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Issue 36 - Flying high

Scotland Magazine Issue 36
December 2007


This article is 10 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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Flying high

To make the journey to your Scottish destination a pleasurable part of your trip, Kate Ennis advises taking the modes of transport that can re-inject some of that old-fashioned travel glamour.

The sight of the seaplane gently touching down on the waters of the River Clyde recalled that glorious era of travel in the 1940s and 1950s, when aeroplanes were new and exciting and travel felt glamorous. It was a time when men sported hats and carried smart leather trunks, while the women wore fur coats and stoles, a time when the journey to your destination was all part of the adventure rather than a chore to be endured.

This inaugural flight of Loch Lomond Seaplanes last summer may have been a reminder of the past but it marked a pioneering move for the future. It marked the introduction of the first commercial seaplane service to Europe and one of the most exciting new transport developments for Scotland. Loch Lomond Seaplanes is the vision of David West, a pioneer who believes this mode of transport is one that eminently suits the type of communities and terrain particular to Scotland and offers enormous potential to open up the country like never before.

In a country where long and winding roads around loch and glen make for lengthy car journeys, travelling as the crow flies is always going to be quicker and so seaplanes dramatically slash travelling times between the central belt and more remote communities. The journey now takes minutes instead of hours, which is a boon for visitors to Scotland as well as locals.

At present, the company offers up to four flights per day (depending on the season) from Glasgow City Centre to Oban – the gateway to the Western Isles – with a flying time of just 22 minutes and prices starting from £149 return. It can also arrange private hire charters and custom tailored excursions for parties of up to nine people.

Loch Lomond Seaplanes’ most recent news is that it will be introducing a new service from Glasgow to Tobermory on Mull this spring. With between two and four flights daily, the flight time on this route is just 31 minutes – not bad for a journey that would take four and a half to five hours on surface transport.

Re-establishing the seaplane as a commercially viable and sustainable form of transport also requires infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of new runways or airports, so no wonder the company has been honoured with a Scottish Thistle Award – the prestigious awards of Scotland’s tourism industry.

Yet seaplanes are more than merely a practical mode of transport; they offer a fun, unique and memorable experience for travellers who experience arriving right in the centre of Glasgow city centre, with the Science Centre on the Clyde as the landing and departure point. It puts Glasgow on a comparable level with cities like Vancouver, Seattle and Sydney. The only negative factor that could possible dampen the spirits is the fact that the flights are inherently dependent on the weather, which can be very inclement in Scotland, of course!

It’s a minor inconvenience shared by the British Airways flights from the Scottish mainland to outlying islands, a service operated by Loganair. This is another invaluable link to the more inaccessible places, which benefits the communities themselves but also the more adventurous traveller. Some of Scotland’s biggest scenic gems lie offshore – on the Inner and Outer Hebrides off the west coast and Orkney and Shetland to the north.

Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness all have flights to Kirkwall on Orkney and Sumburgh up in the Shetland Isles. The journey only takes an hour and a half from Glasgow or under an hour from Aberdeen instead of the more tedious 12- hour ferry journey.

Golf lovers may also want to take to the skies with British Airway’s all-inclusive one day golfing breaks, with flights to Campbeltown to play golf at Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre, or to the Machrie on Islay to test your chipping and putting skills on the Championship course. From just £119, this package includes return flights, transfers between airport and golf club, green fees for one round and lunch in the Clubhouse.

These short hop flight services have helped to drive the expansion of the smaller airports like Aberdeen and Inverness and really helped the economies of the northern fringes away from the two big cities. They offer a wider range of landing points when linking from London and the United Kingdom’s other airports via the expanding range of budget airlines.

There’s also an increasing number of international flight options to get you to Scotland in first place, of course, whether you decide to fly direct to Scotland or via a European hub, such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris or London. Icelandair, which flies to Glasgow via Reykjavic from North America has a great advantage in that you could possibly stop for a relaxing dip in the Blue Lagoon en-route, which is just the kind of thing you want to break up a trans- Atlantic journey.

Being surrounded by water is a preference of travellers with great sea legs, of course.

Scotland’s national ferry network, Caledonian McBrayne, or ‘Calmac’ as it’s more affectionately known, recently announced the expansion of its Islay service to meet the demand created by the popularity of the island’s whiskies. Cruises around the coast are just the ticket for luxury lovers and National Trust for Scotland’s ‘Islands on the Edge’ cruise from 30th May to 6th June 2008 is perfect for those who want to indulge in some effortless island hopping.

The cruise combines the spectacular islands of Orkney and Shetland, as well as the National Trust’s own isles, the smaller St Kilda, Fair Isle and Canna.

Trains are another great way to get around for more land-lubber types. If travelling northwards to Scotland from continental Europe, the Eurostar train is a great option, particularly for eco-conscious travellers who want to keep plane flights to a minimum. The Eurostar now terminating at the gleaming, newly renovated London St Pancras station, which even has a Champagne bar to add some glamour and revive weary travellers before head they northwards.

If coming into London by plane or train, a great way to continue travelling north is to take First ScotRail’s Caledonian sleeper service, which can be booked online in advance. The train leaves London Euston in the evening, travelling overnight allowing those on board to arrive refreshed after a good night’s sleep in one of the single or twin berth cabins, ready to start the first day of their Scottish vacation bright and early. For daytime journeys, there are the additional options of riding up either side of Britain, whizzing through the west with Virgin trains or the eastern side with new operators, National Express East Coast.

Once in Scotland, there’s no need to give up the train tracks just yet. For travel between cities, First Scotrail covers many places on the map but if you are hankering to continue travelling in style, it has to be The Royal Scotsman. The luxurious train is part of the Orient Express group, which carries an enviable reputation for how well it looks after its guests. It’s another classic travel experience that shouldn’t be missed and again harks back to days gone by, as the train sweeps through the majestic Scottish landscape from the comfort of its luxury cabins. The Royal Scotsman offers a choice of itineraries from two to eight nights that can fit in with other holiday plans.

However, if for the sake of freedom, convenience or the remoteness of the destination, many visitors decide to hire a car as soon as they’re on Scottish soil and most of the well-known car hire names will be at the arrival terminal. In general, Scotland has an excellent road network, although in peak season populated tourist routes, such as the A9, are known for being clogged or slow moving with cars and caravans but at least there’s the wonderful scenery to look at enroute.

However, if driving sounds too tiring to endure, then coach services from the National Express and Citylink offer a very economical way to get around, although they lack that luxury factor.

If you really want to splash out – it is has to be one of the many personal guided tours on offer. They involve a set cost that usually includes accommodation, a knowledgeable guide and escorted transport in a comfortable mini-van, which are ideal for a group travelling together.

These tours can be tailor-made and can even be based on personal ancestry with specialist genealogy experts for those visiting Scotland on that once-in-a-lifetime lifetime trip to discover their roots. Every need can be catered for by a specialist tour guide so after being looked after for a week or two in this way, you can look and feel as relaxed as those first luxury-loving travellers of days gone by.

Air Transat – Calgary and Vancouver to Glasgow,
Toronto to Edinburgh
American Airlines – Chicago to Glasgow
Canadian Affair – Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver to
Glasgow, Toronto to Edinburgh
Continental – New York (Newark) to Edinburgh
and Glasgow
Delta – Atlanta to Edinburgh
Flyglobespan – Boston, Calgary, Hamilton and
Orlando to Glasgow
US Airways – Philadelphia to Glasgow
Virgin Atlantic – Orlando to Glasgow
Zoom– Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa and Vancouver
to Glasgow
BMI–Various British airports to Aberdeen, Edinburgh
and Glasgow
British Airways – (operated by Loganair) Main
Scottish airports to islands
Easyjet – From various European cities to major
Scottish airports
Flybe –Various British airports to Aberdeen,
Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness
Flywhoosh - From Birmingham and Belfast
to Dundee
Jet2 – From various European cities to Edinburgh
Ryanair – From various European cities to
Glasgow Prestwick
First ScotRail – Train travel to Scotland and sleeper
service from London
Megabus– Coaches to Aberdeen, Dundee,
Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Perth
National Express – Coaches to many
Scottish destinations
Scottish Citylink – Bus and coach travel
within Scotland
Virgin Trains – London Euston to Glasgow
and Edinburgh
Ancestral Journeys of Scotland
Cat’s Whiskers Tours
National Trust for Scotland Cruises
Morton Golf Holidays