Traincation to Scotland
Michael Davies explores the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands and Skye, and discovers just how easy it is to reach some of Britain's wild areas by public transport.
Like most people, my partner John and I love holidaying - and we always strive to have low carbon holidays where possible. So when we decided to spend a week in Scotland, we chose to take advantage of low carbon travel options.
The first part of the trip took us on the overnight sleeper from London Euston, which is admittedly not the most romantic or beautiful of train stations. However, once we were shown to our berth - and ordered a bottle of champagne (a bargain at £19.95) from the buffet car - Euston was but a distant memory. We then spent a very agreeable couple of hours in the buffet car before heading off to our berth for the night: I’m not the world's best sleeper, but, the odd bit of sudden braking aside, I had a surprisingly good night's sleep.
>> Book a train ticket to Scotland (with the TheTrainline)
A few hours later we were woken with a coffee and croissant by the onboard host, before drawing the blind to see the most amazing view of Scotland's Cairngorm mountains: this was truly the most fantastic way to start a holiday. We arrived into Inverness at nine o'clock, where we caught the connecting train to Kyle of Lochalsh on what I am reliably informed is one of the world’s greatest railway journeys. Whilst I'm no Michael Palin, I can certainly say that I was impressed! Kyle is a useful staging post to catch the Scottish Citylink bus service to Portree, capital of the Isle of Skye, a town which truly is beautiful.
We stayed two nights at the Cuillin Hills Hotel – on the edge of Portree - the starting point for some incredible hikes (well, more like walks in our case). There’s also a place to hire bikes in Portree itself.
From Portree we travelled back via Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness where we spent the next two nights. Inverness is famously the gateway to Loch Ness and what better way could there be to go Nessie-spotting but on electric bikes (push bikes may be even better but we were too lazy for that!). We hired our fantastic bikes from Cameron at Happy Tours.
Cameron is a fountain of knowledge about all things Inverness (and Nessie) and true to his company name, is a very happy fellow too. The bikes had enough charge to take us to Dores at the tip of Loch Ness and around the gorgeous hills to the south of the Loch. After all that strenuous (or not so strenuous) exercise, we treated ourselves to lunch at Dores Inn - a great pub with roaring fires to warm body and soul.
We left the following morning and took the train to Aberdeen, by way of Nairn, a lovely seaside town where we stopped for coffee. After lunch, we continued on to Stonehaven and enjoyed fantastic fish and chips at The Bay, the winner of the Fish & Chip Awards 2013. Everything about The Bay is sustainable - from its sourcing of supplies and its packaging, to use of 100% renewable energy. Most importantly, the chippies are bloomin’ good too!
We had planned to stay in Stonehaven, but didn’t realise how popular the area is as an easy to reach destination for the residents of neighbouring Aberdeen, and we ended up catching another train all the way to Glasgow (where we stayed with a friend). The following day we hired an electric car and drove to Loch Lomond and the gorgeous village of Luss. It's worth making the trip to Luss just for the chance to sample the delicious scones in the café in its pretty centre. The day would have been a complete success had the car rental people remembered to put a charging plug in the boot (or if we had remembered to check before heading off), but was enjoyable nonetheless: I guess you can’t win them all...
We were both impressed with the powerful, raw beauty of the Scottish Highlands, and the contrasting comfort of the rail network. March was a quiet time for tourists, and so we definitely managed to secure some bargains en route, such as our hotel in Portree. If luck is on your side, and you get a sprinkling of fair weather, anyone can enjoy a low carbon holiday in the Scottish Highlands. If it’s snowing? Well, is there a more beautiful place to be?