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Ideas & Inspiration Seeing Scotland By Train - With a Spirit Of Scotland Pass
Exploring Scotland with a Spirit of Scotland pass

Seeing Scotland By Train - With a Spirit Of Scotland Pass

These Spirit Of Scotland itineraries will take you to the isles of Orkney, Bute, Mull, Arran and Skye.


Introducing Two Itinerary Ideas

ShowMeTheJourney has come up with TWO itinerary ideas for making the most of a Spirit of Scotland Pass, valid for 8 days of travel
Both trip ideas are along circular routes starting and finishing in Edinburgh, so you can jump in at any of the suggested overnight stops.

The idea is that you can mix and match the destination suggestions to suit you.
For example, instead of heading on to Glasgow from Fort William on day four of Itinerary One, you could spend the night there and then pick up Itinerary Two, so that you can then head to the likes of Mull via Oban.

Though as the trains don’t run particularly frequently on Scotland’s most beautiful railway routes, ShowMeTheJourney has focused in the practical aspects of making these trips.
However, it’s best to confirm departure times before heading to the station or planning your overnight stops - you’ll find the links to the info you'll need to check within this guide.

Itinerary One:
1. Edinburgh to St Andrews and or Dundee and back to Edinburgh
2. Edinburgh to Thurso (and Orkney)
3. Thurso to the Isle of Skye
4. The Isle of Skye to Glasgow, including a one-way ride on The Jacobite steam train
5. A day trip from Glasgow to somewhere fabulous
6. Glasgow to Bute back to Glasgow
7. Glasgow to Oban and back to Glasgow
8. Glasgow to Carlisle and on to Newcastle
(Taking the train back from Newcastle to Edinburgh)

Itinerary Two:
1. Edinburgh to Galashiels and or North Berwick and back to Edinburgh
2. Edinburgh to Aberdeen
3. Aberdeen to Fort William; and a return journey to Mallaig on The Jacobite steam train
4. Fort William to Tobermory on Mull via Oban
5. Tobermory to Glasgow
6. A day trip from Glasgow to somewhere fabulous
7. Glasgow to Arran and back to Glasgow
8. Glasgow to Carlisle and on to The Lake District in England
The Lake District back to Edinburgh d on to The Lake District in England
9. The Lake District back to Edinburgh

One: Day 1 - visiting Dundee/St Andrews

Dundee and St Andrews with a Spirit of Scotland Pass

This trip allows you to leave your luggage in Edinburgh and head off for a day of exploring the attractions to the north of the Scottish capital.
Frequent trains, which you can hop on and off with the pass, link the city to Dalmeny (for The Forth Bridge and South Queensferry), Leuchars (for St Andrews) and on to Dundee.

If the V & A Museum in Dundee is on your ‘must-see’ list, it’s best to see it on a day-trip from Edinburgh − this is because Dundee station doesn’t have any left-luggage facilities, meaning it’s comparatively awkward to stop off and visit the museum while on route to destinations further north.

Two: Day 1 - visiting Galashiels/North Berwick

An option is to head off on a day trip from Edinburgh to explore some beautiful destinations to the south and east of the Scottish capital.
Take a journey on the delightful Borders Railway to the charming town of Galashiels and here is a great guide to what you can do there on arrival.

Then if you have the time and energy to spare, when you’re back at Edinburgh station you can hop on another train and make the 35 minute trip to North Berwick and explore its beautiful beaches and more - as this local guide explains.

One: Day 2 - Edinburgh to Thurso

Head to Thurso via Inverness to experience the journey on the spectacular Far North Line.
By taking the 14:00 train on from Inverness, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the dramatic scenery of this aptly named rail route, as Thurso is the UK’s most northerly railway station.

It’s worth taking a seat on the right of the train when boarding in Inverness as the secret of this route’s beauty is its mix of mountains, moors and sea - as far north as Helmsdale it offers one of Britain’s longest coastal train journeys.
There are coastal and sea loch views available between these stations:

  • Inverness > Muir of Ord
  • Alness > Invergordon
  • Tain > Culrain by the Dornoch Firth and the Kyle of Sutherland.
  • Golspie <> Helmsdale.

Though it’s wise to plan your itinerary so you’ll be making this journey from Edinburgh to Thurso on Mondays to Fridays.
You’ll then have time to lunch in charming Inverness between trains (the connections on the Edinburgh to Thurso journey are generally awkward).

The 08:33 departure from Edinburgh, which arrives in Inverness just before noon, also makes one of Europe’s most incredible train journeys.
Edinburgh to Inverness by train

Taking a seat on the right side of the train is recommended as after you have crossed the Forth Bridge, you can enjoy spectacular views of the Fife Coast.
After departure from Perth, you’ll be travelling on Britain’s highest conventional railway, the aptly named ‘Highland Main Line’, which sounds wonderfully evocative and romantic; and it is!

Adding Orkney to a Spirit of Scotland itinerary

From May to September, if you’d like to take up the option of extending your journey north, in order to include spectacular Orkney on a round Scotland itinerary, there are two means of heading to the island from Thurso:

(1) Take local bus route/line 80 to John O’Groats. From there, you can travel on to Kirkwall, the main town on Orkney, by a combination of the John O’ Groats ferry and connecting bus on from Burwick.

(2) Take the North Link Ferries service from Scrabster to Stromeness on Orkney. On arrival in Stromness, bus route/line X1 can take you on to Kirkwall.
This second option is also available year round, but the only means of accessing Scrabster from Thurso is to book a taxi, as no local buses serve the ferry terminal.
The journey is under two miles but, in the summer, it’s best to contact one of the local taxi hire companies and book ahead of your travel date.

Two: Day 2 - Edinburgh to Aberdeen

A simple day’s travel on board a direct train to Aberdeen from Edinburgh, though take seat on the right-hand side of the train so that you can experience the fabulous coastal views.
Edinburgh to Aberdeen by train

This journeys conveys travellers over the magnificent Forth and Tay Bridges.

One: Day 3 - Thurso to Skye

To make the most of the scenery later on, when taking the second journey of the day, it’s best to take the train due to depart from Thurso at 08:34 (Monday to Saturday).
So if you’ve added to Orkney to your itinerary you’ll need to head back to Thurso and spend the night there before taking this train.
(Or you could travel in one day from Orkney to Inverness, spending the night there before picking up Itinerary Two.

You'll be connecting in Inverness for a train to Kyle Of Lochalsh, sit on the right when boarding in Inverness for the best views. This journey really does save the best till last because, after departure from Strathcarron, the vistas over the sea lochs are phenomenal.

Then connect in Kyle of Lochalsh for a bus, on which you can use your pass, over to the stunning Isle of Skye (this is the timetable).
The bus stop is a three to five minute walk from the station exit; head up to the main road, turn left, and the bus stop is on the road named ‘the old Slipway’, which is second on the left.

Choose a location on Skye that’s served by both the bus from Kyle and the bus to Armadale which you’ll be taking on Day Four.
Suitable options include Broadford, Sconser and Portree.

It’s also wise to book your accommodation on Skye before you base the rest of your itinerary around staying here; when ShowMeTheJourney followed this route, I planned the journey about a month beforehand and then discovered that trying to find anywhere to stay in a suitable location on Skye, was nigh on impossible.

(The Grand Tour route)

If the idea of including Skye on an around Scotland itinerary is what appeals the most, then the Grand Tour Ticket sold by Scotrail could be a better alternative than the Spirit Of Scotland Pass.
It includes:

  • A journey from Glasgow to Inverness
  • The journey described above from Inverness to Skye
  • The route onwards from Skye back to Glasgow, if you travel by the Scotrail trains from Mallaig.

Two: Day 3 - Aberdeen to Fort William

Take a train from Aberdeen to Inverness and then from there, at 13:00 and 15:00 a City Link bus on route 919 departs for Fort William (the journey, on which Spirit of Scotland passes can be used, takes 2hrs 5mins).

It’s best to confirm the train and bus times ahead, the connections in Inverness are usually conveniently timed, so you’ll want to make the most of them.
The bus station in Inverness is a five-minute walk from the station.
Turn right when exiting from the front of the station, then take the second right onto Margaret Street.

(A return journey on The Jacobite)

A journey on The Jacobite

During its operating season from late May to late October the Jacobite steam train makes a return journey from Fort William on the spectacular route to Mallaig, including the journey over the Glenfinnan Viaduct showcased in the Harry Potter movies.

Because you’ll be waking in Fort William, you’ll be able to take the morning departure from there, so will be able to travel to and from Mallaig on the steam train.
Though book ahead as the most popular departures sell out weeks in advance.

One: Day 4, Skye to Glasgow

It’s worth putting up with the connections on this day of travel as this is an unforgettable journey!
The first stage is the beautiful journey across Skye on the bus to Armadale which is where the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland will depart from – the Spirit Of Scotland Pass is valid on both the bus and the ferry!

The train you’ll take from Mallaig is no ordinary train though. The optimum connection is to take the Jacobite steam train which, during its operating season from late May to late October, departs daily from Mallaig at 14:10. You’ll need to pre-book separate tickets for the Jacobite − ideally at least a month ahead, as seats typically sell out well in advance.

The Jacobite train arrives at Fort William station more than an hour before the train to Glasgow departs at 17:37.
In summer, when days at their longest, it’s possible to enjoy the stunning West Highland Line scenery on this final leg of the journey (take a seat on the right-hand side when boarding in Fort William, in order to see the best of the views). Your train will arrive in Glasgow, at Queen Street station before 21:30.

Before committing to this route, it’s worth confirming the schedules of the bus to Armadale. The bus may arrive in Armadale around an hour before the ferry departs and then the ferry may get to Mallaig more than hour before you depart on the steam train – time enough for a lovely fish and chip lunch in the café at Mallaig station.

If you don’t take The Jacobite, or will be travelling on days when it isn’t operating, that train from Fort William to Glasgow, will commence its journey in Mallaig around an hour after the steam train is scheduled to depart.
There are multiple pubs and cafes in Mallaig in which to wait for the direct train to Glasgow.

Two: Day 4, Fort William to Tobermory

Take the train, which usually departs Fort William at 11:40 to Crianlarich, it will be the train heading to Glasgow and take a seat on the right to make the most of the spectacular views!
Fort William to Oban by train

On arrival in Crianlarich there should be a connection of around 50 minutes into a train to Oban, which will arrive there just before 15:30,
If you want to head to Tobermory, on the Island of Mull, there’s usually a ferry to Craignure, departing at 15:55, which connects with a bus on to Tobermory (the ferry terminal in Oban is a five-minute walk from the train station).
The Spirit Of Scotland Pass can be used for the ferry crossing.

Or spend a couple of nights in Oban and make a day trip on the ferries to Mull or beautiful Lismore – the ferry crossings to both islands take under an hour.

One: Day 5, a day trip from Glasgow

This is an opportunity to make a comparatively short day trip by train from Glasgow, the options include.

- Loch Lomond – by taking a train to Balloch
- New Lanark – by taking the trains to Lanark
- Stirling Castle - take a frequent train from Glasgow Queen Street
- The Falkirk Wheel - take bus route/line 6 from Falkirk Grahamston station, which is served by 2 x trains per hour from Glasgow Queen Street - avoid the trains to Falkirk High station.
(Both the castle and the wheel can be easily be combined on one day trip, there are frequent trains between Falkirk and Stirling).

Two: Day 5, Tobermory to Glasgow

When boarding the train in Oban it’s best to take seats on the right, as during the journey you’ll then be able to see the stunning views over Loch Awe, Lochan na Bi, Loch Gare, Loch Long and the River Clyde.
Oban to Glasgow by train

Though if there are seats available, if you spend the first 15 minutes over on the left, you’ll also be able to take in the stunning sea views which can be appreciated after departing Oban.

If you’ve opted to stay in Tobermory, the journey from there to Glasgow, can take only around 4hr 30 mins, with the optimum transfers from bus, to ferry and then on to the train.

One: Day 6, a day trip to Bute

Every hour, a train from Glasgow Central journeys to Wemyss Bay railway station.
There will be time to appreciate this truly magical station before the ferry departs for Rothesay (in the summer, the boats connect with every train arrival).

This delightful ferry crossing takes around 35 minutes and, on arrival, you can see the best of Bute touring the island on an open-topped bus.
To Bute with a Spirit Of Scotland Pass

The ferry crossing is covered by the Spirit Of Scotland Pass.

Two: Day 6, a day trip from Glasgow

Take one of those comparatively short day trips from Glasgow listed above, or head off on the day trip to Bute.

One: Day 7, a day trip to Oban

At 10:33 a train will usually depart from Queen Street station for Oban.

The charming coastal town is pretty much the perfect location for a late lunch.
On Mondays to Saturdays the train from Glasgow will arrive there at 13:43 and the trains back to Glasgow should be departing at 16:11 and 18:11.

Most of the train journey on to Oban will be repeat of the travel on day four from Fort William, but taking multiple journeys on the West Highland Line enhances any Scottish rail itinerary.

But on the fresh part of the journey between Clanriach and Oban, from the left of the train there will be views over Lochan na Bi and then after Dalmeny the railway is by the shore of Loch Awe.

Then before and after Connel Ferry station, there are some coastal views to be savoured over on the right.
So it can be a good idea to take a seat on the other side of the train on the return journey to Glasgow.

Two: Day 7, a day trip to Arran

Trains from Glasgow Central station take less than 45 minutes to make the journey to Ardrossan Harbour station, where an easy transfer is available to the ferries that travel over to Brodick, the main town on the island of Arran (it’s possible to depart Glasgow at 09:15 and step off the ferry in Arran at noon but you should check the timetable.

A network of local bus routes link the ferry terminal in Brodick to beauty spots across the island. The buses are timed to connect with the ferry arrivals.

One: Day 8, Glasgow to Newcastle

Make a diversion into England and spend some time in the fabulous city of Newcastle.
At the ticket office in Glasgow, you can book a ticket from Carlisle to Newcastle (the Spirit of Scotland Pass will take you as far as Carlisle).
On arrival in Carlisle, you’ll usually need to connect for a train on to Newcastle, but the train that departs Glasgow at 16:13 provides a direct link.
Views of the Newcastle to Edinburgh train journey

Having spent some time enjoying Newcastle, it’s then an easy and spectacular journey back to Edinburgh on your 9th day of travels; try to sit on the right-hand side of the train to make the most of the fabulous sea views pictured above (you’ll also save money if you book an advance ticket for the trip back to Edinburgh).

Two: Day 8, Glasgow to the Lake District

The Spirit Of Scotland Pass will convey you over the English border to Carlisle, so an option is take the slower and longer route to that city on the wonderful and aptly named Carlisle Line.
Then from Carlisle in less than 30 minutes you’ll be at Penrith North Lakes station, which is so named because of the access it offers by public transport to The Lake District.

Hourly buses on routes X4 or X5 stop just outside the station and provide a connection to Keswick, on Derwentwater (journey time 41 minutes) and guaranteed connections are available in Keswick on to Basenthwaite village and Cockermouth.
Route 555 provides an hourly service on from Keswick to Ambleside, the location of Wordsworth’s cottage at Rydale and to Windermere.

There are also comparatively frequent direct trains from Glasgow to Penrith, you can buy a ticket for the part of the journey from Carlisle to Penrith at Glasgow Central station.

There also multiple direct trains per day from Penrith North Lakes that will take you back to your starting point in Edinburgh in under two hours; and this journey makes for a wonderful climax to your adventure.
The Lake District to Edinburgh by train

Penrith North Lakes station also has direct trains to Birmingham, London, Manchester and Liverpool; though book ahead to save money with Advance tickets on the journey from Penrith.

Other ideas for exploring Scotland by train

How To Explore Scotland By Train
Heading off from Queen Street station
Seeing Scotland By Train: Day trips from Glasgow
Exploring Scotland By Train from Stirling
Seeing Scotland By Train: On day trips from Stirling

Exploring beautiful Wales by train

How to see Wales By Train
How To Explore Wales by Train
Seeing Wales By Train: With an Explore Wales Pass
Seeing Wales By Train: By making day trips

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.


This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.