The tradition of going “doon the watter” to enjoy a day out on the Clyde is still going strong thanks to cheaper fares and the wealth of attractions around the firth.
While sailings from Glasgow have been suspended this year because of boiler repairs to the Waverley paddle steamer, you can still follow the trail blazed by the Victorians who linked the ferry ports by rail.
It’s a pleasure walking through delightful Wemyss Bay station straight onto the CalMac ferry to Bute. The connection at Gourock for Dunoon is also just a brief stroll away. Even better that ferry fares have been cut by about a third under the Scottish Government’s “road equivalent tariff” scheme. But persuading daytrippers to leave their cars at home needs more than a seamless interchange and connecting services between rail and sail.
The entire journey from A to B must be easy and pleasant – and in almost all respects, our jaunt to Arran on Monday was exactly that.
Lured by the prospect of exploring the newly re-opened Brodick Castle, following a two-year revamp by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), we headed for Ardrossan for a final family day out before the schools went back.
The ferry terminal was just a short walk from the harbour station, then it was straight on board to enjoy CalMac’s hearty fare for lunch before a bus was waiting as we arrived in Brodick to whisk us to the castle. ScotRail and CalMac staff and the Stagecoach bus driver were all very helpful. What’s not to like?
However – sorry! – getting back to the ferry was slightly more problematic. Bizarrely, there is no bus connection for castle visitors on the extra sailings CalMac lays on during the summer.
This is despite the ferries being larger and less frequent than those to Rothesay, where a West Coast Motors bus meets every sailing to connect with Mount Stuart, the nearest equivalent on Bute to Brodick Castle.
As a result, we found ourselves joining dozens of others who may have had to cut their castle visit short to get the 3:59pm bus back to Brodick – the only one between 1:20pm and 6:48pm.
To add further absurdity, the buses no longer call at a stop in the castle grounds, unlike at Mount Stuart. Instead, visitors have to walk down the steepish drive, cross the main road on a bend with limited visibility, and wait on a narrow grass verge, hemmed in by a wall, because the stop has only a few metres of paving.
It turns out that all Arran’s buses (operated by Stagecoach) are paid for by Scottish Government-funded Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) at a cost of £836,000 a year.
SPT said it could not afford buses to connect with the extra summer ferries. Throwing down the gauntlet, it added: “Any operator could operate these services on a commercial basis.”
Meantime, the NTS tells me it’s discussing with Stagecoach reinstating the castle grounds’ bus stop. That would be good, because its current TV ad just proclaims the castle is only ten minutes away from the ferry. Makes it all sound so simple and joined up.
We could also do with a combined rail-ferry-bus-visitor attraction ticket – how many places offer that? Obvious. But still not available here or at Mount Stuart.
When it’s so easy to switch between trains, ferries and buses, the last thing you want to do is join another ticket queue at every stage. We ended up paying separately for all three – to get the cheapest rail fare. That has to improve.