Trains in hidden valleys, scenic bus routes, fun ferry rides … many journeys are better by public transport. Kevin Rushby plots exciting itineraries for the carefree and car-free
With a car, most of these amazing journeys are impossible or prohibitively expensive. Most of these 10 routes could be done in a day or with a single overnight, but ideally you will spread them over a weekend, using the opportunity to hike over a mountain, laze by a lake or build a sandcastle. All routes only use public transport or scheduled services on heritage railways.
Times given are for Saturdays and Sundays through the summer unless stated. Ticket prices (correct as of 14 May, 2019) are regular adult singles except where stated
Break for the border
Start/end Shrewsbury station
Minimum One day
Potential stopovers Shrewsbury, Machynlleth, Aberdovey, Barmouth and Bala
Weekend Friday night in Shrewsbury, Saturday Aberdovey or Barmouth for sandy beaches
Cost £25.70 (without rail extras)
This fabulous odyssey through deepest Wales offers lots of jumping-off possibilities and alternatives. From Shrewsbury, get on the correct part of the train for Barmouth (it divides at Dovey Junction).
The line gets more and more scenic. Machynlleth would make a nice stop, with its cafes and Centre for Alternative Technology. From there the line follows the wonderful Dyfi estuary, passing through Aberdovey (possible overnight, with a great beach), then turns north up the coast.
Railway lovers will want to stop at Tywyn for an excursion on the oldest heritage railway in the world, the Talyllyn, which takes 2½ hours and offers great views of Cadair Idris with its tarns.
There is a second lovely alternative just before the Mawddach estuary: get off at Fairbourne and then walk – or take another steam train, the Fairbourne Railway – to the tiny ferry across to Barmouth. You are in good company: Shelley, Wordsworth, Darwin and Gladstone all travelled this way.
The nearby railway bridge also has a footway. Once in Barmouth (a good overnight) catch the T3 bus via Dolgellau, another great stopping point, to Bala, where there’s another little railway experience: the Bala Lake Railway to Bala, where you can rejoin the T3 to Ruabon.
This route is steeped in Owain Glyndwr history: Corwen, for example, is where he raised his banner of rebellion in 1400. The church is well worth a scout round.
At Ruabon, you could take a train back to Shrewsbury, but there is one last wonderful diversion, the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, where the Llangollen canal crosses the River Dee – a remarkable Georgian engineering feat. Jones the Boats does trips across by canal boat (five a day, £4 one way), but you can just walk across on the towpath.
Top tips In Aberdovey, buy a crab line on the seafront and take the kids to fish off the pier, or walk to the beach beyond the golf course. Get off the T3 bus two miles before Ruabon at Trevor and walk the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, then walk on south to rejoin the route at Chirk railway station.
Do it in a day Take the 07:27 train from Shrewsbury to Barmouth (change at Machynlleth, arr 09:59, £11.50).
1 Disembark at Tywyn for Talyllyn Railway at 09:20 and catch 10:30 train, returning at 12:57 (£17.70) for the 13:25 to Barmouth, arr 13:55. Take 14:29 T3 bus onward.
2 Disembark at 09:47 at Fairbourne for the 10:40 Fairbourne Railway train, then the Barmouth ferry across the Dyfi estaury to Barmouth, arr about 11:30 and take the 12:50 bus T3 (£6 train, £2 ferry), 10: 50 bus T3 from Jubilee Road in Barmouth to Ruabon railway station (arr 13:10, £6.70).
3 Disembark at Llanuwchllyn (arr 11:45). Take the Bala Lake Railway 12:45 steam train to Bala (arr 13:10, £7.50), the 13:55 T3 bus to Ruabon station then Shrewsbury.
4 Disembark at Corwen and visit the atmospheric 13th-century church of St Mael and St Sulien (free, allow an hour).
5 Disembark at Trevor for the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Cross the aqueduct and walk to Chirk station to connect for Shrewsbury (free for walking, allow 3 hours). The 22:58 is the last train to Shrewsbury (£8:60). You could not do all the alternatives in one day, but in a weekend it would be possible.
The Giant’s coast
Co Antrim, Co Derry
Minimum Two nights if over a weekend
Potential stopovers Ballycastle or Rathlin Island
Cost £45 (iLinkcard for two days at £16.50 per day plus £12 Rathlin ferry)
This classic route encompasses some of Northern Ireland’s greatest landscapes. Start out early from Belfast with a bus to Derry then change to rail for the superlative coastal journey to Coleraine, described by no lesser connoisseur of the iron roads than Michael Portillo as “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world…breathtaking.”
The line sweeps past some great beaches and cliffs – hop off at Castlerock to walk miles of sand at Benone beach. At Coleraine change for the Portrush service, then buses carry you east through Bushmills, “the world’s oldest whiskey distillery” (tours £9) and the Giant’s Causeway, where there are various walks. A few miles further, a good stop is at Ballintoy, where there’s a great coastal walk to the spectacular Carrick-a-Rede rope suspension bridge. It was first put up by salmon fishermen in 1775 to connect a small offshore islet. Game of Thrones used many locations around here: Ballintoy Harbour, for example, was Pyke, one of the Iron Islands.
Continue along the coast to reach Ballycastle, a good overnight stop with restaurants and pubs, plus the possibility of a ferry ride out to Rathlin Island, one of Europe’s top birdwatching destinations. You could also stay out here on the island, returning the next morning to Ballycastle. If you are then trying to get back to Belfast on a Sunday, the only option is to retrace your steps to Coleraine. Any other day, however, keep going along the coast via the pretty village of Glenarm to Larne. There a train takes you back into Belfast.
Top tips Sunday services are thin on the ground, so use that day for visiting Rathlin Island. Buy an iLink card for each travelling day at Europa bus centre in Belfast or online.
Do it over a long weekend At 06:45 take the 212 bus from Belfast to Derry (arr 08:35, £13), then catch the free bus to station for the 09:38 train to Coleraine (arr 10:16, £10). Change here for the 10:45 train to Portrush (arr 10:57, £2.60), then get on the 172 or 402 bus to Ballycastle at 11:20 (arr 12:29). Stay in Ballycastle. On Sunday, either return via Coleraine or spend a day here before proceeding at 10:55 Monday on the 162 bus along the coast via Glenarm to Larne. At Glenarm, it’s worth getting off the bus to explore this pretty village. Get back on the 162 to Larne at 14:56. It arrives at 15:21, connecting with 15:55 train from Larne Harbour back to Belfast (arr Great Victoria Street station 17:05).
Alternatives From May to September, the hop-off, hop-off 252 Causeway Rambler (day rover ticket £8) is a good way to see the Giant’s Causeway coast, including Carrick-a-Rede (adult £9, child £4.50), before reaching Ballycastle. Take the 13:00 ferry to Rathlin Island (25 mins, £12 return), returning at 17:30 (in July and August there’s a later one at 19:30).
The North York Moors circuit
Start/end York station
Minimum One day
Potential stopovers York, Pickering, Grosmont and Whitby all make good overnight stops
Weekend Friday night in York. Saturday in Whitby
Cost £30 or £47.80 with North York Moors steam railway
There’s a great mix of public transport on this classic circuit that starts with the Coastliner bus outside York station. At Pickering you have a choice: the North York Moors Railway is a must if you have any Dad’s Army, Heartbeat or Harry Potter fans aboard, but otherwise stay on the Coastliner bus, especially if you want more time in Whitby. The route heads through the Hole of Horcum, gouged out by the Saxon giant Wade, according to legend. Watch out for curlews, merlins and lapwings. From the train, you might get a stop in Grosmont, a lovely village with a ruined castle – there are pubs and B&Bs for overnight stays, and good walks. This is the junction for national rail services, so you could actually skip Whitby and head east, but why would you?
In Whitby, walk up the magnificent harbour wall and pier, then cross the swing bridge and tackle the steps up to the abbey. Here, Count Dracula, transformed into a hellhound, was spotted racing away from the wreck of a Russian freighter by Bram Stoker. He visualised that scene in his epic tale of horror while sitting on a park bench on West Cliff (it’s still there). Leave Whitby on the Middlesbrough train, which goes back through Grosmont, then continues into superb moorland scenery with lots of remote villages.
At Middlesbrough, a diversion for the most unusual item of public transport in Britain, the Transporter Bridge, a 10-minute walk away, is highly recommended. Then hop on a train back to York.
Top tips Go in mid-July to August, when large expanses of moorland heather turn purple. Check out Whitby’s steampunk and goth festivals. Great views from Pickering all the way to Middlesbrough, where you should consider a side trip to see the incredible Transporter Bridge (a half-mile walk).
Do it in a day Take the 08:32 Coastliner 840 bus from outside York station to Whitby (arr 10:40, £12).
Alternative Get off the bus at Pickering (arr 09:38). Catch the 11:00 North Yorkshire Moors Railway to Grosmont, arr 12:05 (this is a steam service but you can leave at 10:00 if you don’t mind a diesel-hauled train). An hour to stroll around this lovely village, or stop for a night then continue by rail to Whitby on the 13:05 (arr 13:45, £19.80). At 16:00 take an Esk Valley train to Middlesbrough, arr 17:32, then, at 17:57 take the train back to York (arr 18:50, £18 for Whitby-York).
Minimum Two nights
Potential stopovers Port Ellen, Bowmore, mountain bothies
It would be a shame to use public transport and not benefit from a major freedom that brings, so here’s the ultimate distillery tour by bus and boat. The day starts early at Glasgow’s Buchanan bus station to catch the wonderful Citylink 926 for Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre, a great route that takes you past Loch Lomond then through Inverary, with its imposing Georgian waterfront. Disembark at Kennacraig and jump on the CalMac ferry to Islay, which, on a Saturday, goes to Port Askaig on the north-east coast of the island.
There are two distilleries within walking distance of the port: Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain, both with great views across the Sound of Islay to the paps of Jura, and both offering tours. This coast also offers lovely walks and a good chance of spotting sea otters. There would be time for a single distillery visit before catching the last bus across the island (unless you’d like to scoot over to Jura, £3.70 return, 14 sailings a day from Port Askaig).
Planning a weekend is vital on Islay as there are no buses at all on Sundays. If you don’t want to rely on taxis, there is cycle hire available in Port Ellen, from where Bowmore is a gentle 10-mile ride. There’s a distillery there plus others in Bruichladdich and Kilchoman. In fact Port Ellen is a whisky-lover’s paradise and could readily sustain a day without travelling, except on Shank’s pony. Three distillers of great malts are strung along the shore, a stroll apart: Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg, the latter with the highly recommended Old Kiln Café.
West from Port Ellen is the Oa peninsula, home to resident golden eagles. The return journey sails from Port Ellen back to Kennacraig then cuts across Kintyre for the Arran ferry. Hopefully there is time for a last tot in the Lochranza distillery before one more ferry and the train back to Glasgow.
Top Tips Accept that Sunday on Islay is for walking. Watch out for the Islay Festival of Music and Malt, held in the last week of May.
Do it over three days
Day 1 (Saturday) Take the 06:25 Citylink bus 926 from Glasgow to Kennacraig (arr 09:30, £19.20 single or £22.80 return if returning from Islay) to connect with the 09:45 CalMac ferry to Port Askaig (arr 11:50, £13.80 return). Walk to the Caol Ila or Bunnahabhain distillery for a tour (from £6 and £5 respectively). Take the 451 bus to Port Ellen at 15:20 (arr 16:09, £4).
Day 2 (Sunday) Tour distilleries on foot, walk to the Oa and cycle to Bowmore (bike hire £20 a day or £70 a week).
Day 3 (Monday) Take the 09:45 CalMac ferry to Kennacraig (arr 11:55), which connects with the number 448 West Coast Motors bus to Claonaig, departing at 12:10 (arr 12:24, £1.40), then catch the 12:35 CalMac ferry to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran (arr 13:05, £3). Then get Western 324 bus to Brodick ferry terminal at a 15:30 (arr 16:08, £4) and on to the 16:10 CalMac ferry to Ardrossan (arr 16:36, £4), connecting with the 16:36 train to Glasgow Central (arr 17:22, from £8.20).
Start/end Llandudno Junction (from Chester/Crewe)
Minimum One day/weekend for Snowdon summit
Potential stopovers Best option is to get to Betws-y-Coed (from Llandudno) for the first night, then Port Meirion or Caernarvon. Landmark Trust has a cottage on the Ffestiniog line with its own station
Weekend Friday in Betws, Saturday in Caernarvon, Snowdon on Sunday
Cost £66.25 (Snowdon railway £30 return, £39 for steam train)
This circuit features the most sustained and magnificent steam railway experiences available in the UK, plus a bus route that won bronze medal in a recent poll of bus users to find the most scenic routes in the UK. At its heart is Wales’ highest peak, itself accessible by train.
The entry point for national rail services is Llandudno Junction from where, going clockwise, you take the train to Blaenau Ffestiniog. If you’re not trying any of the gut-wrenching zipwire experiences available here, cross over to the adjacent Ffestiniog line and catch the next service to Porthmadog. This old slate quarry narrow-gauge line is one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the UK, crossing a narrow sea wall at its finish in Porthmadog.
An overnight in nearby Port Meirion is not cheap, but is special (get off at Minfford for a shorter walk there). Rejoin the circuit at Porthmadog station for a second steam experience with the Welsh Highland line to Caernarvon via the stunning Aberglaslyn pass.
Caernarvon Castle is the unmissable item, and then there’s a big choice too: Snowdon, or the award-winning Caernarfon-to-Bangor bus service. Since reaching the top of any country’s highest mountain by public transport is a rare thing, grab the 85 or 86 bus to Llanberis, then the rack railway to the summit (book in advance). Walking up or down, of course, is a possibility. Either way, take the Bangor bus from Llanberis, then a train back to Llandudno Junction.
Top tips Take the Welsh Highland Railway to Rhyd Ddu station at the foot of Snowdon’s Rhyd Ddu path, hike to the summit and return via the Ranger path to pick up the train at the Ranger request stop (there’s a YHA hostel there too). Mountain bikes can travel on many services on both Ffestiniog and WHR. Check out the Sherpa bus route map.
In a day Take the 10:23 Llandudno Jn to Blaenau Ffestiniog (arr 11:33, £9.20) train or the 07:25 to allow time to test the zipwires or view the slate mines in Blaenau. Join the 11:35 Ffestiniog steam train to Porthmadog (arr 12:45, £17.15). Take the 14:15 Welsh Highland line to Caernarvon (arr 16:30, £27.80).
Alternative (not possible in one day). Sherpa Bus or 88 to Llanberis summit railway (allow three hours and pre-book). 85 bus to Bangor (last bus 17:30 on Sundays). At 17:00 take bus 5c to Bangor (arr 17:32, £4.50), then the 18:10 train to Llandudno Junction (arr 18:31, £7.60).
Start/end Gallions Reach on London’s DLR line/City of London
Minimum One day (Tilbury ferry does not run on Sundays)
Potential stopovers Gravesend is an interesting town, but Leigh-on-Sea is probably the best potential stopover
Bleak mud flats. Even bleaker concrete flats. Yes, there is a lot of unloved landscape down the Thames, but this route is also full of incredible history and pleasures that are all the better for being so unexpected. From Gallions Reach DLR, walk to the Woolwich ferry via the Thames path (25 minutes) with views of planes coming in to London City airport. At the ferry, there’s a choice – boat across (it’s free) or a walk through the Edwardian foot tunnel (much less well-known than its counterpart in Greenwich but very similar).
On the south bank, explore the refurbished Woolwich Arsenal buildings on the way to the station, then catch a Rainham train. At Dartford station, you may might want to disembark briefly to pay homage at the blue plaque on platform 2 marking the spot where Mick Jagger met Keith Richards in 1961 … Except some say they didn’t. The platform numbers changed over the years and the true platform 2 is now number 3.
Continuing by rail to Gravesend, stroll down through the historic town (popping in at Pocohontas’s grave in St George’s Church) and catch the passenger ferry across the river to Tilbury. The main ferry terminal is where the MV Windrush first landed with its complement of Caribbean immigrants on 22 June 1948. This year, the ship’s arrival will be celebrated as part of Tilbury Carnival (July 20), the culmination of a fortnight of walks and food events in the area.
Next door, there’s more history at Tilbury Fort, where Elizabeth I reputedly delivered her “I have the heart and stomach of a king” Armada speech. Determined history hounds will want to forage on the riverside path for Blitz rubbish dumped there, and there’s an old fort at the place where Captain Kidd’s body was gibbeted. From Tilbury Fort, walk or take a bus to town and get the train east to Leigh-on-Sea, a lovely seaside town with great pubs, then a bus to Southend, to ride the little train or walk the mile out to sea on the world’s longest pleasure pier.
There are weekend boat trips from the pier and barge racing on the Thames on 22 June. From Southend, it’s a short hop on the train back to London.
Top tips A good side addition would be to head east from Tilbury to Purfleet, close to RSPB Rainham Marshes. In Southend, check out the new Saxon treasure gallery at the central museum.
In a day Take the 09:00 Woolwich ferry over to the south side of the river (every 10-15 minutes from 06:20. , 11:30 Sundays); the 10:31 train from Woolwich Arsenal to Gravesend (arr 11:26 including a change in Crayford on weekends, £8.30); 12:30 Tilbury Ferry (every half-hour Mon-Sat, £4, buy tickets on board); 13:10 Ensign bus 99 to Tilbury Town railway station (£1); 13:33 train to Leigh-on-Sea (arr 13:59, £6.10); 15:30 train from Leigh to Southend Central (arr 15:37, £3) or walk the Western Esplanade from Leigh (70 mins, 3½ miles); 16:00 train along the pier (£5.35 return); to walk is £2. The pier is open 08:15-20:00 daily in summer (or check out the stunning display of newly discovered Saxon burial chamber that opened at Southend Museum, 18:01 train back to London Fenchurch Street (£12.60).
Coast and castles
Start: Alnmouth/Berwick stations
Minimum It can be done in one day, depending on the tide
Potential stopovers Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Seahouses, Craster, Alnwick and Alnmouth are all fine stops
Cost £11.20, excluding East Coast mainline tickets
Many travellers will have glimpsed this route while charging along the East Coast mainline between London and Edinburgh: a few brief vistas of wonderful seascapes and cliffs together with the fleeting thought, “I must get off and explore one day.” No better decision could be made. The beaches of Northumberland are superb, the castles magnificent, the bus services thoroughly practical. Start by hopping off the East Coast mainline at Berwick-on-Tweed and catching the Borders 477 bus to Lindisfarne.
This is one of the few services that can fairly claim to be governed by the tides, so this trip has to be carefully calculated according to your chosen date. Once on the island, one of the great religious sites of medieval Europe, you will need a couple of hours to see the priory, castle and museum, then leave time to walk back across the causeway before the tide comes in.
Back on the mainland, pick up the X15 bus to Belford, then change for the 418 to Bamburgh, where you will need a couple of hours to explore the castle (adult £11.25, child £5.50), beach and dunes. In fact, this makes a great stopover. Further down the bus route is Seahouses, from where boat trips run to the Farne Islands (£20).
Get on the X18 further south and stop at Craster to walk along the wild coast to Dunstanburgh Castle (adult £5.70, child £3.40). Take care not to miss the last bus for East Coast mainline connections, although real fortification-ophiles will want to sit on the bus to Warkworth then Alnwick (the latter also of interest to Harry Potter fans as the castle has played Hogwarts). Alnmouth is a lovely town perched on a sandy promontory between the Aln and North Sea, well worth a stroll.
Top Tip Get the Discover North Northumberland bus ticket for buses 418, X15 and X18 for £6.70 a day (the 477 to Holy Island is not included).
In a day You can reach Berwick from Edinburgh or Newcastle on the same morning, but from London you’d need to arrive on a Friday night. Take the 09:05 number 477 from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Lindisfarne (arr 09:40, £4.50). Woody’s Taxi also does a bus service. Walk off the island before the tide towards Beal for the bus stop. Take the 11:23 number X15 to Belford Market Cross (arr 11:33, use Discover ticket), then the 11:38 number 418 to Bamburgh (arr 11:50). Take the 14:48 number X18 to Craster (arr 15:26). The last X18 from Craster departs at 19:36 on Sat and Sun, arriving at Alnmouth station ay 20:23.
Full steam ahead
Minimum One day
Potential stopovers Penrith, Pooley Bridge, Glenridding (to climb Helvellyn), or Windermere for lake boat tour
Weekend If you reach Penrith on Friday night before 17:35 you could hop up to Pooley Bridge for the night, then proceed to Glenridding or Windermere for Saturday
This classic route gives you the best of Lakeland scenery, particularly if combined with a few side walks. Most travellers will come in via Penrith, from where the Stagecoach bus runs to Pooley Bridge, a pleasant small town at the eastern end of Ullswater.
From there, jump on the steamboat all the way up the lake, getting one of the best lake cruises in the world before hopping off at Glenridding. Keen walkers might get off earlier, at Howtown, and hike, either around the shore or over High Dodd and Place Fell (my favourite). It’s seven miles: watch out for red squirrels.
Glenridding is base camp for climbing Helvellyn: the Striding Edge route is arguably England’s greatest ridge walk. Either go over the top and down to Thirlmere, picking up the 555 bus to Ambleside, or return to Glenridding for the 508. The bus route then climbs over Kirkstone Pass and down to Bowness-on-Windermere.
This would make a convenient overnight – plenty of hotels to choose from. Then walk to the steamer pier and buy a single to Lakeside Pier at the south end of the lake (single tickets are only available on the day at the ticket office: if you want a guaranteed seat, buy a cruise online).
After the superb scenery of the lake, head for the railway station and jump on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite steam service (last connection is the 16:00 boat from Bowness) to Haverthwaite. From there the X6 bus connects to Ulverston and the final treat, the Furness line back through Grange-over-Sands to rejoin the north-south mainline at Carnforth, where, if romance calls, you can re-enact the scene from Brief Encounter (or stay on the train for Lancaster and London).
Top tips Leave the route at Glenridding, walking over Striding Edge and Helvelyn (OS Map OL5) then down to Thirlmere to pick up a 555 bus into Ambleside or Bowness-on-Windermere.
In a day 09:20 Stagecoach bus 508 from Penrith to Pooley Bridge arr 09:50 (£4.30).
Alternative Reach Penrith in time to get the last Friday bus to Pooley Bridge at 17:35 and get a head start. Take the 10:55 Ullswater steamer to Glenridding (arr 11:55, £14.50). Disembark at Howtown (arr 10:10) for the hike to Glenridding and climb up Helvellyn from Glenridding (about five hours). Or without going up Helvellyn, take the 12:11 bus from Glenridding to Bowness-on-Windermere pier (route 508, arr 12:59, £7); take the 13:50 steamboat to Lakeside pier (arr 14:30, £9.30); at 14:40 take the steam train to Haverthwaite (arr 14:58, £4.40). 15:47 X6 bus to Ulverston (arr 15:59, £3) then, at 16:08 join the train to Lancaster (arr 16:42, £9.80).
Start/end Bournemouth station
Minimum One day
Potential stopovers Bournemouth, Swanage, around Lulworth Cove
Weekend Stay in Swanage and enjoy Studland peninsula beaches and walks
This is a great loop along the Jurassic coast. From Bournemouth station, take the hourly Breezer 50 bus towards Swanage, crossing the mouth of Poole harbour on the chain ferry to Studland, with its miles of sandy beaches, cliffs and heathland to explore. This is a superb bus route, one of Britain’s best on a fine day, often operated with open-top vehicles.
Reaching Old Harry Rocks requires a walk but is definitely worth it. Swanage is a lovely small town with a fine beach and a newly restored Victorian pier. From there, catch the Swanage steam railway to Corfe Castle, one of England’s most scenic ruins and site of many historic moments, including a royal assassination (King Edward the Martyr in 978, probably at the instigation of his brother Ætheldred, later to be found unready). From here, take either the 40 bus to Wareham station or the Saturday-only train, and pick up the X54 bus to Lulworth Cove, Britain’s first world heritage site.
Here the best idea is to walk the coastal path to Durdle Door, rejoining a later bus. From Durdle Door or Lulworth, the X54 continues to Weymouth – another great beachside town with a busy harbour – before the final leg out to Portland Bill lighthouse on the 501. If you have more time, keep going west: take the X53 for Lyme Regis or set out walking along Chesil Beach. If time is up, there’s a direct train back to Bournemouth (that goes on to London Waterloo).
Top tips Leave the bus at Lulworth, walk the coast from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door, then rejoin the bus on a later service or skip Weymouth and head back to Poole/Bournemouth.
Do it in a day Breezer 50 bus (first one 08:02, single £6.80) to Swanage takes in the beautiful ferry ride at Sandbanks (a boat from Poole also links directly to Swanage pier)
1 Disembark to explore Studland and Old Harry rocks.
2 Take the 10:00 Swanage steam railway to Corfe Castle (arr 10:20, £8). 12:10 40 bus or rail to Wareham (arr 12:37, £4.20). 13:01 X54 bus from Wareham Station to Lulworth Cove and Weymouth (arr 14:17, £5.50), 14:25 501 bus to Portland Bill (arr 15:17, return £4.50, last bus back to Weymouth 17:23). 19:03 train to Bournemouth (arr 19:54, or Waterloo 21:49, £15.70).
3 Disembark at Lulworth and walk the coast path to Durdle Door, rejoining the route on a later service of the X54 bus.
The Western Isles
Minimum A long, magnificent three-day weekend
Potential stopovers Plenty of opportunity: Glasgow is probably necessary, Castlebay a definite, but also Uig, Tarbert, Berneray, Eriskay or Oban
It starts with a panoramic bang: a seven-hour bus marathon from Clydeside that bursts with incredible scenery and locations. Slipping past your window: Loch Lomond, Glencoe, Fort William and on over the sea to Skye (well, the Kyle of Lochalsh bridge, actually) where the road finally ends at Uig pier. Here you have a choice: head for Lochmaddy on North Uist or Tarbert on Harris and open up the possibility of doing the entire outer archipelago of the Western Isles from north to south. Watch out for whales and eagles on the crossing and, when you reach Tarbert, the Harris Distillery.
If you have time, there are plenty of diversions, including up to Callanish standing stones. Otherwise head south, hopping down the islands to the jewel that is Barra, where you could loop down to Vatersay, most southerly of the inhabited outer islands, or visit the iconic Kisimul castle out in the bay. If you are bagging islands, time this trip to leave Barra on the Wednesday ferry: it loops out via less-visited Coll and Tiree before heading in to the mainland. Back in Oban you could walk up to McCaig’s Tower, a neo-classical Victorian folly, or visit the distillery. The final treat is the magnificent rail trip across the Highlands back to Glasgow.
Top tip Arrange to reach Barra on a Wednesday and you could return to Oban via Coll and Tiree.
Do it in two nights
Day 1 06:50 Scottish Citylink from Glasgow to Uig (arr 13:50: £45.60), 14:10 CalMac ferry to Tarbert (arr 15:50, £6.50), 15:55 bus W10 from Tarbert pier to Leverburgh pier (arr 16:35, £3.20), 18:30 CalMac ferry to Berneray (arr 19:30, £3.70), walk to Berneray Hostel (dorm bed £16).
Day 2 09:45 bus W16 to Eriskay (arr 12:28. £6.80), 13:00 CalMac ferry to Ardmhor on the Isle of Barra (arr 13:40: £3.15), 13:40 bus W32 takes you across the island to Castlebay (arr 15:10, £1.80 – doesn’t run on Sundays, but it can be walked in 2½ hours), find a place to stay, choice of inns, hostels or hotels.
Day 3 07:55 CalMac ferry to Oban (arr 12:40: £15.15), 16:11 train to Glasgow Queen Street (arr 19:18: £20.20).