Bus Pass Ramblings in Scotland
By William Davidson, Strathaven
In Scotland, people over the age of 60 receive a ‘National Entitlement Card’, commonly known as the ‘bus pass’, which entitles them to unlimited free bus travel throughout Scotland (except tour buses), including to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Carlisle, in England, and half price off peak rail travel within a specified region. Rail travel up to 10 miles costs just £1 single and £1.50 return. It also allows you to get a small reduction, typically 20%, on charges for museums, castles, zoos etc.
I live in Strathaven, about 20 miles south of Glasgow city centre. When the bus pass was introduced, Strathaven was in Strathclyde region, and the half price train travel was allowed throughout Strathclyde for Strathclyde residents. After the abolition of Strathclyde, these parameters were retained, so you can get half price train travel from Glasgow to Oban, which was in Strathclyde, but not to Fort William, which is in Highland region.
For a few years after receiving mine, I only used it for local travel, but in 2019 I decided to become more adventurous, and began to google for bus, train and ferry timetables. There’s no bus pass discount for ferries, but Cal-Mac prices for foot passengers are fantastic value. I posted accounts of my ‘ramblings’ on a Glasgow based forum, with photos I took, but the forum has now been discontinued, due to lack of visitors, so I’ve decided to take up a new hobby in my retirement, and create a blog. I’ll redo, from memory, the 2019 trips, and the single trip I did in coronavirus restricted 2020. Fingers crossed, if restrictions remain eased, I’ll get a few more trips done during the summer of 2021.
Glasgow to Inverness, then down the Great Glen to Fort William
The first outing in 2019 would be a bus from Glasgow to Inverness, changing at Perth, then a bus through the Great Glen to Fort William, then getting a bus back to Glasgow. The timetable allotted 5 minutes for the change over at Perth, but passengers were told that the bus from Edinburgh to Inverness, which the Glasgow bus passengers would board, had broken down, and there would be an hour to wait for the next bus, which actually was an hour and fifteen minutes. Naturally, the next bus had a double load of passengers coming from Edinburgh, and I was lucky to get the last available seat.
The delay meant that there was no time to wander around Inverness, and it was straight on to the Fort William bus, which left the station about 10 minutes after the bus from Perth arrived. It was my first time through the Great Glen, and the bus stopped at Urquhart Castle for several minutes. Had I known it was going to do that, I’d have got out and gone down to the castle to take some photos.
After Loch Ness, the bus went through Fort Augustus, down the south side of Loch Lochy, then past Ben Nevis, before arriving at Fort William. I was surprised to see that Ben Nevis still had patches of snow near the summit in the middle of June. It was my first time in Fort William. It’s a nice place, but there’s not a lot going on. Basically, just the High Street. However, it has a very classy little museum, called the West Highland Museum, with several rooms crammed with exhibits. It’s adjacent to the High Street, and well worth a visit. A long time ago, a car dealer drove a model T Ford up to the top of Ben Nevis, and back down, to advertise its capabilities, and there’s now a larger than life bronze replica near the museum. Tourists sit in the passenger seat to have their photo taken.
However, the best bit of the day was still to come. It had been sunshine and showers for most of the day, but as the Glasgow bus left Fort William, the clouds gave way to the sun for the journey back through Glen Coe. Again, my first time seeing it, and it was quite spectacular. The mountains were actually bright green, and there was a magical quality. Much gasping, and ‘Would ya look at that’ from the American tourists.
Bronze statue of model T Ford
Fort William High Street
West Highland museum
Day Trip to Tobermory
The Glasgow to Oban bus leaves Buchanan Street at 0830, arriving at Oban at 1134. The ferry to Craignure, on Mull, leaves Oban at 1200, arriving at Craignure at 1246. Cost of return ticket, just £7.40. Then, there’s a double decker bus waiting at the ferry terminal to take passengers to Tobermory. Journey time is 50 minutes. There’s another bus that travels in the opposite direction, going to Fionnphort, the ferry terminal for Iona. That takes an hour and ten minutes. It was a bit surreal travelling on a double decker bus on a single track road.
Craignure to Tobermory bus
I’d been to Oban twice in my youth, both times by bus. I decided that this time I’d go by train, just for the novel experience, and return by bus. The usual cost of a train single to Oban is £26, so I could get one for £13. Departure and travel time were similar to the bus. First problem was that the train had a front section, going to Oban, and a rear section, going to Fort William. So, I headed on up to the front two carriages, only to find that every seat had a reservation ticket on it, but no one sitting in it. I couldn’t quite get my head around this, and went back down the platform to the rear carriages.
I could only get a seat with my back to the engine, which has often made me feel travel sick in the past. As the train approached Crianlarich, the conductor informed the passengers that, if they were going to Oban, they’d have to move to the front two carriages. I told him that I’d seen that all the seats were reserved. He replied that if they had Glasgow written on them, I could sit on them. I’ve since found out that passengers who book ‘open’ tickets, are assigned a seat, which they rarely actually use. Something is deeply flawed with the booking system.
Anyway, cut a long short, I still couldn’t get a front facing seat when I went up to the front carriages, and six raucous drunken twenty somethings sat on the seats around me, asking me if I’d like to move somewhere else. That’s the last time I get the Oban train. The scenery from the bus is far better, too.
Oban from Craignure ferry
Lighthouse on island off Kerrera island
View from Craignure ferry
About halfway to Tobermory, I spotted a group of two adult roe deer with two fawns, in a field of sheep. I spotted a total of 11 roe deer in my ramblings in 2019. Given that they’re mostly nocturnal, and mostly woodland dwelling, making them difficult to spot, you’re left with the impression that there must be an awful lot of roe deer in Scotland.
Tobermory only has a population of around 1,000, but punches well above its weight as a tourist destination. There’s a distillery, museum (tiny, but interesting), aquarium (not great), and many shops and restaurants. I had an hour and 40 minutes there, before getting the bus back for the ferry. I’ll probably go back some day, but I won’t be getting a train.
In 2019, the bus from Oban to Glasgow took a different route from the Glasgow to Oban bus, which went through Crianlarich and Tyndrum. The Oban to Glasgow bus took a more westerly route through Inveraray on Loch Fyne, then through Arrochar on Loch Long. It’s a very scenic trip and, apart from Glen Coe, my favourite bus trip. Current (June 2021) timetables are different, with three out of four of the daily buses in both directions now going the Inveraray route, and one going via Crianlarich. The last bus back from Oban leaves at 1805, arriving at Buchanan St at 2117.
Tobermory from bus station
Tobermory ‘beach’ – smallest in Scotland?
Ferry at Craignure, Mull
North Berwick and Dunbar
Two destinations, today. I’m getting gallus. I’d never been to either, so was looking forward to the trip. There are no buses from Buchanan Street, only from Edinburgh. But, as there are 4 buses an hour from Buchanan Street to Edinburgh, that wasn’t much of a problem.
The buses from Edinburgh to both don’t go from St. Andrews bus station, which the Glasgow bus goes to. Instead they leave from Waterloo Place, just east of the eastern end of Princes Street. It’s a very broad street, about 2 minutes walk from Princes Street.
There’s a very regular bus service to both, a bus every 30 minutes. I decided to get a bus to North Berwick first, then continue on to Dunbar. North Berwick is home to the Scottish Seabird Centre. Most visitors probably think that the ground floor cafe and gift centre is all there is to it, but the real action is down below. It’s a bit of a ‘tardis’. It costs about £8 to go to the underground part, where there are a huge number of stuffed seabirds, and webcams on the islands where the seabirds nest, including the Bass Rock, which can be remotely controlled from the centre.
Scottish Seabird Centre
Live webcams of nesting seabirds
However, the best bit was yet to come. I was walking past a theatre, which I didn’t know was there, when a very welcoming young lady with a beautiful smile asked me if I’d like to come in. I didn’t want to, but even a pensioner like me can’t resist that charm, so I did as suggested. On entering, I was given a pair of 3D plastic spectacles to wear. I was very sceptical about this, but put them on, anyway.
Well, what happened next just blew me away. The documentary was made by Jacques Cousteau’s son and narrated by Darryl Hannah. I’ve seen every episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet, and loved them all, but this took wildlife documentaries on to a whole new level. At certain points in the film, the animals (whales, dolphins and manatees) appeared to be swimming around inside the theatre. I had no idea that such technology existed.
On leaving the Seabird Centre, I could see the Bass Rock, a few miles to the east. It’s the biggest northern gannet colony in the world.
Bass Rock from North Berwick
The bus from North Berwick to Dunbar passed by Tantallon Castle, which is the closest point from the mainland to the Bass Rock. From that point, it looks huge, with a lighthouse on its southern shore. Quite a few people got off the bus for the castle. There seems to be a fairly busy ‘castle bagging’ subculture.
Dunbar is very much a fishing town. Maybe that’s why I got the best fish supper ever (a ‘special’) for £7.60. I often don’t finish the chips, but I always finish the fish. Not this time. The fish portion was so big, the gulls got a quarter of it. And the chips were actually a bit crunchy, unlike the usual soggy fare. If you’re ever in town it’s called Cafe Central, and is just off the main street, near the John Muir museum.
There’s a museum in town that is dedicated to John Muir, who was born in Dunbar, and emigrated with his family to the US in the 19th century, aged 11. It’s the house he was born in. He returned to Dunbar to revisit relatives as an adult. He is revered in the US as being one of the pioneers of environmental activism, and was the driving force in the establishment of the US national parks. He is particularly associated with Yosemite, in California, which is near to where he lived.
Dunbar castle was once one of the most important castles in Scotland, but today it’s a decrepit ruin, and bits keep falling off it, so visitors aren’t allowed, but you can still get some good photos.
Sea Arch at Dunbar
I’d only ever been to Arran once, back in the 80s as a day tripper. I’d expected the ‘capital’, Brodick, to be an actual town, instead of a row of detached houses. It’s more developed today, particularly near the ferry terminal, but it still doesn’t feel like a proper town.
Today’s trip would take me around the coastal road, starting and ending at Brodick. Journey time, 2.5 hours. There are just three bus services in Arran. Starting in Brodick, one goes north through Lochranza, then down the west coast to Blackwaterfoot. If my understanding of the timetable is correct, it then returns the same route back to Brodick.
Another goes from Brodick south through Lamlash and Whiting Bay, then on to Blackwaterfoot, then returning to Brodick the same way. The third goes directly across the island from Brodick to Blackwaterfoot and back.
I decided to get a train from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan Harbour, which is next to the ferry terminal, in time to catch the 0945 ferry, arriving at Brodick at 1040. Cost of return trip, £8. 2019 was the year of the painted lady butterfly invasion, and there were a few flying around the harbour. I even saw one flying towards Arran, half way across the Firth of Clyde.
It was a Saturday, and perfect weather during the school holidays, so the ferry was absolutely crammed, with more than 1,000 passengers. Many late arrivals couldn’t get on. As a result, the ferry was well behind schedule, and arrived late at Brodick.
There were too many passengers for the bus at Brodick, and after much pushing and shoving, even the standing room was full up, so about half a dozen intending passengers had to be left behind. The combination of this and the late ferry meant that the bus left Brodick half an hour late. The drivers of the three buses had a discussion at the bus station, and I think it was decided that they’d just go all the way around, because that’s what happened. I anticipated I’d have to get off the bus at Blackwaterfoot, and get the Lamlash bus back, but instead the bus did a full circuit of the island. As we approached Lochranza, the ferry to the Mull of Kintyre could be seen steaming away. About half a dozen passengers, who had been hoping to catch the ferry, weren’t best pleased.
Arran is often described as ‘Scotland in miniature’. That’s because the northern part is mountainous, and the southern part more low lying. It’s a lovely trip, but I have to admit that I was expecting a bit more. Not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I thought a 2.5 hour trip around the Arran coast would have lots of sea cliffs and associated bird life, but it didn’t. That said, it’s definitely a wild life haven, and I spotted three pheasants looking for insect road kills, buzzards, ravens, and the obligatory painted ladies.
Whiting Bay looks a nice place to retire to, but Lamlash, just up the coast, has more shops and pubs. If I go back, I’ll probably get the bus from Brodick to Lamlash, and spend a few hours there. The Holy Isle, just across from Lamlash, has a passenger ferry to it, so that’s another possibility for a trip. You can walk around it in a few hours.
Rothesay and Dunoon
Browsing some timetables one day, I noticed that there was a bus service from Rothesay to Dunoon. That seemed strange, as there’s no bridge spanning the 440 yards from the isle of Bute to the Cowal peninsula. Turns out there’s a ferry from Rhubodach, on Bute, to Colintraive, on the Cowal peninsula, which the bus gets on. I knew tour buses went on ferries, but didn’t know service buses did too. The crossing takes all of 5 minutes. Seemed like an interesting day out.
The 0855 train from Glasgow Central arrived at Wemyss Bay at 0944. The ferry terminal is adjacent to the railway station. Wemyss Bay station is regarded as one of the prettiest in Britain. In Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations by Simon Jenkins, the station was one of only ten to be awarded five stars, and was the station photographed on the front cover.
Wemyss Bay railway station
The ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay took 35 minutes to make the crossing and the cost of the single fare was just £3.50.
Wemyss Bay ferry terminal
Rothesay used to be a very popular destination for day trippers from Glasgow, and flourished in its heyday, but in recent years it became somewhat ‘neglected’. There has been a recent drive to spruce it up, but I don’t see it recapturing its former glory. That said, the isle of Bute is well worth a visit. There’s a tour bus just across the road from the ferry terminal, which looks good value at £12 , probably with a small reduction for bus pass holders. I didn’t get it, instead taking a free bus trip circuit around town. The bus went up the steepest road I’ve ever seen. It was like a fairground ride. If you’ve got time to spare, there’s also a bus that goes to Kilchattan Bay in the south of the island
Rothesay to Wemyss Bay ferry
I paid a visit to the castle, entry fee £8, again with a reduction for NEC holders.
There’s a small museum near the castle. Not great, but free (donations accepted), so worth a visit.
Fountain in Rothesay
The bus from Rothesay to Dunoon cost £1 for the ferry crossing from Rhubodach to Colintraive. You can’t beat Cal-Mac prices.
Rhubodach to Colintraive ferry
The journey through the Cowal peninsula to Dunoon was more impressive than I had expected. The mountains are smaller than in the highlands, but much more rugged, and look like better mountaineering practice. It would be an intrepid walker who left the road. However, the trip was somewhat spoiled by the sight of the mess left when spruce plantations are clearfelled. The bus left Rothesay at 1419, and arrived at Dunoon at 1531.
I googled for things to do in Dunoon, and couldn’t find much. There’s the Castle House museum, which is worth a visit.
Castle House museum, Dunoon
The ferry from Dunoon to Gourock took 25 minutes. It wasn’t a Cal-Mac ferry, and was operated by Argyll ferries. At more than £5 for a single fare, it was a bit more expensive than Cal-Mac prices, possibly because it’s passenger only. However, the current (June 2021) timetable indicates that Cal-Mac have taken it over.
Another place I’d never visited, but had heard glowing accounts of. The journey from Buchanan St. took 2 hours 36 minutes, and I arrived around noon. When I was a youngster, it was always the destination of the day trip that excited, and the actual travelling was just something of an ordeal you had to go through to get there. As an oldie, it’s the travelling that’s the main thing, although I enjoy the destinations, too. The journey to St. Andrews was okayish, the bus going through Glenrothes and Dunfermline. The most striking thing was the huge fields of crops in the Lothians and Fife, mainly wheat and potatoes. It must be fertile agricultural land.
But, the destination made up for the uninspiring journey. St. Andrews is a mixture of old and new, with the emphasis on old. There were a lot of graduating students being photographed in their black gowns, and many well dressed, proud parents walking around.
I was surprised how close the golf course was to the town. Tiger Woods could have driven from the course to the town centre. There’s a fine beach near the course, and a golf museum, which didn’t really interest me. There’s a ruined castle, with a £9 admission charge, and a ruined cathedral, which was free.
St Andrews golf course
But, the best bit of the day was a visit to the aquarium. From the outside, it looks quite small, and you wonder how they could justify a £12 admission charge. But, it’s a tardis inside with all the exhibits on a lower level not visible from ground level. Although it’s called an aquarium, and fish do make up the majority of the exhibits, it’s also got meerkats, marmosets, many reptile species, including dwarf crocodiles, giant spiders, a colony of leaf cutting ants, and penguins and huge Atlantic seals in an outside swimming pool. You can revisit later with your ticket to see feeding times or ‘reptile handling’. As a kid, I’d have loved that.
Aquarium and zoo
Campbeltown (pop 5,000) is the most remote town of comparable size on the UK mainland. When I told someone that I intended getting a bus there from Glasgow, he expressed surprise that there was even a bus service from Glasgow to Campbeltown, and asked what time it left. When I told him there were actually 5 buses a day, he thought I was having him on. The first bus out of Glasgow is at 0615, and the last bus back from Campbeltown is at 1700.
Campbeltown’s heyday was during the Victorian era, when there was a shipbuilding industry, a fishing fleet of more than 600 boats, and so many distilleries, that it earned itself the name, ‘Whiskyopolis’. At one time, there were 25 distilleries operating. Now, the shipbuilding industry has ceased to exist, very few fishing boats still operate, mainly due to EU quotas, and only one distillery remains.
It’s a long trip, at 4 hours and 10 minutes, and quite scenic. The bus goes through Inveraray, on Loch Fyne, then down the Mull of Kintyre, through Lochgilphead and Tarbert. I travelled in late August, when the tourist season was beginning to wane, but the bus was still about half full. When we got to the Mull of Kintyre, I expected that nearly all the passengers would be staying on the bus to Campbeltown, so was very surprised when more than half of them got off at Kennacraig ferry terminal. Kennacraig services Islay, and the small island of Colonsay. Also, travellers to Jura have to get the Islay ferry, before getting the connecting ferry to Jura.
Campbeltown isn’t ‘touristy’, and there’s not a lot going on. For some, that would be its appeal. It has some interesting architecture, particularly the churches, which are pretty eccentric. It’s as if the architects were trying to outdo each other, in order to attract the faithful. Most have other functions today, and one has been converted to a heritage centre. There’s also a museum, but both are closed at weekends, so I didn’t get to see either. It has the oldest custom built ‘picture house’ in Scotland (1913). There’s also a memorial garden dedicated to Linda McCartney, behind the museum, which would be easily missed by the casual visitor, but is worth a visit.
Campbeltown High Street
Linda McCartney memorial garden
Oldest ‘picture house’ in Scotland
Bus from Glasgow to Fort William, train to Mallaig, return ferry from Mallaig to Armadale in Skye, then train from Mallaig to Glasgow
The West Highland Railway from Mallaig to Glasgow via Fort William, has been a ‘bucket list’ ambition for me for a long time. Saturday was predicted to be a fine day, so I decided to get out and do it. It’s also on the bucket list of many tourists who come to Scotland, and this could cause a problem in the height of the tourist season. You want to get a window seat, facing the front, but if the train is packed with tourists, you might end up with an aisle seat, and your back to the engine. Hopefully, there would be far fewer tourists in late September.
The bus pass allows you to get half price train travel, but only in Strathclyde region. So, you can use it for the train to Oban, which is in Strathclyde, but not to Fort William and Mallaig, which are in Highland region. So, this was going to be the most expensive outing yet. I’d get free travel between my home and Glasgow, and also on the bus from Glasgow to Fort William, but then I’d be paying full fare for the rest. There’s a bus service between Mallaig and Fort William, but there are only two buses each day, in both directions, and they didn’t fit in with the itinerary. So, I’d get the train to Mallaig.
The 0830 bus from Glasgow was 10 minutes late leaving, and lost another 10 minutes en route, due to the number of passengers getting on and off, eventually arriving at 1156, so there was no hanging around in Fort William. It was straight to the station to get the 1212 train to Mallaig, arriving at 1334. The Fort William to Mallaig section of the West Highland line has been described as the most scenic railway journey in the world. It was an unusually sunny day for that normally dreich part of Scotland, with temperatures in the low 70s. The views were breathtaking. When the train reached Glenfinnan viaduct, half the passengers got their cameras out, and started taking photos. Glenfinnan is the viaduct made famous in Harry Potter films.
I expected that I’d just spend a couple of hours or so in Mallaig, before catching the West Highland Railway train back to Glasgow, but as I was idly thumbing through the Cal-Mac ferry timetables one day, I noticed that there was actually a ferry from Mallaig to Armadale in Skye. Now, my travels around Scotland have turned me into something of a ‘ferry bagger’. I ‘bag’ ferries the way some folk bag Munros. It’s easier on the hips. I’d done five since June, and this would be number six, if it was doable, and it was – just. The ferry leaves Mallaig at 1400, arriving at Armadale at 1445. I could disembark, and spend a few minutes of my first visit to Skye taking a few photos, before joining the back of the queue to board the ship again. The ferry would arrive back in Mallaig at 1545, with 20 minutes to spare before catching the 1605 train to Glasgow. Cost of return trip, just £6.
There are three ferry trips from Mallaig. Apart from the Armadale ferry, there’s the ‘small isles’ ferry, which does a round trip of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. It departs at 1010, arriving back at 1740. There’s also a ferry to Lochboisdale, on South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides.
There were more tourists than I expected for late September, many of them German and American. No Chinese, unlike earlier in the season, but I think that’s probably because the Chinese tourists were mainly students resident in the UK, and the university holidays were now over.
There was 15 minutes between arrival and departure, which gave me time to get off and take some photos, before getting back on for the return journey.
Armadale ferry from returning ferry
Approaching slipway at Armadale
On the train back from Fort William, through Rannoch Moor, the sun began to flirt with the mountain tops, and the reddish gloaming enhanced the mystical quality of the place. I had thought that Rannoch Moor was my best chance of getting my first sighting of wild red deer, and so it turned out. About a mile before Rannoch station, a group of four red deer hinds came into view, about 200 yards away. So, that’s another bucket list item ticked off. By the time the train reached Ardlui, it was pitch black. October sees the start of the winter timetables. With far fewer bus, train and ferry services, and fewer daylight hours, there aren’t any opportunities to do long distance outings with multiple connections like today’s itinerary. It’s a summer thing, really.
Arran to Mull of Kintyre, then bus to Ardrishaig at Crinan canal, then Lochgilphead
Covid restrictions made bus rambling impossible for most of 2020, but by late summer restrictions had eased somewhat, with media reports of day trippers to England’s south coast being crammed like sardines into trains, and the Millport ferry turning turtle due to the sheer weight of passengers (maybe some exaggeration there).
Bus services to many destinations were still very restricted, limiting the options for travel. Also, the requirement for face masks to be worn dampened the enthusiasm more than a bit. I decided on a return to Arran, getting the bus from Brodick to Lochranza, in the north, then a ferry to Claonaig, on the Mull of Kintyre, then the bus to Lochgilphead, across the Mull to Kennacraig ferry terminal. The bus would then turn north, and I’d get off at Ardrishaig, at the start of the Crinan canal, to walk two miles along the canal towpath to Lochgilphead. From there, I’d get the Campbeltown bus returning to Glasgow.
The 0945 ferry from Ardrossan arrived in Brodick at 1040. Cost of single fare, £4. It wasn’t as crowded as last year, but that was a Saturday trip with expected sunny weather. Today’s Wednesday trip, with cloudy skies, still had a fair amount of tourists on board. Masks had to be worn below deck, and there was no catering.
The 1055 Brodick to Lochranza bus had the same thirty/forty something Italian driver as last year. He obviously likes the job, and I can’t say I blame him. The bus was a little more than half full leaving Brodick, but was only about a third full by the time it reached Lochranza at 1138. Most had got off for the hiking trails up Goat Fell. Three young guys who had been sitting on the seats next to me, got off at the whisky distillery. Their conversation the whole way had been about whisky, the value of whisky collections, and the distilleries they’d visited. I didn’t know that ‘distillery bagging’ was even a thing, and I’m temperamentally unsuited to be trusted with a whisky collection.
Lochranza to Claonaig ferry
The 12.00 ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig cost £3 for the single, and took 30 minutes to make the crossing. Strangely, the passengers on deck were all wearing masks. None of the Brodick ferry passengers had been wearing masks on deck. As we sailed across, the sun made valiant efforts to break through the clouds, but the clouds weren’t giving up. Of the nine foot passengers who got off at Claonaig, I was the only one who got the Lochgilphead bus. The others headed along the coast on foot to the nearby tiny village of Skipness, which has a well preserved castle, a beautiful beach, and other attractions.
Arran from Lochranza ferry
Lochranza to Claonaig ferry
Approaching slipway at Claonaig
The bus travelled across the peninsula to Kennacraig ferry terminal, which services Islay and Colonsay. Timetables are different from last year, making the Islay trip I had planned a non starter now. The bus continued north through Tarbert, before arriving at Ardrishaig, 55 minutes after leaving Claonaig. Ardrishaig sits at the start of the Crinan canal. It’s much smaller than Lochgilphead, but far more photogenic. By this time, the sun had finally won the battle with the clouds, and the rest of the day was a scorcher.
Kelpies at Ardrishaig
I walked the two miles along the canal towpath to Lochgilphead, passing about half a dozen other walkers coming the other way, and about a dozen cyclists. That was just a wee ‘snapshot’ of the towpath, which is 9 miles long, from Ardrishaig to Crinan. Lochgilphead’s a fine looking place, but strangely lacking in photo opportunities. Walking around, I noticed three cafes, and an Indian restaurant, but no fish and chip shop. It’s not some sleepy little backwater, and I was surprised at the amount of non stop through traffic, so there seems to be a gap in the market for a chippy.
My reading of the bus timetable suggested that I could catch the Campbeltown to Glasgow bus at Lochgilphead at 1603, arriving in Glasgow at 1838. However, it didn’t show up, and I had to wait for the 1840 bus, arriving at 2115. Either I misread the timetable or it hadn’t been updated. When I checked later, the timetable only had the 1603 bus on Fri/Sat/Sun. However, the current timetable (June 2021) now has the 1603 bus running every day. With the ever changing situation due to Covid, it pays to check timetables prior to leaving home. Apart from that, and the coronavirus restrictions, it was a cracking day out.
Inveraray to Tarbert, ferry to Portavadie, bus to Dunoon, and ferry to Gourock
29 June 2021
Today’s trip would take me to Inveraray, and the highlight of the day would be a one hour walk to a watchtower on a high promontory overlooking Scotland’s longest sea loch, Loch Fyne. It was the warmest day of the year so far, with 24 C (75 F) expected.
The 0830 bus from Buchanan St to Oban arrived in Inveraray at 1016, and I headed for Inveraray castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll. The trail to the watchtower begins at the rear of the castle.
Woodland walk to watchtower
It was an arduous, but interesting walk, with some old, derelict buildings along the way, and giant redwood trees, far from their native home in California. I had read that red squirrels could sometimes be seen, but had no luck with that one. With the weather being so good, there were a fair amount of walkers on the trail, and I passed about ten returning back down.
The watchtower was added to the grounds as a purely ornamental feature in the 18th century. It looks tiny from the town, but is a much more imposing building close up. The views from the top were quite stunning.
Views from watchtower
The Glasgow to Campbeltown bus left Inveraray at 1350, arriving at Tarbert at 1502. There’s a ruined castle overlooking the town from which you can get some fantastic photos. The castle was built by Robert the Bruce, and was an impressive structure in its day, but almost all the stone was ‘recquisitioned’, mainly for building the harbour, and only a stump remains. There are nature trails to the rear, which are worth spending some time walking, and there’s a flock of an ancient, rare breed of Hebridean sheep, similar to the Soay, or St Kilda, which browse around the castle. They seemed quite tame.
Tarbert and harbour
Remains of Tarbert castle
I spent two hours in Tarbert, before getting the ferry from Tarbert across Loch Fyne, to Portavadie, on the Kyle of Bute. There’s a ferry every hour, on the hour, and the crossing takes 25 minutes. Cost of single fare £2.90.
Ferry at Tarbert
Ferry arriving at Portavadie
There ought to have been a connecting bus waiting at Portavadie, to take me on the 65 minute journey to Dunoon, but it was about 22 minutes late arriving, and lost about the same again, before finally arriving at Dunoon. It seemed to be losing power. This set the schedule back more than an hour, but allowed me time to get a fish supper. It’s an ill wind that blows no good. The bus went through what has become known as Argyll’s ‘secret coast’, including the village of Tighnabruaich. I get the impression that the ‘secret coast’ thing is an invention of the Argyll and Bute tourist board to boost tourist numbers.
The ferry from Dunoon to Gourock also took 25 minutes. The last time I got it, in 2019, it was operated by Argyll ferries, but the route has now been taken over by Cal-Mac. It’s the same ship, but with a new coat of paint. It’s a passenger only service, and Gourock train station is adjacent to the terminal. The train left 10 minutes after the ferry arrived, and took 52 minutes to arrive at Glasgow Central.
Crail to Anstruther
July 15 2021
Today’s trip would take me to what’s known as the ‘east neuk of Fife’, ‘neuk’ being an old Scots word for ‘corner’. The 0820 bus from Glasgow’s Buchanan St bus station arrived at St Andrews at 1105. From there, I got a bus to Crail, which took 34 minutes.
Crail is one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland. With sunny weather predicted, I anticipated getting some good pics, but my visit coincided with a low tide, so it wasn’t as good as I was hoping for.
From Crail, I’d walk 4.25 miles along the recently created Fife coastal path, to Anstruther, taking in the Caiplie caves en route. Despite living in Scotland all my life, I’d never actually heard of these caves and the strange rock formation adjacent to them, until I did a bit of research for the trip.
The recently created Fife coastal walk stretches all the way around the Fife coast. At more than 100 miles long, it’s longer than the better known West Highland Way. The section between Crail and Anstruther is just 4.25 miles, perfect for a day out for this old timer.
Fife coastal path
The Caiplie caves are about half way between Crail and Anstruther. They’re quite small, the deepest one going in about 40 feet. No doubt, primitive man made use of them while foraging on the shore, but the only information I managed to find about this was that human bones had been found in them, but there was no information about their age.
The caves were used by early Christians, and someone has gone to the considerable trouble of carving ‘windows’ into the walls, to let in more light. Adjacent to the caves is a weird rock formation, about 40 feet high, the end of which looks uncannily like a human head.
Strange rock formation
Before you get to Anstruther, you come to the village of Cellardyke, which is actually older than Anstruther. However, over the years, Anstruther has sprawled to such an extent that Cellardyke has become its eastern suburb, and there’s no longer a clear distinction between the two settlements. Both were founded on the fishing industry.
Sea pool at Cellardyke
Cellardyke harbour wall, with the Isle of May bird sanctuary 5 miles to the south
Community washing lines at Cellardyke harbour
Anstruther is a proper old fashioned touristy town, with lots of fish and chip shops, ice cream shops and cafes. But, it manages to be a bit more classy than most. One of the fish and chip shops has won best in Scotland four times, and best in the UK once. I had intended sampling their fish and chips, but hot weather always seems to suppress my appetite. Also, there was a queue of customers on the pavement outside, which I didn’t fancy joining.
There’s a museum of the Scottish fishing industry, which gets lots of five star reviews on Tripadvisor. Costs £9. With the Covid situation, you now have to book a time slot, and I wondered how many potential visitors would be put off by this. I quite like museums, but not enough to go through the hassle of booking a time slot online.
There’s also a boat, the May Princess, that takes visitors to the small Isle of May bird sanctury, 5 miles to the south. The trip lasts 4 to 5 hours, with 2 to 3 hours on the island. The island has up to 200,000 birds, almost half of them puffins, and a permanent colony of a few hundred seals. The boat I saw returning was pretty full, so business is good as long as this weather holds. At £34 a trip, and capacity for up to 100 passengers, they’ll be hoping it lasts a bit longer.
The bus back from Anstruther to Edinburgh took 2 hours and 33 minutes, and seemed to go through half the towns in Fife, but I liked this day out enough to do it again some time, maybe going in the other direction, from Anstruther to Crail. I’ll just have to find a website that lets me know when the tide will be in.
Anstruther eastern harbour
Shore road, Anstruther
Anstruther western beach
Main harbour, Anstruther