Scotland by rail

Posted on July 28, 2015 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

train ride to scotland

Scenery from somewhere north of England


I am one of those people who would get excited sitting in the front row on the top deck of a double decker bus. And often I would end up sitting next to kids under 10 years of age who are equally excited, though I don't express my enthusiasm as explicitly as they do.

Hence, I can't verbally express the joy I feel when I am on a train. Perhaps what I enjoy most is staring out of the moving window while scenery, buildings, animals and people disappear from my peripheral vision. Those fleeting moments are not dissimilar to our experiences in life; one minute it is there and next minute it is gone. Unable to grasp the moment, we can only act as spectators and watch the changing scenery pass us by.

Sometimes people are bemused by my keenness to travel by rail, whereas I am equally bewildered by their eagerness to reach the destinations as fast as possible. I often feel that the most thrilling part of traveling is the journey itself rather than the destination. If time permits, I would always pick the longer and more interesting travel route.


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Months ago when I was planning a trip to Scotland from London, I forwent the cheaper flying option and opted for the more costly and time-consuming train option. The booking process also turned out to be more complex and baffling, it is no wonder many travelers prefer the flying option. It took me days to figure out the routes, but one thing certain was that I wanted to include the Caledonian Sleeper, one of the two remaining sleeper trains in Britain (the other is The Night Riviera from London to Penzance).

Finally, I decided to take the Virgin Crusader from London to Glasgow (5 hours), then from Glasgow to Inverness (3.5 hours), and return back to London via the Caledonian sleeper (12 hours). Even though I had planned and booked almost 3 months in advance, I still had to pay £50 for a reclining seat (vs. £130 for a shared berth) on the Sleeper train. I can't say that it was a bargain compared to a £30 Easyjet flight.


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Arriving in Glasgow via Virgin Crusader


Out of the three journeys, the most pleasant and comfortable one was the Virgin Crusader. I paid an extra £10 for first class, and it was definitely worth it. The service was attentive, with complimentary food and drinks available throughout the 5 hour journey. However, the scenery is less spectacular than the journey I took to and from Edinburgh via the East Coast two years ago.


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 Station after station...


For breathtaking scenery, it necessary to travel further north. The journey from Glasgow to Inverness offers some stunning views of the Highlands. The train passes by two significant summits: Drumochter and Slochd, and two viaducts: Culloden and Tomatin. Although it was the end of June at the time of travel, snow on the summits was still clearly visible.



Scenery of the Highlands


My last leg of the train journey was taking the night train from Inverness back to London via the Caledonian Sleeper. The train was surprisingly busy, but I was lucky to have two opposite seats to myself. In terms of comfort level, I would say the seats are similar to most airline's Premium class seating. Nonetheless, do not expect to sleep well throughout the night especially if you are a light sleeper. I woke up a few times in the middle of the night and watched sunrise hours before the train arrived into London.


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Since March of this year, Serco has commenced a 15-year contract to operate the Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland. More than £100m (part-funded by a £60m grant from the Scottish government) will be invested in building 72 state of the art carriages, which will make up four new trains by the summer of 2018.

It will be interesting to see these new trains, and I wonder if they will lure travelers back to rail travel again (given that they will not be too outrageously expensive)? Although British rail travel has passed its heyday, there are still some notable routes that are worth the time, effort and costs. My only advice is this: book early to avoid being charged an arm and a leg!


This post was posted in Travel, Nature, Transport, Train journey, Britain and was tagged with nature, Scotland, trains, Glasgow