This new tour, Caledonian Days, is nostalgic opportunity to see some of the locomotives and ships from the golden age of excursion travel in Scotland.
In the days before widespread private car ownership, a day out in Scotland meant getting on a train or boarding a steamer – sometimes both – and for millions of people the highlight of their year was a trip ‘doon ra watter’ on the Firth of Clyde or a leisurely train ride to the Highlands.
We begin at the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, home to the largest collection of preserved steam locomotives in Scotland, a short but authentic steam-hauled train journey recalls the glory days of the Caledonian and North British railways.
After a visit to the excellent Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel in Glasgow, we take a train to Wemyss Bay with its unexpectedly grand station and take a modern day ‘steamer’ across the Firth of Clyde to Rothesay, just as Glaswegians used to do in their thousands on high days and holidays.
A full day excursion takes us on the West Highland railway line, a superbly scenic route that takes in lochs, glens, moors and mountains, to the bustling town of Oban on the west coast. After some free time here in the seafood capital of Scotland we take the train back to Crianlarich before following the route of the long gone but equally scenic Callander and Oban railway line, on our way back to our hotel in The Trossachs.
The final part of our Caledonian Days tour, we have a prowl around the paddle steamer Maid of the Loch from her berth at the southern end of Loch Lomond.
Caledonian Days Tour Highlights:
- All the sights, sounds and smells of steam train travel at Bo’ness
- One of Scotland’s most scenic rail journeys
- A classic excursion on the Firth of Clyde
- Scotland’s premier transport museum
- A Clyde-built ship on the shores of romantic Loch Lomond
- Return coach travel from your selected pick-up point
- 3 nights’ hotel accommodation with dinner, bed and breakfast – staying at the Winnock Hotel, Drymen
- Services of a professional tour manager
Single supplements apply – £90. Offer is subject to availability.
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Caledonian Days Itinerary
Day One: Bo’ness – Drymen
Depart from your chosen pick up point and travel by coach to Bo’ness for a journey on the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway. The railway is an extremely attractive private heritage railway running along the Firth of Forth and boasts the largest collection of locomotives, carriages and wagons in Scotland. It takes only a few whiffs of smoke and steam here on the banks of the Forth to become transported to the glory days of the North British and Caledonian railways. The train departs from beneath the train shed that once stood at Haymarket station in Edinburgh and climbs a testing little gradient to Birkhill station before continuing to Manuel, where there is a junction with the main line. Here we can stretch our legs and watch or take photos as the engine runs round the train, couples up and returns us to Bo’ness. We also have time here to explore the museum, which boasts and extensive collection of steam and diesel locomotives as well as passenger coaches and goods wagons, along with interactive displays and assorted memorabilia such as railway signs.
Following our visit we continue to our hotel where dinner is served in the evening.
Meals include: Dinner
Day 2: Glasgow – Wemyss Bay – Rothesay
Today, following breakfast, we will head for Glasgow and a visit to the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. Glasgow was once at the forefront of transport technology and built thousands of ships, railway locomotives and road vehicles throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This purpose-built museum on the banks of the River Clyde celebrates this rich industrial heritage with an extensive collection of more than 3000 objects that includes trams, buses, cars, motorcycles, majestic steam locomotives and finely detailed models of Clyde-built ships. There is also a recreated life-size street from 1895 to 1930, plus two additional display areas depicting shops from the 1930s right through to the 1980s, giving visitors a fantastically detailed insight into Glasgow’s distant and more recent past.
This afternoon we will enjoy our own recreation of a trip ‘Doon ra Watter’, beginning with a 50-minute electric train journey from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay on the Clyde coast. The first part of the line was built as the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway in 1841, which was absorbed (inevitably) by the dominant Caledonian Railway in 1851, with an extension from Greenock to Wemyss Bay opening in 1865. The station at Wemyss Bay was built to an exceptionally pleasing design with a light glass canopy over the circulating area, which has been sympathetically restored. The long and wide platforms give an idea of the great volume of passenger traffic that used to travel out from the city to spend a day on the Firth of Clyde.
After time to admire the station building we will board (as foot passengers) one of the two CalMac ferries that sail from the adjacent pier back and forth to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Here we will have a couple of hours’ free time in this traditional seaside resort, which in days gone by would have been thronged with day trippers and holiday makers during the summer months, particularly during the ‘Glasgow Fair’, the two weeks holiday in July for workers in the city. The name ‘Zavaroni’ appears over several ice cream parlours and tea rooms and those of a certain age will recall the teenage singing sensation of the 1970s Lena Zavaroni, whose family, of immigrant Italian origin, are still resident on the island.
We return by ferry to Wemyss Bay later in the afternoon and continue by coach over the Erskine Bridge to our hotel. Dinner will be served in the evening.
Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 3: Helelnsburgh – Oban – Crianlarich – Callander
Following an early breakfast we transfer to Helensburgh Upper railway station where we join the morning diesel train to Oban on the highly scenic West Highland Line. In essence, the railway has changed little since late Victorian times, when this part of the line was built by the West Highland Railway, later part of the North British Railway, and many of the original chalet-style station buildings can still be seen. The route passes through magnificent scenery, past the sea lochs of Gare Loch and Loch Long and the northern end of Loch Lomond before climbing through Glen Falloch to Crianlarich. Here the line (and the train) splits in two, one line continuing north to Fort William, the other heading west towards Oban. This part of the line was built by the Callander and Oban Railway, later absorbed by the Caledonian Railway, deadly rivals of the North British, but the section between Dunblane and Crianlarich was closed in 1965 as part of the Beeching rationalisation. After a leisurely journey of around two hours and 20 minutes, the train returns to sea level at its terminus in Oban, where there will be around three hours to enjoy the hustle and bustle of this lively port, known as the Gateway to the Isles.
There are several good restaurants offering freshly caught seafood and other local produce, though the crab sandwiches from the little stall on the pier offer excellent value for money. Also worth a visit is the Distillery (admission not included), from where Oban malt whisky is exported all over the world, and the free museum on the Esplanade which tells the story of Oban’s involvement in the Second World War and other notable events.
In the afternoon we take the train back as far as Crianlarich where we join our waiting coach and continue by road, following the route of the original Callander & Oban Railway. Traces of the railway line can still be seen, particularly in Glen Ogle where various viaducts and bridges are visible and are now used as a cycle path. Stopping for refreshments (not included) in Callander, the coach will use the car park which is on the site of the former station, with remnants of one of the platforms still visible.
From Callander we drive through The Trossachs back to Drymen and our hotel, where dinner is served in the evening.
Meals include: Breakfast, Dinner
Day 4: Balloch – return
After breakfast today we travel a short distance to Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond, for a visit to the paddle steamer Maid of the Loch, a magnificent example of Clyde-built engineering with a stunning art deco-inspired interior. Assembled in the Glasgow shipyard of A&J Inglis, the Maid of the Loch was first of all bolted together and then taken apart, transported to her new home in Balloch on rail wagons and reassembled on the Balloch Slipway before her launch into the sparkling waters of Loch Lomond in 1953. It is hoped that one day the Maid will once again sail up and down the loch but as a static exhibit there is still much to see. Fine views towards Ben Lomond can be enjoyed from the ship’s three decks and from the Observation Lounge and you can also explore the engine room and see the enormous cranks and pistons used to power the enormous paddle wheels.
Following our visit there will be some time for shopping at the adjacent Lomond Shore Designer Retail Outlet, which includes a branch of the famous Edinburgh Department Store, Jenner’s.
Thereafter we continue by coach to our original departure points where we expect to arrive during the evening.
Meals include: Breakfast