Boat and Ferry Travel
Boat and Ferry Travel
Because Scotland has so many islands, plus the great Firth of Clyde waterway, ferry services are of paramount importance. Most ferries transport vehicles as well as foot passengers, although a few smaller ones are for passengers only.
It's a good idea to make a reservation ahead of time, although reservations are not absolutely necessary. Most travelers show up on the day of departure and buy their tickets from the stations at the ports. Keep in mind that these are working ferries, not tourist boats. Although journeys are scenic, most people use these ferries as their daily means of public transportation to and from their hometowns.
The main operator is Caledonian MacBrayne, known generally as CalMac. Services extend from the Firth of Clyde in the south, where there's an extensive network, right up to the northwest of Scotland and all of the Hebrides. CalMac sells an Island Rover runabout ticket, which is ideal for touring holidays in the islands, as well as an island-hopping scheme called Island Hopscotch. Fares can range from £4 for a short trip to almost £50 for a longer trip with several legs.
The Dunoon-Gourock route on the Clyde is served by Western Ferries.
The Falkirk Wheel in Tamfourhill, about halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, is an attraction as much as a form of transportation. The only rotating boat lift in the world, it carries tour boats from the Forth and Clyde Canal over to the Union Canal, and back again.
Northlink Ferries operates a car ferry for Orkney between Scrabster, near Thurso, and Stromness, on the main island of Orkney; and between Aberdeen and Kirkwall, which is also on Mainland, Orkney. Northlink also runs ferries for Shetland between Aberdeen and Lerwick.
For fares and schedules, contact ferry companies directly. Traveler's checks (in pounds), cash, and major credit cards are accepted for payment.
Caledonian MacBrayne (0800/066-5000. www.calmac.co.uk.)
Northlink Ferries (0845/600-0449. www.northlinkferries.co.uk.)
Western Ferries (01369/704452. www.western-ferries.co.uk.)
Many of the crossings from North America to Europe are repositioning sailings for ships that cruise the Caribbean in winter and European waters in summer. Sometimes rates are reduced, and fly-cruise packages are usually available. Check the travel pages of your Sunday newspaper or contact a travel agent for lines and sailing dates. To get the best deal on a cruise, consult a cruise-only travel agency.
VisitScotland's SailScotland Web site includes details of charter firms operating among the islands. The National Trust for Scotland runs a regular cruise program with lectures on natural history. The destination changes each year but may include the west coast or Northern Isles. Hebridean Island Cruises offers three- to seven-night luxury cruises aboard the MV Hebridean Princess around the Scottish islands, including all the Western Isles.
Hebridean Island Cruises (01756/704700; 855/866-8612 in U.S. www.hebridean.co.uk.)
National Trust for Scotland (0866/211-7573. www.nts.org.uk.)
Cunard Line (0845/678–0013 or 800/728–6273. www.cunard.com.)
Holland America Line (0843/374-2300 or 877/932-4259. www.hollandamerica.com.)
Princess Cruises (0845/075–0031 or 800/774–6237. www.princess.com.)
Seabourn Cruise Line (0843/373-2000 in the U.K.; 866/755-5619 in the U.S. www.seabourn.com.)
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