My view was one of the best anywhere in the country. I am biased though. My local rail station, in the city I work in each day, is one of the best for views. People lean over to the side of the train to see our UNESCO world heritage site high on the Bailey, as you pull in or leave. I was starting in Durham City.
A few weeks before, I had been contacted by Virgin Trains East Coast to ask about working together. I have taken these trains along the east coast of England and up to Scotland for years. I’d already had a few great experiences with Virgin and knew what their facilities were like, so I jumped at the chance. I wanted to come up with something other than my usual journeys to London, York or Edinburgh though. I set myself a challenge.
I would go away for a long weekend (part-time travel as always!) and I would go as far as possible. I looked at their route map and knew straight away where I would go. As far north as I could – Inverness in the Scottish Highlands!
So last weekend, I pulled away from my home station and set off on my Virgin Trains adventure. I love trains which I’ve mentioned quite a lot on my blog and social media. I find it relaxing to sit and watch the world go by. Great views and travelling through places I wouldn’t usually see is interesting. The tickets can be cheap (if you buy advance in the UK), quick and have great facilities.
I was lucky enough to ride in First Class which is fantastic. Meals, drinks, free wifi, power sockets at each seat and very comfortable seats. You seem to have more room to move and space for luggage. I happened to get a friday afternoon train up to Inverness and by the time we hit Edinburgh, it was packed full! Definitely make seat reservations for this kind of distance.
The food is prepared fresh and a member of staff takes your order then comes with the hot food to your seat. Real plates, glasses, mugs and cutlery make it feel that little bit more luxurious than standard. I had a glass of wine and risotto for a late lunch. You aren’t on the train for long before a drinks trolley comes around which is great. There are a variety of soft drinks, water and alcohol after a certain time.
I got some emails done, made a quick video and watched the landscape go by. It was definitely not the worst way to spend an afternoon!
Then before I knew it, there was more food. I had steak and ale pie with mash for dinner and it was delicious.
We then hit amazing scenery coming through the Cairngorms National Park. This has a station that is possibly my favourite; Aviemore. Set against snow-capped mountains with a traditional small station. You feel in the heart of Scotland already.
Don’t judge but I also had a cup of coffee and piece of cake! It is 5 hours to Inverness after all. The diet is paused on adventures…
Just after 8pm, I arrived into Inverness station. It was still light at this time of year and very easy to navigate. It had been a great ride up north with Virgin East Coast.
I spent a day and a half exploring the Isle of Skye (blog post coming) and the city of Inverness. I’d hiked, tried craft beer, eaten great food, met lovely locals and generally had a fantastic weekend adventure in a stunning part of the world. It was time to head back to Durham.
Its a good time to mention a travel hack I’ve used for years but many people don’t do this for trains. Sign up for cheap ticket alerts at Virgin Trains East Coast. You can put destinations in and they will email when the price is lowest. I’ve managed to get £20 Durham to London tickets this way in the past.
I boarded my train and was delighted to see it was part of the upgraded new fleet. Gorgeous leather seats that recline and are sculpted to be very comfortable. For a journey of over 5 hours, you need a great seat.
I was on this train all the way to Newcastle where I needed a connection to Durham. I’d been tipped off to try the First Class lounge and it was a much better station experience.
Comfortable seats rather than the metal benches outside. It has a TV, drinks station, toilets and phone chargers. Perfect for any time between connections or if your train is delayed. It is much quieter and warm in comparison to being out in the station. I’d recommend using these if you have first class tickets.
The scenery on the way back down was obviously just as good. I feel like each journey is slightly different because you look up to changing landscapes and new buildings or animals in fields. I saw some highland cows as we got further north and of course its lamb season so they were bouncing around. The sun was shining for much of the weekend so it was beautiful spring scenes.
Unsurprisingly, I ate going back down too. I had a few cups of coffee and a cake then they served a lunch of sandwiches, posh popcorn, soft drinks and a Tunnocks teacake. It was a nice lunch and filled me up enough. Drinks were brought through regularly and the staff were helpful and friendly.
How far can Virgin Trains take you? As far as you want in the UK. I found it such a pleasant surprise to look at their route map and see stations from London all the way to Inverness. Almost the whole length of the UK!
The overall service and facilities of these trains gets top marks. I love the scenery and enjoy taking my time getting to the destination with good food and a comfortable seat. It can definitely be done as part-time travel and I would highly recommend Virgin Trains East Coast.
Have you travelled on Virgin Trains East Coast? Did you experience First Class?
Disclaimer: I was offered a free return ticket from Durham to Inverness by Virgin Trains East Coast. My views are as always my own and I wouldn’t recommend a company or product on here unless I would pay myself