Spacious carriages with comfy seats. Windows that open. Taking a stroll to the buffet car and sitting down with a coffee. Countryside views. If this is your idea of a relaxing train trip then come aboard the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway. It is a few miles north of Linlithgow and you can ride in vintage carriages pulled by steam engines.
Highlights of this cycle route:
Take a train to Linlithgow Then Cycle 4.5 miles to Bo'ness
Linlithgow is only 20 minutes from Edinburgh, 30 minutes from Glasgow. Leave the station by means of the lane that takes you down to the High Street. Turn right here, through a roundabout, to head along Blackness Road, passing the Regent shopping centre. It can be a busy road, but you are only on it for a short distance.
Turn-off Blackness Road onto the path that goes around Linlithgow Loch. From here there are good views of Linlithgow Palace.
You soon turn off the loch path, via a gate, and onto a minor road. This immediately feels rural and there is a strong sense of leaving behind the bustle of the town.
This is country cycling at its best with bird song, tranquility and hedge-lined roads. I passed a field of cabbages with a scarecrow standing guard. There are fantastic views of the Pentland Hills and down to the Forth.
The route ends with a long descent into Bo'ness, so bear this in mind when making the uphill return. This is an A-road, but I did not find it to be busy and at the bottom of the descent it becomes suitably wide for cyclists and vehicles to share it comfortably.
Leave Modern Life Behind
What I love the most about heritage railways is that they transport you to a different era. They are a fantasy of a perfect past, sometime in the 1950s, when Britain’s railways were supposedly at their best. It is like a theme park. You can forget about what is on your mind that particular day and totally immerse yourself in the experience.
I walked into the station and bought a ticket from a clerk behind a tiny window that I had to bend down to. The ticket was made of rigid card; this was later punched by a guard in immaculate uniform with a peak cap. This ticket allows you to travel on the trains all day long if you want, stopping off and getting back on.
It is exciting to walk down the line of shiny carriages and choose which door to go through. Then head through the coaches to check out the different seating. The seats are comfy, the tables are wide. There is a feeling of space that you don’t necessarily get on modern trains.
There are first class compartments with elegant lamps, arm and headrests and curtains. Their sliding doors allow you to create your own little private haven.
The doors are slammed closed, the guard blows his whistle and we get underway. On the platform I noticed the station dogs being taken for a walk. A station dog was once a common feature of British train stations, but no longer.
Something also missing from modern railways in Britain is the ability to walk to a buffet car, buy a coffee and actually sit at a table in the buffet car. Sit-down buffet cars, sadly, no longer exist, so this is something that I wanted to experience.
Behind the buffet counter there were little wooden shelves with the crisps and confectionery stored neatly in them. I bought a coffee and a chocolate bar and did not have to walk all the way back to my seat. I could sit right here in the buffet car as it had seats and tables. I loved this! You know, you don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy this. You could simply do this for a unique place to have a coffee; enjoy the scenery, read a book.
This train has a rhythm of gentle swaying and lots of sounds like clanking metal and puffing steam. The windows open so that you can hear and smell all of this. It is a far cry from modern railways where the carriage is sealed and you can hear almost nothing of the machine.
The line feels surprisingly rural despite being near areas of present and former industry. There are long tracts of lush forest, fields, but also views of the massive Grangemouth Oil Refinery. I could see an enormous yellow flame sprouting from one of the towers. Crossing the River Avon on an aqueduct is the scenic highlight.
I recommend getting off the train at this beautifully restored station, about 17 minutes into the journey. You can always pick up the next train after a good look around and a forest walk to the remains of a nearby clay mine.
The location feels incredibly remote, despite the closeness to Bo'ness and you would be forgiven for thinking you had arrived somewhere in the Highlands.
The station has a waiting room with a fireplace, a bicycle in the corner, perhaps left by the Station Master, and stacks of parcels. There is coloured glass, window shutters and decorative ironwork on the canopy. It feels very authentic and reinforces the illusion that you have travelled into the past.
I was the only person to get off the train here and I had this peaceful spot all to myself. I loved the profusion of colourful wildflowers in the woods adjacent to the station.
End of the Line
Manuel is the final stop. There is no station building here, but you can get out and watch the steam engine being turned around in order to pull the train back to Bo'ness.
Manuel is also right alongside the Edinburgh to Glasgow mainline so there is the curious experience of watching modern express trains zooming past. The old and the new together. Which train do you prefer? I think you can tell which is my favourite.
Museum of Scottish Railways
Back at Bo'ness station you can walk across the footbridge to take a look at this fabulous museum that tells the story of Scotland's railways. Train lovers will be in their element with the collection of carriages, wagons and locomotives, but there is plenty to keep everyone interested.
Some of the more interesting exhibits include the luxurious carriage that once belonged to the Duke of Sutherland and a travelling Post Office carriage.
There are also many artifacts, like signage, uniforms and timetables that provide a fascinating record of the railways.
One thing that I did not know before I came here is that when the line from Edinburgh to England first opened in 1846 there was a customs post at Berwick-on-Tweed. Trains were searched and items like whisky were confiscated.
For something really special and unique I thoroughly recommend afternoon tea on the train. Take someone special and you will have a memorable experience. Enjoy the gentle swaying of the train and watching the countryside as you sip tea and indulge in sandwiches, scones and cakes.
You need to book the afternoon tea in advance as it is very popular and only available on certain days. You can check the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway website for details.
The Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway is located in the Falkirk area of Scotland. Find out more about what there is to see and do on the Visit Falkirk website.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.