From 25 April 2023, ferry travel is no longer included within the Spirit of Scotland pass. Any ferry travel should be purchased separately and directly from www.calmac.co.uk
Follow travel blogger Emma Gray and her friend Michelle on a girls getaway with our Spirit of Scotland Travel Pass.
As a proud Scot I love exploring my beautiful country just as much as I love discovering new and exotic places. When I got the opportunity to try out ScotRail’s Spirit of Scotland travel pass I was delighted, and decided to invite my friend Michelle along for the journey. Together we’ve travelled to places like southern Spain and northern and southern Italy, so we were excited to explore a little closer to home this time.
The Spirit of Scotland pass offered us flexible travel by train within the entire country. There is also the option to use buses and more for free or at a reduced rate. They are great value, hassle free and offer so many options of where you can go. We decided to head up to the far north of Scotland, an area neither of us had been before.
Our journey began in Glasgow. From here we travelled north to discover new villages, towns and cities. From Glasgow, we would travel to the furthest north spot in the UK mainland, past glorious beaches and through unbelievably stunning scenery.
Breaking the journey
Our first real destination was Thurso, the northernmost town on the British mainland. As the journey from Glasgow was to be quite long, we decided to break it up along the way. We took advantage of the ability to hop on and off the trains and stopped in Tain, a small village on the coast in the Highlands.
In Tain we stretched our legs with a walk around the pretty village and then headed back to the train station and the fantastic Platform 1864 restaurant and bar. It is contained within the former train station building, which dates all the way back to 1864 (hence the name!). It has been transformed into a seriously stylish place to eat and drink and was the perfect place to break up our journey.
After our refuelling stop we hopped back on the next train and continued snaking our way north. The rest of the journey felt like it went past in a flash, as we struggled to keep our eyes off the scenery, especially the further north we travelled.
The stretch of coastline on the east of the country is absolutely spectacular, as the train winds its way further and further north. We toasted the views and the start of our trip with something every girl’s getaway needs – a glass of prosecco!
We passed through lush, green fields, over bridges and along the coastline passing beaches and bays that looked like they wouldn’t be out of place in the Mediterranean rather than in Scotland! I couldn’t believe some of the scenery was contained within my home country, rather than somewhere more exotic. It was impossible not to swell with pride at how beautiful Scotland really is.
Next stop Thurso
We arrived in Thurso having marvelled at the views and scenery all the way there. As we left the most northerly railway station in the UK we found ourselves in a quaint little seaside town that was to be our home for the next two nights.
After leaving our bags at the hotel, the Holborn Hotel, we headed out to see what Thurso had to offer. We wandered in and out of some of the adorable gift shops, bought an ice cream each and headed to the seafront where more wonderful views awaited us.
Later that evening we were ready to refuel and went in search of somewhere for dinner. We quickly found Le Bistro and loved the look of the menu, offering home cooked food with a twist. We enjoyed it so much that evening that we returned on our second night too!
Visiting John O’Groats
Our Spirit of Scotland rail passes allowed us to hop on the bus to visit nearby John O’Groats, the most northerly inhabited place in the mainland UK.
The day we chose to visit couldn’t have been better. The sun was shining, making the views out to sea and of the coastline look like something from a postcard. The waters were a dazzling turquoise blue and watching them sparkle in the sunlight was mesmerising and calming.
After taking some essential selfies and pictures next to the John O’Groats sign we headed for a bite to eat in NR John O’Groats. With floor to ceiling windows overlooking the water and fresh, locally sourced food, it was the perfect choice for a spot of lunch.
Exploring the North
As well as visiting John O’Groats, the most northerly inhabited point in the mainland, we also wanted to visit Dunnet Head, the most northerly point that is uninhabited. We decided to hire a car to do this and enjoyed travelling up tiny, country roads to the top of Dunnet Head.
Whilst we had our hire car, we took advantage of visiting some other destinations near Thurso. We found what I believe to be one of the best beaches in Scotland at Dunnet, visited Rock Rose gin distillery and the gorgeous Castle and Gardens of Mey.
Our last destination of the journey was the cultural capital of the Highlands, Inverness. Having only briefly been in Inverness a few years ago I was looking forward to seeing more of the city.
What greeted us was a very picturesque and charming city, with gorgeous 18th and 19th century architecture. The River Ness meanders through the heart of the city and is the ideal place to stroll along and admire the well-preserved buildings on either side.
The best of these is Inverness Castle, that sits high on a cliff overlooking the river and the city that surrounds it.
We decided to make the very most of the river and castle views that evening and headed to The Kitchen Brasserie for dinner. Our table provided us with amazing views of the River Ness on a calm summer evening and the modern, Scottish fayre was the perfect last dinner to finish the trip with.
The next morning, we boarded the train back to Glasgow filled with happiness after an amazing week exploring Scotland. Travelling by train using the Spirit of Scotland rail pass gave us the flexibility that we were looking for and we loved being able to sit back, relax and enjoy whilst being transported from place to place.