Leaving the car behind is an increasingly popular way to travel around Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a responsible, lower carbon way to go and thus tipped as a big trend. For McKinlay Kidd, designing holidays based around rail touring began way back in the mid-2000s. We started by offering short breaks featuring a return trip on the Jacobite Express Steam Train. Then it dawned on us that the service could be used as part of a tour. The excursion starts from Fort William and chugs passengers through the drama of the Scottish Highlands to the fishing port of Mallaig, the departure point for the ferry over the sea to Skye. So why not extend the trip to include the misty isle of legend and romance?
At first, some local accommodation owners and managers thought the idea of depositing customers with them without their own transport was rather odd. We soon overcame this by adding in private or small group day tours or the option of car hire to ensure McKinlay Kidd customers got to see the length and breadth of the Isle of Skye.
Soon, we created rail tours ranging from a week’s exploration to fortnight-long grand tours. Initial feedback from visitors showed how enjoyable such a trip could be, simply using regular service trains. UK customers reported on the joyful relaxation of meandering trips, sometimes reaching areas otherwise inaccessible by car, such as the great wildernesses of Rannoch Moor and Scotland’s Flow Country. Overseas visitors rejoiced at not needing to manoeuvre an unfamiliar small car along narrow and twisty country roads. They also appreciated the chance to interact aboard trains with fellow passengers, often locals going about their regular daily lives.
At McKinlay Kidd, it has long been part of our ethos to ensure we feature not only the in-demand holiday highlights but also seek out places and experiences away from the beaten path. This means helping you to travel beyond the end of the rail-line. Skye is not the only island we bring into reach. Take the slow journey from Inverness on the Far North Line to hop over to the Orkney Islands. Travel by train to Penzance then onward by plane to the Isles of Scilly. Journey by train from Dublin to the West of Ireland then explore the Wild Atlantic Way with a local guide and spend a day on the Aran Islands. We love carrying out the detailed research, pairing rail journeys with characterful locally-owned accommodation, providing taxi transfers and locally-guided tours to ensure a carefree trip.
If you are seeking a little luxury, consider indulging in a break featuring the Caledonian Sleeper and top-notch accommodation. It’s a unique feeling to depart London at night and open your eyes the following morning to the wonder of the mountains and lochs of the Highlands.
We spend hours meticulously planning such holidays so they run like clockwork. It’s the reason why we have built such a strong reputation for self-guided rail tours, long before they became tipped as a burgeoning trend. It’s also why we launched a range of fully-escorted small group rail tours in 2019. Spend a week in the company of like-minded travellers discovering the history and legends of Scotland or Ireland, featuring highly-memorable train journeys along the way. You’ll be looked after throughout by McKinlay Kidd’s tour guide who will keep you on track while regaling you with fascinating stories and insights.
If you’re considering a tailormade rail tour or joining a group tour, these are our tips for before, during and after:
- Do book with a bonded tour operator to make sure your trip is financially-protected. And check the flexibility policy – McKinlay Kidd offers a free change up to eight weeks in advance of departure, plus a value for money guarantee.
- Review the detail of the itinerary to see how much rail travel is included. Of course, some days will be spent in vehicles with guides in order to reach the spots worth seeing beyond the end of the rail-line. However, this shouldn’t mean you spend most of your trip aboard a coach.
- Check out past independent reviews of the operator and the trips. Do they have a long-standing reputation for organising and running such trips?
- When you enquire, let the operator know of any special requests or ways in which they can tailor-make the trip for you so that these can be incorporated from the outset.
- Pack lightly – space is limited aboard trains for storage of baggage and few stations offer porterage so make sure you can carry your own luggage on and off the trains and for short distances.
- Bring some supplies aboard for the longer journeys – catering is not always reliably provided by the rail companies.
- Don’t worry too much about which side of the train you are sitting on – longer journeys will feature much of interest on either side.
- Do engage with other passengers – this can be a rewarding way to learn more about local life and add some fresh perspective to your trip.
- Stay two or three nights at each destination – space your travel days with the chance to explore the local area. We provide plenty of tips for walks or local excursions that don’t need you to drive.
- If you have booked with McKinlay Kidd, enjoy the reassurance that we are contactable 24/7 during your trip. If plans are disrupted at all, that’s not your problem – it’s ours.
- Give yourself credit for choosing to travel in a sustainable and responsible manner.
- Provide feedback on your trip. At McKinlay Kidd, we act upon information from our customers to review and improve all we do.
- Share the delights of UK & Ireland train touring with your friends and family and encourage them to leave the car behind for a carefree future holiday.
- Start planning your next adventure by rail – and beyond.
Words by Heather McKinlay