A Train Journey in the Belmond Royal Scotsman
I generally prefer individual trips and single expeditions, but in this case I am venturing something new: A journey that literally embodies the term «travelling». At Waverly Station in Edinburgh I receive a hearty welcome with Champagne and bagpipes before boarding the nostalgic Belmond Royal Scotsman. I savor the feeling of the train pulling out of the station from the viewing platform on the luxurious «Observation Car» and with each kilometer of track travelling north in the direction of the Highlands I gradually bid farewell to everyday life and dive deeper into the gentle green of the countryside that is slowly rising up around me. At English Afternoon Tea my last remaining thoughts of mails and “to dos” vanish. I look forward to the days to come.
What an amazing morning setting! As the train moves in the direction of Inverness and light hands skillfully massage my back, I look out of the spa-carriage at the play of colors in the forest. I lose myself in the change between the blue of the pine trees and the green of the deciduous trees. I could not be any more relaxed. Equipped for the day I travel by private bus to Cawdor Castle, a beautiful castle with an even more enchanting garden. Seemingly random flower creations gently border the dominant tower, mossy ground and walls give the property an air of mystic.
But Ballindalloch Castle is also a must. The extensive rose gardens would impart a sense of romance to even the most masculine male. My statement: just lovely! The same applies to the «Secret Whisky Cocktail», awaiting us back at the platform, served by the Royal Scotsman Crew … The journey continues past flocks of sheep to the most westerly point on probably the most picturesque section of our route. Arriving at Kyle of Lochalsh, a secluded fishing village, I relish the contemplative evening mood and the cool breeze from the sea and start to get dressed up for an enjoyable evening.
The early bird catches the worm. After a good long morning walk at the harbor, I enjoy my first coffee and the free view from the veranda of the train, slowly departing and travelling east. Sea inlets similar to fjords gently wind inland in the rising sun. Now and then a stray white house appears on the grassy cliffs. The calm water surface reflects the stillness of the countryside – and also in me. Grateful for these unique images, I make my way to breakfast, after all I need some sustenance before the pending whisky tasting, which is part and parcel of a visit to Scotland. On the advice of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society representative, I advance from the smoky 9-year-old to the milder 23-year-old Single Malt. Adding a few drops of water makes the rough character somewhat tamer. I gain a deeper understanding at Tullibardine Distillery. The flavors of the national drink are diverse but there is still only one rule: «Let the oxygen in, let the alcohol out. Wait and taste.» I decide on the 25-year-old «Big Bad Boy» and make a toast in Scottish: Slàinte Mhath!
I am looking forward to trying something completely new – clay pigeon shooting. Optically equipped with my camouflage trousers we travel by bus from Boat of Garten to the shooting range. I follow the instructions of the professional and prop the shotgun against my shoulder and cheek. Shifting the weight forward for attack, I attempt to follow the agile clay pigeon with the barrel. The first shot misses, the others are much better. I then try variations in height, direction and speed. The clay pigeon rolling around the ground at the last shooting range slips through my fingers. In hunting days of old that would mean: no rabbit for dinner. But I have no such worries about my creature comforts on this trip, on the contrary. Every day the culinary team conjures up the most delicious meals in the train’s small caboose; gaining my utmost respect. And the last evening in Dundee is no exception to the previous soirées with regards to enjoyment; it is announced in elegant fashion. The ladies opt predominantly for the little black dress, the gents appear in fine suits – and our whisky expert joins the international group stylishly clad in the traditional kilt. The secret remains uncovered as to whether one wears something underneath or not…
Slightly wistfully I sit down for the last time at the table set with old silver and look through the window at the dewy morning green. I could really get used to the crisply fried asparagus on poached eggs and fine Scottish salmon. And the fresh smoothie will probably not appear automatically on my breakfast table for the next while. The train is travelling back in the direction of Edinburgh. Not only the countryside but also the experiences of the past few days pass before my mind’s eye. The journey on the Royal Scotsman was travelling in its truest sense – slowly and continually diving into, breathing in and relishing everything around me with the path as the destination.
Photos Copyrights: Belmond/Matt Hind, Angela Bortenschlager, Scott Powell, Ryan Davies