Although it isn’t really as difficult as people expect, driving in Scotland isn’t for everyone; apart from the single-track roads in some locations bringing you nose to nose with oncoming traffic, the scenery is often so compelling that it’s hard to keep your eyes just on the road. One way to travel through Scotland, then, without maneuvering on your own is to ride aboard the Royal Scotsman, a Belmond Train; even if it didn’t traverse a majestic setting past craggy hills and lochs, it would still be one of the best trains in the world for its Edwardian vintage, wood paneled cars, superior meals and cossetting service. With additions in facilities and journeys starting this season, that quality is at an even higher level this year.
Adding to the traditional journeys, which range from two to seven nights, span the heart of the Highlands, the Whiskey Trail and Scotland’s rugged west and feature expeditions to castles, distilleries and natural wonders, is a three night trip designed for the more online/ adventurous adrenaline seekers. The Highland Survival Adventure, slated for June 30-July 3, heads west from Edinburgh, the starting point for all of the trips, to a secluded stretch of the Western Highlands. There, guides from the adventure company WILDNIS take guests to the Achnacarry Estate, the training ground for Churchill’s Commando Force in World War II, to undertake an assault course: ascending and descending sharp cliffs and then paddling across Loch Arkaig to the island Eilean Loch Airceig where, reportedly, a stash of stolen French coins was hidden, and then west on the River Arkaig. On the next day, participants are taught survival techniques and given the option of abseiling down a cascading waterfall and swimming in undoubtedly freezing waters.
Another new trip is decidedly less challenging: A Taste of Scotland with Tom Kitchin, a two night journey through the Highlands with the Michelin starred Edinburgh chef of The Kitchin is offered from September 4-6 and includes a wine master class on board, a four a course dinner prepared by Kitchin while the train is parked in the Highland village of Boat Garten and his imparting of knowledge of Scottish ingredients and specialties which are much more impressive than commonly known (and include much more than the often maligned haggis.) After a stop in Rothiemurchus Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park where guests can opt for clay pigeon shooting, an estate tour or a hike with park rangers, Kitchin presents a barbecue for lunch at a bothy (cottage) on the side of a loch. A visit to a small, specialized distillery and gala dinner with local music finishes the trip as the train glides down the east coast.
Also on deck this year, and a welcome addition particularly after the Highland Survival Adventure, is a collaboration with Dior creating the Dior Spa Royal Scotsman on board, a testament to founder Christian Dior’s love of Scotland. Two dedicated rooms decorated with the French maison’s trademark burgundy toile de Jouy motif will offer treatments designed by the company and tailored to train travel and outdoor adventures using the company’s products and techniques involving specialized strokes and semi-precious hot stones.
Looking ahead, the train is also set to expand its facilities with two new cabins next May. The Grand Suites will be more spacious with double beds and a separate living area, created by French designer Tristan Auer to showcase the marquetry designs of the paneling with a modern touch and will feature bespoke tweeds and tartans from Edinburgh’s Ara Minta Campbell Atelier. Private transportation to and from the train, personal butler service and one spa treatment are also included.