Having grown up on the doorstep of the Cairngorms National Park I have experienced the glorious mountain-clad scenery from many different angles: on foot, on skis, by bike and on the water, as well as journeys by car. This rugged landscape never fails to inspire, soothe and invigorate me, and during a recent short break in Moray I experienced the majestic mountain scenery for the first time by steam train. I have long wanted to take a trip on the Strathspey Railway – the longest steam heritage railway in Scotland - and my train-loving three year old was equally happy to be travelling on a ‘steamie’ (cue a lot of Thomas the Tank references). Indeed, now with a 6 month old baby and a toddler in tow, the train ride was a relaxing way to spend some time in the national park.
The line was first opened in 1863 and the journey is incredibly scenic – particularly at this time of year when the landscape is beautifully wrapped in autumnal shades. We took the return journey from Aviemore station, which stops at Boat of Garten and Broomhill (the whole journey taking around an hour and a half). Even if you are not travelling on the steam train, I recommend walking across the bridge at Aviemore station to drink in the view of the Cairngorms.
Autumn is a lovely time of year to journey on the steam train, with a backdrop painted in an amber palette. The sun battled with the clouds during most of our journey, occasionally scattering sunlight over the autumn colours which, combined with the billowing smoke from the train’s funnel, made for atmospheric photographs. The Cairngorm Mountains looked particularly pretty doused in layers of changing light and I loved the lines of golden trees against the purple of the heather.
The train passes through moorland and woodland (home to a range of wildlife) on its way to Boat of Garten and within minutes of chugging out of Aviemore station my husband pointed out a deer leaping away from the noise of the train.
As it was a morning journey we had a late breakfast of coffee and bacon rolls, and if you’re looking for a light bite you can also choose from pastries, cakes and freshly baked scones. They also serve light lunches, and traditional Sunday lunch, as well as afternoon tea, evening meals and whisky tasting. (Next time I’m planning to travel in one of the lovely first class compartments and tuck into afternoon tea!).
I hopped off the train at both Boat of Garten and Broomhill (aka Glenbogle Station for any Monarch of the Glen fans) and my son and I headed up into the engine room during the Broomhill stop for a closer look. (Is there anything more exciting for children to see a working steam engine?!).
The staff were all great with the children and my son was in his element throughout the morning, from getting his ‘special ticket’ before boarding to climbing up to see the engine and ‘helping’ to put coal in the fire. The friendly guard, Joe, let my son wear his hat and wave a flag – as a ‘trainee guard’ – and explained how various things worked in the guard room (Isaac very seriously relayed to me that the most important box on the train is for keeping Joe’s pies warm for lunch).
Of course it’s a lot of fun for children but it’s also a brilliant experience for all ages (yes, ok I had fun trying on the hat too – just for blog post pictures, of course). Both my son and I were fascinated by the engine room – I cannot imagine what it would have been like to work in that heat. As well as showing him where the coal went, the men also tooted the whistle for Isaac, which completed his steam train experience.
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning and it was the highlight of our little October break. After our journey I watched the train puffing away with its next passengers and thought that, as well as a wonderful way to take in some truly breathtaking scenery, a journey on this heritage steam railway is a little window into a bygone era.
Our trip was a Whole Line return from Aviemore but you can also buy a Whole Line single ticket. Visit the Strathspey Railway website for more information on tickets and special events. If you are thinking about a winter break in the Cairngorms National Park, Gael Holiday Homes has a wide range of self-catering accommodation in Aviemore.
My trip with Strathspey Railway was complimentary but the opinions expressed here are entirely my own.