Day 3 Friday 1st March 2019 Mull of Kintyre
When planning trips it’s not often I’ll schedule a long journey out and back by exactly the same route and mode of travel in one day. It’s always much more interesting to devise a circuit taking in different routes and scenery, villages, towns or cities along the way.
Today’s been an exception with an early start for the four hour citylink journey at 0625 from Glasgow to Campbeltown allowing four and a half hours there before a slightly longer return journey taking four hours and fourteen minutes back from Campbeltown to Glasgow at 1500 by exactly the same route in reverse. Both these journeys only run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (at least at this time of the year).
The reason’s simple. Citylink service 926 is a real stunner of a route, with something of interest to see at every twist and turn (and there are plenty) along the A82/A83 as these roads include some of Scotland’s finest scenery passing impressive mountains, lochs and forests.
The 133 mile route is shown on the Google map below which shows by car it would take around three hours. The 926 heads out of Glasgow northwestwards towards Dumbarton continuing northwards alongside Loch Lomond to Arrochar then west to Inveraray and southwestwards through Achadunan and Furnace to Lochgilphead continuing southwards alongside Loch Fyne to Tarbert then south on the west side of Kintyre via Clachan and Tayinloan before reaching Campbeltown on the east side of Kintyre.
Each section of route offers up amazing views. Between Arrochar and Inveraray there’s a steady mountainous climb along Glen Croe sandwiched between Ben Donich and Ben Arthur before reaching the wonderfully named settlement called ‘Rest and be thankful’.
There’s mile after mile of beautiful lochside travelling and at the (almost) halfway point a short pause in the timetable allows a chance to stretch legs, buy a coffee and savour the delightful small town of Inveraray.
Although only six boarded the 0625 in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street coach station we picked four more up through Hillhead and Anniesland including walkers and fishermen who spent much of the journey discussing their ailments including the problems of an ingrown toenail (too much detail for an early Friday morning for me). Around eight more passengers joined for some of the way during the journey but the return trip at 1500 from Campbeltown was much busier with around forty passengers using the coach including a maximum of thirty on board at any one time. Around half travelled all the way through to Glasgow with six boarding in Lochgilphead.
The route is dual-branded for both citylink and West Coast Motors from the time when there was competition between the two operators. Now citylink take the commercial risk while West Coast Motors receive a contracted mileage rate. As well as taking passengers travelling a long distance, the route is effectively the local bus option between many of the settlements and Scotland’s concessionary pass provides free travel throughout. There are four journeys every day in each direction as well as the two extras on Fridays to Sundays I travelled on. Argyll & Bute Council don’t provide any funding for the route.
Citylink fares give fair value. My return was £31.10 and there’s a great offer of £49 for a three day rover ticket across the citylink network, which if I’d been a bit smarter I’d have bought as it would also have included my journey from Fort William to Kyle of Lochalsh (at £25.10) and I’d have had another day’s travel effectively free.
West Coast Motors is a very smart operator. Despite the time of year and road conditions all their buses and coaches I saw were impressively clean – outside and inside. They’re one of Scotland’s top family owned independent operators having started in Campbeltown in the early 1920s.
I was intrigued to see their original depot and HQ site while in Campbeltown – a very understated affair, apparently originally a distillery and not what you’d expect from the investment the Company’s making in new vehicle’s sporting an updated smart livery for running local routes radiating from and around Campbeltown.
Recent expansion has seen West Coast Motors acquire Perryman’s in the eastern belt as well as taking over some of First Bus’s former routes in border territory which together with their operations in conjunction with citylink makes for an amazingly large geographic area of coverage from Carlisle and Berwick-upon-Tweed to Oban and the western tip of Mull and down to the southern tip of Kintyre, not forgetting the Glasgow sightseeing operation.
It was to the southern tip of Kintyre – the Mull – I headed on route 444 to savour the ‘mist rolling in from the sea’ as Paul, Linda and the band famously implanted in our minds in that impossible-to-shake-off refrain. More so, that the nearest village served by bus to the Mull of Kintyre is called Southend – a more contrasting atmosphere to the more famous Essex coastal resort you could not find.
I can’t do justice to the wonderful scenery along the route south nor the peaceful atmosphere on arrival. It must be one of Britain’s best, if not the best, remotest bus terminus. Well worth the five hour trip from Glasgow to reach.
The purpose of this transport themed blog isn’t to dwell too much on architecture and general tourism but I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around Campbeltown spotting interesting buildings as well as the memorial garden for Linda McCartney which is laid out very respectfully making for a fitting and poignant tribute.
Day 4 Saturday 2nd March 2019 Bute and Ayrshire
I’d originally planned a full day enjoying the Isle of Bute. Arriving at Wemyss Bay, undoubtedly Scotland’s most attractive station, for the ferry over to Rothesay there was an ominous message on the wipe board in CalMac’s ticket office.
I couldn’t help notice how ‘HIGHLY’ had not only been underlined but promoted to block capitals. I decided to plough on but keep options open for a Plan B.
Connections between ScotRail’s hourly trains from Glasgow to Wemyss Bay and CalMac’s ferry to Rothesay on Bute are amazingly conveniently timed and you get to enjoy the gorgeous walkway down from the station area to the embarkation area. At this time of year there wasn’t much of a queue but you can imagine the crowds on busy summer days in the heyday of travel filling the curved walkway.
Our ferry was late leaving due to an unscheduled fill up from oil tankers alongside but we got underway around fifteen minutes late and were soon across the sea to Bute with an impressive thirty-five minute crossing time.
West Coast Motors have been Bute’s bus operator for some years since Stagecoach withdrew from the island. They’ve got a small depot in Port Banatyne not far along the coastline north of Rothesay. I took the 90/490 route to take a look as we drove by, changing drivers outside before continuing to the terminus by the marina.
The bus then heads south through Rothesay again continuing pretty much all along the coastline to Kilchattan Bay at the southern end of the island. What a lovely terminus this is. Desolate in winter but gorgeous in summer.
I was impressed to find an open and well stocked Visitor Information Centre in Rothesay and to find Argyll & Bute Council’s useful timetable book giving details of the 90/490 as well as two town routes and other infrequent bus routes on the island. The helpful VIC staff had stocks of the Council’s 2016/17 bus map under the counter and admitting it was out of date in detail kindly gave me a copy acknowledging it usefully provides a prospective of the island for visitors. Why oh why can’t such maps be kept up to date. OK, I know; it’s lack of finance.
After admiring the bus shelter in Rothesay’s Guildford Square opposite the ferry terminal I popped back to the ferry office to get an update on the ‘Amber Alert’. Not unnaturally the staff couldn’t give any assurances one way or the other but as the lunchtime clouds were darkening and the breeze getting distinctly breezier I decided to abort the original plan for more afternoon Bute exploration and avoid the risk of being stranded overnight on the island with just three OS maps, a tangerine, a chunky Kitkat and bottle of water in my bag. I hopped on the ferry just mooring and made it safely back to the mainland.
Twitter comes into its own at times like this and I’m grateful to ‘tartonterrior’ Kenny for reminding me about Stagecoach’s route 585 which starts at Greenock and ruffled McGill’s feathers for a while as it takes a coastal route through Wemyss Bay, Largs and Adrossan, to Irvine before continuing to Ayr. Just the job as the rain began lashing it down outside Wemyss Bay station.
I was pleased to see McGill’s trial Connect&Go local route up to Upper Skelmorlie (as well as Inverkip) is still connecting and going albeit now being funded by SPT and sticking with the original Dial-A-Ride concept rather than new fangled apps!
My 585 arrived over ten minutes late but I’d managed to crack the real time updates on Stagecoach’s app (using over 5% phone battery power in so doing) and was reassured it was on its way. It turned out to be a busy bus and I managed to clear enough condensation from the windows to enjoy the coastal views for most of the way, but when we diverted into West Kilbride I did wonder if we’d ever get back on to the coastal road again such was the tortuous route taken around the houses. We changed drivers at Ardrossan and arrived in Irvine still over ten minutes late.
As I’d enjoyed a ride on Stagecoach’s X77 between Ayr and Glasgow a year or so ago I decided to bail out from the 585 at Irvine and head over to Kilmarnock to try out the companion X76 from there to Glasgow. Stagecoach’s route 11 also links Ardrossan with Irvine but via Kilwinning (the 585 takes a more direct route) then continues to Kilmarnock. It runs every ten minutes seven days a week.
It’s busy. Very busy, even with 67 plate double deckers to the latest Stagecoach corporate specification and a rather understated localised route branding.
And my final bus ride today was on the aforementioned X76 on the hugely impressive Plaxton Panorama double deck buses/coaches Stagecoach introduced last year.
They really are head turners and must tempt motorists seeing them glide along the M77 to give the 15 minute frequency, forty minute travel time route a try.
The interiors are equally impressive and I particularly like the traditional cloth seat moquette rather than the craze for leather-like material which I never find so comfortable. The usual usb points and Wi-fi are included and the whole journey experience was superb. Stagecoach really can deliver impressive vehicle investment around the country such as these fine vehicles.
It’ll be time to start heading south tomorrow but I’m taking the slow route.