The trouble with the seven deadly sins is that they’re, well, so deadly.
But nobody was either angry or covetous that I was taking up an offer of four days’ luxury train travel on The Royal Scotsman. They seemed, outwardly at least, to understand that it was an assignment undertaken exclusively for the benefit of Management readers.
And onerous it was. To prepare me for the task ahead, the good people at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh looked after me impeccably in room designed for the business traveller, and looking up at Edinburgh Castle. My job was off to good start. I didn’t have time to experience the delights of the spa, but the people luxuriating in the range of facilities there obviously enjoyed the pampering.
I was there for the train trip. Four nights on The Royal Scotsman, run by The Great Scottish & Western Railway Company. In remarkably accurate promotional literature, The Royal Scotsman is proclaimed to be an “exclusive, intimate train, which accommodates maximum of only 36 guests in wonderful State Cabins, all with private facilities. Once on board, you’ll find level of hospitality and personal service that’s all too rare in the modern world. From the moment you arrive, to the time when you, sadly, have to leave, you’ll want for nothing. Except, perhaps, chance to do it all again.” It sounded reasonable.
I’d chosen the “Classic” itinerary, one of nine available ranging from one to five nights’ duration, depending on time available and budget. Specialist tours for golfers and genealogists have recently been added for those wanting to keep the mind occupied while on holiday. But none of that for me. I was determined to report on four days and nights of glamorous travel. Just to report how it’s done.
The Royal Scotsman is elegant sophistication, with the romance of train travel, and first-class attention to detail. Decked out in Edwardian style reminiscent of Agatha Christie who-dunnits, the experience is enhanced by friendly crew, stunning scenery, food which makes every meal culinary indulgence, and fascinating company. spell of impeccably good summer weather also helped.
What makes The Royal Scotsman delight is, at least in part, the attention to detail which accompanies every kilometre of the journey. It is Scottish, but not shortbread and haggis kitsch.
And while it was my first journey on this splendid train, some passengers were there for the second, third and even fourth time, enjoying the beauty of Scotland, and The Royal Scotsman experience. film crew from The Travel Channel (a division of Discovery) accompanied us on the first night of our journey. They were reviewing nine of the world’s most luxurious travel destinations. My fellow travellers generally agreed that, while the world’s other luxury trains all had something to offer, The Royal Scotsman does it better. They rated the food higher, and thought the added benefit of shower in your State Room made privacy that much easier. Narrow beds must be the norm, because no one mentioned them.
The journey starts in Edinburgh with us following lone piper out on to the busy Waverley Station railway platform. Bagpipes can be very loud in an acoustically challenged Victorian-era designed railway station.
Passengers can no longer pick up the trail in London. The privatisation of England’s rail tracks has apparently made navigating the myriad of regional operators too hazardous.
We broke the ice with champagne and briefing in the lounge car that gave everyone an opportunity to get acquainted with their surroundings, and time for my luggage to miraculously appear in my State Room. I was in State Room L, coincidence that simplified finding my way back late in the evening. With bar that didn’t close I learned good deal more about single malts than I knew before.
A personal guided tour of the train, introductions to its staff – which on this particular trip was generous ratio of 13 crew for 16 passengers but they can look after up to 36 travellers – and we headed north for our first night’s “stabling”. There’s none of this ‘trying to sleep in moving train’ here. Each night we stopped in siding of varying scenic difference and quaffed wines from around the world – including Cornish Point Pinot Noir from Central Otago – and were served dishes including venison, salmon, pasta, chicken, and seafood, from the on-board kitchen.
Two of the four nights were formal, black-tie dinners, with entertainment that included fiddler local to the Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast playing jigs from the area, and Highlander historian who brought the 1746 Battle of Culloden to life by dressing the part of Highland warrior. The most casual meal of the day was breakfast. The biggest problem was deciding when to stop eating the delicious croissants and rolls served hot from the oven.
We travelled north from Edinburgh over the Firth of Forth, past St Andrews, Dundee, and Aberdeen to stop in the small village of Keith. Like most places around the world, the train passes through the least scenic part of town. So it was on to the Royal Scotsman bus which met us at each port of call, and up the hill to the pleasures of the Strathisla Distillery, famous for its Chivas Regal. We got to know the bus well as we toured the country over the next few days. Morning two and it was on to Elgin (Glen Grant distillery and gardens) and then west through Inverness and the west coast. gentle stroll around the small traditional fishing village of Plockton for some; or brief visit to the Isle of Skye via the recently constructed toll-bridge for others.
It was here that I realised that the Scottish scenery of promotional material exists – splendidly spectacular, and shot through with castle ruins. Eilean Donan of chocolate-box fame is as picturesquely peaceful in the early-morning light as it is depicted.
Days three and four dissolved in whirl of touring: Ballindalloch – home of the Macpherson-Grant family, and tea and scones with Scotland’s only female laird; the Highland Wildlife Park with bizarre collection of native Scottish breeds in 260 acres of Strathspey’s rolling hills; and Glamis, the childhood home of the late Queen Mother.
Then suddenly I was back to Edinburgh. The holiday was over, and it was somehow fitting that our arrival coincided with the first day of rain.
And of the remaining seven deadly sins? Pride (a little); gluttony (I prefer to think of it as honing refined palate); greed (no, gratefulness); sloth (just in the right quantities) and lust (refer comment above re the narrow beds).
The Royal Scotsman conducts tours on regular basis throughout the year. Prices range from NZ$1550 to NZ$1950 per person per night – and include all accommodation, meals, wines, alcoholic and other beverages, visits and entertainment. Full details can be found at www.royalscotsman.com.
The Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh, can be contacted at www.sheraton.com/grandedinburgh.