Day one – meet and greet in Glasgow
Make your own way to Scotland’s largest city, perhaps arriving a day or two early to experience its myriad pleasures in your own time – the architectural jewels of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and brilliant contemporary art for starters. Just let us know if we can help with such arrangements.
Join your fellow travellers this evening for a welcome dinner hosted by your tour leader.
Your accommodation in Glasgow
Relax before your journey in elegant style just yards from where you’ll catch your morning train. You can also enjoy spectacular views over the city from the rooftop area – and there’s a free mini-bar in every room to toast your forthcoming adventures!
Day two – the West Highland Line and Loch Ness
Leaving Glasgow’s cosmopolitan bustle behind, your train will skirt the Firth of Clyde onto wooded slopes above Gare Loch, Loch Long and Loch Goil, before gliding effortlessly around Loch Lomond’s famously bonnie banks. White-flecked rivers accompany you through remote gorges, while viaducts swing past peaks like Ben Doran. Rannoch Moor provides an almost Zen-like meditation on wild tranquillity distilled from peat, river and lochan.
Stepping off the train at Fort William, you can glimpse nearby Ben Nevis on your transfer to the southern shores of Loch Ness. Following a soup-and-sandwich lunch stop, stretch your legs with a walk to a stirring memorial for WW2 commandos who trained locally. Pause too by lovely Loch Oich to discover the 17th century tale of bloody clan vengeance behind a very different monument.
Your accommodation in Fort Augustus
A stone’s throw from the southern tip of Loch Ness is arguably the finest hotel on Britain’s most mysterious patch of water. Whatever stirs below the loch’s surface, you’ll enjoy eco-conscious comfort in a beautiful Victorian building with gardens containing a wall built against rebellious Jacobites in 1715 and 1719. Should you choose to dine in the hotel, there’s fine food too from a chef taught Michelin panache by Albert Roux.
Day three – visit Urquhart Castle and the Falls of Foyers
Rise early to join a short Loch Ness cruise before your group head to the historic village of Dores on the loch’s lesser-visited side. En route you’ll stop at the Falls of Foyers, tumbling 60m through sylvan woods. From Dores you can gaze 22 miles down the loch back towards Fort Augustus, watching as light and water ceaselessly shift into new patterns.
You end the afternoon amid 1,000 years of history at the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Imagine ancient feasts in the Great Hall, then take in some final loch vistas from atop the Grant Tower before returning to Fort Augustus.
Day four – history meets magic on The Jacobite Express
Returning to Fort William, it’s ‘All Aboard’ the Jacobite steam train to complete your trip on the West Highland Line, a journey starred with film associations. Rattling past the silver sands of Morar you’re on the set of Local Hero and Highlander, while this is the train for wizard passengers in the Harry Potter movies, memorably puffing across the Glenfinnan Viaduct en route to Hogwarts rather than Mallaig.
Tick off Britain’s deepest freshwater loch (Loch Morar), shortest river (River Morar) plus the deepest seawater loch in Europe (Loch Nevis) along the shore where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in 1745 – and fled a year later after defeat at Culloden. On a clear day, you can glimpse the islands of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna – plus your day’s final destination, the Isle of Skye.
As a working fish port, Mallaig offers superlative seafood for your lunch – including a spot Scotland’s Sunday Post hailed as “one of the best fish suppers in Scotland!”. Suitably fed, it’s time for the half-hour ferry jaunt “over the sea” to Skye. As you approach, enjoy distant previews of the jagged peaks of Cuillin, the epic mountain range that crowns the island.
After arrival, choose to explore atmospheric Armadale Castle (its 1790s manor house was clan home of the MacDonalds) or head for the new Torabhaig distillery to learn about a local dram expertly crafted to balance fruity notes and peaty smoke.
Your accommodation on Skye
Built as a 19th century hunting lodge, your characterful locally-owned hotel blends period features with contemporary style. Locally-sourced food and a grand location make this a wonderful stop. Dinner is included on both nights of your stay here.
Day five – Skye’s the limit
Today take in the – literal – high points of this largest island in the Inner Hebrides and discover Skye’s culture, history and traditions. Commanding a remote ridge, the Quiraing’s almost supernatural aura made it a dramatic setting for the 2015 film of Shakespeare’s Macbeth while the splintered majesty of the Cuillins honed the skills of Victorian mountaineers for more far flung peaks. Ask your guide about the 19th century Gurkha who came here, and the hill race still run in his honour. Hear stories of the warrior queen and the fortress of shadows, travel through one dramatic scene after another, then have a wander round Portree. This will be a day of rich natural beauty and poignant history as you explore the Misty Isle.
Stops and sites are at your guides discretion to make the best of the conditions on the day.
Day six – Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness
Heading back across the Skye bridge to the mainland, Kyle of Lochalsh marks the start of your 80-mile train ride to Inverness. Before boarding, though, you’ll stop to admire the 13th century Eilean Donan Castle, perched exquisitely on a loch islet.
Completed in 1897, the Kyle Line was the most expensive rail project of its era, with the opening 10 mile stretch to Stromeferry clinging to a crinkle-cut shore via 31 cuttings and 29 tunnels blasted through solid rock. Pretty coastal villages like Plockton jostle for attention with deserted beaches and mountain views, while the sharp-eyed may spot seals, otters or hunting eagles.
Poised where the River Ness meets the Moray Firth, Inverness styles itself the ‘Highlands Capital’. You’ll have much of the afternoon to enjoy its bustle, and sights like Britain’s first post-Reformation Cathedral, a stately 1830s castle plus an impressive contemporary museum and art gallery.
Your accommodation in Inverness
Set in four acres of gardens, your hotel combines elegant vintage style with “good old-fashioned Scottish hospitality”. There’s also a swimming pool – and a spa if you want to pamper yourself with a treatment.
Day seven – Inverness to Edinburgh
Your rail tour concludes with another grand train journey. Departing Inverness station, mountains dominate as you cut southward past Aviemore and the rugged slopes of the Cairngorm National Park. Look out for waterfalls and scour the hills for ‘Monarch of the Glen’ stags.
Beyond the ancient city of Perth – Scotland’s capital for five centuries – rolling fields and lush woods usher you towards the Firth of Forth, crossed within the distinctive metal filigree of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge. Grab a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle as you arrive in the heart of Scotland’s capital and journey’s end.
Your tour leader will point you in the right direction for your onward arrangements – once again, do let us know if we can assist should you wish to extend your stay in Edinburgh or need recommendations for further exploration of Scotland or the rest of the UK and Ireland.