In the summer of 2023, we took an Interrail trip to & through Scotland.
Yes, we deviate somewhat from the topic, after the USA trip last fall with two bikes instead of the tandem, it now comes even worse: We travel without bikes, not even with the Like-a-Bike from Ariki. Bicycle or tandem trips are as soon as possible again a topic, just not this year, because we expect in November with offspring. Accordingly, the sportive efforts for Rana should remain in a "reduced" frame.
So it's a good thing that one of our dream destinations offers pregnancy-compatible summer temperatures. In Scotland it is not too hot in summer. Since Scotland is also known for rain, it is not so hard for us to do without the tent. However, so that we don't get bored and don't get out of practice with reducing our luggage, we travel by public transport.
The Scotland round trip should still be suitable for small children. We tried to cover the greatest distances at night and to plan stays of several days at the same location.
For the organization we could again count on the very good support of the BLS travel agency in Gümligen. Merci!
Due to our smaller radius of action and our less flexibility to react to unforeseen events, there was still a lot of detailed planning left. For example, we gathered all accessible shopping possibilities and playgrounds near the train station in advance.
With a lot of preparation we started on Friday morning with two backpacks and a light stroller into the longest travel day of our vacations.
We took the TGV to Paris. So far so simple, in Paris we chose the fastest (RER) and not the most stroller friendly (bus) connection to change stations thanks to the stroller being carried on stairs.
Ariki could only half enjoy the playground found near the Gare du Nord, because he fell asleep during the station change and we weighted sleep higher. Of the 30 minutes or so, he then had a short 5 minutes left to play. When Ariki was playing without worrying, Moritz suddenly realized that we had received two booking numbers with different departure times for the Eurostar from e-mail notifications. A bit unsettled and worried (the check-in time of the earlier train was already over) we went back to the station as quickly as possible. There, the check-in for the later and scheduled train worked perfectly with the tickets from the travel agency. There had probably been a software problem with the e-mails...
The ride to London was then relatively entertaining, as food was served on the way.
Once we arrived in London, we went to the playground on the way between St. Pancras and Euston stations.
On the subsequent way to the station, we walked past the Euston fire station, where one of the rolling gates was open. Since asking friendly questions doesn't cost much more than a little effort, Moritz asked if Ariki could have a look at a fire truck. And it didn't stop there: the nice fireman immediately drove the vehicle onto the forecourt, presented the siren and blue light and let Ariki spray (help) water with the quick-action hose on the forecourt. Ariki was even allowed to get in, but that was too much new things for him at once.
After a light supper and a reconnaissance tour in the station Euston we could then half an hour before departure of the night train, the Caledonian Sleeper, our compartment in the train. Based on travel reports and photos, we knew that the aisle on the train would be narrow. Nevertheless, we were amazed how narrow such an aisle can be built!
Before departure, Moritz and Ariki walked the entire 16 cars of the train on the platform to the locomotive.
On time the train started moving and we stowed our luggage as far as possible, used the shower in the compartment and then fell asleep on the modern West Coast Mainline.
During the night we slept wonderfully. Compared to other overnight trains, the mattress was exceptionally comfortable.
In the morning, we woke up to another train. During the night, the electric locomotive had been replaced by two diesel locomotives during the train separation. The rails welded without gaps became rails bolted with gaps. The connection between vegetation and train had also changed. On the West Highland Line, the cars kept brushing bushes. At the stops, we noticed that the train sometimes slowed down again after starting and stopped. When we got off the train, we realized what this was all about. Although the train had shrunk to 5 cars during the train separation, it was still too long for some of the stations. So the conductor instructed the engineer by radio exactly where to stop. Then the doors of the first cars were opened manually. After boarding and alighting, the train driver then gave the command to move forward a few car lengths so that the doors could be opened on the next cars.
So we arrived at the remote Corrour station well rested and with many new impressions. Despite good accessibility with direct night train from London and the stop of all trains on the West Highland Line, Corrour is actually only a stop with station restaurant and B&B in the old signal box. Besides the train, the station can only be reached on foot or by bike. During our stay of several days, however, we were amazed at the many guests. Throughout the day, in both good and bad weather, a great many arrived.
We used our time in Corrour for several excursions in the surrounding area. Besides the excursions, we also enjoyed the view from the tower of the old signal box, which was open to all B&B guests as a living room.
With the stay of several days in Corrour with the station restaurant there, we took a gamble considering the reputation of British cuisine. But the gamble was worth it and we were allowed to put aside the prejudice: We ate very well the whole time. Instead of toast, we enjoyed what was probably homemade sourdough bread. Eggs Benedict for breakfast was several times a super start into the day. In the afternoon we ate several times homemade pastries and also the z'Nacht with game in different variations convinced us.
Also as hosts the team convinced with flexibility. Ariki got the food very fast and as the first. Further it was no problem to combine the offered menus individually differently.
After the beautiful days in the seclusion of Corrour we went on to Fort William. In Fort William we stayed in a "normal" hotel and made several excursions. We visited the impressive locks of the Caledonian Canal "Neptune's Staircase", where we were lucky enough to watch a group of boats ascending. Another day we used for an excursion with the only cable car in Great Britain to the Nevis Range. With wonderful weather we were able to do two short hikes from the top station. Despite the meager bus service by Swiss standards, we were able to reach the gondola easily. It just takes a little more planning.
The following day we visited the centrally located indoor playground, as the weather did not invite us to make any major excursions.
The restaurant attached to the hotel turned out to be a partial flop: from ordering to serving the main course took an entertaining 70 minutes. On the positive side, the appetizer was almost digested by the time the main course was served. After all, the menu ordered by Rana was good.
After this stay in Fort William, we continued by train on the West Highland Line to the terminus in Mallaig. A few steps from the station we boarded the ferry to Armadale on the Isle of Skye. At Armadale we visited Armadale Castle, or what is left of it. Highlight was the beautiful playground, where wood instead of plastic dominated.
The onward journey by bus from Armadale to Portree was one of the most tedious planning tasks of the whole trip.
Between Armadale and Portree there are only about 4 buses a day. The timetable shows different times/courses for school vacations, Fridays and a period in summer. To make matters worse, the website and app from the bus operator Stagecoach only gives correct information if you change the time zone. Furthermore, the continuously running bus could not be found in the timetable information, which only works 2 weeks before the scheduled date. With the search for partial routes, however, the trip could be "put together".
At times we were so unsure about the planning that we were already looking for a cab for the hour-long trip. A phone call with the bus operator gave us enough confidence to try it with the bus.
The bus then left on time and at the place we expected. On the bus, which was not very crowded, we met a Swiss family with children and exchanged experiences. They told us that they had already traveled Scotland several times by train & bus and that the buses proved to be infrequent, but very reliable.
In addition to the conversations during the first part of the trip, we were able to enjoy the views of the countryside in wonderful weather throughout the trip.
After moving into our room in Portree, we became acquainted with a new challenge: finding a restaurant on the spur of the moment can be very difficult!
On the first evening, we were lucky to find a place relatively quickly in a bar where reservations are not possible.
On the second evening we couldn't find a restaurant. Either the restaurants were full or closed. Due to lack of staff (because of vacation absences) no take-away was offered.
So we participated in the spontaneous supermarket empty-buying flash mob: Since we were not the only tourists with this problem, we bought ingredients for a cold dinner in the supermarket. The filling or emptiness of the shelves in the supermarket spoke volumes!
On the third evening we didn't even try the restaurants anymore and planned from the beginning with the Pizzaway Take-Away (Attention: is not open every day). We got two very good pizzas there with nice thin bottoms.
In Portree, however, there was fortunately more than one challenging restaurant situation. Since there are no buses on Skye on Sunday, we took a bus around the northern tip of the island on Saturday despite a changeable weather forecast. At the ruins of Duntlum Castle we got off and visited the castle ruins, which the bus driver described as a pile of stones. We liked it there nevertheless and also despite the changeable weather very well!
After we had eaten the lunch we had brought with us, we quickly set off on the hike to the refuge at Rubha Hunish. We had to walk quite fast, because we wanted to catch the second last bus back to Portree in the late afternoon. But the hike was worth it for the view!
After the changeable weather was well-disposed to us the whole afternoon and it only drizzled very lightly at times, it then started to rain really hard at times on the bus ride back.
On the bus-free Sunday we made a hike over the hill east of Portree. With wonderful weather, we were able to let Ariki manage all the elevation on his own. Once we reached the top, unfortunately the weather changed so that we had to do the first part of the descent in rain gear.
After the two days of excursions on Skye, we were already on our way again. Since we had a long journey ahead of us, we decided to take the cheaper bus with change to Kyle of Lochalsh. So Ariki had an extra opportunity to move around a bit while changing buses. Due to the rain, the rides were a little less impressive than on the trip to Portee.
Then in Kyle, despite the pouring rain, we took advantage of the break before the train ride at a playground. Fortunately Ariki did not let the rain hold her back from enjoying the playground.
Afterwards we went to the train station early and were able to get a compartment in the very crowded train. In the next compartment, the overseas passengers noticed the bilingual station signs. The first English line was of course immediately identified, the second Gaelic line was then recognized as phonetic J .
The transfer time in Inverness was already quite tight according to the timetable. Due to a few minutes delay it was reduced to 2 minutes. But since the connecting train was waiting, we reached it despite the queue at the ticket control at the platform access.
On the short ride between Inverness and Aviemore, we enjoyed a very comfortable HST (about forty-year-old high-speed train) with comfortable leather seats.
In Aviemore we moved into an apartment on a campground, where we now also had a kitchen after all the hotel nights.
On the first day in Aviemore, we took the bus north to Adventure Park, a large playground/leisure park. The wide variety of things to do, some of which were also available for small children, well justified the relatively high entrance fee. In mainland Europe, many things would not have been allowed for two-year-old children.
After the entertaining stay of several hours, we decided against the bus directly in front of the park and enjoyed the quiet walk to the train station for the return trip.
Due to the bad weather forecast, we made a trip to the nearby indoor playground in the morning of the next day. After an intense hour of play, we fortunately decided against the somewhat sad offer of the playground restaurant and found a very good self-service restaurant on the way back.
Since the weather had improved in the meantime, we decided to take a bus trip to the Cairngorms National Park in the afternoon after all.
At the end of the road, we decided not to take the funicular up, as it would have been illegal to leave the top station. Instead, we took a short walk on foot and then took the next bus back to Aviemore.
The following day we were on the bus again. We drove to the animal park located to the south. Although there was a bus stop near the remote animal park, we were the exception as pedestrians. This was especially obvious because parts of the zoo are designed as a drive-through.
Now it was already time to say goodbye to the apartment. We had really enjoyed our own kitchen. We had eaten in the restaurants much better than expected. But with a small child, especially breakfast and dinner are much more comfortable in an "own" kitchen.
Exciting for us in all accommodations were the electrical and sanitary facilities. In the bathrooms there were no light switches and sockets. Everything was outside. The hot water was mostly made with electric instantaneous water heaters. With these - especially with variable water pressure - it takes some practice to find a comfortable balance between frost damage and scalding...
Leaving the apartment in Aviemore, we were able to leave some food to the campground staff. Due to the limited space in our luggage, throwing it away would have been the alternative.
At the train station we boarded the punctual Azuma express train, taking 4.5h to Newcastle. On the train we were able to enjoy a second breakfast and then later a snack for lunch.
Despite the varied landscape, the long train ride became boring for Ariki. So we shortened the ride for him with a whole series of mouse & elephant videos.
Arriving in Newcastle, we quickly left the center by subway towards the ferry terminal. Near the subway station we had picked out two children's playgrounds with Openstreetmap. Here, however, it was the first time on the trip a flop: one was in a very bad condition and the other no longer existed.
Instead, the park in front of the harbor turned out to be larger and more varied. We stayed at two different places in the park, ate a z'Vieri and Aiki had the opportunity to move extensively.
In the park we observed how the independence of dogs seemed to be more important than the safety of a baby playing on the ground. Accordingly forewarned we could make sure that Ariki did not have to prove his self-defense skills.
After the extensive park visit, we headed to the ferry port, where we quickly and easily checked in and moved into our cabin.
The time until dinner flew by as we got to know each other and the ship departed. We enjoyed the excellent dinner in the à la carte restaurant of the ship. There were even appealing menu options for children aside from pasta with sauce or chicken nuggets!
After the rich breakfast it was soon time to leave the ferry.
Unfortunately, the bus stop near the ferry terminal had been moved due to construction. When we realized this, we would have had to wait so long for the bus that the walk via the park to a distant more frequented bus stop seemed reasonable.
This gave Ariki ample opportunity to play before we took the bus and a subsequent train to Amsterdam Central Station. Due to a big event, the station was so crowded that we could not deposit our luggage.
So we went with everything directly to the Children's Science Museum Nemo, which was so crowded that we had to stand in line at each station. We were wondering why they kept allowing more people to enter. Later we saw that they were closing the museum to newcomers because it was too crowded. Late in the afternoon, Ariki fell asleep exhausted in the stroller.
After the museum visit, we walked back to the station where we enjoyed a good dinner in the former 1st class dining room. A highlight of the restaurant was the parrot at the bar.
The night train to Basel was then unfortunately a disappointment. We were aware that the train was made of old rolling stock and offered less comfort than the Caledonian Sleeper, but we felt that the fact that there was only one working toilet for three carriages together was not ideal. To our great surprise, however, this remained in surprisingly good condition until our arrival in Basel. The fact that there were no hot drinks for breakfast completed the picture. We hope that our next Nightjet trip, with the new rolling stock arriving soon, will go as well as we know it from previous trips.
In summary, these vacations were a great challenge in terms of planning and logistics. However, we were once again able to count on the support of the BLS travel agency in Gümligen.
The efforts were worth it, however, so that all planned rail, bus and ferry connections worked out. We enjoyed the comfort of the 1st class Interrail bilettes.
We were also pleased with the places we stayed, with Corrour being a clear highlight. The rhythm with travel and excursion days worked out very well. We were very lucky with the weather, so that we could really use the excursion days for excursions.
On the subject of Scotland and food, we had our prejudices, which are now gone, because we had partly eaten excellent.