LifestyleA Serene Stroll Through Scotland: Silent Nights and Wee Drams

A Serene Stroll Through Scotland: Silent Nights and Wee Drams

This content is a creation of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Examining a map of the United Kingdom’s railway system reveals a complex web of mainlines and branchlines, intricately woven to reach most corners of the country. However, when looking towards the north, the Scottish Highlands stand out as an anomaly. With only a handful of railway lines serving this rugged terrain, it appears isolated from the rest of the network, like stray threads unraveling from a ball of yarn. Two significant routes, the West Highland Line and the Highland Main Line, run parallel before diverging in opposite directions, leaving a vast blank space between them – an area where no rail lines traverse, untouched by the cartographer’s pen.

The stretch of wilderness between Corrour station on the West Highland Line and Dalwhinnie station on the Highland Main Line poses a daunting challenge. Spanning 22 miles with no public transport, roads, or marked footpaths connecting the two stations, it presents one of the most rugged and remote terrains in Western Europe. Navigating this gap necessitates a two- to three-day trek through the untamed heart of the Highlands, alternating between rail and foot travel.

Embarking on this journey were two companions – myself and my friend Al. Initially planned for early autumn amid the vibrant colors of changing leaves and the sounds of rutting stags, our timetable shifted to November. As the deer descended from the mountains and frost began to cloak the glens, we found ourselves facing an early arrival of winter. Rime ice clung to fences along the railway, with heavy snowfall predicted to follow our northbound train.

Tracing back to history, the UK’s inaugural sleeper service launched on a spring night in 1873, departing from London King’s Cross en route to Glasgow. These ‘sleeper’ trains, inspired by American counterparts, were promoted as the ‘Most Interesting Route to Scotland’, offering travelers the unique experience of ‘Traveling in your Pyjamas’. Despite facing competition from faster daytime trains and budget airlines, sleeper services endured over the centuries, with the modern Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston standing as a tribute to this Victorian tradition.

Within the dining car of the Caledonian Sleeper, a taste of Scotland awaits, with haggis and Tunnock’s caramel logs on the menu alongside a selection of seven single malt whiskies at the bar. A diverse mix of passengers, including oil traders en route to Aberdeen, adds to the ambiance of this unique journey.

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