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Issue 18 - Trains, planes and automobiles

Scotland Magazine Issue 18
January 2005

 

This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Trains, planes and automobiles

It's never been easier to get to Scotland nor to travel around it once you're there. In this special feature we look at the options

Travelling to Scotland has never been easier, with airlines such as Continental, KLM/North West and United offering services in to Scotland without the need to go through London.

Principle destination airports are Glasgow Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but an increasing number of flights are flying from central Europe to Aberdeen and Inverness.

And you might like to take in another destination on your way to or from Scotland. For instance Icelandair offer competitively priced journeys via Reykjavik, and offer packages that include a stay over in Iceland. With a modern fleet of airlines and an emphasis on service and high standards, this service provides an ideal opportunity to enjoy two great destinations on the same trip.

Just this year Zoom has introduced new services in to Scotland from Canada (see feature) and US Airways has launched a service from Philadelphia, where it is based – providing a gateway to the rest of the United States.

If you are travelling from a European destination or from within the United Kingdom, both Eastern Airways and BMI offer reliable and high standard services and both now run services to Aberdeen.

Once you reach Scotland there really is no need at all to stay in Edinburgh and Glasgow and not get further afield to see some of the truly stunning regions of the country. There are a number of services that link the two biggest cities with Aberdeen, Inverness, Wick and many of the islands.

Travel to Scotland’s most remote destinations has become much easier through improvements in transport links, such as Loganair’s flights to destinations around the country.

Loganair is firmly established as ‘Scotland’s Airline’, having provided air travel to the communities of its home market – since 1962. The service operates as a British Airways franchise partner to all of its named destinations apart from the Orkney and Shetland inter-island services, which are managed entirely by Loganair.

The airline offers direct links to two northern cities in Scotland, Aberdeen and Inverness. Both these of destinations offer many attractions in their own rights, as well as functioning as bases to explore surrounding areas.

Access to the Western Isles has been greatly improved recently, with extra direct links into Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway. The arrival into Barra with Loganair is spectacular, as the plane lands on Traigh Mhor – a two-mile stretch of a cockle laden beach, which serves as the isle’s runway. The tiny island of Benbecula offers beautiful scenery with its series of mountains and freshwater lochs, and the capital of the Isle of Lewis, Stornoway, is a bustling harbour town home to the magnificent 4,000 year old Callanish standing stones.

The county of Argyll and Bute features many stunning locations including Campbeltown, the mainland holiday resort, and the remote islands of Islay and Tiree. Campbeltown is full of charm with its bustling harbour, and it is also in close proximity to the Mull of Kintyre, which was immortalised in the famous song by Paul McCartney and Wings during the late 1970s.

The scenic isle of Islay is thought to be the birthplace of Scottish whisky and there are still seven working distilleries present, while Tiree is a flat sunny island with a reputation for glorious beaches. All of the Argyll destinations are reachable in under an hour’s flight time with Loganair from Glasgow airport.

The far north region of Caithness is accessible by flights from Edinburgh and one of the most popular settings is Wick. While visiting this former Viking town, tourists have the chance to explore the rugged cairns and visit the Heritage Museum that tells the story of the town.

Off the coast of mainland Northern Scotland lie Orkney and Shetland, which are both made up of various islands with beautiful scenery.

Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands and they are all steeped in a rich history. One of the highlights of a trip to the Orkney Islands is the 50,000 year old Neolithic village of Skara Brae – a Stone Age site. Flights arrive at Kirkwall airport (the capital of Orkney) daily from Glasgow and Edinburgh and there are also regular internal routes to the other islands, including the world’s shortest scheduled flight – of less than two minutes – from Westray to Papa Westray.

Fifty miles north-east of Orkney is Shetland, a group of 100 islands all with a distinctive character and spirit that separating them from the rest of Scotland. Famous for its numerous bird colonies and hundreds of species of plants, the islands also attract other varieties of wildlife including seals, whales, sharks and porpoises. There is a great historical culture throughout with mysterious standing stones, and medieval castles at Scalloway and Muness that stand as a lasting memory of the Scandinavian past. Loganair flies to the main airport at Sumburgh from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Kirkwall, and the airline also operates regular inter-island services from Lerwick to the islands of Foula, Fair Isle, Papa Stour and Out Skerries.

Highland Airways has bases in Glasgow and Inverness, an d provides flights to both the Western Isles and those to the North, including Orkney and the Shetlands.

If small planes are a step too far, then you might want to consider ferry travel. Indeed, if you’ve got the time they’re not just a cheaper option but they’re an altogether more intimate and potentially rewarding way of reaching some of Scotland’s most impressive islands. There is little to beat arriving at an island such as Islay by sea, for instance, passing the three picturesque southern whisky distilleries of Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig as you do.

Best known of the ferry companies is Caledonian MacBrayne, affectionately known as Calmac. It provides services all the year round (weather permitting of course) to 22 islands and four peninsulas on the west coast, from Harris and Lewis down to Arran and Islay.

The company offers fast and efficient services in a range of ferries that can offer adequate if not particularly luxurious facilities. A basic bar and food offering, for instance, makes the time at sea pleasant enough.

Northlink Ferries provides the service from the North of Scotland to Orkney and the Shetlands, with services running up to three times a day for shorter journeys and three times a week for the very longest ones.

The company offers à la carte dining and self service restaurants, lounge and bar areas, children’s play areas and, for the longer journeys, an onboard cinema and ensuite cabins.

For a touch of luxury you could consider Hebridean Cruises, a company offering not so much a way of getting between two places but offering a holiday by sea in its own right.

A member of the prestigious Connoisseurs Scotland, Hebridean cruises specialise on longer cruises but do offer a cruise round the Western Isles in some of the most luxurious accommodation on water anywhere in the world. The company boasts smaller boats, large cabins and fine dining.

On the mainland you might like to consider planning a bespoke holiday with Scotland Calling, a small company offering luxury travel by road. Your driver can be a full tour guide or a silent chauffeur, and if you outline the sort of holiday you’re looking for – a bit of golf, a distillery or two, some nice walking and exceptional accommodation in the central Highlands, for instance – the company will build a holiday for you to suit your budget.