The Royal Scotsman
A Scottish Palace on Wheels
"The most luxurious and, indeed, prestigious train in the world."
Sir Fitzroy Maclean of Dunconnel
From the moment we arrive at the First Class lounge at Waverley Station, in Edinburgh, we appreciate the personal welcome and hospitality which will continue for the next few days of your journey. Our luggage is taken away to be delivered to our Stateroom, and drinks are offered as we prepare for our journey. While the train can accommodate up to 36 people, on this particular Highland Fling trip there are to be fourteen guests - a small, intimate group. Outside a Piper in full Highland dress is standing on the platform to greet us with a medley of traditional airs and tunes, as he leads the guests in a procession towards the awaiting train.
On board we are taken along to the Observation Car, the "drawing room", with comfortable sofas and armchairs, tables piled with glossy magazines, reading lamps, and etchings on the walls. A waiter (later introduced as the very charming Alan), appears with a silver salver of champagne glasses. As we sip the ice-chilled bubbly, at 1.25pm precisely the train slowly departs from the station, past Princes Street Gardens, through meandering tracks and tunnels, leaves the city behind, and heads northwards to the Firth of Forth."It is the most familiar bridge in the world. It is seen on posters and framed in railway carriage windows. To see the Forth Bridge is rather like meeting a popular actress, but with this difference. It exceeds expectations."
In Search of Scotland. H. V Morton (1929).
As we began to cross the Forth Rail Bridge - one of the great Wonders of the World - a few of us braved the outdoor terrace at the far end of the carriage. This was a truly amazing experience - even for my partner Ken and I who live in Scotland and have crossed the Forth a hundred times. To stand at the end of the train, watching the perspective of the long track lines span out behind, and the massive brick-red painted girders rise up above, just proved once again what a magnificent piece of engineering the bridge is.
After all that excitement we came back inside the carriage - only to find Alan there at our elbow, smiling broadly, " May I freshen your drink, Madam?" You most certainly can, thank you! This sheer unrepentant indulgence went on all afternoon as we gazed out at the changing scenery, and chatted to our fellow passengers (6 American couples of all ages and backgrounds). Yes, the description of a Country House party is most apt - except that we are moving at speed.
We are personally shown to our very attractive wood-panelled State rooms - there are 16 twin and 4 single cabins, compact but superbly designed with your own private shower room, constant hot water, filled with piles of soft white towels, luxury soaps and toiletries, ample wardrobe and shelf space, comfortable beds covered with rich dark fabrics in forest-greens and claret-reds. There is a dressing table, mirror, hair dryer and self controlled heating and cooling fan as well as an opening window for fresh air. There is a cabin call button for room service or assistance. The Sleeping cars were original Pullman day carriages, which have been redesigned in the classic Edwardian style.
You may like to know that the train is actually stationary during the night. You therefore do not miss any of the fabulous views and enjoy a peaceful night's sleep. But it's not bedtime yet - although it looks so comfortable. At 5pm we arrive in the Highland town of Kingussie where we disembark for our first excursion. Waiting at the station is our own private Royal Scotsman coach, again painted in the classic burgundy and cream colours of the train. We set off across the Spey valley en route to Ballindalloch, one of Scotland's most romantic castles and still the home of the Macpherson -Grant family to this day. An important farming estate, the very first Aberdeen Angus herd of cattle were reared here. While parts of the castle have been renovated and extended over the years, the original tower dates from 1546. We are welcomed personally and most warmly by the Lairds of Ballindalloch - Claire Macpherson-Grant and her husband Oliver Russell, second son of the Admiral the Hon, Sir Guy and Lady Russell.
Unlike the usual guided tour, we are free to walk around at leisure to the library with 2,500 books, and the spacious dining room with its broad fireplace and panelled in American pine. The drawing room boasts a cut-glass chandelier, fine 18th century furniture and everywhere portraits of the family down the generations. Upstairs beautifully furnished bedrooms and a delightful nursery, complete with Victorian dolls and teddies.
As Royal Scotsman guests we are then invited for a glass of wine and canapés and chat with our hosts. It is soon time to leave, wander back across the manicured lawns of the castle and on to our coach. We now drive over to Boat of Garten, a small village a few miles away where our train has arrived. Outside the carriages Craig, one of the waiters, is standing with yet another cocktail to welcome us "home".
Just time to change for dinner - the important part of the evening.
Next page > Dining - and More Sightseeing > Page 1, 2, 3.
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