Scotland is a rather small place, as countries go. For all that, though, it has a wide variety of landscape, from windswept northern isles to quiet mountain glens, from rolling hills of the Borders to high peaks of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor, rugged coastline and quiet beaches, banks and waters of Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Loch Etive. energy of cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, and Inverness, along with quiet back roads and small towns as well.
I have found that one of the very best ways to explore Scotland is by coach, or it is known in other parts of the world, by bus.
There are, naturally enough, tour companies with coaches large and small, guides of all sorts, and routes which will take you to golf courses, distillers, historic sites, Highlands, lowlands, and combinations of all these. Many of these offer good introductions to Scotland. You could rent a car and drive yourself, too. Instead of or in addition to these choices, though, consider an independent and green way to see Scotland: a Citylink Explorer pass.
Citylink is Scotland’s primary bus company. Though it does not go everywhere in Scotland, it hits most of the highlights you will likely be thinking of on your itinerary and many other places you’ve not yet considered. Routes also connect up with or collaborate with ground and sea (think ferries to the northern and western isles) ways to reach places where Citylink schedules do not go.
Explorer passes, at this writing, come in three days out of five, five days out of eight, and eight days of travel out of sixteen lengths, with the shorter pass costing at present forty one pounds, which at the moment is around sixty five US dollars. You may buy the passes at major bus stations within Scotland and also through Citylink’s web site.
With such a pass you could, for example, travel from Edinburgh to Perth for a day’s exploration, head on to Saint Andrew’s and then to Aberdeen or Dundee, choosing which place strikes your fancy to stop overnight. Then you might make it up to Inverness, or head back to Edinburgh by way of Stirling, taking breaks as the length of your pass and your interests allow. Along the way, you’d see mountains and glens and busy cities, and get to see workaday Scots about their travels as well. Who knows what conversations you might have?
Another way I’ve used an Explorer pass is for day trips. I’m often in Glasgow for Celtic Connections, which means I have commitments in that city in the evenings. When my time during the day is not spoken for, though, at times I’ll buy an Explorer pass and go traveling during the day. The farthest I have been as a day trip thus far is up to Inverness, which had the added benefit of a route through the eastern Highlands taking me past historic Blair Athol and through the gorgeous Cairngorm Mountains on my way to the city that is known as the capital of the Highlands, with a good several hours in Inverness before catching my bus back to Glasgow for the evening.
Another favorite day trip I’ve made from Glasgow is to Fort William in the western Highlands. Lochaber, the area around Fort William, bills itself as Europe’s Adventure Capital and Fort William is known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK, which makes sense when you consider the variety of mountain and water landscapes all around — Fort William lies at the foot of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor, two of Scotland’s highest peaks, impressive to look at whether you’ve any plans to explore them further or not. The bus route Citylink takes goes from the outskirts of Glasgow along the banks of Loch Lomond and past the brooding mountain and valley of Glencoe along the way.
Perhaps traveling by bus in your home country is not something you’d think of enjoying, but if Scotland is on your travel map, give it a thought. Travel by coach in Scotland is an enjoyable and economical way to have the adventure of experiencing aspects of the country in ways you might not otherwise encounter them.
photograph by Kerry Dexter
Kerry Dexter is one of six writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You’ll most often find her writing about travels in Europe and North America in stories that connect to music, history, and the arts, including An Evening in Belfast and Meeting the Lewis Chessmen.
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