Highlands By Train

Wanting to see some of the Highland’s majestic mountains, but not having a car? No problem. This post will look into options accessible by public transportation.

When going by train, there are two main centers to commence outdoors adventures: Aviemore and Fort William. I will focus on the first, as it has a shorter and cheaper link from Dundee than Fort William.

Aviemore is a town conveniently placed near the centre of the UK’s largest national park, Cairngorms. From Dundee, one has to transfer in Perth. Depending on how tight you book the tickets, you can use the time between the connections to see the city centre, or to get some snacks for the trip.

As you’ll be sitting on the train going north, the landscape outside the windows will be changing from good to better, and in about 90 minutes, you’ll be getting off at the Aviemore station.

There are plenty of good places to spend a night here, and so if you booked something, you can drop your bags before going to the woods. Alternatively, look into accommodation near the Loch Morlich – it is an even better location to stay. Be aware though, out of season, the local hostel is open only during weekends.

From Aviemore, there is an easy hike to the Loch An Eilein, a mountain lake featuring a small island with castle ruins from the 15th century. It looks like a set from a fairy tale. Or a horror. Either way, it is a cool place to start your outdoor journey.

Loch An Eilein Castle

From here, there is a nice walk to the mentioned Loch Morlich, another lake further towards the mountains. The path passes bogs, forests, and rivers..

If you will be going anytime during the winter, It’s getting darker quickly, so take it into consideration. A good thing is, there are many gravel roads that are easy to navigate, even at dusk.

Depending on where you have your accommodation sorted, you can either stay here, or take a bus back to Aviemore.

If you stay in Aviemore, you can start your day on a ridge west of the town. Again, this is an easy walk for all abilities. It is also a fab place to see the sunrise – although, that is very weather-dependent.

Overlooking Aviemore from the west ridge. Note the snowy peaks in the background. That’s where you should go next.

Take the bus to the Cairngorm Mountain ski resort. If you stayed by the Loch Morlich, you are already half-way there – so you can either walk, or keep it easy and hop on the bus too. The ski resort used to operate a funicular railway that took people to a panoramic restaurant further up the mountains. Unfortunately, it is no longer in operation, but don’t worry, the base of offers beautiful views which are well-worthy.

From here, an easy option is to walk back downhill. An alternative, prettier, and more adventurous option is to get on the ridge. The resort is at ~590m above the sea level – therefore, if you decide to climb on the mountains around (which are around 1200m tall), you have a jumpstart.

If you are going up, make sure you know how to get around in the mountains. Mainly if there’s snow, the navigation can be tricky. Up the ridge, Google maps will be of no help. Also, bringing extra layers and food is a good idea.

It is good to have respect to the mountains, but don’t be scared. The nearest mountain, named like the national park, is accessible by a straightforward, maintained trail, and I’ll highly recommend it. There are plenty of outlooks to admire.

Loch Morlich to the left, Cairngorm Ski Area with the (now closed) Ptarmigan Restaurant to the right.

Descending by the same way is the quickest, but if you feel all right, you can continue from the summit further south-west, and follow the ridge to return down by a different path. This option fully reveals the rugged mountains the Highlands are known for, and is very exciting.

It is worth mentioning that in this section, the trail is no longer maintained, and sometimes, it disappears alltogether, leaving everyone to create their own. So again knowing your navigation is the key.

The trail will appear again as you’ll start going down.

There is more appealing scenery as you walk down.

..And back at the resort, you can take a bus back to the town.

If you have an extra day, there are many options around Aviemore. You can go north to see Carrbridge. The best is to take a train there, it is one stop away.

Carrbridge station

Carrbrige is a nice village, and there plenty of easy walks in the local forests. Moreover, they have impressive remains of the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands, dating from 1717.

Alternatively, you can go south. Within walking distance from Aviemore is a hill Torr Alvie. Getting there is scenic…

…and so are the views from the summit, which is topped with the Duke of Gordons Monument.

It is as colorful as the pictures show. The Gaelic names of the mountain range,  Cairngorms and Am Monadh Ruadh, translate into English as something like “blue and red mountains.” Well, they live up to that description.

You can also take a train further south, and either get off at the Kingussie station to visit the Ruthven Barracks from 1719:

..Or to stop by Dunkeld, where’s an old cathedral and loads of neat waterfalls.

There you go, a full-on weekend out, easy.

If you liked this article, see some other Highlands inspirations:


How to make a great Highlands Introduction road trip

Cairngorm on a bike

Up and down the Cairn Gorm Mt, only on a bike.

Thanks for reading, J.

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