This is Dunrobin Castle station. Ever since I found out that a castle has its own train station I wanted to make the journey here. I loved the idea of getting on a train at Edinburgh and travelling about six hours to the North Highlands to this station and then walking into the grounds of Dunrobin Castle.
Dunrobin Castle is the seat of the Duke of Sutherland and the family had this private station built. The station dates from 1902 and is in English Arts and Crafts style, an unusual choice of architecture for Scotland.
Anybody can get on or off at this station, but trains only service it during the summer season between April and October. It is also a request stop meaning that you must hold out your hand, as if stopping a bus, when the train approaches. If you are on the train you must tell the guard that you wish to get off. Opposite the station, across the main road, is the entrance driveway to the castle. It is about a five minute walk.
The station interior is now a museum crammed full of railway memorabilia. There are no set opening hours of the museum, but you can check at the castle when it is next open. If it is not open when you are there you can look through the windows and see the treasures inside.
The station was closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching cuts to Britain’s Railways. However, the station's value to tourism and encouraging visitors to Dunrobin Castle became obvious and in 1985 it opened on summer Sundays. By 1994 it ended up back on the timetable with a regular service.
The station got its 15 minutes of fame when it featured on the television series Great British Railway Journeys. The presenter Michael Portillo cut the ribbon to the station's newly refurbished toilet. The toilet had been derelict for years, but has now been restored with modern fittings in an Edwardian style, including a high level cistern. There is a plaque inside the cloakroom that marks the occasion.
My previous blog post was my top ten favourite train stations in Scotland. You might be wondering why on earth Dunrobin Castle station did not make this list.
For a cyclist it is not the most practical station because of the low platform. I had actually bought an advanced ticket to leave from Dunrobin with my bike, but when I saw the big yellow plastic step that I would have to use to haul my bike up to the train I changed my mind. I decided instead to board the train at Golspie station which is only 2 miles away and has a platform level with the train. The station only gives access to the busy A9 road which is not the most pleasant to cycle on, but you can access some quieter roads leading off from the A9.
However, if you want to visit Dunrobin Castle and are on foot then taking the train to the castle's own station is a must. Even if you don't take the train to Dunrobin Castle allow some time to walk up the driveway and cross the road to have a look at this unique station building.
Montrose is the least memorable station building on the list, but the location is pretty special. If you are travelling from the south make sure you are on the left side of the train so that you witness the approach alongside Montrose Basin. You cross an impressive stone viaduct with little boats moored below you. Then you cross a wrought iron lattice viaduct. There is a chance of catching a glimpse of one of the many bird species that live here, including 60,000 migrating geese. On the platform you can look out on the water and use the information panel to identify the birds.
In terms of cycling routes there is a marked cycle path to the Montrose Basin visitor centre where you can find out more about the birds. From there you can cycle all the way around the Basin, but the road is mostly away from the shore. You can stop off at the House of Dunn, an 18th century country house where there is a cafe, gardens and tours of the house. At Bridge of Dunn you can take a steam train on the Caledonian Railway to Brechin (limited operation, check their website). If you have time to cycle further you could make it to the pretty town of Edzell with its ruined castle that has peacocks strolling the grounds.
Montrose is located 40 to 50 minutes by train from Aberdeen
Remote and inaccessible stations are to be found all over Scotland. Rannoch is the ultimate in cut-off stations.The station is surrounded by Rannoch Moor which is 50 square miles of bog. There is no road access to Rannoch station from the A82 Fort William road- the only way in is via Pitlochry and this is 40 miles on a minor road.
Remarkably the station has a tea room that operates in the summer months and there is even a hotel for the ultimate wilderness stay.
The main reason to bring your bike here is to cycle around Loch Rannoch The road around the loch is flat and there is not much in the way of traffic. It is a 32 mile round trip from the station. You will have to cycle fast to be able to do this route between trains as there are very few trains. Or you could cycle the 40 miles to Pitlochry where there is a station with trains to Inverness or south to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
I once got stranded at Rannoch because I missed a train. You can read my blog post: Stranded at Loch Rannoch
Rannoch is 2 hours, 50 minutes by train from Glasgow
The world famous hotel and golf course are still the epitome of elegance and luxury, but Gleneagles station is somewhat faded. The buildings are boarded up, but the iron canopies and sweeping stairs still whisk your imagination back to that era of straw boaters and flapper dresses.
The good news is that Gleneagles will be receiving a major facelift in time for the 2014 Ryder Cup. The passenger waiting rooms and toilets will be restored and everything will be painted in burgundy and cream, the colours of Caledonian Railways. I really think that a tea room would be a great addition to Gleneagles. There are plenty of unused station buildings with attractive bay windows that would make for a very pleasant cafe.
There is a great cycling route from the station into the Ochill hills and a chance to see the spooky Dunning witch memorial and the longest high street in Scotland located in Auchterarder. Read about this cycling route from Gleneagles station.
If you are staying at Gleneagles Hotel they will collect you from the station in a chauffeur driven car. Read about my stay at Gleneagles Hotel.
Gleneagles is around 1 hour and 25 minutes from Edinburgh
Dalmally station has a red sandstone building, glass canopy and a fountain with a granite heron. It once housed the "Duke's Room" for the exclusive use of the Duke of Argyll to wait for his train.
For years the station was boarded up and a faded reminder of the once great days of the the railway. However, the building now has new owners who are restoring it, including the "Duke's Room". They have a craft studio inside the station that can be visited. Hanging baskets and flower tubs now adorn the platform and the granite heron has been polished to a shine.
Just two miles of cycling takes you to Kilchurn Castle, one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Loch Awe is also nearby and a road circles it, making for excellent cycling. There is hardly any traffic, although there are some steep hills on the west shore. You could cycle on past Loch Awe to reach Kilmartin which has more than 800 ancient monuments, including standing stones, burial cairns and the remains of a fortress.
Read about my cycling trip around Loch Awe
Dalmally is 2 hours, 20 minutes by train from Glasgow
Rogart is a "request stop" meaning that the train will not stop here unless a passenger specifically requests to get on or off. If you are on the platform this means holding your hand out as the train approaches, as if thumbing a ride. If you are on the train this means telling the guard in plenty of time that you wish to get off.
Rogart is worth requesting because there is a nice surprise behind the station cottage. A collection of old railway carriages that have been converted into accommodation. You can stay the night in a first class compartment or even a 1930s showman's wagon.
As for cycling, there is the wonderful Strath Brora road. There is nothing here, but moors, rivers, lochs, waterfalls, sheep and peacefulness by the bucket load. You could visit Dunrobin Castle which looks like it comes straight from a fairytale. Nearby is Carn Liath, an Iron Age Broch, but this does involve some cycling on the busy A9.
Rogart is around 2 hours by train from Inverness
Can a station bring a smile to your face? Insch does it for me. I fell in love with this tiny little station cottage as soon as I got off the train. Inside the waiting room the only sound is the baying sheep from the field next to platform two.
From the station it is a short cycle to one of my favourite roads in Scotland, lined with beech trees. The trees are sturdy and tall and make you feel that you are travelling in nature's tunnel. The road leads to a Pictish standing stone, The Picardy Stone. You can also hike up a hill to the ruins of Dunideer Castle.
Read about my cycling trip from Insch station
Insch is around 35 minutes from Aberdeen
Pitlochry train station is pristine with pretty flower arrangements. It was built in 1883 in Scottish Tudor style and has many original features like the terracotta roof, tall chimneys and thistle shaped finials. Inside there is a a bookshop so that you can browse and find something to read on the train.
Pitlochry is one of the best places in all of Scotland to set off on cycling trips. There are so many options for day trips that you could easily spend a week here. Nearby is Loch Faskally and Loch Tummel where there is a steep climb to the Queen's View which is one of the most famous panoramas in Scotland. You could head to Blair Atholl to see Blair Castle and stop off at the Pass of Killiecrankie with its dramatic gorge. You could link up with one of the other stations on this list- Rannoch- with a 40 mile ride. If you are searching for a long distance trip then you can cycle all the way to Inverness on National Cycle Route 7.
For ideas of things to see and do in Pitlochry check out this blog
Pitlochry is about 1 hour, 45 minutes by train from Edinburgh
Now we come to a place where you really feel that you have landed in a vast area of wilderness. When you get off the train at Kildonan don't rush to get on your bike and start cycling. Wait until the train has gone and then listen to the sounds. The trickling burn and a few songbirds is pretty much it.
There is no station cottage here, so the architectural merit of Kildonan is limited to a glass shelter that looks more like a city bus stop. But you don't come to Kildonan for that. You come for the wilderness and excitement of the location. Look across to the hills and you might just see some red deer.
This is the ideal place to begin a cycle tour of Scotland's Far North. Come well prepared as it will be a long time before you come across a shop. Head for the intriguingly named village of Bettyhill. On the way you will pass the remotest hotel in Britain, The Garvault Hotel, where you will likely be the only person stopping for a cup of tea.
Kildonan is around 2 hours, 45 minutes from Inverness on the train
Another station in the middle of wild country, Altnabreac is one of the least used stations in Scotland. The reason is that there is nothing here. Everyone should feel what it is like to be the only person to get off a train and be totally alone. You are pretty much guaranteed of that experience at Altnabreac.
There is only one road out of Altnabreac and it is bumpy with lots of potholes, but you will be the only person using it. Enjoy having all of this space to yourself. The landscape is quite barren. There is a loch with a small beach where the only sound is the trickle of the water and the crunch of your feet on the sand. You will also come across a boarded up Victorian hunting lodge, where there were once lavish parties, but now there is no way inside and sheep wander past the bay windows. When you finally emerge onto the "main" roads you will feel that you have returned to civilisation after a long absence. From here you can cycle to Wick, which has the world's shortest street.
Altnabreac is 3 hours, 20 minutes from Inverness by train
1. Wemyss Bay
I think that this is the most beautiful station building in Scotland, perhaps it could even be the most beautiful railway station in the world. There are some buildings that enrapture you and stop you in your tracks. Wemyss Bay is one of them. It is not a station to rush through, that would be criminal. Allow plenty of time to slowly take it all in. The sweeping and curving iron and glass canopies. The round ticket office with glass and iron erupting from its roof. The colourful flower displays.
Then there is the curving wooden decked promenade to the ferry. It is a regal walkway that makes you feel like you are a king or queen. And yet, Wemyss Bay station was never meant for royalty or aristocracy. It was built to service Glasgow's working class when they took their annual holiday "Doon the Watter". They would crowd into the station to board the ferries across to the Isle of Bute and the seaside town of Rothesay.
The inside of the station lulls you into the belief that the outside will be typical sturdy Victorian stone. But it is a false belief. Prepare to be surprised! The outside has gables and timber framing and looks more Tudor England than West Coast Scotland. As if that was not enough to impress us, the architect decided that a sixty-foot clock tower would be just the thing.
Wemyss Bay is also the access point to superb island cycling. From here a ferry crosses to the Isle of Bute. Keep on going and take three more ferries and you will have reached the island of Islay, famous for its whisky. There are 8 distilleries on the island. Read more about my journey to Islay.
Wemyss Bay is 50 minutes by train from Glasgow
Do you agree with my number one choice? What are your favourite stations in Scotland?
I based my list on some or all of these factors:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.