Travel between Argyll and Galloway and Ireland with Train, Bus and Ferries

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    • #3602
      Scott MacDougald

      I have travelled a few times in Scotland. These are my own thoughts about getting to Argyll and Galloway, and travelling between Ireland and Galloway by ferry. An excellent thing about Oban, Argyll and Stranraer, Galloway is that they are close to the ancient heartlands of Clans MacDougall and MacDowall respectively.

      TRAINS – From Glasgow and Edinburgh and many other places in Scotland you can catch a Scotrail train and take it to Oban in Argyll, or you can take the train to Stranraer, Galloway. If you start at the one end and go to the other end the total rail journey time between Oban and Stranraer is just under 7 hours. There will likely be a change of trains to make in Glasgow because Argyll trains run from one Glasgow station called Queen Street, and the Galloway trains run from another Glasgow station called Glasgow Central which is about a 5 minute taxi cab ride away. Make sure you book the proper train for your trip because some runs only go part way, or others may require you to change trains during on the journey. Train timetables and lots of information are on the Scotrail web site

      If you are travelling by train you should know that tickets are discounted when sold in advance and there are discounts for seniors, so it is economical to book in advance. If you book online, Scotrail will email a code to you that you enter into a ticket machine at their station in order to print out your prepaid ticket there. Ensure you arrive earlier at the station to do this and the friendly station staff may be able to assist you to do this quickly. The other important thing to know is that your seat number is assigned when you buy your ticket so think about where you want to sit in the rail car and which way you want to be facing. The seats likely will be fixed to the floor and not turn around for you even if you do not like to face backwards to the direction the train is travelling.

      BUSES – You can also make the same trips to the same destinations using the City Link bus services and their Bus Stations. They are comfortable and work well for travel around Scotland too. The City link web site is and you can book your trip online. Check your timetable to be sure that the run will be in effect on the date and time you will be travelling. The Winter timetable for example ends on May 20, 2018 and the summer one begins then and may differ. City Link also offers discounts for advance booking and for seniors.

      FERRIES – And when you arrive at Oban by bus or train there is a ferry service just a few minutes’ walk to the south along the pier from the train or bus station. In Oban the Ferries will take you to many of the Hebrides isles. The islands are all different and well worth visiting but one of the most visited is the Holy Island of Iona with its ancient Christian ties to Saint Columba, a famous saint in this part of the world. My own favourite ferry trip is between Oban and the Isle of Islay because the ferry passes among so many scenic isles along the way while you can usually view the mainland shoreline from the other side of the ship. Here is the web site for the Caledonian MacBrayne (Calmac) Ferry Service so you can plan trips on the ferry to or from Oban.

      From Galloway it is easy to take ferries across to Northern Ireland. The ferry to Ireland used to run right from Stranraer but now it runs from Cairnryan. If you are in Stranraer I am not sure of the best way to go the 7 miles between Stranraer and Cairnryan but it may be by taxi. If you take a bus to Galloway there are buses that go to Stranraer and buses also go to the ferry port at Cairnryan 7 miles north of Stranraer. Cairnryan is the site for Stena Ferries to Ireland is and Stena even offers a Rail and Sail package to make your integrated train-bus-Ferry on one booking. It looks convenient so I would look to see if this suits your plans because it will have specific places to change from your bus to your train etc. in this integrated journey.

      In Cairnryan the Stena Line ferry takes you across to the port of Larne outside of Belfast in Northern Ireland, in about two hours or you may also book it to Belfast too I am told. The Cairnryan Ferry is a busy route so book your tickets well ahead of time, especially in tourism season. You may even be able to purchase your Ferry ticket with your Bus ticket from City Link but the Stena a Rail and Sail package looks very convenient. They also have car ferries so you may take your vehicle with you on the ferry if you have one. However, unless you are familiar with driving in the UK I would suggest you use public transportation and taxis to avoid the stress of driving and trying to find a parking place too – parking tickets are very expensive in the UK.

      If you are in a hurry you can always fly but if you want to see the country without the problem of driving I suggest you consider Scotrail and City Link and the ferry companies Calmac and Stena to see what you can do. Remember that booking in advance will save you costs and ensure you have a seat in a busy tourist season.

      Four last suggestions I have are:
      1 – Try to have a panoramic camera or use a panoramic photo setting, if your camera has one, to take in the beautiful scenery which does not seem to fit into a standard size photo setting.
      2 – Enjoy your trip and give yourself lot of time to do so by not cramming in too many places into the same day. Take the time to meet the Scots; they are proud of their country and are very nice people.
      3 – Scotland is quite far north so in the summer, depending where you are and what day it is, it may still be light outside to nearly midnight and the sun may rise again by 4 a.m. Pace yourself accordingly. If you get your proper rest you will enjoy your trip even more.
      4 – If you are in Ireland the north is beautiful and has stunning scenery along the north coast. In my experience the bus is the best way to travel anywhere in Ireland because the train system needs improvements. You use the pound in the north and you use the Euro in the south of Ireland.

      I hope these ideas help you to have a very nice trip to Scotland. It is a beautiful country.

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