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How to rove beyond the rails with a Scottish Freedom Pass?

How to rove beyond the rails with a Scottish Freedom Pass?

Jan 1st, 2006, 06:37 AM
  #1  
plr
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How to rove beyond the rails with a Scottish Freedom Pass?

I will be traveling solo for 2 weeks in March and have an 8-day flexible rail pass. Itinerary is open at this point, though I will start with several days in Edinburgh and will then be most interested in castle & abbey ruins, ancient stones, and the scenery of the central & western highlands areas.

I need all the ideas I can glean from folks here about what options I have to economically move about the countryside to explore such sites while still getting the most out of my rail pass. I have driven in Ireland for 2 weeks before, and am not opposed to car rental at times, but would like to know the other options as well, from various base-areas which are typically mentioned here (eg: Inverness, Ft. William, Calander, etc). I also have simply no idea about what I will face when I get off the train at various locations. Will I be rolling my suitcase for blocks or miles to find a visitor center or my place to stay--or is transportation usually available?
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Jan 1st, 2006, 07:44 AM
  #2  
 
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OK - I don't ride the trains very much in Scotland - Maybe 10-12 train trips ever.

For what you want to do a car would probably have been a better idea. especially since you already have experience driving on the left. Places like vast areas of the highlands, Callander, Kilmartin, Dryburgh/Melrose/Jedburgh, most areas w/ standing stone/circles, etc just are not on rail lines.

W/ a car you could have explored all those sorts of ancient sites w/o any trouble.

But since you already have a rail pass you need to make do. Unfortunately, 1 and 2 day car rentals are very expensive so it is hard to combine rail and driving. And local buses don't work too well for the really rural places where a lot of the ancient sites are located.

Of course, Inverness, Ft William, Perth, Oban are all well served by trains. Towns that have train stations usually will have a Tourist Information Center in the same general area.

As I said I usually drive in Scotland so hopefully someone else will be able to give you suggestions on how to make this work.
janisj is online now  
Jan 1st, 2006, 09:34 AM
  #3  
 
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I believe the Freedom pass is good for both rain and bus. You might try "travelinescotland.com" as a journey planner between points. I have found it very helpful. Fairly good bus service from rail points to places on Skye and Mull. Take a look at "undiscoverscotland.com" for other places to visit. Hope this information helps.
rogerdodger is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 10:43 AM
  #4  
 
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We have traveled by rail during all or part of 2 of our trips to Scotland and rogerdodger is right -- the rail passes are good for both rail and some of the bus routes. You didn't indicate if you were only planning to use your rail pass to go from base camp to base camp or if you wanted it for day trips too but I'll assume the latter. They're also good for most of the ferry routes, so if you wanted to go to any of the Western Isles you could do that too as part of your rail pass.

Speaking to the itineraries we've done ourselves, Edinburgh is a good base camp for easy rail day trips to Stirling Castle, Linlithgow Palace and St. Andrews (where you take the train to Leuchars and then hop a bus to St. Andrews). Great castle and/or abbey ruins in all those places. Linlithgow and St. Andrews are very walkable and it's easy to get to their sites on foot. Stirling has an inexpensive hop-on-hop-off bus tour that leaves from close by the train station and you can see the castle and Wallace Monument that way.

In Oban you can take the ferry to Mull and and hop a coach to Duart Castle or walk to the miniature passenger railway and take it to Torosay Castle. Duart is more ruiny than Torosay but Torosay has great gardens and the rail journey is pretty. In Oban, there's the walk to McCaig's Tower (which overlooks the city) and the walk up the narrow unmarked path to Dunollie Castle ruins is also worth a look-see. You could also catch a tour for a day trip to Iona -- great island, very walkable (only residents and services are allowed cars), wonderful ruins and pretty beaches.

On one of our trips we stayed in a b&b near Fort William, which is a convenient (albeit cheesey) base town in the Western Highlands, especially if you're traveling via rail which we were at the time. If you opt for car rental there are more attractive, less crowded and less tourisy towns you could stay in; but it's a sort of rail hub for the West Highland line which makes it a good base camp. While we were there we spent a day hiking in the Glen Nevis area and went on the Steall Falls walk as well as hopping a local bus to Nevis Range where we took a gondola ride up Aonach Mor for a great view, more hiking and a bite to eat at the Snowgoose Restaurant. Another day trip we took was hopping the regular (not steam) train toward Mallaig but we got off in the sleepy little village of Morar and hoofed it to their white sand beaches (aka the infamous "silver sands of Morar"). The train route is gorgeous and the beaches were stunning. There's not much else to do there (except enjoy a meal at the Morar Hotel), but if you're after enjoying scenery the rail journey there and the beaches once you get there have it in spades.

We never made it on that particular trip to the bustling ferry town of Mallaig (the end of that rail journey) but that's where you could go to Skye if you wanted to (which we did on a future trip). You could catch a tour group for a day trip to Skye or rent a car and ferry over there by yourself (your rail pass will cover you as a passenger but you have to pay separately for your car). Or you could splurge and hire a private car and driver to take you where YOU want to go on Skye -- that's what we did; there's too much to really see in just one day and this way you won't waste your time on things you're not interested in; plus a decent driver will know the best routes to take and give you a bit of history on what you're seeing and you can just relax and enjoy the scenery without having to pay attention to traffic, wrestle with maps etc.

I'm sure there are other good rail journey base camps and other things to do via rail, bus etc. in the base camps I mentioned (and hopefully others will speak up with them!) but I only wanted to mention those things that we actually did and enjoyed ourselves.

Happy trails -- I'm sure you'll have a great time!
my2cents is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 10:59 AM
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I'm just going off now. I mean to come again tomorrow but if I forget please contact me on [email protected]
The pass you have covers ferries as well and your problem will be choosing what NOT to do!
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Jan 1st, 2006, 11:08 AM
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I forgot to mention that Iona is another place where you are better off spending at least one night if you can (although it's doable as a day trip). There are lots of places there to hike around and explore and it's much less crowded after the day trippers leave. Your rail pass won't cover the ferry ride from Mull to Iona but it's a dirt-cheap 5-10 minute ride. Plus, if you stay more than a day on Iona you can take one of the boat trips to Staffa, another good scenic place to visit. If you don't want to haul luggage around once you get there you can either plan to stay in a place close to the ferry terminal or hire a taxi (they do have one of two of those on the island); plus some of the B&B operators will come pick you up when you arrive.

Like davidx said -- there's no shortage of things to do withoug a car...your problem will be choosing what NOT to do
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Jan 1st, 2006, 04:50 PM
  #7  
plr
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Whew!--I'm relieved to read your very helpful input, my2cents. I was starting to feel pretty discouraged at the outset. I have envisioned using the train primarily to travel between base-points where I could stay put for a couple of nights & use some means of more local transportation if available(!) to get to ruins. I have never done trains and thought it would be relaxing to not have to hassle all the time with parking, narrow one-laners, and cliffs on my side of the road! I appreciate knowing that most towns where the trains stop might have visitor centers nearby. Maybe if I look pathetic enough, I won't end up having to trudge up a long, long road with my backpack & my rollaboard bumping along, to find a nice B&B! Rogerdodger, I will indeed check out the websites you listed. Are short day-tours common in areas where there are lots of nearby antiquities & ruins? Thanks to all who have responded so far. I truly needed a bit of encouragement.
plr is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 05:13 PM
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Glad to be of some help. In our experience yes, short day tours and sometimes even local coaches are common for some of the ruins and antiquities -- not all, but enough that you should have no shortage of things to see! You can usually sign up for the tours at the various visitors centers in whatever base towns you're in or you can get instruction on which local coaches to take to get there.

Not sure if you're headed out this direction, but if you are Inverness is another convenient base town if you're without car. It's not the most charming or picturesque of Scotland's places (and it gets dissed alot here) but we enjoyed our carless stay there -- the hop-on-hop-off bus tour is really good there and will take you all the way out to Culloden Battlefield which is well worth visiting; there are good budget B&B's every where you turn; and it's another good rail hub for day trips, etc.
my2cents is offline  
Jan 1st, 2006, 06:31 PM
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OK - everyone seems to think I said you can't tour Scotland by public transport. No such thing - thousands do every year. But trying to get to off the beaten path ancient sites by train/bus is not all that convenient and you will end up waiting on infrequent buses, or paying for day trips. And there are not many day trips unless you are based in Edinburgh or Inverness, or to a lesser extent maybe Ft William.

And - "cliffs on my side of the road!" - not a lot of cliffside driving anywhere in Scotland. Sounds like you are thinking of the Ring of Kerry.

You can easily get to prominent/popular sites like St Andrews Cathedral/castle, Stirling, Linlithgow, and such. If those are the types of places you want to visit you won't have any problems at all.

If you want to get to more remote places - you'll have a much harder time.

One problem, while convenient, some of the main rail heads (Ft William, Inverness, etc) are not the most scenic or or interesting places to stay.

You can have a great tour of Scotland by train - but you WILL have to make some significant compromises about what you can visit and for how long.
janisj is online now  
Jan 14th, 2006, 03:11 PM
  #10  
plr
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So I wasn't anticipating that a rail-based trip would be as much of a challenge as it now appears to be. But then, I travel primarily for the adventure of it, and this indeed has already become an adventure! Thanks again to those who have offered suggestions from experience as to how to pull off a good trip!

It's tempting and seems "easiest" to concentrate my time in the islands, from 2-3 obvious jumping-off points reached by the train. But I should first ask what can usually be expected in terms of weather and fog during those last 2 weeks of March. Cold & damp are ok with me, but if I can't see anything....

Also thought I'd ask again if there are any obviously concentrated areas for ruins & antiquities that I could reach by using local transportation on my own for a day or two at a time (rental car if I have to).

On the other hand, I do have the Br. Heritage pass, so it might make sense to just forget about the more remote ruins for this trip, and focus my itinerary on those sites.

Obviously, I'm still in the thinking stage here, and all creative ideas are welcome!
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Jan 14th, 2006, 04:37 PM
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Hi again. This past November I did a solo train/bus trip. I spent my first two days in York. Used the local bus for a days outing to Whitby and Scarborough and back to York. Trained up to Oban. Ferry and then local bus to Tombermory on Mull. In the past I did an over night/day trip from Inverness to Orkney which has great sites. For this I used a small local tour firm. Think it was only 50 pounds plus B&B cost. You might want to check for local taxi like tours for the hour, 1/2 day or full day outings. This can work out very well for the Islands. Did this for Skye. Had them pick me up in Armadale on Sklye from the ferry after a train trip to Mallaig. Spent the night in a B&B and had a 1/2 day tour then a drive to Kyle of Lochalsh for a trin back Inverness and on to Aberdeen. In any event, my point is you can get to most place by train, bus and local private tour guides. I have been doing this for the past few years and plan another one in March. I have found it a lot of fun to find journey planners, local guides and to book everything on line. Let me know if I can be of help. Oh, as I am retired and with bad knees I always book B&B's close to bus or train stations or one that they will pick you up. I don't mind walking, but not hauling my shoulder bag.
rogerdodger is offline  
Jan 15th, 2006, 04:56 AM
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Wow ! We too are planning a trip to England/ Scotland (I have posted previously about whether to take the train or car.) These posts gave us such encouragement for a train trip. Thanks to all who are giving insight into the day trips especially. I think we are concentrating on Leeds (First thisg to do on our journey is to pick up our daughter at the University) York, Edinburgh (2 days, Glasgow,Liverpool, and some other destination before flying out of Manchester. How does that sound for rail stops? Any intersting day trips from these places? Is Liverpool worth seeing? IT was just a quick choice. Is Carlisle scenic? Please advise. Thank you.
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Jan 15th, 2006, 07:21 AM
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plr, As to the clumping thing, I suggest you look at Mainland, Orkney, and Islay, for lots of things to see together. Orkney I'm less sure of, but in Islay the buses just loop the island all day, and most of the locls pick up anyone who's walking who doesn't look like they are walking for it's own sake.

Beyond that, there's usualy someheing where there's a train station, but the next thing'll be some miles away.
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Jan 15th, 2006, 08:48 AM
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Sealight3, Carlisle, in my opinion is not what I would consider scenic. I have found myself going throught it on many occasions and have in fact spent a few nights as it does offer a good transfer point. They have a castle you could visit as well as a decent museum. As a thought you might consider taking the train toward Newcastle getting off at Haltwhistle and take the local bus to one of the old Roman forts along Hadrians wall. Or just go for the ride. Another though is the train from Leeds to Carlisle via Settle. If you plan it right you could get off the train, say in Appleby, walk for a bit then catch the next train back. You could do this from and back to Carlisle as well. If you just like to ride and enjoy the views you can take a train along the coast from Carlisle to Barrow in Furness. What I suggest is printing out a rail map on the web and see the possibities. Happy rails to you.
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Jan 15th, 2006, 12:34 PM
  #15  
plr
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Thanks again roger and sheila. Now I'm really starting to get excited about this trip! I was starting to question whether it would be possible to connect from train to other forms of short-hop travel within areas, so your experience and ideas are really helpful and encouraging. I also learned of the post bus idea from davidx, but have not yet figured out how to best use that for a full day's activity (between their going-&-return trips) since this will likely not be ideal hiking weather in late March.

I know weather is highly variable, but does anyone have thoughts about whether I might be setting myself up for full-time fog in the islands?

And Sheila, where did you mean when you suggested "Mainland?"

Thanks again to all. I love this message board!
plr is offline  
Jan 15th, 2006, 01:01 PM
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OK, I'll stick my neck out. You SHOULDN'T get fog in March. (please don't shoot me if you do)

The biggest island on Orkney is called Mainland
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Jan 15th, 2006, 02:34 PM
  #17  
plr
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Oops!--Sorry, Sheila, I read your note too quickly and thought you were referring to 3 different places. Thanks for sticking your neck out. I promise I'll have a back-up plan, just in case, and will not hold you responsible for the weather!
plr is offline  
Jan 18th, 2006, 01:30 PM
  #18  
plr
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Thought I would revive this thread for others interested in the topic as well. I just located an easy basic resource (there are likely others) to assist with augmenting the train travel with other forms of travel to reach off-rail places: travelbritain.com By clicking on "Explore Scotland," then on the area of interest, and then on "Travel details," I was delighted to find the travel options between various places listed with frequency and length of time involved. This is a real help for train-traveling. I also found that car rental for 3 days through AutoEurope.com is not as expensive as I would have anticipated ($117 USD total basic), if booked ahead of time.

The suggestions I have received here have really helped me to re-shape my thinking about planning this trip, and I have shifted my focus a bit, rather than to try to do everything in one pretty short journey.
plr is offline  
Jan 18th, 2006, 01:38 PM
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A great rail route:
Edinburgh to Inverness then take the West Highlands train line to the Kyle of Lochlash - this is one of Europe's most scenic train lines - then hop a bus from the Kyle station and cross the bridge to the Isle of Skye - stay here a day or so and then leave Skye by boat from its southern end to Maillag (your Scottish pass also covers all Caledonia-McBrane ferries) but this is a short ferry ride to Maillag from where Britain's most scenic train ride takes you to Glasgow via Fort William - the part that goes thru the Ranleigh (sp?) Moor is so dramatic - just miles of desolate moorland - the line follows the sea much of the way to Fort William - just a great great train ride.
PalQ is offline  
Jan 18th, 2006, 01:46 PM
  #20  
plr
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That is nearly exactly what I had planned, assuming bus on Skye would not be a problem! I'll likely be going to Oban and then over to Mull & Iona after Maillag though, before heading back toward Edinburgh. Thanks for your reinforcement. I sure look forward to this trip and think the train idea is a great one after all!
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