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Top 5 Scottish Rail Journeys

3 August 2017

What can be said about Scotland? For one, the scenery (providing it's not so misty you can't see the hand in front of your face) in this wild corner of the world can never just be 'nice' or 'pretty', it can only ever be breathtakingly dramatic, awe-inspiring, and slightly ominous, and you can see all of it in its disconcerting glory through its vast selection of rail journeys.

Though I could rhapsodise endlessly about rail journeys in Scotland, here are 5 of my favourites (in no particular order).

West Highland Line

A line that is famous throughout the world for its beauty and architecture, there was never any doubt that the incredible West Highland Line would make it on to this list. Running between Glasgow, Fort William, and Mallaig, the line has been made famous for its use in the Harry Potter films and because of the steam train that runs on it: The Jacobite.

When riding on this line, be sure to look out for the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The viaduct is itself a masterpiece of Victorian engineering (only just, as it was opened in 1901). Its elevated position means unparalleled views of the valley below, as you cross its famous 21 spans that curve gently to compliment the landscape.

Strathspey Steam Railway

A short but beautiful journey, this line takes you between Aviemore and Broomhill (although some might remember Broomhill as 'Glenbogle' station from the TV series Monarch of the Glen), stopping along the way at strategic viewing points from which to see the glorious Scottish scenery. The fabulous thing about this journey is that it is steam pulled more often than not, and if you're really lucky they let you on the footplate at stops.

The highlight of this journey is passing by the River Spey, because in the foreground you have the shimmering ribbon of the water wending its way down the valley, and the backdrop is a glorious array of mountains with Cairngorm Mountain front and centre. Those with particularly good vision should be able to spot the Cairngorm Mountain Railway on the distant peak.

Cairngorm Mountain Railway

This one is a bit of a cheeky one, seeing as it is for all intents and purposes a really big ski lift, but as 'railway' is in its title, it's going on the list. The newest addition on our Top 5, this funicular was only opened in 2001 to shuttle winter sportsmen and women up Cairngorm Mountain using a pulley system as one carriage counterweighs the other.

The best part of this journey is actually leaving the Ptarmagon summit station, as it builds up speed down the tunnel to an ever-growing light. At the last moments, just as you feel you're about to hurtle off the edge of the world, the incredible panorama of the Cairngorms National Park is revealed. Maybe you'll even see a stray reindeer from the only herd in Great Britain.

The Far North Line

Its official name is 'Inverness to Thurso and Wick' but its far more romantic nickname is 'The Far North Line'. Although a commuter line, the remoteness of this 160 mile long journey means it's very popular with tourists. The line takes a fair while to do, but it stretches through Scotland from Inverness to one of its farthest northern corners.

The highlight would be Dunrobin Castle (although this is only a stopping option in the summer). A majestic-looking stone castle that looks like something out of a fairy tale, the castle stands proudly on a rocky outcrop overlooking the North Sea - very atmospheric, and a fantastic thing to see on an already beautiful journey.

Edinburgh to Inverness

A frankly glorious journey that unveils the developing landscape from the lowlands to the Highlands, this journey is another one that can be considered a 'commuter' journey. The trains that operate on it are run by ScotRail or Virgin, and there are no particular tourist trains that you can go on for a just fun day trip, but it's a stunning route nonetheless. Taking you through Edinburgh, the line skirts the east coast, through Perthshire and the Cairngorms National Park and finishes at the historic city of Inverness.

The highlight of this journey is, of course, the characteristically red Forth Bridge. This absolute icon of railway engineering still stands proud after being opened in 1890, and it is still used regularly today. Crossing the Firth of Forth, the UNESCO-listed structure is a favourite for both rail and Industrial Revolution enthusiasts all around the world, and it is spectacular that it is still in regular use today.