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Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End
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Bus pass ramblings

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The West Highland Railway from Mallaig to Glasgow via Fort William, has been a 'bucket list' ambition for me for a long time. Saturday was predicted to be a fine day, so I decided to get out and do it. It's also on the bucket list of many tourists who come to Scotland, and this could cause a problem in the height of the tourist season. You want to get a window seat, facing the front, but if the train is packed with tourists, you might end up with an aisle seat, and your back to the engine.  Hopefully, there would be far fewer tourists in late September.
 
The bus pass allows you to get half price train travel, but only in Strathclyde region. So, you can use it for the train to  Oban, which is in Strathclyde, but not to Fort William and Mallaig, which are in Highland region. So, this was going to be the most expensive outing yet. I'd get free travel between my home and Glasgow, and also on the bus from Glasgow to Fort William, but then I'd be paying full fare for the rest. There's a bus service between Mallaig and Fort William, but it's pretty restricted, and didn't fit in with the itinerary. So, I'd get the train to Mallaig.
 
I expected that I'd just spend a couple of hours or so in Mallaig, before catching the West Highland Railway train back to Glasgow, but as I was idly thumbing through the Cal-Mac ferry timetables  one day, I noticed that there was actually a ferry from Mallaig to Armadale in Skye. Now, my travels around Scotland have turned me  into something of a 'ferry bagger'. I 'bag' ferries the way some folk bag Munros. It's easier on the hips. I've done five since June, and this would be number six, if it was doable, and it was - just. The ferry leaves Mallaig at 1400, arriving at Armadale at 1445. I could disembark, and spend a few minutes of my first visit to Skye taking a couple of photos, before joining the back of the queue to board the ship again. The ferry would arrive back in Mallaig at 1545, with 20 minutes to spare before catching the 1605 train to Glasgow. Cost of return trip, just £6.
 
It was going to be a day of 'firsts'. First time in Mallaig, on the Armadale ferry, and isle of Skye. First time on the West Highland line, including twice across the Glenfinnan viaduct, between Mallaig and Fort William. Glenfinnan is the viaduct made famous in  Harry Potter films. It would be my first time across Rannoch Moor, one of the wildest places in Scotland, with no roads or villages for many miles. I'd heard that red deer were often seen from the train on the moor. That would be another first, if I saw one. I've seen nine roe deer on my travels, this year. Five individuals, plus a group of two adults and two fawns in a field of sheep, in Mull. Since they're mainly nocturnal, and mainly woodland dwelling, making it hard to spot them, you're left with the impression that there must be an awful lot of roe deer in Scotland. But, I've yet to see a red deer.
 
It was my first time through Glen Coe from the south, and it was just as spectacular as when I traveled through it from the north earlier in the year. I took a few pics through the window of the bus, but wasn't optimistic about the results. I made a mental note of the relative positions of the chair lift, visitors' centre and Glencoe village for next year. The 0830 Fort William bus from Buchanan Street was 10 minutes late leaving, and lost another 10 minutes en route, due to a lot of passengers getting off and on along the way. So, it arrived in Fort William at 1156, which left no time for any  sightseeing. It was straight to the railway station to get the 1212 train to Mallaig, arriving at 1334.
 
On approaching the Glenfinnan viaduct, half the passengers got their cameras out, and started snapping away. I took a few pics, one of which turned out half decent. After Glenfinnan, the train passed by Scotland's deepest loch, Loch Morar. I'd expected it to be larger, for a body of water over 1,000 ft deep. The schedule was tight - too tight, maybe. I was trying to cram a lot in. I had just 15 minutes in Mallaig, before catching the 1400 ferry to Armadale, in Skye. It took 45 minutes to do the crossing, and I had 5 minutes on Skye to take a few photos, before boarding for the return trip. The weather was just about perfect, and there were a lot of tourists taking photos. There seemed to be a lot of Germans and Americans, but very few Chinese, compared to early summer.
 
On the train back from Fort William, through Rannoch Moor, the sun began to flirt with the mountain tops, and the gloaming seemed to add to the ethereal magic of the place. I had thought that Rannoch Moor was my best chance of getting my first sighting of wild red deer, and so it turned out.  About half a mile before Rannoch station, a group of four red deer hinds came into view, about 200 yards away. So, that's another bucket list item ticked off. By the time the train reached Ardlui, it was pitch black. October sees the start of the winter timetables. With far fewer bus, train and ferry services, and fewer daylight hours,  there won't be any opportunities to do long distance outings with multiple connections  like today's itinerary.  It's a summer thing, really.

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I'd three days of my annual leave left, so took Wed-Fri off, as the forecast looked promising for a short excursion. Decided on Moffat and Dumfries, but when I looked out the window this morning, it was well below zero, and the frost didn't melt later, like it usually does. I'm okay working outdoors in those temperatures, but it dampens the enthusiasm for bus rambling, even if it is a nice sunny day. Saturday is predicted to be only a degree or two higher, so I'll be staying in.
 
I'd thought about doing the winter only ferry from Lochranza in Arran to Tarbert at the northern end of the Mull of Kintyre, then getting another ferry across Loch Fyne to Portavadie on the Cowal penisula, before catching a bus to Dunoon. But winter buses and ferries aren't synchronised like the summer ones, and there are fewer services, so it isn't doable. Pity.  I'll just wait until next spring, and do a return trip across the Cowal peninsula to Tarbert. 
 
Thought I'd make a list of the bestest favourites journeys this year, so here it is:
 
1) Train from Mallaig to Fort William. 
 
The Mallaig to Glasgow West Highland railway journey has been called the most scenic rail journey in the world, and the Mallaig to Fort William section is probably the best bit. The vistas are breathtaking. I was very lucky to get lots of sunny days that were in the low 70s in my travels, and that was the case when I did the West Highland trip. There are not many days in the year in Scotland when the lochs and sea are Caribbean blue and glistening yellow. 'Almost mystical' describes it well enough.
 
2) Fort William to Glencoe bus. 
 
I traveled through Glencoe twice on the bus. Once from the north, and once from the south. The mountains are truly majestic, and surprisingly green. Many of the comments on the Tripadvisor page remark on how green the mountains are. That's probably just because they're not as high as the Rockies or the Alps, but the copious rain they get probably helps, too. Apparently, the magical environment is a combination of a volcanic caldera ground and scoured by ice age glaciers. So, now you know.
 
3) Train through Rannoch moor. 
 
Part of the West Highland rail trip, only doable by train, and since it's outside Strathclyde region, you can't get a half price fare. But worth every penny. Rannoch moor is one of the wildest places in Britain, with no roads or villages for many miles. It has the highest railway station in Britain (Corrour). I traveled through it when the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains and the twilight upped the mystical factor big time. Got my first ever sighting of wild red deer, four hinds about 200 yards from the train, just before Rannoch station.
 
4) Oban to Glasgow bus.
 
The bus from Glasgow to Oban goes up the west side of Loch Lomond, through the Trossachs, then through Crianlarich and Tyndrum, en route to Oban. It's a very scenic trip, but the return journey through Inveraray and Arrochar, taking in lochs Fyne and Long, is even better.
 
5) The Great Glen
 
Inverness to Fort William, taking in the Caledonian canal, Loch Ness, Urquhart castle, Fort Augustus, Loch Lochy and Ben Nevis. What's not to like?
 
6) Rothesay to Dunoon.
 
The bus gets on a ferry at the northern tip of Bute, to travel the 440 yards to Colintraive, on the Cowal peninsula. The hills are very rugged, and look like better mountaineering practice than the Highlands, although  smaller. It's a very scenic journey, spoiled by the desolation left by the clearfelled plantations.
 
7) Inveraray to Tarbert.
 
Down the west coast of Loch Fyne, going through the 'hidden gem' villages of Inveraray, Lochgilphead, Ardrishaig and Tarbert.

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We went a drive today to Thornhill and to the antiques market at Doune.  Very mild day for December.

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