I’m a fan of the Man in Seat 61. Rail enthusiasts will be familiar with his encyclopaedic website which details long-distance train travel information and lists top rail journeys. Top of his list is the West Highland railway and the overnight sleeper from London to Fort William.
So, on Monday 1 August, my son and I boarded the Caledonian Sleeper at Euston Station at the civilised hour of 9pm. Thirteen hours later, after a good night’s sleep in twin bunk-beds (punctuated by a stop and de-coupling at 5am at Edinburgh Waverley from where half of the train headed off in the direction of Inverness) we pulled into Fort William. We’d had at least a couple of hours marvelling at the Highland scenery while enjoying an extremely leisurely breakfast in the dining carriage – this was a chance to chat with other passengers and hear why they’d chosen the slow way to reach Scotland.
We had plans to catch a train from Fort William to Glenfinnan to look at the landscape and the famous viaduct but it was raining so we decided to postpone that excursion for a future holiday. Rain (on and off) was a feature of our holiday – this made a refreshing change from the heat and drought in southern England.
We met a friend who lives in Fort William and she told us, over a cup of tea and a dish of haggis, that she couldn’t contemplate living anywhere else. Fort William has everything she needs, including a newly built cinema, and the surrounding scenery is stunning.
Later that week, having done the sights of Edinburgh and Glasgow (staying at the excellent Glasgow Youth Hostel in the elegant West End of the city), we went by train to the North East Highlands. We spent the night in Nairn which is a few miles east of Inverness, on the mainline to Aberdeen. Nairn is located by the Moray Firth and there are glorious views across the Firth to the coast north of Inverness. Our Bed and Breakfast was a minute’s walk from the beach where there was a ‘Borrow Box’ full of buckets, spades and other seaside toys – a thoughtful touch for holidaymakers with young families, especially those travelling light by public transport.
Last stop on our Scottish adventure was the granite city of Aberdeen, which is close to the Cairngorms National Park and the beautiful countryside of Aberdeenshire. We enjoyed wonderful hospitality courtesy of four friends who love living in Aberdeenshire.
On Saturday 6 August we took the train from Aberdeen to London Kings Cross. This is a seven hour journey and has moments of delight – rugged coastline, fishing villages, wildlife – notably wading and sea birds, beautiful architecture such as Durham Castle and Cathedral, and York station.
We’re keen to go back to Scotland and we’d gladly use the Caledonian sleeper again – perhaps to Inverness with onward connections to Wick, John O’Groats and the Orkney Islands. If I had to sum up the train journey in two words it would be ‘thrilling adventure’. Two more words: highly recommended.