Multi modal Mallaig and back

Saturday 24th September 2022

An annual ride on the wonderful West Highland Line is a personal must in my book so having missed a full blown Glasgow to Mallaig journey during the pandemic (I managed one trip as far as Tyndrum) it was good to be back on board on Monday last week.

It was a multi modal affair too, taking easyJet from Gatwick to Glasgow airport then transferring into the city centre on First Glasgow’s lucrative route 500.

From Sussex this enables a decent morning arrival into Glasgow to catch the 12:22 departure for Fort William and Mallaig. Its 17:43 arrival in Mallaig ensures the complete five hour 21 minute journey can be completed in daylight at this time of year.

First task was to get from my home station, Hassocks, to Gatwick with sufficient time to pass through security (always unpredictable). “Gate close” time was 07:40 so the 06:29 from Hassocks arriving Gatwick 06:54 seemed just the job. But the first rule of Brighton Main Line travel is ‘Check your train online as soon as you wake up’ and good thing too as it was showing “Delayed” not having even reached East Croydon on its previous southbound journey due to “over running engineering works” which inevitably meant it became cancelled and terminated at Three Bridges to return north.

Not risking a later arrival at Gatwick I opted for an earlier train and with plenty of slack now in the schedule ended up breezing through security (always the way) only to find the easyJet flight due to depart 08:20 showing as “Expected 08:45”.

We eventually got away almost an hour late at 09:15 apparently with a stand-by crew summoned from home and an engineer needing to attend the aircraft “due to a computer problem”.

We touched down in Glasgow over an hour late at 10:25 and then endured a further 15 minute wait for a set of steps.

Air travel is cheap and quick once you’re in the air but boy, is there a lot of faffing around at the airport.

Straight on to an already almost full First Glasgow route 500 at 11:00 for the fifteen minute ride into central Glasgow which at £9 single (£8.50 on the app) was the most expensive journey per mile of the trip.

The Class 156 was waiting on Glasgow’s Queen Street’s platform 2 in good time and by midday although not listed on the departure board, one or two passengers in the know were gathering by the locked doors.

Those even more in the know avoided the rear two coaches which were almost full with reservation slips in the seat tops ….

12:04 looking to the rear

…. and headed for the front coach of the middle two which attracted very few passengers making it easy to grab a table seat with good window views. (The very front two coaches head off to Oban at Crianlarich.)

12:04 looking to the front

It turned out one of the two reserved coaches was a party being met by a road coach at Spean Bridge and the other similarly at Fort William.

It truly is a wonderful five hour and 23 minute train journey all the way through to Mallaig. The scenic views just get better and better the further the train travels through the West Highlands.

We kept perfectly to time throughout the journey and only the section of route between Fort William and Mallaig saw very few passengers – in fact we had what was now the rear coach to ourselves (having lost the front two for Oban at the Cranlarich split and a direction change at Fort William).

Here are a few of my favourite window views….

The horseshoe curve north between Upper Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy
The wilds of Rannoch Moor
Passing Loch Treig between Corrour and Tulloch
Looking back towards Ben Nevis as the train continues from Fort William towards Mallaig
Passing along Loch Eil after leaving Fort William as the sun begins to go down
The famous Glenfinnan Viaduct
Loch Dubh between Lochailort and Beasdale
Loch Dubh between Lochailort and Basdale

It had taken eleven and a half hours using two trains, a bus and an aeroplane. It was certainly worth it.

Mallaig is a lovely fishing port for an overnight stay. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry arrives and departs for Armadale on Skye. Sadly bus connections from Armadale are now extremely limited (once a day) making for a round trip returning via Portree and Kyle of Lochalsh very difficult to schedule, so instead we headed back from Mallaig, but chose to take the bus and coach which offer an equally excellent scenic delight as the train.

Mallaig’s harbour

So Tuesday morning saw us waiting for the first bus of the day at 07:15 on Shiel Buses route 500 to Fort William. The route largely follows the railway line (crossing it eight times; four under, three over and once at a level crossing)….

The level crossing at Morar

… but passes along opposite sides of the scenic Loch Eig offering a different perspective of the scenery.

There were already three passengers waiting when we arrived at the Boat Yard bus stop in the centre of Mallaig two of whom travelled just up the road to Morar and the other to Fort William.

We picked up two more in Arisaig and arriving into Lochallart at 07:49 our scheduled bus change was waiting and the three on board with us changed on to this route 502 which had come from Acharacle, with two already on board, and off we continued.

Route 502 takes a slightly different route in Fort William to serve the town’s High School but schools seemed to be off on Tuesday so we skipped that and arrived ahead of the scheduled 08:47 time at 08:30 instead.

Which gave a comfortable connection with our next journey at 09:10 on CityLink 914 to Glasgow.

Before boarding that we quickly realised what a good call it had been to have taken the train on our outward journey to Mallaig and make the return by bus and coach as it turned out deep in the bowels of ScotRail’s website was news there were no trains between Fort William and Crianlarich on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week with replacement buses offering two alternative routes for those stations unserved.

Except poor old Corrour and Rannoch which had no service at all. That really was a close call.

Fort William’s bus station is a row of shelters alongside a Morrisons supermarket conveniently adjacent to the railway station. It has a real time display which is always reassuring when making a long distance journey….

…. but sadly wasn’t working last Tuesday morning, showing departures from an hour or so earlier.

Luckily the West Coast Motors owned coach in CityLink branding arrived in good time at 09:00 and an impressive number of passengers – 23 ticket holders and seven turn-up-and-pay or concessions – boarded and we left spot on time at 09:10.

The coach follows a different route to the train as far as Bridge of Orchy by taking the direct trajectory on the A82 through the wonderfully scenic Glencoe.

Here are a few of my favourite window views….

Heading south from Fort William alongside the southern arm of Loch Eil
Glencoe Visitor Centre
More of Glencoe
More of Glencoe

13 more passengers boarded during the three hour 11 minute journey to Glasgow – mostly in Ballachulish and eight alighted at various stops making for quite a busy journey. Incidentally Ballachulish has the country’s most delightful hardware shop if you can find it open and work out where the entrance is.

Although running a few minutes behind schedule our driver still gave everyone a five minute comfort and cigarette pause in Crianlarich – I’d noticed no passengers had used the on board toilet during the journey.

After that pause, we passed by the wonderful tea room on Crianlarich station’s platform recalling its historic association with trains pausing to allow passengers time to alight, have a refreshment break, and get back on board.

I’d also spotted work underway on the railway line between Upper Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy explaining why there were no trains for three days.

The superb scenery continues on part two of the journey particularly as the coach continues to follow the A82 for a wonderful view-fest stretching 23 miles alongside Loch Lommond offering vistas you don’t get on the train.

As we headed towards Glasgow I spotted a Tweet from Avanti West Coast advising of trouble on the West Coast Main Line which had been our intended next journey leg.

It turned out the “freight train” (why the distinction of what sort of train?) wasn’t so much “late running” as broken down. Disruption to our plans and schedule looked inevitable. I wasn’t prepared to trust things getting back to normal on the West Coast Main Line any time soon.

Seeing LNER was still offering cheaply priced advanced single tickets on the 14:00 Edinburgh to Kings Cross we decided to grab two of the “three remaining tickets” and head over on ScotRail’s express via Falkirk High to enjoy an East Coast Main Line LNER ride instead.

The revised plan worked a treat especially as the intended 13:34 Glasgow Central to Euston was showing “Delayed” for a time. It eventually left Glasgow Central 42 minutes late and arrived into Euston 34 minutes late at 19:08 (thank you, Delay Repay).

Our 14:00 LNER from Edinburgh arrived Kings Cross at 18:46, just five minutes down.

And of course although there are some stunning views on the WCML especially near Shap, the ECML probably has more landmarks.

Here are a few of my favourite window views…

The North Sea
Holy Island
Crossing the Tyne

A quick transfer to St Pancras and on to the Brighton Main Line which was still experiencing disruption following a “person being hit by a train” near Three Bridges at lunchtime, saw us heading towards home again. Thanks to a slick change at East Croydon on to a “rammed” Southern train I arrived back at Hassocks just 15 minutes later than originally planned at 20:15, exactly 13 hours after leaving Mallaig using a bus, a coach and four trains.

I’d like to thank my brother Jonathan for accompanying me on this splendid trip. It really was a wonderful experience and luckily we were blessed with fantastic weather.

And that’s Mallaig visited for another year.

Finally for those interested in these things check out these bargain fares (who said public transport is expensive?) ….

EasyJet Gatwick – Glasgow cost £26.99 purchased on 9th August.

Avanti West Coast Glasgow – Euston cost £41.40 for standard premium class with a Senior Railcard purchased on 9th August.

LNER Edinburgh – Kings Cross cost £47.15 standard class with a Senior Railcard purchased on 13th September.

ScotRail walk up fare Glasgow – Mallaig cost £26.45 with Senior Railcard.

Shiel Buses walk up fare Mallaig – Fort William cost £6.60 and CityLink fare Fort William – Glasgow cost £21.10 purchased on 9th August (making a comparable £27.55)

Glasgow – Fort William takes three hours 47 minutes on ScotRail and three hours and 11 minutes on CityLink

Fort William – Mallaig takes one hour and 24 minutes on ScotRail and one hour 15 minutes on Shiel Buses.

The scenic delights on both train and bus/coach are equally as good. it’s really worth enjoying both modes. What a pity there’s not an “integrated ticket” aimed at tourists offering flexible travelling across both modes – it would be hugely popular.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS …. but look out for a Sunday Special blog tomorrow about this weekend’s shambles at Northern Trains.

23 thoughts on “Multi modal Mallaig and back

Add yours

  1. You had a very successful trip; just a pity that bus connections on Skye seem so poor so that the round trip to come back via Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness is no longer practicable. Back in the mid 80s, on honeymoon, we reached Mallaig by the early morning train from Glasgow, and then got a boat ride through the Sound of Sleat to Kyle of Lochalsh and another gloriously scenic train ride. Happy days!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s useful to know that northbound Citylink services to Oban and Fort William / Uig call at Glasgow Airport conveniently timed for the 10::00 arrival of 08:50 BA Cityflier from London City. This saves the trek into Glasgow and LCY is usually quick and easy to transit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have to pick your times carefully.

      From the timetable to 25 Sept 2022.
      Only 1 of 5 Glasgow to Oban services call at the airport at 10.32.
      Only 1 out 5 Oban to Glasgow services call at the airport at 1854.
      Service 977.

      Uig – Fort William – Glasgow 3 out of 6 or 8 and 1 of these is a change at Tyndrum onto the 977 Oban each way


  3. Fort William seems to have an incredible number of bus routes for a small town of about 10,000. How many of them if any are subsidised, I do not know. Cleary they presumably get a fair number of tourists in the season

    Coach, ferry and bus services (most Except the N services are only one return journey a day. The 900 services are more the equivalent of National Express services It is still a lot of buses for a small town

    Note: The F10 is a Ferry Service

    144 Fort William – Kinlochleven Shiel Buses
    147 Fort William – Lochaber HS Shiel Buses
    226 Arbroath – Fort William Fishers Tours
    500 Fort William – Mallaig Shiel Buses
    502 Fort William – Salen Shiel Buses
    505 Fort William – Mallaig Shiel Buses
    506 Kilchoan – Fort William Shiel Buses
    510B Fort William – Invergarry Shiel Buses
    522 Fort William – Trislaig Shiel Buses
    534 Mallaig – Fort William Shiel Buses
    591 Roybridge – Fort William Lochaber Action on Disability
    592 Corpach – Fort William Lochaber Action on Disability
    913 Edinburgh – Fort William Scottish Citylink
    914 Glasgow – Fort William Scottish Citylink
    918 Oban – Fort William West Coast Motors
    919 Inverness – Fort William Scottish Citylink
    F10 Fort William – Camusnagaul Highland Council
    N41 Glen Nevis or Fort William – Roybridge Shiel Buses
    N42 Fort William – Glen Nevis Shiel Buses
    N43 Fort William – Spean Bridge via Clunes Shiel Buses
    N44 Fort William – Kinlochleven Shiel Buses


    1. It isn’t a huge number of buses when you look at how many of those services are effectively duplicates.
      The 500, 505 and 534 between them run 3 journeys a day to Mallaig.
      The 914, 915 and 916 between them run 5 journeys a day to Glasgow.

      The town services N46 and N47, running half-hourly during the day, provide a good service but are well used, so it is paying off.


  4. Another time a great trip to try is Shiel Buses once a day bus to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula (I think the bus is based there so comes in to Fort William in the morning and back in the evening).

    It connects well with the Kilchoan – Tobermory ferry so you can do a round trip back through Mull, with an overnight stay at Tobermory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I too was on First Glasgow Bus 500 on Monday 19 September, on a very crowded and delayed 12.00 From Queen Street station to the airport. It’s rather a sad excuse for an airport bus service. On my journey, the driver was declining to accept passengers with luggage at many later stops! I also find it strange that they offer no night bus service. There are overnight buses serving Aberdeen Airport and Edinburgh Airport but not at Glasgow Airport. In fact thanks to Scottish City link we have overnight buses from Glasgow city centre to Edinburgh Airport but none to Glasgow Airport


  5. A most enjoyable article, Roger- thanks. There are actually two buses a day from Armadale (more in school terms), but the service is a shadow of what it once was, and you are right that your suggested journey via Portree and Kyle is impossible- because the Citylink coach from Portreee misses the 1346 train from Kyle by five minutes! Unbelievable, and it wouldn’t have happened in the days of mail contracts enforcing integration. By the way it’s Loch Eilt, not Loch Eig.

    In response to Bob, remember that Lochaber High School takes in students from a huge area and many of the services listed are wholly or partly run for schoolkids. But it is true that compared withe equivqlnt sized towns in, say, Cumbria, the Fort is well-served.


      1. Regarding the Jacobite…. arguably you’re better travelling on the standard ScotRail service – it is cheaper, comfortable, has large windows, and you can soak up the scenery. The Jacobite has old carriages with tiny windows, but it does look great from outside. So catch Scotrail and look at the Jacobite while passing at Glenfinnan Station. You’ll enjoy the view more.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Living in Nottingham I plan to take the (recently discovered for me) Sunday-only Northern return to Carlisle via the Settle to Carlisle line. There’s time for lunch in Carlisle before heading back. I’ve travelled the Glasgow to Mallaig and Oban lines many times. And stayed over at Corrour. So delightful.


  7. It’s reading how you cope and persevere with all the perturbations and obstacles thrown in your way that I enjoy equally as much as the scenic views. Thank you and well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think pre-pandemic, Fort William had the distinction of being one of the few parts of the country where Stagecoach closed down in favour of another operator (the old Norfolk Green routes, the routes sold to Roger in his former life, and some parts of South Wales are the others that come to mind). Fortunately Shiel were well capitalised enough to be able to buy the depot and take over.


  9. Having just got back from that neck of the woods, this was a treat to read … and you were very lucky to have your journey running on time! We walked the West Highland Way, 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William, then got the train back. Because the first train out of FTW on a Sunday is at 1140, and there were engineering works between Edinburgh and Newcastle, it was always going to be a long journey, but it turned into a much more stressful one that it needed to be!
    Half of the train was ready in FTW at 1140, but we had to wait for the Mallaig portion, which was running 20 minutes later because of an emergency speed restriction following bad weather. Even though we were running late, we still had to wait on the approach to Crianlarich because the Oban portion was even later, and with the complications of the single line we eventually reached Glasgow Queen Street 48 minutes late, meaning that our leisurely 1 hour walk to Central to pick up the Avanti to Carlisle turned into more of a mad dash, but we made it with about 5 minutes to spare. Then en route, we found out that our LNER train, that was supposed to be running Edinburgh to Kings Cross via Carlisle and Newcastle, was now starting at Newcastle – fortunately, with another full-on sprint across Carlisle station we managed to catch an earlier Northern service to Newcastle, which was busy when we got on and standing all down the aisles when we got to Newcastle, and then a fairly tight change there (not helped by LNER initially putting the wrong formation on the displays so everyone was heading to the wrong carriages). We did make it back to York on time, but only because we had had some very generous connection times, and it was a somewhat stressful end to the holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

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