One of the biggest challengers facing first-time challengers, South of the border, is actually getting North! Factor this into your planning now!
It should be a lot easier getting North than it is. Travelling to Scotland seems to be getting harder and harder! So, it is worth thinking about travelling North. Your journey might even have an impact on your start point.
As a simple rule of thumb those start locations above Mallaig tend to be accessed through Inverness. Those South of Mallaig — including Mallaig itself — tend to be accessed via. Fort William or Glasgow. The ease of the route depends very much on whether you can take a train direct to the start point (for example Strathcarron, Mallaig, Oban) or whether you will need a bus connection.
For example, in the Northern sector you can take the train direct to Strathcarron. For Torridon you will probably be able to see a mail bus at Stathcarron station that will take you on to Torridon. But for other places it is all bus, for example Dornie can be reached by bus from Inverness but also from Fort William.
Your best starting point for travel in Scotland is to use Traveline Scotland. This is a greta site. Enter your start and destination and the site will give you the relevant train journey or combination of train and bus. Traveling also has a very effective smartphone which is well worth having on your phone.
While it’s best not to dwell on this subject too much, it is worth thinking about if you have to bail out through injury or illness. The mobile app will make it a lot easier to understand how to get home or back to civilisation. Scottish bus timetables — as printed at bus shelters — require a certain aptitude to these things if you are to make any sense of them!
Taking an Extra Day
When you start planning think about journey options at the beginning. You have the option to take a number of alternatives but often cost becomes a big factor.
As an example, when travelling to Mallaig last year I found the cost of the Sleeper train (see below) almost prohibitive. It was easier and cheaper to take a gentle journey up from Birmingham using pre paid cheap tickets to Glasgow and then spending an evening in a Travelodge than it was to take the sleeper. On the downside this means an extra day but on the plus side you don’t arrive tired and stressed. An alternative from the Sleeper for me is to take an early morning train at 5.30 am whichI have done in the past. But this involves a lot of travelling in one go.
So, look at your journey options early on. You will be able to gauge timetables early on but you’ll find that (as I write) train tickets — or at least reasonably priced ones — won’t be on sale yet. (If you are over £60 then it will almost certainly be worth your while getting a Senior Citizen Pass).
The Caledonia Sleeper service runs every evening from London Euston, stopping at Crewe, Preston and Carlisle.
The Sleeper leaves London Euston at 9.15 and you will more as likely meet a number of Challengers at Euston. The train divides at Edinburgh. the Inverness division arrives at its destination at 8.30 in the morning while the Fort William Sleeper train will get in just before 10.00 am.
Taking the Sleeper is a fantastic, almost romantic, experience. But it is not a cheap journey and the cost seems to have risen a lot of the last couple of years. You can reduce the costs by choosing a seat rather than a sleeping cabin but in my experience these are not that comfortable.
Cut price bargain births used to be viable to those intrepid enough to track them down. However, since the sleeper Service contract moved to a new operator I’m pretty sure these no longer operate. I may be wrong though, so ask around.
The cost of The Sleeper makes air travel a more attractive offer, certainly if you are aiming for Inverness. Perversely, booking on bargain airlines ahead of time can get tow people up to Inverness for a fraction of the train fare.
Remember to ensure you have enough room in your pack to pack everything inside, walking poles included.
So, start doing your research now! Ask around on the Message Board for ideas, help and support. And book when you can (see below). It makes sense.
Next year I shall be travelling to my start point via. Inverness. I’ve already decided to journey up on a cheap train ticket on Wednesday. I’ve booked a hotel in the centre of Inverness using booking.com. This works out at about £30 per person although the charge won’t be made until I book in — cancellation is usually available quite close up to the last minute. So, it is likely you won’t have to pay anything up front. So, reserve early!
Train reservations are a different thing. I can buy a train ticket from Birmingham to Inverness today, but for the two of us this would cost over £300. Basically, the normal tickets are not on sale yet — of you try booking through Scot Rail you will see that there are no tickets available yet. Wait until the end of January or beginning of February or even a little later.
Rail fares can become even cheaper if you try and split the journey. There are a couple of websites (and apps) that will help you do this. They might not always work but when they do, they can be very helpful.