Belmond Royal Scotsman

Belmond Royal Scotsman

Thu July 28th 2022

A 5 star train trip isn’t something most New Zealand travellers think about. The Northerner hasn’t really set us up for thinking about trains, let alone luxury trains.

So as you walk, post the champagne welcome at The Balmoral Hotel, into the Victorian train station in Edinburgh you get a sense of excitement. And then the piper gets his arms and lungs working and we walk towards the red carpet and the Burgundy train called the Royal Scotsman.

Sadly, the excitement meant that I leapt onboard without getting the classic red carpet shot (I hear I have another chance to redeem myself on that one).

More champagne and we meet the small but amazing team running this train. The observation lounge is lush, plush and stylish. Beautiful marquetry on the walls. Inviting (Comfy even) sofas and chairs. An amazing outdoor viewing platform. That’s one carriage.

There is the dining carriage, 2 dining rooms taking 20 people each. The Spa carriage – yes 2 spa rooms!!

And then the cabins. I am in a single cabin. It’s small but perfectly formed. Everything has a place, and the suitcase is emptied and taken away. As a bonus my desk is the perfect height for working !?!?!?

Back to the Observation car for afternoon tea.

Well as I am on the whisky tour, I guess there is no time like the present. The amazing Ambassador from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is there to guide me as to what’s best for a 3pm dram.

But more importantly for me on my whisky tasting journey, Les introduces me to … the Pipette. Yes, the simple dispenser of liquid in tiny drops. And those drops are water. And I begin to learn the art of sniffing, sipping and dripping. The way the whisky ‘opens up’. The way it coats your tongue. How the ‘burn’ can change. Oh I am such a good student.

Back to the train – The train has stabled in Keith for the night. So after a short rest it’s dinner time. Outstanding food. Wonderful service and great company. And then we ‘retire’ back to the Observation car for the evening entertainment. 2 guys on guitar and piano accordion. 39 strangers all singing within an hour. Honestly, it was a magic atmosphere.

Thursday sees us head to the Macallan Distillery – at 10 am !! The architecture of the new distillery and visitors centre built in 2018 adds to the excitement. It is stunning; creative, and so slick. GBP180 million or so ! The way they told the story of how whisky was made was educational, memorable and fascinating. And that was before we got to taste the whisky.

This afternoon you sit and enjoy the lovely scenery as we head to the Kyle of Lochlash and see the Isle of Skye just across the Bay.

A formal dinner that night saw the men of all nations dressed in a kilt. It was great

Friday was .. another distillery. The Tomatin Distillery, a Highland distillery 25 minutes south of Inverness. If you weren’t on the Whisky tour, you went to a beautiful Ballindalloch Castle that everyone loved. But back to whisky – this distillery was what you expected; older buildings, copper stills, the guide was a gentleman who almost needed subtitles. The stories and the history are fantastic. I loved this whisky – and we only tasted 6!!

Whilst we have been away the train has moved onto a private railway track and we stable at Boat of Garten for the night.

Another fabulous meal, I mean true perfection. And then we retire to the Observation car for more entertainment; a fiddler and guitarist tonight. More singing and clapping and whisky. One of the amazing treats on offer whilst on the Royal Scotsman was having the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s own whisky on board. They have many bottles and you never know what Distillery made the whisky, as they want you to taste without prejudice. So the people that do the tasting come up with the names of the whisky’s ; A Reward for Patience, Deep Armchair Satisfaction or perhaps Beguiling Enthrallment. It adds to the mystery.

Saturday is an early start – breakfast from 7.30 – 8.45am. We retrace our tracks a little and that gives you a chance to say farewell to the lochs and wee boats and stunning scenery. We head south and we all get to experience the Rothiemurchus Estate. An amazing property and from here we could go walking, shooting (clay pigeons) or fishing. I have to say I was impressed with my ability to hit that clay bird as it flew across the sky. Quite satisfying.

Back on the train, yet another fabulous lunch, and then we are on our way from misery (not) to happiness - Tullibardine Distillery. Our last one of the trip. You learn something new every time. And we had another great guide – he may have been there since they started in 1947 – taking over the brewery that started in 1488! Did you know whisky starts its process as basic beer? I have so many did you knows up my sleeve– be careful !!

Our final night was again a formal night, the kilts and frocks out again. Dinner, then after dinner drinks with another wee group for entertainment. But this time we moved outside. Onto the platform of the Dundee Train Station. We had a wee ceilidh; dancing, reels, auld lang syne. It was amazing, hilarious and incredible that after 3 nights we could all be partying like old friends.

Sunday morning – we pull into Waverly and say farewell to the crew. It is crazily quite emotional. And then again with your fellow passengers. Hugs and promises to keep in touch – who knows. As the train pulls out and leaves the station, all the crew are on the open air veranda at the end of the train waving like crazy. What a 5 day blast for all your senses; tasting, seeing, listening and just being in the moment.

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