Would you like to take a great railway journey through Britain? Here’s a way to maximize those Britrail Pass miles on a week’s itinerary. It’s all aboard for Scotland! From the fens of Lincolnshire, along the North Sea coast and through the Grampian mountains and Western Highlands of Scotland when the heather is in bloom: the vistas are marvelous. From the bustle and grandeur of London to the pristine panoramas of the Scottish highlands, the varied landscapes of Britain unfold before us from the comfort of our train.
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Day 1—From King’s Cross to Edinburgh
Today begins with a transfer to King’s Cross Station for a fast train to Scotland. Trains leave every hour. When it comes to airfare,we all know how cost-prohibitive first class travel is. The premium, though, is much, much less for first class train travel. You might consider the splurge for the extra comfort, quiet and service on this journey where the travel itself is at least half the fun. In any class, however, the five-hour trip along the Eastern main line is both easy and scenic, crossing the English Midlands into majestic Yorkshire and Northumbria. The tracks hug the North Sea past Holy Island and through the Scottish border country to Lothian. Midafternoon arrival at Waverley Station in the heart of Edinburgh introduces this dramatic capital. There are plenty of hotels at several budget levels virtually within sight of the station. Edinburgh’s excellent tourist center lies right at the top of Cockburn Steps. One place to begin is www.visitscotland.co.uk; it can be a great resource for accommodation in Edinburgh and Inverness.
Day 2—Exploring Auld Reekie
If it’s your first visit to Edinburgh, there’s every advantage in taking one of the morning panoramic sightseeing tours of the city—in clement weather, on the open top of a double-decker bus. It’s simply the best way of getting an introduction to Scotland’s beautiful capital—from the Georgian “New Town” to the fabled cobbled streets of The Royal Mile: Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This afternoon you might wander the Princes Street Gardens, visit the National Gallery, John Knox’s House or the Royal Museum of Scotland, or climb Calton Hill for the dramatic views of Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth. Souvenir shops and kitschy pubs line the Royal Mile, but the serious shopping is done on Princes Street or George Street. This evening, you might at least sample a traditional Edinburgh pub crawl, joining the good-natured jostle along pedestrianized Rose Street.
Day 3—Into the Highlands
Join the train at Waverley Station this morning for a journey north into the Highlands. Our route runs over the famed Forth Bridge to Pitlochry, by the Grampian Mountains and Aviemore to Inverness, threading the countryside of whisky distilleries and ancient castles. It’s a beautiful trip. We arrive in the afternoon at Inverness, capital of the Highlands. Britain’s northernmost city has a very modest population of just under 50,000, though; it’s a friendly place and very navigable. Visit the Floral Hall Visitor Centre; James Pringle Weavers or the Scottish Kiltmaker Visitors Centre. You almost have to come away from the Highlands with a souvenir of Scottish woolens.
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Day 4—Across the Western Highlands
Today’s excursion across Scotland’s Western Highlands is the visual highlight of the trip. Often, observation cars are available that provide open panoramic views of the purple-tinted landscape. Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh is one of the great scenic rail journeys of the world. Through spectacular mountains, deep glens and past crystal highland waters and herds of red deer, the line runs down to the sea at Kyle of Lochalsh, terminus to the Isle of Skye. It is a spectacular experience presented by British rail and God! It’s there and back again. Timing the trains is easy enough, and there will be several hours at Kyle to lunch and enjoy the view.
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Day 5—Turning to the South
Inverness to York. Today, we ride the rails south. The first stage is the heather-clad highlands down to Tayside and Perth, across the Firth of Forth. Check your trains carefully; you may have to change at Waverley Station. From Edinburgh, the line cradles the east coast of Scotland along the North Sea and passes across the border at Berwick-on-Tweed. From the Border country, the line turns inland to Durham (catch a glorious view of Durham Cathedral),Yorkshire and Herriott country. The 14th-century walls of medieval York are visible from the station. The compact city is bustling throughout the year. York is a city where you want to have accommodation reserved ahead of time. Begin your search at www.visitYork.co.uk. The Royal York Hotel adjacent to the station conveys an air of travel in those high Victorian years—when York was the largest train station in the world.
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Day6—The Unforgettable City of York
Once again, a panoramic open-top bus tour offers the most efficient introduction to historic York and the warren of cobbled streets that lie within its walls. This is a compact city, though, and you might just want to strike out exploring; maps and brochures galore are available at the visitors’ center on St. Leonard’s Place. You won’t be able to miss York Minster—and you shouldn’t. Visit the Jorvik Viking Centre, a recreation of life under Viking occupation in the 10th century, and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. Wander The Shambles, visit the world-class Castle Museum and have afternoon tea at Betty’s. Of course, we’ve been traveling by train; the National Railway Museum near York Station is one of the best in the world, and admission is free. See how Queen Victoria would have made your journey.
Day 7—At Journey’s End
From York, it’s a short two-hour journey back to King’s Cross. Of course, if you can, stay on for another day in York, or take a day along the way to visit Lincoln or Peterborough.