Alastair Dalton: Enjoying the journey has always been an option

A CalMac ferry comes into port. Picture: Craig Borland

A CalMac ferry comes into port. Picture: Craig Borland

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You may think the only way to get to Scotland’s outer reaches is by car – or at least not without great difficulty. However, you may be surprised at how wrong you could be.

Since long before Google Maps and travel apps came to serve our navigational needs, Traveline Scotland has offered us instant itinerary planning from one end of the country to the other.

The national public transport information service, funded by transport operators and the public sector, is a hidden gem, making impossible-sounding journeys possible – and even inviting.

It’s also free and impartial, not favouring one mode of transport over another – and not fleecing unwary travellers with avoidable booking fees like some rail ticket websites.

Chief executive John Elliot, who has been in charge almost from its start 15 years ago, after three decades running buses, was honoured for his lifetime contribution to transport at the Scottish Transport Awards last month.

Heading off into the wilds can be daunting even if you’re used to being behind the wheel.

Buses and trains can also be quite different in rural areas than the high-frequency services enjoyed by urban dwellers.

In this slot on Monday, my colleague Brian Ferguson referred to his “sense of foreboding” in “trying to navigate my way around the peculiarities of the West Highland public transport network”.

Well, for travellers like him – and me – Traveline Scotland could be the answer, and I found myself road and ferry-testing it last weekend to reach the most westerly tip of the mainland from Glasgow. Driving was not an option – the family car was there already – and I was initially unconvinced the trip was even possible without a lot of hassle and little comfort.

What Traveline came up with was an eye-opener. I was amazed to be given a range of possible combinations of trains, buses, coaches and ferries to take me from the west end of Glasgow to the west end of the Ardnarmurchan peninsula.

I chose a bus and ferry option, strolled over to my nearest Scottish Citylink pick-up point for 6:30am, and was in Kilchoan by lunchtime.

In between, I enjoyed a care-free coach ride, two CalMac ferries and a West Coast Motors double decker to take me across Mull.

It worked like clockwork, provided a new perspective on places I thought I knew, and left me relaxed and without the feeling of road fatigue so often a feature of driving long distances, especially on twisty single-track roads.

Okay, maybe I was lucky – the journey option I took had handy connection times giving time for coffee and lunch, the weather was good and there were no delays. However, a car journey could have been equally disrupted by problems on the roads, such as had there been another blockage of the landslide-prone Rest and Be Thankful pass, which was on my route.

It won’t be for everyone, but it made travel unexpectedly pleasurable. It provided new experiences, but also highlighted what is available. Traveline also provided one further surprise – how cheap CalMac fares have become thanks to the network-wide discounts introduced by the Scottish Government to bring them closer to equivalent road distances. While my 20-mile bus trip between ferries on Mull cost £7, the ferry there from Oban was just £3.45, and another from Tobermory to Kilchoan only £2.65.

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