Scotland - (Lands End - John O Groats) - July 2016
Between the 11th and 16th July I ventured to the far north of Scotland in an effort to visit the most northerly point on the UK Mainline (and Mainland!), while this trip was in the planning it was decided if we were to make this trip then on the weekend beforehand we should visit Lands End so that we could claim the journey from Penzance to Wick by train. On Saturday 9th July we set of south from Taunton on a GWR HST set to St Ives before catching the branch line service to St Ives. During the summer months First operate an open top bus (No.300) from the seaside town direct to Lands End. A group of ten attended this trip but the weather was less than kind to us on the day. Having visited Lands End we returned to Penzance on the No.1 'open top' service where we returned home using a GWR HST to do so. Sunday the 10th July was then spent getting ready for the Scotland portion of the trip which would start on Monday 11th July. The aim was to reach Thurso and Wick from Inverness on the Tuesday before then visiting Kyle of Lochalsh on the Wednesday from Inverness and then travelling from Inverness to Haymarket via Aberdeen during the Wednesday afternoon/ evening. Thursday would then be spent exploring the Ayrshire Coastline, and nipping back into the England for a quick trip down the Cumbrian Coast. Friday would entail a visit to Glasgow and Tweedbank before a trip around the Fife Circle in the evening from Edinburgh. Saturday we would return to the South West travelling by Virgin East Coast HST from Haymarket to London Kings Cross before a quick trip across London to Paddington before returning to the South West on a GWR HST set.
Day 1: Taunton to Inverness
Monday 11th July saw three of us depart Taunton at 08:19 on board GWRs flagship service 'The Golden Hind' arriving into Paddington at 10:02, from there it was a quick trip on the Circle Line to Kings Cross, where we met up with our forth travelling companion in the First Class Lounge. Because we'd booked so far in advance we'd managed to obtain good value first class tickets to travel on Virgin East Coast on board another flagship service 'The Highland Chieftain'. This service departs Kings Cross at 12:00 each weekday and takes eight ours to reach Inverness. This was also our destination, and the furthest north we could sensibly achieve in a day. The Virgin First Class service is incredibly good and well worth the extra money and comfort for such a long journey.
Virgin Trains have an extensive rotating menu in first class which has been devised by celebrity chef James Martin. Along the many snacks offered on our service there was also the chance to enjoy an evening Curry and Virgin Trains own 'Hop On Board' ale which has been brewed exclusively for Virgin.
Day 2 - Inverness to Thurso, Wick & John O Groats
Day 3 - Inverness - Kyle of Lochalsh - Inverness - Aberdeen - Haymarket
Day 4 - Haymarket - Adrossen Harbour - Ayr - Carlisle and Whitehaven
Day 5 - Haymarket, Edinburgh, Tweedbank
The Edinburgh Tram Network is a relative and well publicized newcomer the to the public transport network, media surrounding its expense, delay and disruption was in the forefront of Scottish news. But now the first stage of the system is built, and providing a direct link to the Airport, the benefits of clean, green, and efficient public transport in the city are already being felt. Plans were in place to operate a five minute frequency at peak times to increase passenger movement through the city. The line operates between Edinburgh Airport, through Haymarket and finishes at York Place in Edinburgh City Centre.
A day ticket costs just £4 (or £9 if you need to use the Airport Zone), which gives great value, tickets can be validated before travel by tapping conveniently placed card readers.
The future of the Edinburgh Tram seems secure with increased frequency and expansion already being discussed. Fresh construction at the Airport end of the line is also bringing a mainline rail connection to the Aiport which will no doubt provide additional means of navigating between the city and the suburbs.