Scotland by Rail: Relax and enjoy

View from the train, near Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.

View from the train, near Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.

It was a near perfect way to travel.  We sat in comfortable seats on the train and watched the Scottish countryside roll by our window. The lush foliage of the Clyde River valley around Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, gave way to a windswept landscape and craggy peaks of the Highlands. We were on a day trip to Inverness—a three-hour train ride from the heart of one city to the other. On the trip, all we had to do was relax and enjoy the experience—which included getting to know a family from the southwest coast of Scotland, on their way to the Highlands for a holiday.

Scotland is a compact country with good public transportation. We didn’t want the hassle of driving on the “wrong” side of the road, so we opted to make like locals and walk when we could and take a bus or the train for longer journeys.

Queen Street Station in Glasgow

Queen Street Station in Glasgow

It didn’t take long to immerse ourselves in this plan. A bus immediately outside baggage claim at the Glasgow airport took us to Queen Street rail station, about a half-mile walk from our hotel in the Merchant City area. I knew nothing about the various city neighborhoods when I booked a room at the Fraser Suites, but what a delightful find this neighborhood was! From a window in our room—chic, contemporary lodging inside a converted mid-1800s bank—we could set our watches by the clock in the sixteenth century Tron Church tower, still keeping perfect time. Busy shops, pubs, and restaurants lined the streets, and there was a nearby stop for a hop-on/hop-off bus, which let us explore at our leisure.

Glasgow Cathedral, as seen from the Necropolis.

Glasgow Cathedral, as seen from the Necropolis.

We filled one long day with visits to the Glasgow Cathedral and the nearby Necropolis cemetery, Riverside Museum (a museum of history and transportation), and Willow Tea Room, designed by Scotland’s favorite architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Our favorite discovery was St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, where exhibits place different religion’s symbols and art side by side to promote understanding and respect among people of different faiths.

In Inverness, our time was limited to an afternoon so we popped in to the tourist office for suggestions and picked up a map outlining a lovely, relaxing walk along the River Ness, which flows swift and clear through the city just a few miles below the famed Loch Ness. Alas, we did not see Nessie.

All of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside is on view from Edinburgh Castle.

All of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside is on view from Edinburgh Castle.

Our Scottish exploration continued by train to the capital, Edinburgh. The owner of the B&B we stayed at advised us to take a cab from the centrally located train station. Like Rome, Edinburgh is said to have been built on seven hills, and it seems like you are always going up or down one of them no matter where you walk. The fortress that is Edinburgh Castle perches on top of the most prominent hill, Castle Rock, actually an ancient volcano. The fortress has played a role in many revolutions, rebellions, and uprisings since the 12th century, and today is Scotland’s most popular tourist attraction as well as the symbol of the city.

Greyfriar's Bobby sits patiently, still waiting for his master to return.

Below the castle in Old Town (as opposed to New Town, built in the mid-1700s), pre-Victorian buildings line steep, winding streets. A statue of the famed little dog Greyfriars Bobby is here, near an unassuming coffee shop called “The Elephant House.” It’s a favorite of Edinburgh native Alexander McCall Smith and J.K. Rowling, who sipped coffee in the back room while writing the first Harry Potter novel. (Be sure to check out the Potter graffiti in the rest rooms.) In this city of eerie cemeteries, narrow passages, and the famed underground vaults and tunnels where the poorest of the poor once dwelled, it’s easy to see where she got her inspiration—as well as a few character names. Don’t leave Edinburgh without giving other Scottish writers their due: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson are honored at the nearby Writer’s Museum.Edinburgh:Elephant House Graffiti sm

For more information:

How to roll: www.ScotRail.co.uk

How to plan: www.VisitScotland.com

Where to stay: Fraser Suites, Glasgow: http://glasgow.frasershospitality.com; Mingalar Guest House, Edinburgh: http://www.mingalar.eu

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Comments

  1. Sounds like a great trip!

  2. Jo Owen says:

    Great descriptive article…felt like i was there 🙂

  3. Mim Eisenberg says:

    It makes me want to visit Scotland. And wouldn’t it be nice if more places mounted exhibits like St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art? The world’s people could use some more understanding of each other. The fine photos were an added bonus to this well-written piece.

    • Fran Morley says:

      Thank you, Mim. St. Mungo’s Museum was very impressive and moving. The exhibits not only show comparisons among the world’s religions – how each celebrates motherhood or honors the dead, for example – but places significant items in a way that it’s easy to see how we are all “one.” I was particularly impressed by a magnificent bronze statue of the Hindu god Shiva in front of a line of spectacular stained-glass windows from a Christian church. I think the museum should be required viewing for anyone trying to understand different cultures.

  4. Allison Bailey says:

    Very nice article! Visited Scotland about 12 years ago and this brought back memories!

  5. William Bruce says:

    Interesting and inspiring article by a great writer. Makes me want to visit the land of my ancestors.

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