Steam Trains in Scotland. OK, it's a boy's thing
Steam trains in Scotland are easy to find. There are several preserved 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 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 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.
(Pictured here) Hmm, what's that you say? Well, actually it's the K1 Class No 62005 Lord of the Isles and it was photographed during the 2007 season. Are you sure you need to know this? It's approaching 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 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!) Pictured here is a black and shiny Ivatt Class 2 about to pick up its train amid unseasonable weather on the May Day bank holiday weekend in 2016.
(Pictured here) 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. 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. Its family ticket at £10 is pretty good value, allowing two adults and up to three children admission. (2014).
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. 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 is more Scottish steam here, published only on this site, photographed by me when I was ten years old!