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Travelling in Scotland in August by West Coast Train

We are planning to visit the Edinburgh Festival in Early August and thought it would be a good idea and thought it would be a good idea to visit Glasgow then travel up the West Coast by train. The train journey sounds like it is worth doing to see the scenery but we are wondering about the best way to do this. How long should we stay and how early do we need to book the accommodation. also is the lack of car a problem if we visit Mull. 


  • HorizonsHorizons Member, VisitScotland Ambassador ✭✭✭✭
    edited March 2018
    Hiya @MrsF, I believe I'll be able to help you out with your questions. How many days do you have for your proposed west coast trip in total? I have taken the West Highland line multiple times now for both branches (Oban and Mallaig) and yet don't feel satiated, it truly is one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world (hence, your idea is sound!)

    I'll suggest a bespoke 6-day itinerary which I've done in parts across my multiple trips. All tickets can be bought on the ScotRail website. This will include the Isle of Mull. There is a bus service on Mull (as well as Oban) run by West Coast motors (timetables) and it should let you be able to visit Tobermory, Fionnphort, Staffa and Iona without issues. Keep in mind that there aren't very many buses a day in rural Scotland (and even fewer buses on Sunday) so it's best to plan a weekday heavy itinerary based on the timetables and stick to it! (this comes from a lot of personal experience). Do not be on Mull on a Sunday.

    Day 1: Train from Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street to reach by 11 AM. Shop a wee bit / visit a pub / have a meal on or near Buchanan St. for a pick me up. Catch the 12:21 PM train to Oban and sit on the right side of the train till Crianlarich (for views of Loch Lomond) and the left side till Oban (for Kilchurn Castle / Loch Awe views). The seat positions might work out with your reservations but I have found enough empty seats normally to switch around as needed. Stay overnight in Oban. You can make the 4 PM Oban distillery tour on Day 1 as well. A meal at the seafood shack is highly recommended.

    Day 2: Catch the CalMac ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. You can either stay nearby overnight (which I recommend due to the ferry proximity) at either a B&B, hotel, hostel or my personal recommendation, a Shieling! A Shieling is a large tent with simple amenities and is pretty much camping without any of the logistics (ie glamping). The views are just unbelievable towards the mainland and it's location allows you to catch the local buses as well as the ferry back quite easily. We cooked easy meals within the Shieling but there is a local pub as well. If you reach Craignure early enough (say by 10 AM), you can drop off your luggage and do a wee trip to Tobermory (there is a 10:43 AM bus to Tobermory and the bus back to Craignure is just after 3:30 PM)

    Day 3 (make sure Days 3 and 4 are weekdays): 
    Catch the 7:41 AM morning bus to Fionnphort (arrives at 9 AM) and visit Staffa, Iona and come back via the afternoon bus. Pre booking a Staffa boat is essential and here is a video I recently uploaded of Fingal's cave where I have tagged both the main Staffa boat tour operators. One of the tour boats leaves at 9:45 AM and the other at 10 AM. Iona Abbey is a must visit.

    Day 4: If Duart castle is running buses from the ferry terminal, board one in the morning, buy the coach + entry ticket onboard and see nearby Duart Castle. We had enough time to see the castle and be back for the afternoon ferry back to Oban. The 4:51 PM is the last possible ferry you can take to make it to Oban before the 6:11 PM train to Glasgow leaves. Take that train to Crianlarich and stay overnight at a local B&B.

    Day 5: Catch the 10:07 AM train to Mallaig and sit on the right side of the train till Fort William (Bridge of Orchy and Corrour are highlights) and on the left side till Mallaig (Harry Potter fans will know). This is my #1 stretch in the world for any rail journey, just thinking about it is giving me goosebumps!!! Reach Mallaig in time for a proper seafood lunch. Stay overnight. See if you have time to take the Small Isles ferry joyride, a circular trip around Mallaig - Rum - Eigg - Mallaig which most locals take as a ferry daytrip and don't even get off (I got off at Rum and did a wee hike). Stay another night, enjoy the views of Skye from Mallaig and / or the Small Isles ferry.

    Day 6: Back to Edinburgh by the 10:10 AM train to Glasgow Queen St and the train to Edinburgh.

    There, free and efficient public transport travel planning courtesy yours truly. Do use Google Maps and / or Traveline Scotland to confirm the timings I have given above, they are subject to change by the transport operators :smile:

    Further reading: The blogposts that I have written from my trips that form the basis for the itinerary above are the ones for Oban, Isle of Mull, Best of Scotland in 1 week and Arisaig + Rum. These posts contain all my local business recommendations (such as Andy Race fish merchants in Mallaig for the best peat  and whisky smoked salmon in Scotland)

    @VisitScotlandAmanda let me know if it is possible to make an itinerary like this for the VisitScotland itineraries page (or any feedback on this one, I want to create content helpful to all). I am off to make a blogpost out of this (have a lot of shots from my trips to work with).
    I'm Anirudh, an Indian travel blogger who has explored a lot of Scotland by public transport. My blog. Find me on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 week itinerary (fully by public transport)

    My Scotland travels (includes EdinburghSkye, HarrisMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban, DunoonSpeyside)

  • MrsFMrsF Member
    Thank you very much Horizons, this is very useful information. 
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