Sunday 17 April 2016

Isle of Gigha - The Journey

Tarbert Scotland
Tarbert view

An adventure in green traveling

It was not a very sane idea, I was already realising that as I checked the timetables for the final time before going to bed on Friday night. But I had the inkling it would be fun, definitely much more fun than sitting on the bus for five hours. Moreover the weather forecast was fabulous for the weekend. At least I won't be soaked or blown away or be inches from hypothermia in case I missed a connection and was stranded in normal Scottish weather.

I was (and am) still recovering from my week and half 'holiday' (another trip added to my post backlogs, perhaps sometime in the next few months will it see the light of the day) and all I wanted to do was rest. There was no weekend plans, that is until Friday afternoon when I looked at the forecast with disbelief - how often do we see the sun out in Scotland on a weekend? A quick planning and decision made - visit the Isle of Gigha - a community owned island sitting on the west of Kintyre peninsula and the most southerly of the southern Hebrides. But just wanted to add a bit of excitement to it, I was not taking the conventional route

As I poured over the timetables (lately Traveline Scotland, the Mecca of public transport users, has been a disappointment. I have had to make impromptu plan changes, like jumping on a bus headed elsewhere than where I had initially set off for). I counted the number of changes I had on my journey - twelve stages in total, fun time!

It was a bit after six on Saturday morning when I set off for Haymarket train station, excited about the day ahead and hoping all connections would work. Once the tickets were collected I was still on time for the earlier train to Glasgow Queen Street. So I boarded it. This turned out to be a lucky decision as the tunnel works in Glasgow meant the train was slow and it reached about twenty five minutes later than normal. If the same happened to my scheduled train I would have missed the connection. A short walk to Glasgow Central and I even had time to pick up a morning roll and coffee. As I was settling down on the 8:34 train to Ardrossan harbour, realised the train was much more busier than on any of my previous visits to Arran. Everyone was perhaps trying to make the best use of a beautiful day - golfers, cyclists, walkers and the tourists. Or perhaps the popularity of the island has grown manyfold since my first visit about a decade ago, and very well deserved popularity as well. We set off on time.

It was indeed a beautiful morning at the harbour, a snow dusted Arran stood in the distant horizon beyond the indigo sea, sparkling in the sunshine as white sail boats caressed the smooth surface of the water.

Arran view from Ardrossan harbour
View of Arran from Ardrossan harbour
A calm ferry ride of about an hour brought us closer to Brodick and the castle. The hills of Arran covered in snow stood gloriously as the castle came in full view, glowing in the warm morning sun. Then followed the iconic view of Goatfell towering over it.

Brodick castle from the sea
Brodick castle in the morning light
Brodick castle from the sea
Brodick castle close-up
Goatfell from sea
Goatfell towering over Brodick bay
The ferry had been busy and the 'busyness' moved to the bus stop where I was taking my next connection to Lochranza. An accident on the road meant the Stagecoach bus was delayed and the queue was building up. People traveling to the north of the island included many - the day visitors to Brodick castle, some walking up Goatfell from Corrie while others would take on the hills from Sannox, and some would go to Lochranza and beyond.  I could afford a delay of maximum 15 mins or else miss my connection. The next ferry to Claonaig on Kintyre where I was heading for, was about an hour later. The clock was ticking and I was trying to relax. The bus was delayed by exactly 15 minutes. I was not very hopeful. But there was nothing I could do about it. I settled down as the bus moved north, taking in the stunning scenery I can never get bored of. Arran has always been my favourite island since I first set foot on it and it still remains so, even with a few close contenders.

The ruins of Lochranza castle was gleaming in the sun as the bus went past it. I had hoped to take a few photographs but the delayed bus meant I did not have time for it. The ferry was still there, its belly open to let in man and machines. A very jolly member of the crew welcomed me on board. As soon as I entered the car deck, the ferry set off. Probably it was waiting for the bus as that's what normally happens in this part of the world. I have not been on any of these shorter Calmac ferry crossings. Life here is very different, with an air of informal friendliness. You get the tickets on the boat from a tiny cabin tucked by the car deck (also providing sheltered seating and toilets). Normal seating is on the upper decks. Crossing over to a part of Scotland I had never been to, it felt like I had already stepped into a different world.

The views back to Arran were fabulous though not suitable for photographs in the strong midday sun. After the craziness of Brodick, it was pleasantly calm with only a few passengers on the deck, and the accompanying sound of the wind and the dull drone of the motor. It was a short crossing, about half an hour and was very calm in this weather.

Arran from the ferry heading to Claonaig

Claonaig ferry
Looking back at Arran
Claonaig ferry
Claoinaig ferry
Enjoying the sun and the wind
The bus shelter was next to the pier in Claonaig, where an elderly gentleman waited with his dog. I asked him if he was waiting for the bus but he was only walking his dog and watching the ferry come in. We chatted for a while as I waited for the bus. He was doing most of the talking asking me where I was from and telling me about Kintyre. The bus approached after ten minutes and he waved it down for me. I thanked him and he wished me a happy journey ahead.

Claonaig ferry
Arran from Claonaig
The friendly driver welcomed me on board and we exchanged a few pleasantries. I was the only passenger on the bus. It got back on the main road, stopping next at Kennacraig where the ferry to Islay was waiting. It was a beast of a ferry compared to the one I had just been on.

Kennacraig ferry
Islay ferry at Kennacraig
The driver said I could get off the bus for some photographs if I so wished. I did, but the sun was very strong and the light harsh. There weren't any other passengers waiting, so we continued on my private bus tour of Kintyre, as we headed off for Tarbert. Rather than dropping me at the designated bus stop, the driver offered to save me some legwork and dropped me at the harbour instead. Everyone was so extraordinarily friendly and you can feel the warmth in their eyes and smile. Throughout my journey and stay, I never had a single negative moment. I was creating more beautiful memories and more reason to miss Scotland.

The ferry to Gigha leaves from Tayinloan and the next bus from Tarbert was after a couple of hours, the only extended break on my long journey. I had decided to spend the time in Tarbert, visiting the castle and walking around the harbour. I indulged in some fish and chips from the Loch Fyne Fish Bar. You can always taste a fresh fish and a good batter, especially when it is served by a very friendly face, always ready to break into the most pleasant smile as she served her customers.

Tarbert harbour
Tarbert harbour
Tarbert harbour reflections
Tarbert harbour
Tarbert castle
Tarbert castle
Local shop
I was watching a game of bowling when the Citylink service from Glasgow rolled in, dot on time at 3:08 pm. It was an approximately 40 mins journey through woodlands and the lush greenery of Kintyre. On my right, the paps of Jura appeared along with Gigha. The bus goes down further south all the way to Campbeltown, which I gathered would be a visibly pleasing journey. It is also possible to approach Campbeltown from Ardrossan, an option I had checked but could not match the bus and ferry timings, even on my way back.

From the bus stop at Tayinloan post office, it was a ten minutes walk down to the ferry terminal. I had met a couple from Glasgow on the bus who were heading for Gigha. They were retired and utilising their free bus travel to the fullest. While walking down to the the ferry terminal, saw the ferry from Gigha already approaching. It is a short twenty minutes crossing and the ferry goes to and fro every thirty minutes between Ardminish and Tayinloan. As the paps of Jura rose dramatically across the water, I could not resist taking some photographs. 'We will hold the ferry for you' the couple called out to me. The 4pm ferry was ready to board as I reached. The ferry was similar to the one from Arran to Claonaig and the crew as friendly.

Paps of Jura from Tayinloan
Paps of Jura from Tayinloan
Paps of Jura from Tayinloan
Gigha and Jura from Tayinloan
It was 4:20pm when I set my foot on Gigha, ten hours since I had set out in the morning. It was now only a short walk to the hotel. I was gushing looking back at my journey through the day - 2 trains, 3 ferries, 3 buses and 4 walks and here I was finally. I was tired and it had been a long day. Actually it felt like days since I had set out. I realised how much I had taken in on a single day and was amazed how much you could do even in seemingly remote parts of Scotland on public transport. Earlier when I was in Tarbert, the lady at the visitor centre had expressed her surprise and told me that I had proved where we could go on public transport in Scotland. Actually, that's what I have mostly done in Scotland, use the transport and my legs, and you see the place in a completely different way.

Here is a summary of my connections

Stage 1: 6:20 am - Walk to Haymarket train station
Stage 2: 6:36 am - Train from Haymarket to Glasgow Queen Street
Stage 3: 8:00 am - Walk from Glasgow Queen Street to Glasgow Central train station
Stage 4: 8:34 am - Train from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan harbour
Stage 5: 9:45 am - Ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick
Stage 6: 11:15 am - Bus from Brodick to Lochranza (after delay)
Stage 7: 12:00 pm - Ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig
Stage 8: 12:40 pm (approx) - Bus from Claonaig to Tarbert
Stage 9: 3:08 pm - Bus from Tarbert to Tayinloan post office
Stage 10: 3:45pm - Walk to Tayinloan ferry
Stage 11: 4:00 pm: Ferry from Tayinloan to Ardminish
Stage 12: 4:20 pm - Walk to Gigha Hotel

Just for comparison, here is my return journey
Stage 1: 4:30 pm - Ferry to Tayinloan
Stage 2: 4:50 pm - Walk from ferry to post office
Stage 3: 5:30 pm - Bus from Tayinloan to Glasgow
Stage 4: 9:30 pm - Bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh
Stage 5: 10:30 pm - Walk back from Haymarket

Some photographs from the rest of the evening from Gigha. For more photographs and other stories, you can always visit my Facebook page Breaking out Solo

Gigha sunset
The last ferry to Islay as the sun sets
Gigha sunset
Islay as viewed from Gigha
Gigha sunset
The Islay ferry goes past the paps of Jura
Gigha sunset
Glorious sunset
Gigha sunset
Golden clouds over Islay and Jura
Church silhouette


  1. ইচ্ছে করেই বাংলায় লিখছি, এবার সময় এসেছে একটা বই এর আকারে স্কটল্যান্ডের দুরন্ত এই সব ঘোরার ছবি আর বর্ননাগুলো গুছিয়ে ফেলার। তাহলে শুধু ই-বর্ননা না হয়ে বার বার ফিরে দেখার স্থায়িত্ব আসত। ভেবে দেখিস।

    1. Thank you Dr Kunal Datta for the encouragement.
      That remains my dream too, so should try to make it real at some point...soon


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