usually on a normal train, but in the summer there’s also a steam train from Fort William.

7. Glasgow to Oban

After wending your way along the banks of the Clyde and chugging along the bonny banks of Loch Lomond, you head through Crianlarich and take the left fork in the line at Upper Tyndrum, just before Glencoe. From there you head along the stunning Glen Lochy to Dalmally, where you’ll see the ruins of Kilchurn Castle. Loch Awe and the towering Ben Cruachan line your passage, and then around Loch Awe and past the Falls of Lora, rounding off with the descent into Glen Cruitten.

8. Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh

The line from Inverness to within spitting distance of Skye cuts across the north in an arc that takes in Dingwall, the birthplace of Macbeth; the glorious mountain scenery of Achnasheen; the towering shoreline rockfaces and inlets of Attadale, where the Vikings fought duels and held sporting events; past Stromeferry and the dreamy Strome Castle; and then onto Duirnish, where the Cuillin mountains provide the most dramatic backdrop in these islands, and where you can gaze over to the isles of Raasay, Scalpay, Longay and Pabay

9. Bo’ness to Kinneil

The Union of South Africa ‘coaling up’ at Bo’ness station (Photo: Angus Blackburn)

Operated by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, this lovely little steam railway on the southern banks of the Firth of Forth was opened in 1979 and has since been extended to meet up with the Edinburgh-Glasgow mainline at Manuel. Many of its buildings have been taken from derelict stations from around Scotland, providing a wonderfully nostalgic experience.

10. Inverness to Thurso

This journey up the far north east coast takes you via the Beauly, Cromarty and Dornoch Firths, and along a remarkably beautiful coastline. The view from Muir of Ord is spectacular, and there are castles aplenty at Foulis, Skibo, Carbisdale, Dunrobin and the magnifi cent Castle of Mey before arriving at Thurso, the most northerly railway station in Britain (it’s further north than Juneau in Alaska!).