When most people think about taking the train, an image of miserable morning commutes in crowded carriages comes to mind. But there is a different, and much more pleasant, side to rail travel – experiencing some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery or historic cities, or going back in time on newly reopened lines. Scotland boasts some great train journeys ... and here are 10 of the coolest

1 Edinburgh to Aberdour

Think “trains” and “Scotland” then let your mind come to rest on the third image that comes to you. OK, so right now you’re probably seeing the information board at Glasgow Queen Street with the words “cancelled” and “delayed” sprinkled across it, so let’s skip that and try for the fourth image which, pun intended, is bound to be the Forth Bridge.

Nothing else evokes the romance of rail travel quite like this wonder of Victorian engineering, and for a relatively modest fee – a return ticket from Edinburgh Waverley to Inverkeithing, the first stop on the north side of the estuary – you can enjoy not one but two trips across it.

However, an even better idea is to stay on until Aberdour, where you can disembark at one of Scotland’s prettiest stations, walk the few yards to one of its most interesting castles (doubly so if you’re a doocot nerd) and then stroll downhill to the sandy town beach.

2 Glasgow to Mallaig

Properly referred to as the West Highland Line, this beguiling stretch of rail is now better known to millennials as the Harry Potter Line thanks to the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct which the Hogwarts Express crosses in the blockbuster films. As the train chugs its way northwest from Glasgow there are glimpses of Ben Nevis, Loch Shiel and Loch Eilt, and you may even catch sight of the isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna.

The line crosses desolate Rannoch Moor and passes through Corrour, the highest mainline station in the UK, but it also serves coastal Arisaig, where anyone disembarking can enjoy some of the whitest sands in the world.

The entire line is regularly voted one of the most scenic on the planet so it’s already deserving of its place in the Cool List, but if you want to go the whole Hogwarts then hop on board The Jacobite, the steam-hauled train which runs between Fort William and Mallaig.

3 Leadhills to Wanlockhead

If geographical trivia is your specialist subject at the local pub quiz then you don’t need telling that Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village or that it’s located not in the Highlands but in the Lowther Hills in Dumfries and Galloway’s Southern Uplands. If all that comes as news to you and you fancy a visit, don’t miss this treat. The railway is a narrow gauge and runs along the track bed of what was once a branch line on the Caledonian Railway to Wanlockhead from nearby Elvanfoot.

It closed in 1938 and shortly afterwards the lead mines it served were mothballed, so now the railway mostly pulls tourists along the kilometre or so between the two villages. Naturally, Wanlockhead also boasts Scotland’s highest pub, the perfect place to read Robert Burns’s poem Pegasus At Wanlockhead, written over a dram in another local hostelry as he waited for the horse of that name to have a shoe tended to by the village blacksmith.

4 Inverness to Wick

Known as the Far North Line for obvious reasons, this four-and-a-half-hour, 110-mile journey sees the train follow the coast for much of the way. Among the stops is one practically at the gates of the magnificent Dunrobin Castle, completed in the 1870s at the behest of the owner who quite fancied having his own railway line. It required the say-so of Parliament but given that the owner was the Duke of Sutherland, the permissions weren’t too hard to get.

Other highlights include Skibo Castle, Foulis Castle, the atmospheric peat bogs (the Flow Country area around Forsinard is described by the RSPB as “one of Scotland’s most important natural treasures”) and the distilleries of Teaninich, Dalmore, Balblair, Whyte & Mackay (in Invergordon), Glenmorangie (in Tain), and, in Wick itself, Pulteney (maker of Old Pulteney).

5 Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh

If you’re heading for Skye from the capital of the Highlands, then the so-called Kyle Line is the only way to travel. The line runs along the Beauly Firth, through Dingwall and on past villages such as Achnashellach, Achnasheen, Lochcarron and picturesque Plockton, where much-loved BBC drama Hamish Macbeth was filmed. Naturally there are great views of Skye itself at the end of the line but along the way you’ll also see the Torridon Peaks, Ben Wyvis, Loch Luichart and Loch Carron as well as some rugged Highland scenery.

6 Aviemore to Broomhill

The route isn’t so much the treat here as the train itself because it’s on these 10 miles of restored track from the original Highland Railway Line that the Strathspey Steam Railway has run since it was brought back to life by a group of enthusiasts in 1978. It runs between Aviemore station’s platform three and Broomhill’s Glenbogle station via Boat of Garten and when you’re not looking out of the window at the scenery (there are fine views of the Cairngorms and the River Spey) you’ll be looking around the old-style carriages or even down at your plate – the service offers all manner of dining experiences, from light lunches and afternoon teas to formal evening meals.

7 Dufftown to Keith

This 11-mile line links the Moray towns of Keith and Dufftown, the self-styled “Whisky Capital of the World” (not an idle claim – it’s home to the Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glendullan, Kininvie, Mortlach and Dufftown distilleries). Predictably the line itself, once part of the Aberdeen to Elgin line, is known now as the Whisky Line and also bills itself the UK’s most northerly “heritage” railway. The rolling stock includes old commuter carriages from the 1950s and 1960s, and a dining coach which used to be part of the British Rail InterCity stock, but which has been repainted and renamed Spirit Of Dufftown. The line is closed for the winter and reopens on April 6.

8 Bo’ness to Manuel Junction

One of Scotland’s most popular heritage railways, the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway runs five miles between Bo’ness near Falkirk and Manuel Junction, via Kinneil and Birkhill. The views are pretty enough but again it’s the rolling stock which is the star.

Among the favourites are 1899 Neilson Reid locomotive Lord Roberts, which has been painted Thomas The Tank Engine blue, a set of 1950s coaches in what’s known as a “blood and custard” livery, and a pair of Caledonian coaches built in 1921. Bo’ness is also home to the Museum of Scottish Railways, which houses historic locomotives, carriages, cranes, wagons (open, flat, covered, you name it) as well as shunting units, motorised trolleys and all manner of objects and archive stuff.

9 Edinburgh to Tweedbank

The Borders line, closed in 1969 as part of the infamous Beeching cuts, reopened with no little fanfare in September 2015 and reconnected the capital with the Borders towns of Galashiels and Melrose (through a station at nearby Tweedbank) as well as Midlothian towns such as Dalkeith, Newtongrange and Gorebridge. The scenery is pleasant enough – go to the Highlands if you want mountains and lochs – but the appeal of the Borders Railway, as it’s now known, lies in its functionality and its historical importance: its rebirth brought a new dynamism and opportunity to a part of the country too often overlooked, and significant numbers of tourists as well. Book lovers in particular have good reason to take the trip. Where else can you take a train which starts from a station named after a famous novel – Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott – and terminates close to the author’s home, in this case Abbotsford, near Melrose?

10 Milton of Crathes to Birkenbaud Crossing

It’s only a mile of track along the now-disused Ballater to Aberdeen line, but as the name suggests the Royal Deeside Railway is steeped in history, thanks to the fact that for over a century, until its closure in 1966, it was used by the royal family travelling to Ballater and from there to nearby Balmoral Castle. It was even used by ill-fated Russian tsar Nicholas II when he visited in 1896.

The original Crathes Castle station was built initially for the private use of the Laird of Crathes, and only later was the public allowed to use it. The Milton of Crathes station features a Victorian building but it came originally from Oldmeldrum and was sold to the Royal Deeside Railway for £1 then transported to its new home in carefully labelled sections.

The line has both steam- and diesel-hauled trains and among the former is the Thomas The Tank Engine-style Salmon. A sombre coda: the engine was named in commemoration of HMS Salmon, a submarine lost with all hands in 1940. The line is closed for the winter and will reopen at Easter.

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