The Road to the Isles
The ‘Road to the Isles’ sounds magical and it is. The high mountains and the deep lochs, the mysterious, lush glens have you entranced as you drive along in the comfort of your Shearings coach to see the beauty unfold, but book early as this is one of Shearings’ most popular tours.
Scotland’s breath-taking scenery of the Great Glen awaits you on your Shearings holiday north of the border. Take the ‘easy’ way and relax, sit back in the comfort of the Shearings coach and enjoy the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands, with its ever-changing weather and colours this is a place to take in the impressive sights of the highest mountains in the British Isles.
Shearings have been travelling to the Scottish Highlands for many years and the local knowledge of their drivers is excellent. Our journey north started at the Normanton hub with its newly refurbished seating for you to sit on whilst waiting for your holiday coach connection. The staff at Normanton are pleasant and well organised who look after you and your luggage before you board your specified coach.
The Fort William and Jacobite Train Tour takes you to a delightful Shearings owned hotel. The Bay Caledonian Hotel is comfortable, well-appointed and easily accessible. There is WiFi but only in the lounge areas. There are ground floor rooms and a lift that takes you to three further floors. To have a room with a view costs is a little more but well worth the extra, the view of Loch Linnhe is stunning.
The buffet breakfast is wholesome (the porridge was very good – well, it is Scotland!!) and generous and if you don’t see poached eggs on toast or boiled eggs on the buffet, just ask the friendly waiters or waitresses and they will get it for you. You can request a packed lunch at an extra cost and the evening meal which is served at either 6.15pm or 7.15pm is three-courses with a wide variety of choices. There is a bar in the lounge with evening entertainment, which is enjoyable and Scottish! But there is also a lounge area with a TV in or just sit and have a drink with your newfound friends.
The drive to Scotland does take most of your day travelling as Fort William is 380 miles from Normanton so be prepared for a long but comfortable day. WiFi is provided on Shearings coaches but remember you are in the Highlands so the internet can be very hit and miss. If you like to take food and drink with you, that is fine, but there are regular stops for toilet breaks or coffee and lunch. Food and drink is available at all the stops Shearings coaches make.
Glyn’s Tip: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Move your feet as swollen ankles can be painful!
Our next day’s tour took us through Fort William and the surrounding areas. The magnificent Neptune’s Steps which is part of the Caledonian Canal Lock system just outside Fort William is an engineering feat, and amazingly was dug by hand and completed in 1829. The 7 massive locks which can take up to 8 boats each depending on their size is very impressive.
Our knowledgeable Shearings driver took us to the monument to the commandos at Spean Bridge, a very moving memorial to the fallen heroes. This area has been used for many of the United Kingdom’s military training purposes, including the SAS.
We stopped for lunch in Fort William, which is an interesting, highland town with an excellent small, but well-equipped museum, a beautiful harbour and lots of good shops and restaurants – call in at the famous Nevis Pie shop, you won’t be disappointed. Fort William is also on the small cruise ships route around the United Kingdom and can be very busy on cruise days. Fort William is a good base for touring the Highland area.
After lunch the tension was building for many people on our coach, as many of the travellers were train enthusiasts. The Jacobite Steam train journey is one of the world’s greatest railway journeys and many people had come on this tour specifically to see the wonderful old steam trains and of course have a ride on it.
On the way to Mallaig to join the train journey back to Fort William the Shearings coaches stop at the view point at Glenfinnan Visitors Centre at the head of Loch Shiel for passengers to get the full view of the Jacobite Steam train going over the viaduct, now the excitement was going full steam!
Glenfinnan at the head of Loch Shiel is where Bonny Prince Charlie came ashore to claim his rights to the Scottish throne and the statue is in tribute to the Jacobite Clansmen who fought and died for the Prince. There is a short walk to the loch to see the statue which stands at 18m high, a very impressive sight on the edge of the loch.
To see the viaduct and the steam train passing it is just a short walk to a seated area if you have walking difficulties, but if you can manage a short hill (which is a little rocky underfoot) then that is where you get the best views and photographs of the stream train passing over the viaduct. Magic! And that leads me on to Harry Potter!
The area has lots of significance for Harry Potter fans as this is where the magical submarine boat disappears into the loch in the film the Goblet of Fire and the viaduct is where Harry and Ron fly in the magic car through one of the viaduct arches. Harry Potter films are seen all over the world and so fans are coming from all over the world to see the places in the films and it can get very crowded.
Our Shearings coach then took us on to the lovely coastal port of Mallaig, a small town with a working harbour. Mallaig is the main commercial fishing port on the west coast of Scotland, there are shops and restaurants plus out in the harbour, see if you can spot the seals, swimming by the fishing boats. This is also the place to return to Fort William on the Jacobite Railway.
The old steam locomotive which I understand was built in Derby in 1930, number 45212 will take you over the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct, an adventure that no train enthusiast should miss! The train ‘chugs’, along rather than glides and has a feel of days gone by.
The cost of the train ride from Mallaig to Fort William is £16.50 for seniors, you can travel first class for an extra cost. This rail company is private and bookings must be made online, well in advance, but if you are on a Shearings trip the tickets are all taken care of.
There were a lot of smiling faces on the coach that evening and it certainly ticked one off on my bucket list. It was such an uplifting experience and many people said they would be coming to see it again, with Shearings of course.
There wasn’t a coach tour the following day so people got together and organised other activities or just stayed at the hotel and rested. Some people got on the local bus to Fort William – cost £2.10p for a single fare and made their way to the harbour where they got on a pleasure cruise to see the seals out in the loch.
Some people went by taxi to the Nevis Range to go up the ski lift. The cost to go up in the ski lift is £16.50 return for seniors. It is an exhilarating trip to 650m high where you can enjoy mountain views from the Snowgoose Restaurant, or just go for a walk and enjoy the wonderful views.
The following day our coach tour took us to the Isle of Skye via one of Scotland’s most iconic sites. Eilean Donan Castle often described as Scotland’s most romantic castle and it has been in over 30 movies including Rob Roy and the World Is Not Enough.
The famous Skye Bridge spans the Kyle of Lochalsh which leads to the Outer Hebrides of Lewis, Harris and the Uists. Sadly, we only stayed for a lunch stop but we have been ‘over the sea to Skye’, although very briefly.
We then made our way back to Fort William via Loch Ness. Our stop was at Fort Augustus at the head of the Loch on the Caledonian Canal where more lock systems were operating, to the delight of many visitors. This is a very commercial area with lots of shops and restaurants and of course the boat trip on Loch Ness which is very popular with tourists from all over the world.
This was a wonderful taster tour of Scotland by Shearings and it gives you the appetite to see more of the country. It is stunning, the scenery, the mountains, the lochs. All this adds up to a lovely holiday and how many times do you hear “if the weather was better in Scotland they would go” – well put on your wellies and rain coat and follow the sign to the North with Shearing and enjoy the rain and mist that gives Scotland the mystique and adventure sought by Silver Travellers. Shearing’s have the expertise and comfort plus the friendships that are made whilst travelling to this beautiful country.
We are sorry to advise that the Specialist Leisure Group, which includes Shearings, entered administration on 22 May 2020. If you have booked a holiday with Shearings, or you have any questions please visit the Shearings website.