Saturday 1st April
It’s been a scenic bus route on my ‘to do’ list ever since I took the marathon Stagecoach route 35 from Elgin to Aberdeen in Autumn 2021 and the driver recommended route 201 from Aberdeen to Braemar to me.
I finally got the opportunity to achieve this goal while in Scotland recently and am so pleased I did. It truly is a spectacular route once you leave the Greater Aberdeen urban sprawl, although that’s a bit unfair as it’s a very pleasant urban sprawl to pass through.
The route from Aberdeen to Braemar is 58 miles with an end to end journey time of two hours and 24 minutes. The bus follows the A93 taking an almost exact westerly trajectory for the whole way. There are just a couple of deviations in Banchory to better serve the residential areas just north of the A93.
The timetable sees a half hourly frequency as far as Banchory reducing to hourly to Ballater with 13 Monday to Friday journeys (nine Saturdays and seven Sundays) extended on to the village of Braemar which is half an hour further on.
I caught the 10:45 from Aberdeen’s busy bus station and while we left with only a handful it soon became quite a busy journey as we continued westwards.
Patronage thinned out the further west we headed and once we reached Ballater ….
…. most had alighted with only another couple continuing on to Braemar with me and they alighted before the village centre.
The terminus is just beyond the village centre.
Braemar is quite a small village but its population swells hugely for the annual Highland Games as well as regular visitors attracted by its proximity to Balmoral Castle located midway between the village and Ballater.
Balmoral is just one of many highlights route 202 passes along its route. The route’s main attraction is of course the wonderful scenery all along the River Dee which parallels the A93 pretty much for virtually the whole route. I hope the photographs above and below give you an idea of just how splendid the scenery is along this right Royal scenic route.
Heading out to Braemar the river is south of the road but about three miles from Braemar the A93 crosses over on a traffic light controlled narrow bridge and the river then heads north.
For mile after mile there are forests and mountains creating a lovely diverse landscape to enthral the traveller.
I’m pretty sure there’s no bus route that’ll take you beyond Braemar – without network maps you’re never quite sure these days – and in any event the trajectory of the A93 changes just after the village from due west to due south.
Having arrived on time at 13:09 I’d enjoyed the journey so much I decided to head back to Aberdeen again on the same bus leaving, after a short break, at 13:25. Stagecoach have a small outstation east of Ballater where we’d changed drivers and the driver taking over was Aberdeen based and had been refreshed with a break having himself been relieved on an earlier journey so he drove all the way back to Aberdeen.
Heading out we’d passed through Aboyne where I’d noticed a rather impressive free standing real time departure sign…
… but despite the remoteness of many bus stops along the route they also came with real time departures displaying – proving even rural remote outposts can be ahead of the game when it comes to information displays.
Normally after a two hour journey I like to head on somewhere else rather than retrace my steps with the same journey, but the upside of doing so this time was the drizzle that plagued the outward trip for the first hour had stopped and the sun even came out drying off the front windscreen.
It gave me a chance to savour the delights of the scenery from a different angle and appreciate points of interest more deeply.
For example we passed the short length of The Royal Deeside Railway which has restored about a mile of track of the original line which ran for 43 miles between Aberdeen and Ballater until closure in 1966.
I spotted some of the coaches and other traction they have alongside the splendid restored (award-winning) Victorian Station at Milton of Crathes,
As you can see the track parallels the A93 …
… and the River.
Stagecoach are using seven year old double decks cascaded from its Aberdeen Airport 727 shuttle service which still have their large lower deck luggage racks on the route.
I understand there are plans in hand to replace these with cycle racks which I’m sure will be popular on a route like this – too popular perhaps.
I also saw two or three single decks out on the route so was really grateful I’d been lucky enough to cop a double deck.
Chatting to the driver at Braemar I wasn’t surprised to hear him say how busy the route gets in the summer peak tourist season. He said he has known the first journey from Aberdeen on a Sunday morning leave the bus station with a full double deck load on board.
It’s definitely a must do route if you ever find yourself in Aberdeen with a spare day to explore Royal Deeside.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS with the occasional Sunday blog including one tomorrow featuring a review of a fabulous book just published.
You are correct – there is no bus route westbound from Braemar, I think the next public transport in that direction is along the A9 corridor though Aviemore. I don’t think there are any local traffic objectives on this stretch and the through Aberdeen to Inverness routes all take the A96/rail corridor via Elgin. Southwards down the A93, the next place with a service is Spittal of Glenshee which has a limited shoppers service into Blairgowrie run by Stagecoach.
I quite agree about Route 201 …. spectacular!
I travelled it first about 15 years ago, when DP coaches with high floors were used, but a decker is much better.
Ballater is worth a wander, with a restored railway station in the town (although it was damaged by fire a few years ago).
The bus Garage used to be in the town centre, with around 6 coaches allocated.
One of my top 10 bus routes ….. I need to go back!!
I think there was a bus service towards Grantown on Spey a while ago …. maybe summer only?
Like me a few years ago, you missed the opportunity to visit the 1904 timber-built Braemar bus station (first ever?). Erected by the GNSR as a terminus for its new bus route from Ballater, it also served as a bus garage, passing to Alexander in due course. Excellent pictures on Streetview and elsewhere. We both it to the importance of the site to revisit!
Dear Roger. In your many articles,, you seem to accept that lack of information on bus routes and services as an everyday part of using buses. You are well known in the bus industry and, as I recall, you were managing director of bus operations in Sussex and elsewhere. So, dare I suggest that, instead of leisurely riding buses around Britain, you campaign for all bus operators to consider their passengers and provide up to date route maps and up to date bus information on bus stops. This is something very simple to ask but, without it, the bus industry will continue its current decline, as most people are totally unaware of and confused by most bus operations.
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Whilst bus stop route maps and information would be welcome, one has to be realistic in these matters, as I’m old enough to recall that even when the information is correct, it can often be dismissed should something happen that means the desired journey cannot be made. The arrival of real time displays has helped considerably (I’d just like the indicator to show whether it parrots only the timetable or ‘real-time data from the approaching bus).
There are enough apps out there offering route maps, and to expect someone – no doubt a sub-contractor- to travel and update these regularly is a cost many companies might find wasteful. Especially if the routes are loss-making, add to this, if competing services at a stop will require multiple visits to remote stops as and when service are amended, this is hardly sensible.
True, not everyone has a smartphone- but that is their choice. That blank notice panel on Vatersay (the furthest West in Scotland) who’d be updating that and at what cost? We have to be realistic – if the information IS available then the traveller knows what the sensible answer is.
The indicators do make a distinction, although I wonder how many people realise it.
If the time is shown as a countdown (e.g. “5 minutes”), it’s real-time data. If it’s shown as a time (e.g. “11:26”), then it’s just the scheduled time from the timetable.
So, on Roger’s photo of the screen at Aboyne, the first two journeys are tracking in real-time but the following four are showing the scheduled time, probably because those buses wouldn’t yet have started their journeys.
Disappointing to see single-decks return, as for the last couple of years the balance has mainly been double-deckers, certainly on the days I have travelled. But yet another reminder of the absurdity and inconsistency of the present Stagecoach “Emperors New Clothes” livery, where the lengthy 201 is populated by “local livery” buses.
I had a very enjoyable few days in Aberdeen last May, including a ride to Braemar on the 201. I had driven a car on some of the route, but it’s much easier to see the views as a passenger upstairs. The ride is increasingly scenic as it goes from urban to rural to mountainous.
I went up on a fairly busy “ex airport” bus, with the luggage racks well used by large rucksacks and tents. Very comfortable apart from being next to a window with a loud rattle. After a couple of hours exploring Braemar, I then caught a standard decker to Ballater, which I had to myself apart from a couple who got on at Balmoral. In contrast, the single-decker I caught from Ballater was the busiest bus of the day, picking up steadily until there was only a couple of seats left.
A £15 dayrider comes as a shock to someone with an ENCS pass, but its still good value. All in all, highly recommended.
Looks like Mark 2 coaching stock on that railway and it looks long enough to run short trips.
If I’m not mistaken, the Great North of Scotland Railway’s 1904 garage features at the back of picture No 8- the black and white building with the pointed roof. As for other services out of Braemar, in 2014 Stagecoach ran an open topper from Spittal of Glenmuick (south of Ballater) via Ballater and Braemar to Linn of Dee (some nice waterfalls) but I don’t think it was repeated. Linn of Dee also had a postbus route. The Heatherhopper network of the early to mid 1990s ran Ballater-Tomintoul and Braemar to Pitlochry, amongst others, on a few days a week in summer, but such routes are sadly long gone.
The £2 fare has been extended until the end of June. Not sure if the Covid support has also been extended
That’s old news, Bob. It was announced and reported weeks ago.
Bur NOT in Deeside (or indeed anywhere in Scotland)!
Believed to be valid on cross border trips to/from England but I haven’t done one or know anyone who has to know if it’s true.So if it’s true if you go on the Borders Buses bus to Edinburgh it’d be cheaper from Berwick than from Eyemouth!
I tried to go from Glasgow to Carlisle. The only service is operated by ‘National’ Express. They tell me they don’t accept the Scotia Concession card (only their own @ £15pa for 1/3 off) so it’s swings and roundabouts!
Get the Carlisle to Dumfries Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancs and then and then Stagecoach West to Glasgow.Probably be time consuming but maybe cheaper than National Express?
I’m starting in Glasgow – so a trip to Dumfries is reasonable, but the only connection I can find from there is the McCalls service which detours via Lockerbie, before going to Carlisle. As there are only 6 a day, it looks as though it’ll be the train!
I’ve seen a Stagecoach bus with Glasgow on the front there, Dumfries,last year when I was waiting for the Newton Stewart bus at the bus station and another with Edinburgh on the front came in too which I caught once as far as Moffat.
It”ll be too late now, but Stagecoach 79 runs every hour from Dumfries to Carlisle, taking 1h 45m, with a standard single fare of £8.50. Glasgow to Dumfries is generally every hour by Stagecoach X74, taking 2h 10m, with a standard single fare of £12.10 – making £20.60 overall, assuming no concessions. By comparison, National Express is either £12 or £13 single, depending on the service, while by rail the standard single is £21.60 but you can buy advance tickets for less, depending on the time of day.
So rail would probably have been your best bet anyway, unless you have a Scottish Young Person’s or National Entitlement Card, in which case the X74/79 route would cost nothing, albeit taking 4h 40m including a 45’ wait in Dumfries.
Thanks Nige – I do have a NEC so no NatExpress for me – however the route does seem to be Dumfries being the key. Routing via Lockerbie is the fastest IF you can fit in with the times it runs to Carlisle. I wasn’t aware stagecoach offered a direct service as it didn’t show up on their website – but thanks for the pointer!