Long bus rides: 35

Saturday 5th March 2022

Last autumn I took a ride across Aberdeenshire on most of Stagecoach’s route 35 between Elgin and Aberdeen, and thought it was high time I told you about it.

Elgin (which lies 38 miles east of Inverness) and Aberdeen …

…. are connected by ScotRail trains running eight times a day with a 90 minute journey time.

Stagecoach Bluebird’s route 10 also connects the towns and runs more frequently at hourly on a direct line of route that more or less parallels the railway along the A96 but takes double the train’s journey time at three hours.

But by far the most scenic way to make the trip is to take the slower but wonderful route 35 also operated by Stagecoach Bluebird.

This also runs hourly and has a journey time just a tad under four hours but the extra hour is well worth the ride. As a bonus, whereas route 10 uses coaches or single deck buses, route 35 is operated by double deck buses offering spectacular views of the scenery especially as the route hugs the Moray Firth coastline between Buckie, Banff and Macduff for most of the first couple of hours.

Route taken by the 35. I boarded in Fochabers (blue dot). ScotRail and Stagecoach’s route 10 take a more direct trajectory through Keith, Huntly and Inverurie.

Stagecoach invested £3.5 million in a fleet of 15 new Alexander Dennis Enviro 400s for route 35 in 2019 with minimal route branding comprising a large “SERVICE 35” between the decks at the front with the principal places served listed discretely along the tops of the first couple of windows on the upper deck.

Being relatively new, the buses hadn’t yet succumbed to the new Stagecoach national livery. In any event I’m not sure whether they’d qualify for long distance ‘school bus’ yellow or standard local livery. Inside, the buses sport the fad at the time for bright blue and orange moquette…

… prior to it being superseded by the more toned down, but still very smart, grey and blue, which I much prefer.

There are cove panels explaining the delights of the route but I always find these very difficult to read, if not almost impossible.

As they are to take a decent photograph of.

After my Ready2Go DRT experience back in September 2021 I took ScotRail from Insch to Huntly …

…. where I changed to route 10 as far as Fochabers …

… where it continues on to Elgin (and Inverness) paralleling route 35. As I’d taken that journey before and it’s inland I decided to make the most of my time before darkness fell and change on to route 35 in Fochabers to head down to Aberdeen.

There were only two or three passengers on board the lower deck and the same number on the upper deck including a friendly and chatty young couple on the offside front seats heading for a night’s stay in Cullen – a delightful coastal town and location of the truly splendid Cullen Viaduct, as we shall see shortly.

After leaving Fochabers the bus takes a direct path back towards the coast at Portgordon by firstly passing along the A98 through Whiteash Hill Wood.

Arriving in Portgordon you catch a glimpse of the sea which will be in view for pretty much the next two hours as the bus continues along the coast firstly to lovely town of Buckle.

Twenty-five minutes along the coast from Buckle, passing Findochty and Portnockie we arrive into the popular spot of Cullen …

…. and that truly splendid viaduct.

This used to take the ‘Great North of Scotland Railway’ along the coast from Elgin to Portsoy which sadly closed in 1968. What a joy that railway line must have been to take a ride along.

There’s a toilet very close to the bus stop in Cullen which is handy for a quick visit for those who need to have a break on a four hour bus journey.

Ten minutes after Cullen we reached Portsoy where a few more passengers came on board as they had in the communities we’d been passing.

We headed inland along the A98 for the next twenty minutes or so until reaching Whitehills and Banff. The scenery is still something to behold as the sea is never far away.

Banff Bay separates Banff with Macduff and the A98 passes over a narrow bridge taking the road over the River Deveron which meanders all the way inland to Huntly and then into the Carbrach mountains.

Banff Bay

Macduff is just five minutes east of Banff and is where Stagecoach have a depot right on the coast which garages the buses used on route 35.

We had a short break by the depot as we changed drivers ready for the second half of the journey where we leave the coastline behind and head down the A947 through Turriff, Oldmeldrum and Dyce to Aberdeen.

It takes just under two hours for this section and it’s quite a fast road to travel along. We didn’t stop much just picking up ones and twos in the main settlements.

It’s still quite a scenic route to enjoy though.

There’s another public convenience right by the stop in Oldmeldrum and I must say how helpful both drivers were in facilitating a quick relief stop along the route.

It had been a very impressive journey with wonderful scenery, not particularly busy, friendly drivers, a comfortable bus and good to see all the buses we passed were double decks sporting the route 35 minimalist branding.

Good to see a T-shape also promoting route 35.

The driver who took over in Macduff in particular was very friendly and seeing my interest in the route telling me all about a colleague who takes photographs of this and other routes which Stagecoach Bluebird operate. He also highly recommended I take a trip on route 201 between Aberdeen and Braemar – one for the ‘to do’ list when I’m next in Aberdeenshire.

In the meantime, I can recommend route 35 if you’re ever in the area.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Next blog, Sunday 6th March 2022: Canterbury’s Park & Ride under threat.

20 thoughts on “Long bus rides: 35

Add yours

  1. Operating double decks on a route like this is, like the innovations that Stagecoach has developed in the Lakes, very commendable. This was never traditional double-deck territory- I think they were confined to Elgin city services in the 1970s.

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  2. The yellow strip confirming that face masks are compulsory is rather undermined by the driver without one in the penultimate photo.
    Sounds like a good trip. Great to see deckers committed to scenic routes too.
    One feature that I wonder about is the different levels of coach seat that Stagecoach use. Some routes receive full coach seats, very comfortable too, but the 35 has a lower specification.

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    1. Surely drivers haven’t had to wear face coverings at any point during the pandemic because they’re behind that nice, customer-friendly perspex screen.

      My experience of wearing face coverings whilst also wearing glasses is that if you don’t get the covering perfectly positioned your glasses steam up. I don’t want a bus (or car, or truck) driver messing around repositioning their face covering – or, worse, not being able to see properly – because their glasses are steaming up, so I think it’s a reasonable balance of the driving safety risk against the health risk.

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      1. That’s a fair point about safety, but the message is muddled. How about “passengers must wear face masks”.

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  3. I second the comment about Route 201 from Aberdeen to Braemar, but make sure you stop off in Ballater on the way . . . unfortunately the town bus garage seems to have been replaced by a Co-op store in Golf Street, but the old Station (now a visitor centre) is very well worth a visit.
    Route 201 is one of my favourite bus routes in the UK . . . I need to revisit it . . . !!

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  4. The 35, now double-deck is indeed an excellent scenic ride, but of course was not designed for through journey passengers so thankfully does not have “armchair” type seats which totally obstruct vision from anywhere other than the front seat. Clearly designed by those who never use a bus.

    The 10 too sees double-decks working right through to Aberdeen on Sundays when spare from Elgin’s 35 allocation.

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  5. Typo error to the above. Elgin’s spare double-decks from the 10, used weekdays twixt there and Inverness, and normally switched to the full route 10 on a Sunday.

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  6. On Sunday 23 January this year, the 1000 Inverness to Aberdeen 10 was a ’35’ branded double decker, but the seven other buses on route 10 we passed were all single deck yellow coaches. The views and the whole experience were a lot better on the decker. The 201 route is due to get a fleet of double deckers very soon and I would recommend waiting until then as the current fleet of old ’61’ plate coaches are not in great condition.

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  7. The 201 has been a regular haunt of double-deckers since the start of the pandemic (and even the odd one or two before), spares from reduced services such as the 747, but less so now. And indeed, far, far superior to an E300 and even a coach with high-backed seats, so a fleet of new deckers is welcome news indeed.

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  8. I can vouch for the varied scenery on route 35, having travelled the whole route. Best to allow enough time to get off the bus to see the real gems along the coast: eg the bow-fiddle rock at Portknockie; 17th century harbour at Portsoy:and perhaps walk along the Cullen railway viaduct which forms one of many signposted active travel links. Route 35 is a result of a Stagecoach renumbering exercise around Morayshire a few years ago when 300 series routes became thirty series. So the 35 is based on the 305 which previously continued to Inverness, and had origins in Northern Scottish route 5 which was Aberdeen to Inverness via the Coast.

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