My husband and I nearly missed our trip on the Belmond Royal Scotsman, the wine-colored sleeper that sets out from Edinburgh and travels throughout Scotland. Our route went north along the east coast and into the Highlands over several days before slicing through the Cairngorms National Park and returning to the capital.
It was a cold, sunny morning in October, and after handing over our luggage and checking out of the Balmoral Hotel, we went to buy lunch at I.J. Mellis, a cheesemonger in the Stockbridge neighborhood of Edinburgh and maker of one of the best cheese toasties anywhere. The Keens Cheddar would not be rushed. We watched as it melted over a scrape of hot English mustard on white bread, swallowed a sandwich each, and then sprinted to Waverley station with butter on our chins. With minutes to spare, we fell into step with a crowd of fellow passengers moving toward the platform. A bagpiper in full Highland dress played us onto the train, to the delight of the commuters who stopped to listen, and we were off.
The interior of the observation car, where we huddled over salted nuts and Champagne to listen to the dos and don’ts of life on board, evokes Edwardian sleepers with mahogany panelling and brass ceiling fans. Rose Uniacke, an interior designer in London, spearheaded a recent wave of updates to the train. “I wanted to evoke the comfort and pace of travel in a bygone era, and reclaim the romance of journeying in style,” Uniacke says. “It was important to me that the space felt fresher, delivering a timeless quality which combines modern convenience and engineering, with fabrics and finishes that reflect the landscape of Scotland.”
There are armchairs in soft green tartan and botanical prints on the walls, and an open-air deck at the very back of the train, where passengers watched as we rumbled over the poppy-red Forth Bridge away from Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth calm beneath us. By the time we reached Aberdeen, most people had eased down the lamp-lit passageway, with its windows onto the sliding countryside, to unpack in their private rooms. The cabins come in a handful of sizes and configurations, all with writing desks and pint-sized bathrooms. Beds are framed by buttoned green leather, and the walls are covered in marquetry similar to that in the observation and dining cars—a through line of design with a suggestion of amber-hued university clubs.
Field trips off of the train are the choice of the passengers—there was a well-known writer on our tour who skipped every one, preferring to take advantage of the quiet to edit her memoirs. The rest of us visited the working Ballindalloch Estate and eyed its eponymous single malt distillery, shot clay pigeons in Rothiemurchus Forest, and trooped up and down the staircases at the mammoth Glamis Castle, imagining Her Majesty the Queen Mother as a child there doing the same. We danced a Scottish reel on a train platform at midnight and sipped nightcaps after dinner, encouraged to linger by the good whiskies rattling on the shelves, and the happy truth that the travellers who choose to do a journey like this often have something to talk about: the news back home in Salt Lake City or Adelaide, cheese toasties, and where we’re going next.
This story appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of MILIEU. To purchase this issue in print, visit the MILIEU Newsstand. To purchase in digital format, visit zinio.com.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BELMOND
WRITTEN BY JO RODGERS