If you book twelve weeks in advance, you can get a bargain berth on a train from London Euston to Aviemore in bonny Scotland.
You can get around by train in Scotland, but having a car does give you a little bit of extra freedom. And you save on the petrol and reduce your carbon footprint by getting up there in the first place. The Caledonian Sleeper is like something out of the ‘50s in term of customer service.
You are assigned a person who looks after you. They’ll ask you if you want tea, coffee or orange juice in the morning and point out the shelf that has a hidden wash basin in it and show you how to pull down the blinds. The berths are comfortable and you get clean white sheets, a duvet and microfibre towels. Oh and free bottled water. Magic. The journey is pleasant and you rest well in the knowledge that you’re saving on a night’s accommodation too.
When you arrive in Aviemore, the first thing you might consider doing is jumping aboard a steam train on the Strathspey Railway. They run often and are £11 return. The journey is really beautiful and you can have a coffee, whiskey or Irn-Bru on the way.
The Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore is, in my opinion, the better of the two hostels. The YHA closes its doors at 2am and is a bit dilapidated. At the Old Bridge Inn you get a key, so can stay out as late as you like and there’s a pub attached to it that often has live music. The pub is lovely and serves great beer (and whiskey).
In the daytime there are a number of places worth driving to, and going to the local tourist office on the main drag will help you plan where you want to go, but top of my list is Loch Ness.
Loch Ness is Scotland’s second largest loch and famous for the stories of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. There is a Loch Ness Exhibition Centre here which is in what feels like a building which could be a converted version of the hotel from Fawlty Towers. The exhibition must be at least ten years old but feels like something out of the ‘70s. It’s interesting nonetheless, taking you on an illuminating tour through Nessie’s history dark room by dark room. The only disappointing thing (other than the slightly steep price of six quid) is that you’re left feeling that seeing the Loch Ness monster is an impossibility, as she cannot possibly exist.
Before you drive back to Aviemore, stop by the cemetery. It is one of the most beautiful in the area and looks out to the loch. It is also near to the Falls of Foyers, impressive waterfalls set in woodland. Robert Burns wrote about the falls. The walk will do you good too, as it is a bit of a hike.
About the Author
She’s travelled over rails in the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia and loves how train travel gives a sense of distance and changing landscape.