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Scottish Highland luxury on the Belmond Royal Scotsman train

This story first appeared in Escape

As the bed beneath me gently rocks, the spa therapist’s hands work their magic on my back. It’s a new sensation, one heightened by the rhythmic sound of our carriage travelling along the tracks.

I’m trying to fight the soporific powers of a moving train as I don’t want to miss a second of this heavenly treatment.

When time’s up, I open the door and whisper: “Oh my God”.

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There, outside the hallway window, is the full effect of the Scottish Highlands. The scenery had been beautiful before I put my face down in the massage table hole, but now it is a scene from myths and legends, with a dramatic mountain sweeping down to a silver river in the valley below. Even the light looks different here.

Spa carriage onboard the Belmond Royal Scotsman train

It’s my first day on the Belmond Royal Scotsman and it’s already clear this is unlike any train I’ve been on before. Our journey begins in the traditional Royal Scotsman way. We gather at the historic Balmoral Hotel, perched above Edinburgh Waverley railway station, where all eyes are on Pipe Major Iain Grant in his full highland regalia. As we board he fires up his bagpipes and the sound echoes around the station.

Our trip will include some of the most popular experiences on Royal Scotsman journeys – visiting neo-gothic Victorian Mount Stuart mansion on Isle of Bute, to hiking the valley around Ben Nevis, and crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct (the Harry Potter Bridge) – we are also going to places the train has never been.

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The Royal Scotsman’sClans, Castles and Isles is a five-night journey taking in Scotland’s rugged and wild west coast. New additions on the itinerary include Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull, where we are greeted by Sir Lachlan Maclean, the 28th chief of the Clan MacLean.

As a piper plays, Sir Lachlan leads us into his castle home where champagne and canapés await, and a portrait of him in his Royal Company of Archers uniform graces the wall. “Whenever the Queen (Elizabeth II) does anything in Scotland, we are her bodyguard,” he explains. “Though we do only have bows and arrows so I don’t quite know what we’d do to protect her.”

The castle is filled with history and stories Sir Lachlan clearly enjoys sharing, and when I spot an unusual candelabra with horse hooves as the base he explains they’re from the horse his great-great-grandfather should have ridden in the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War – if he didn’t have dysentery on the day.

“I could be standing here because he had an upset stomach,” he says, smiling, “because not many of his regiment survived.”

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Pipe Major Iain Grant leads passengers onto the Belmond Royal Scotsman

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