Steam Trains in Scotland – fun and mostly a boy thing

Steam trains in preservation in Scotland are easy to find. There are several ‘heritage’ railways here where you can get a fix of that scent of steam, hot oil & coal dust.

There is quite a selection of steam trains at various preserved lines in Scotland. Most of the steam locomotives in preservation run on their own stretches of 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.

Fort William to Mallaig

While the usual two-coach diesel units (are they still called ‘Sprinters’?) run the day-to-day timetable, they are joined in the summer season (roughly May to October) by The Jacobite.

This is 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 trains fan at all, you ought to have this rail journey on your list of ‘must see places in Scotland’ – the picture here shows the way the train fits in to the scale of the landscape. 

These days of course, the service is mobbed by Harry Potter fans.

Even the Glenfinnan Viaduct is probably better known now as the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’. What can I say? (‘Shrugs shoulders and uses mystified look of older generation’.)

Jacobite service, near Morar
The Jacobite steam-hauled services between Fort William and Mallaig in summer. Hmm, what’s that you say? Well, actually it’s the K1 Class No 62005 Lord of the Isles, approaching Morar.

By the way, there are many organised rail tours happening in Scotland and beyond. Just take a look at the listing on Rail Tours in UK & Ireland.

The Strathspey Railway – steam trains in the pinewoods

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.

In the video you can see a preserved Caledonian Railway “Jumbo” on the Strathspey Railway at Aviemore station take away the empty stock away at the end of the day’s services.

Oh, wait, maybe it’s not strictly speaking a Jumbo. (People write to me, you know…)

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 series, that the BBC successfully exported world-wide.)

Strathspey Railway, Aviemore
Ivatt Class 2 backs down for the first train of the day from Aviemore, after a late snowfall. It’s unseasonable weather on the May Day bank holiday weekend in 2016.

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!)

Check out accommodation choice in Aviemore.

Steam at Bo'ness
Bo’ness Railway Standard Class 4 2-6-4 No 80105. 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 steam railways – the Scottish Railway Preservation Society’s Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway.

By the way, there are many organised rail tours happening in Scotland and beyond. Some are themed, others are steam-hauled. Just take a look at the listing on Rail Tours in UK & Ireland.

Steam trains on the 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 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. Admission prices are good value – only £5 for an adult ticket with children (under 16) accompanying adult getting in for free.

Class D49 4-4-0 Morayshire
Class D49 4-4-0 Morayshire
D49 Morayshire
The steam locomotive Morayshire is part of the National Museums of Scotland collection.

Elsewhere in Scotland, steam trains run in Angus from Brechin to Bridge of Dun, and a group of enthusiasts are rebuilding a short stretch of railway west of Aberdeen, near Banchory.

Other preserved Scottish railways

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 steam trains don’t run here. 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 are more pictures of Scottish steam locos here, published only on this site, photographed by me when I was ten years old! (And never before been published anywhere. Mind you, you’ll soon see why…)

Or get some pictures of the steam hauled services between Fort William and Mallaig  – especially on the Glenfinnan Viaduct

My late uncle George (GH Robin) has his wide-ranging collection of steam train pictures archived in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Take a look.