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Scottish Islands

all seasons in one day 13 °C

Lockdown Reading

Lockdown Reading

Earlier this month I was looking for books to buy and found Scottish Island Bagging. Click, click, click and it was on its way to me from the publisher (in Sheffield, oddly enough).

Apart from a summer job in an Arran hotel in 1972, for most of my life the Scottish islands were a blank spot on my travel map. I remember a couple of day trips to Stornoway for work, and an overnight business trip to Shetland when we worked for 16 hours out of 24.

I woke up to this a few years ago and started to put things right.

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

In the space of 5-6 years I have visited Gigha, Islay, Tiree, Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Ulva, Lismore, Seil, Kerrera, Luing, Easdale, Eigg, Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay, Lewis and Harris.

I have been back to Arran a few times in that period, and to Orkney (which I first visited about 10 years ago).

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

From my home in Fife, just across the water from Edinburgh, all these places make for quite a long trip and careful planning is needed. If a ferry is involved, often it means getting to Oban first and that is a 3 hour drive. Mallaig - for Eigg - is a good bit further. Tayinloan or Kennacraig, for Gigha and Islay respectively are also a 3 hour drive.

Usually you have to be at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure, and with building in a bit of time for toilet stops and contingencies, you have to leave the house at least 4 hours before the ferry time. You will have to make a reservation if you want to take your car on the more popular routes, and well in advance in the summer months. On the smaller ferries you just drive up and get on the next one.

Gigha Ferry

Gigha Ferry

I flew to Barra, Lewis, Tiree and Colonsay. Loganair was the carrier for most of those short hops, but I used Hebridean Air from Oban to get to Colonsay. All those flights are on small planes and lots of fun.

Waiting

Waiting

During the peak season accommodation is at a premium in these small places, so that has to form part of the advance planning. I think I have only once been disappointed by accommodation on the islands, but remember that it is a short season with relatively high demand (in normal times) so what you get may not always seem like value for money if compared with other parts of the country.

Where would be top of my list to return to? Iona. It is special. It has so much of the country’s history as well as being remote and slightly spiritual. I am not “spiritual” but on Iona I got it.

Jura Ferry

Jura Ferry

Where is top of my list to go to for the first time? Well, I will finish my book before I make up my mind, but at the moment Coll, Raasay or Canna.

Coll is a strong possibility because I loved nearby Tiree, and it is on Hebridean Air’s route map as well as Calmac's.

Raasay is easily accessible from Skye, which is a long drive from home but no ferries are involved. My late father had a long involvement with the buyout of the island from its absentee landlord during the 1970s, so I would love to see how it is now.

I loved my time on Eigg, and getting there and back by car, train and ship, so another of the Small Isles beckons. Canna seems right.

My View, Eigg

My View, Eigg

Meantime, I am staying at home and trying to stay safe. A good book helps.

Posted by IainT 23:31 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes boats scotland ferries transport flights lewis airlines orkney barra lismore islay stornoway eigg calmac islandlife colonsay steòrnabhagh leòdhas na_hearadh barraigh vatersay bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (3)

all seasons in one day 6 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

Hôtel Dieu, Toulouse

This award category is for accommodation.

My hotel in Barra - the Castlebay - was the year’s only disappointment but this did not come as a big surprise. The place was below average and the prices very high. Poor value for money. The view from my room was the only positive I could find.

Bedroom View

Bedroom View

Bergen was a big success all round, and the Magic Hotel was part of it. An ideal location, good food and excellent comfort. Add to that the excellent value for money, and there we are.

Magic Entrance

Magic Entrance

On my way to Bergen I stayed at the Jury’s Inn at Aberdeen Airport. As airport hotels go, it was just fine.

I also stayed in the Jury’s Inn in Bradford. Among the budget brands it is one of my favourites. Bradford is no exception.

My stay in Stornoway was excellent - just what you expect from a good Scottish B&B. Comfortable, quiet, friendly and a great breakfast.

In Klaipėda I had two nights at the Memel Hotel. It was lovely. The location is good, close to the city centre but not in it. I enjoyed a comfortable room and an excellent breakfast.

Memel Welcome

Memel Welcome

I had Airbnb stays in Toulouse and Vilnius - and both were ideal. They were just what I expected from their listings. I also had two Airbnb experiences in Northern Cyprus. In Girne it was an apartment I’ve stayed in before so obviously it was good. The Nikovlita Garden Hotel in Kumyalı was wonderful. Just so laid back, welcoming and… different.

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

Nikovlita Garden Hotel

In Istanbul I had a few nights at the Terrace Guesthouse. It is truly special and a past winner.

The year had begun in the Novotel in Casablanca - I like it for all kinds of reasons. Location is a big part of it - on top of all the usual things I like about the Novotel brand. It is almost across the street from the Casa Port railway station and so really convenient from the airport.

Dawn

Dawn

I also stayed in a Novotel in Glasgow on my way to catch the plane to Barra - I like the brand and the Glasgow version lived up to the usual standards.

My third Novotel stay (some kind of record, I suppose) was in Sheffield. It was just what I expected. Excellent.

Helsinki in December meant 2 nights in the Vaakuna Hotel across the street from the central railway station. The hotel was completed in 1952 to house athletes at the Helsinki Olympics. Although refurbished since then, of course, it retains some 1950s style features. I loved it.

Hotel View

Hotel View

When I’m trying to decide on my favourite, step one is usually to choose my top three. This time it is tough. The Airbnbs in Toulouse and Vilnius have to be in the top three. I think the Vaakuna Hotel in Helsinki has to be the third.

Apartment - Front

Apartment - Front

Ultimately I have gone for the Toulouse Airbnb as the winner. It had pretty much everything I could have wanted. Quiet. Comfortable. An ideal location.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿🇪🇺

Posted by IainT 23:13 Archived in Scotland Tagged bergen helsinki turkey island istanbul finland morocco norway cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania lewis toulouse casablanca kibris barra sheffield klaipeda bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh leòdhas castlebay barraigh best_of_2018 Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (2)

all seasons in one day 0 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Skyss Catamaran

Skyss Catamaran

This annual award category is for transport other than flights.

In 2018 my ferry trips were quite limited by comparison to previous years. I took very short crossings between Klaipėda and Smiltynė, Barra and Eriskay, and Bergen and Kleppestø. I also took a vapur up the Bosporus in Istanbul.

Tight Fit

Tight Fit

The one in Lithuania hardly counts as a travel experience as it lasts 12 minutes. I did it twice, of course (there and back).

The Barra /Eriskay trip was a massive 35 minutes (each way), but it was the first time I’d taken a ferry as part of a cycle trip.

MV Loch Àlainn

MV Loch Àlainn

The Norwegian one was fast and efficient. It was a great way to see the city from the fjord too.

The vapur brought back memories of my first Bosporus trip, and no end of vapur crossings between Kınalıada and the city.

As far as trains go, I took a couple of good ones in Lithuania. I had a day trip from Vilnius to Kaunas, plus the one between Vilnius and Klaipėda - a 4 hour journey.

Comfort

Comfort

They were great.

In France I had a day out in Albi while I was in Toulouse. A local train, but modern and comfortable for an hour each way.

Toulouse

Toulouse

I also used the RER in Paris - an old friend.

I used Danish trains to get travel between Copenhagen Airport and the city centre, but also for an outing to Helsingør. It was all very modern and efficient - compared to the UK.

In Helsinki I used the train to travel from the airport to the city centre - 35 minutes for €5. Good value, as well as being quick and comfortable - oh, and warm. It was -12⁰c outside.

My main train trip of the year was from home (Fife, in Scotland) to Bradford, then on to Sheffield, and home from there. With such fragmentation of operators under the UK’s privatised franchise system, I used at least 4 train operators in 3 days.

I rented cars in Cyprus, Klaipėda and Stornoway. The Lithuanian one sticks in my memory because the rental staff were so friendly and helpful.

Solorent's Best

Solorent's Best

The Cyprus one holds memories of some crazy roads and crazy drivers.

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20

I rented a cycle on Barra. It was a fantastic way to get around the island - and over to Eriskay.

My Transport

My Transport

Trams - I used the Bergen “light rail” a lot, including the line to/from the airport. It is great and good value for money. I also used the trams in Toulouse - again, ideal for the city/airport journey.

I suspect I also took a tram in Sheffield…

The metro in Toulouse is ideal to get to the main railway station from the St Cyprien neighbourhood where I was staying, so it is on the list. I took the metro in Copenhagen too - from the ice arena back to the city centre. As in Toulouse, the trains are driverless.

In Helsinki I also used the Finnair Citybus to travel from the city centre to the airport - €6.90 each way, fast and comfortable. They run every 20 minutes most of the day.

Well, it is decision time. My top three are my cycling experience on Barra and Eriskay, the vapur in Istanbul and the rented car in Klaipėda. Any of them would be worthy winners.

The Dune

The Dune

In the end I have gone for the Klaipėda Toyota because the whole trip with it - ferry across to the Curonian Spit and then driving as far as the Russian border and back - was just an amazing day.

Posted by IainT 09:11 Archived in Scotland Tagged trains bergen helsinki scotland paris france ferries istanbul finland transport norway cyprus denmark copenhagen vilnius lithuania toulouse kibris barra albi sheffield kaunas klaipeda helsingør bradford stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

Best of 2018 (1)

semi-overcast 1 °C
View Vilnius 3 & Vilnius 2 & Toulouse & Lockerbie 2 & Barraigh & Bergen & Vilnius & IIHF & Aberdeen & Steòrnabhagh & Girne '18 & Eagles & Ouarzazate on IainT's travel map.

Wait in Lounge

Wait in Lounge

The first category in the annual awards is for airlines.

This year has brought a lot of variety and - like last year - a new experience.

Widerøe is the airline I used for the first time, on its Aberdeen-Bergen route. As I blogged at the time, it was very positive.

On Approach

On Approach

SAS is the airline I used most - 8 flights - but the reason really boils down to a couple of trips to Vilnius via Stockholm or Copenhagen. All those flights were good.

I had two trips with Loganair (Barra and Stornoway) and they are a lot of fun to travel with. It helps that small airports and small planes are so user friendly.

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Loganair Saab 340 at Steòrnabhagh

Turkish Airlines featured 4 times - to and from Ercan (in Northern Cyprus) via Istanbul. I was very happy about all of them and of course with a longer flight (4+ hours between Edinburgh and Istanbul) you have more chance of finding something to be unhappy about!

I flew 4 times with KLM too - not so positive, but most of the negative aspects relate to a missing suitcase. It arrived eventually, but the delay and absence of anything resembling customer service was appalling.

I renewed acquaintance with easyJet and Norwegian on my weekend away in Copenhagen. In a direct comparison of two of the better low cost, no frills operations, Norwegian is a clear winner.

Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air

Air France took me from Casablanca to Edinburgh via Paris on 1st January. It seems like so long ago… It was good.

I flew Finnair from Edinburgh to Helsinki at the end of December. It was another renewal of old acquaintance. My only other flight with Finnair would have been over 20 years ago. They had reindeer on their inflight menu.

Helsinki Airport

Helsinki Airport

My journey from Helsinki to Vilnius via Rīga on Air Baltic went so smoothly it was a pleasure - an excellent airline and three excellent airports.

Rīga Transit

Rīga Transit

My top three out of all these is not an easy selection, although conversely the winner is. My top three are Air Baltic, Turkish Airlines and Loganair.

Loganair Disembarking

Loganair Disembarking

This year my decision for a winner is really easy because flying in and out of Barra is a unique experience - the tiny airport, the beach as the runway, the weather… So, yes, this year’s award winner is Loganair to/from Barra.

Posted by IainT 02:45 Archived in Lithuania Tagged planes bergen helsinki france turkey istanbul finland transport morocco flights cyprus aberdeen denmark copenhagen sas vilnius lithuania klm airlines casablanca kibris barra stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh barraigh Comments (0)

Unique

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View Barraigh on IainT's travel map.

Loganair Disembarking

Loganair Disembarking

Barra is a lovely place to visit in its own right, but for me the unique flight experience was a big part of the attraction in visiting the island.

The airport is unique, being the only one anywhere in the world where scheduled flights use the beach as the runway. The airport opened in 1936 and is now operated by HIAL (Highlands and Islands Airports Limited). HIAL operates most of the smaller airports around the Scottish highlands and islands.

So how does it all work? The airport is located at the northern tip of the island at the wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr (“Big Beach” in English). The beach is set out with three runways in a triangle, marked by permanent wooden poles at their ends. At high tide these runways are under the sea and flight times vary according to the tide.

On Approach

On Approach

Loganair operates the flights - to and from Glasgow twice daily in the summer except on Sunday when it is a single flight. They use an 18 seat DHC6 Twin Otter which has the capability to take off and land on the short “runways” and on wet sand.

Waiting

Waiting

For most travellers a flight in such a small aircraft is an experience in itself. The co-pilot supervises boarding and disembarkation. He/she does the safety demonstration. You have no cabin crew (or toilets). The cockpit is separated from the cabin by a bulkhead, but there is no door and so you can see almost everything which is going on in the cockpit even from the back row. I had flown on the aircraft type before - on the Tiree service.

Cosy

Cosy

On my trip to Barra the landing was very smooth and routine, in good calm weather. Here's a YouTube clip of a landing - back then Loganair operated as a franchise of FlyBe.

Arrivals

Arrivals

Seconds later you get off the plane, walk 50 yards across the beach to the terminal, spend 30 seconds passing through the terminal (more if you stop in the toilet) and then pick up your bag from baggage reclaim - a bus shelter type structure in the car park. I reckon it took 5 minutes from landing to get onto the bus to Castlebay.

Don’t linger in the toilet or you’ll miss the bus and have to wait 2 hours for the next one - or call a taxi and pay £15.

Leaving the island was different. The weather was wet and windy.

Wet & Windy

Wet & Windy

The bijou terminal (it’s not much bigger than a double garage) has a popular cafe and flights are an attraction for tourists, so it’s a busy wee place - especially when in that weather and folks want shelter. Check in “formalities” are relaxed and security does not exist.

Terminal

Terminal

We all got wet on that short walk to the plane. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to wear my hiking shoes as the beach was under a couple of centimetres of water. The plane was rocking about in the wind even when it was stationary prior to takeoff.

As we waited while the crew did final checks, from my window seat I could see the seaweed floating past. Take off was rough in the wind and through that layer of seawater. On the other hand it doesn’t last long - that’s the point - a very short runway and a tiny plane which takes off at low speed.

The experience of a lifetime.

Posted by IainT 06:40 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes scotland island transport flights airlines barra islandlife castlebay barraigh Comments (0)

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