Search this site:
Steam trains in action in Scotland are quite easy to find. There are quite a number of locations where steam trains regularly perform. Most of the steam locomotives in preservation run on their own stretches of preserved track. However, what is probably the best-known steam-hauled service in Scotland runs on a route that is still part of everyday rail communication in Scotland. This is the Fort William to Mallaig service.
While the usual 'Sprinter' type units run the day-to-day timetable, they are joined in the summer season (roughly May to October) by The Jacobite - the name given to the steam-hauled train that makes the spectacular trip from the self-styled 'Outdoor Capital' of Scotland, Fort William, to the ferry and fishing port of Mallaig and back again - a total of 84 miles (134 km).
Honestly, though, even if you're normal and not a steam train fan at all, you ought to have this rail journey on your list of 'must see places in Scotland' - the picture (left) shows the way the train fits in to the scale of the landscape.
Click this link for another steam trains picture, taken - moments later and facing the other way - as the train passed by the White Sands of Morar.
Now, where else can you see Scottish steam? Well, the other scenic journey is the Strathspey Railway, on the former Great North of Scotland line that once followed the valley of the River Spey northwards. Today, the preserved section of the line runs as a spur from Aviemore in Strathspey to Boat of Garten and Broomhill. (This was the station that featured as Glenbogle staion in the old 'Monarch of the Glen' popular tv hokum, I mean, series, that the BBC successfully exported world-wide.)
Aviemore to Broomhill is a 10 mile (16km) trip with excellent views of the Cairngorm mountains through the birchwoods. A trip by steam train here is an essential element of the Aviemore and River Spey experience. (Yes, there's much more here than just pinewoods and outdoor clothing shops!)
(Below) Looking west from the footbridge over the railway at Bo'ness, a preserved line close to Edinburgh. Note abandoned dock above the locomotive and the Longannet Power Station chimney on the horizon. The estuary of the River Forth is also in shot, though I just managed to keep an oil refinery out of the composition. Well, Scotland can't be scenic all the time, can it?
Here is another re-creation of a rural Scottish line as it was towards the end of the days of steam. This is another of Scotland's preserved stem railways - the Scottish Railway Preservation Society's Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway. Stand on the platform at Bo'ness with its overall 'train shed' roof and it's hard to believe that the station site, the sidings beyond and also the adjacent railway museum only really got under way as a project in 1979. There was a station nearby as well as a network of sidings - Bo'ness was an industrial town - but all disappeared in the 1960s. So this is truly a re-creation, with station buildings, signalbox, footbridge and so on all originally from other parts of the Scottish network so savagely cut back in the 'Beeching era'.
The Bo'ness foreshore, along which the first part of the line runs today, is perhaps not quite as scenic as the lines described above. Grangemouth refinery looms and flares to the west. But the trip is of interest, if only to see how the area's history of salt panning, pottery and coal mining (all gone now), has left its mark on the healing landscape. The line runs through woodland up to Birkhill, where you can have an underground experience with a tour of a former fireclay mine before catching the train back down the hill again. The Scottish Railway Preservation Society's Museum on site at Bo'ness is also well worth a look and is great value at only £1/adult admission (2009).
(Above) Class D49 4-4-0 Morayshire (and that's about as technical as I intend to get) passing the Bo'ness signalbox.
Elsewhere in Scotland, you can also trundle by steam train from Brechin, in Angus, to Bridge of Dun, and a group of enthusiasts are rebuilding a short stretch of railway west of Aberdeen, near Banchory. This is on the trackbed of the branch line that ran from Aberdeen to Ballater in Royal Deeside until 1966 and is possibly one of the most regretted of the 1960s wave of track closures. (Having said that, did you know that Hawick in the Scottish Borders is the largest town in Scotland without a rail connection?)
Anyway, back to the preserved railways: finally, there is a pleasant excursion available on the Keith to Dufftown Railway - nice views, attractive countryside, between the two whisky-themed destinations. Dufftown styles itself as the 'Whisky Capital of Scotland'. Unfortunately the motive power for this 11 miles (18km) trip is an old diesel multiple unit from the late 1950s. As any trainspotter of a certain age will tell you (who? me? well, really….!), these were considered abominations when they replaced their beloved steam predecessors. But they must appeal to some folk.
There is more Scottish steam here, published only on this site, photographed by me when I was ten years old!
Find out more facts about Scotland here.
Search this site:
Scotland in Three Days