IF YOU’VE ever seen the Channel 4 reality programme, or you’re under 60, you may never have thought that you’d enjoy going on a coach trip.
But when I took a coach around the west coast of the Scottish Highlands I found it a pretty sensible way to travel.
I’ve been to the highlands before, high up on the east coast, and found it an area of breathtaking natural beauty.
Argyll and the Islands, no more than an hour’s drive from Glasgow, are even more stunning but it’s more of a broken coast and to get the best out of it you’ll be spending a fair bit of time on ferries.
That’s why a coach trip makes so much sense.
Once your suitcase is onboard you don’t see it again until you reach your hotel, all tickets and schedules are taken care of and rather than map reading you can sit back and enjoy the wonderful views.
Our first destination was Mount Stuart, a 19th century gothic mansion on the Isle of Bute, built by the Bill Gates of his day which has an eye-poppingly individual style marrying mysticism with mathematics and with carved animals diving out of windows.
It’s less a home and more a snapshot of the mind of a long dead rich guy.
We spent the afternoon headed to Oban via Kilmartin Glen and the Firth of Lorn.
Those visit Scotland adverts don’t lie. It was like driving through a whisky advert.
Our guide on the trip was Eric, a proud kilt-wearing Scott, who was a mine of information on Scottish life and history delivered in soothing Ken Bruce-alike tones.
We arrived in Oban, a resort town in the Argyll and Bute area, just as the sun was going down and the golden glow hitting the Victorian seafront was truly stunning.
After a three course meal, night cap and a few hours sleep it was back on the road, or rather ferry, as we made out way to the Isle of Mull.
You tend to run out of superlatives describing Highland scenery but I think Mull was my favourite area. High granite cliff faces melted into golden glens as we crossed the centre of this large beautifully barren island.
There are 10,000 red deer on Mull though we didn’t see any despite keeping a careful eye out. We did see a few eagles and buzzards though.
We took a boat out to Staffa, home of Fingal’s Cave, whose acoustics provided the inspiration for Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Overture, then visited remote Iona Abbey where nearly 1,500 hundred years ago Christianity was brought to Scotland, then spent the night at the Isle of Mull Hotel, where we had the best view I have ever seen from the window of a three star hotel.
Our final morning took in lunch at the George Hotel in Inverary on the shores of Loch Fyne which, despite being the world’s first new town, bore very little resemblance to Skelmersdale or Kirkby.
Apparently it was spoiling the laird’s view so he moved it lock stock and barrel some time in the 18th century.
At 34 I’m still a little young for coach trips but with Argyll and Bute’s unusual geography, ferries, miles of remote roads and absence of mobile signal it’s the most hassle-free way to see some of the UK’s most stunning scenery.
Scottish Highlands travel facts
GARY travelled as a guest of VisitScotland (www.visitscotland.com), CalMac Ferries and the Coach Tourism Council.
For Merseyside coach trips to the destinations featured in this article visit:
www.shearings.com ro (0844 824 6351)
www.alfatravel.co.uk or (08451 305666)
www.davidogdenholidays.co.uk or (01744 606176)