Steam trains must be one of the most iconic modes of transport to travel by, but despite watching many a steam train puff by me, I've never actually journeyed on one before. So when I was invited to experience a Sunday outing from Edinburgh along the Borders Railway to Tweedbank on the historic Royal Scot, I couldn't wait to be transported back to an era when train travel was much more of a refined and romantic way to get around than it is today.
I didn't even realise you could go on a steam train from Edinburgh until now but thanks to the recent reopening of the Borders Railway line, steam train trips have become a popular way to get a taste of Southern Scotland.
As Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I made our way to the departing platform at Edinburgh Waverley Station, we were met by excited fellow passengers and train enthusiasts all waiting for their first glimpse of the steam train pulling into the station. Built in 1927 by London Midland & Scottish Railway, the Royal Scot was originally used for their fastest passenger routes from London to Birmingham and Manchester to Glasgow.
She has an interesting history, including being shipped complete with carriages for an appearance at the 'Century for Progress' exhibition in Chicago in 1933 and touring the USA before being returned to Britain and eventually retired from service in 1962. After being a static attraction at both Butlins and a steam museum, she subsequently received a complete overhaul which saw her return to steam on a main line railway in 2015.
On her arrival, we were given time to take photos and admire the shiny green locomotive that was about to take us on our journey south. With all the buzz on the platform, it really felt as if we were about to do something special.
Just to add to the romance and luxury of the trip, we were booked in for the premier dining experience and as we got settled in our comfy seats at our own table, we were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco and I kept thinking, this is how all my Sundays should start!
With a blow of the whistle and a cheer from the platform, we began to slowly chug from the station. Occasional plumes of smoke drifted by the window as we made our way out of Edinburgh, with tea, coffee and orange juice being served all round. We were also given the breakfast menu and it didn't look like we were going to be short of food to fuel up on for the day ahead.
Porridge with a wee dram of whisky followed by a cooked Scottish breakfast and a selection from the bread basket were served to our tables, along with regular rounds of tea and coffee. The beauty of the premier dining option is that not only are you well fed and watered, you also don't ever have to leave your seat and miss the stunning views, and there were plenty of those as we trundled through the Borders.
It seemed that we weren't the only ones enjoying the Royal Scot as we passed lots of people lining the route, clicking away on cameras and waving. Steam trains really do seem to capture people's imagination.
When you arrive in the Borders you have a choice of getting off at Galashiels or continuing on to the next stop at Tweedbank. We chose to stay on until the final stop although if you choose to do this I would highly recommend booking one of the optional excursions that pick you up from the station as there is very little to see in Tweedbank itself. We had arranged to visit Abbotsford House and we were quickly directed to our coaches and transported the short distance to the impressive former home of Sir Walter Scott.
There are options to go on a group tour or explore yourself. If you have never been before, I recommend the group tour, however if you have visited previously I recommend heading straight to the house on your arrival before the group arrives so you have time to wander around and take some photos before it gets too busy.
If you do decide to take a tour on your own, you can set aside enough time to walk back the 1.4 miles to the station as we did before the train departs for the return journey to Edinburgh. This gives you an opportunity to take lots of photos before the coaches return and the platform gets busy again. As it was quiet we also got the opportunity to go up on the footplate and have a look inside to find out how everything operates.
It was amazing to have some time while it was quiet to explore the Royal Scot properly and experience the heat and dust for myself, I didn't envy the crew having to shovel coal and stand next to a blazing furnace on a hot day.
With the remaining passengers arriving back at the station, it was time to settle in for the return journey which involved relaxing and watching the world go by while we were served afternoon tea, pure bliss. I must admit I was a little sad when we got back to Edinburgh and our steam train adventure was over, it was definitely a unique and memorable way to spend a Sunday and an experience I could get very used to!
Have you ever been on a steam train journey in Scotland? Let me know if you have any recommendations of what steam journey I should try next!
You can steam along the Borders Railway from Edinburgh every Sunday until the 25th September 2016, to find out more and book your ticket visit the website here.
I was very kindly invited to experience a Premier Dining excursion on the Royal Scot, however as always, all opinions are my own based on my personal experience.
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