IMG_20180307_142908Courtesy of snowmageddon cancelling a trip to London last week, I unexpectedly ended up going to Bath in Somerset a little earlier this week. Given that I was booking just a few days before departure, I was pleased to find that it was possible to book a return trip with EasyJet from Edinburgh to Bristol for just over £60. Capacity is decent on this route, with up to 5 flights per day in each direction – passengers (based on my observations of travelling this route a couple of times) appear to be a mix of business and leisure travellers.

IMG_20180306_091614On Tuesday, various diary clashes meant I had to take a morning outing to Stirling before going to the airport. While the snow was all gone in Edinburgh, I found there was still a lot on the ground in the central belt of Scotland. I ended up on a train earlier than the one I was aiming for, which was fortunate given ScotRail were still struggling to get back up to speed and it transpired the one I had been aiming for was cancelled. Once I was done in Stirling, I got a lift from my father in the car to the Ingliston Park and Ride. My father needed to be at a meeting in central Edinburgh, so then hopped on the tram. Meanwhile, I decided to experiment with walking from the park and ride to Edinburgh Airport. It is all of 2 minutes on the tram from Ingliston to the airport, but the nature of the fare system means it costs £6 for a single. It only took me about 15 minutes to walk it – and there are pavements all the way, even if the route isn’t all that direct. Here is a photo of the exciting trail I followed, and another shot of two trams at the Airport terminus – without me as a passenger.

I was travelling light, and the airport was quiet. This meant I was through security and airside in under 5 minutes – even though I had to remove my shoes. After a quick lunch in the lounge, it was time to head to the gate. It was obvious that there was a fairly light load on my 3pm flight – just 80 passengers according to crew on board. I was seated in a row of three on my own. The flight pushed back on time and was uneventful. In fact, I took the opportunity to listen to the recent Radio 4 documentary Inside the world of the frequent flyer. Well worth a listen if you’re intrigued by the way frequent flyer schemes work. While I had hoped for good views of snow, there was cloud cover almost all the way en route. However, there were great views of the Severn on approach to Bristol. This was great to see, as the last time I flew to Bristol in 2015 I arrived in dense fog and saw nothing from the air!


IMG_20180310_141805After swift disembarkation, I headed to kerbside outside the terminal to find my onward transport, which was running late. While waiting, I got to see many many passengers board a bus to Plymouth. In contrast, very few people were waiting for the bus to Bath – I would estimate around 12 of us got on at the airport at 4.30pm. The Air Decker is the only operator of bus services from Bristol Airport to Bath – a journey of about 18 miles, which takes a little over an hour. I paid £18 for a return ticket to Bath with a student discount (it’s £20 for normals) – cash only. The buses used on this route vary – on the journey to Bath I benefited from a new double decker with good seats, and multiple tables. The tables featured USB charging (although no on board wifi so I had to use my phone), and given how quiet it was I got to have a table to myself, which was useful for work purposes. On the return journey, the older bus was far less appealing for the worker on the move. Being the middle of rush hour, the bus not only left late but the journey took an age – getting stuck in traffic in all sort of exotic outer suburbs of Bristol as we slowly made our way to Bath. Eventually, however, I made it – and checked into my pleasant but cheap guest house (booked hours earlier using the HotelTonight app – possibly more on that in a future blog.IMG_20180306_163650

IMG_20180307_201358I had a lovely time in Bath, which really is a beautiful city – with lots of good coffee. However, all good outings must eventually come to an end. I hopped on a bus at 7pm heading back to Bristol Airport, which was a much smoother run outside of rush hour. Upon arrival at the airport (just 15 mins before the gate closure time for the final departure of the night from Bristol) I headed up through the deserted terminal and cleared security – along with a handful of other stragglers – in 2 minutes. The gate had just been announced and I headed there, joining the pen. It wasn’t long before we had embarked (via a remarkable looking ramp contraption!) and we were informed we were running 15 minutes early.The flight north was smooth, with great views on a very clear night. Pictured below are the ramp and views of Liverpool.

We arrived in Edinburgh ahead of schedule on a central stand, which meant that from pulling up to the gate to my taxi pulling away took all of 5 minutes. I was home by 10.15pm, which meant I had managed a door-to-door journey from Bath to south Edinburgh in just 3.25 hours. This isn’t necessarily something I’d willingly replicate – I cut it far too fine getting to Bristol Airport – but I was impressed that it could be done. EasyJet really does provide a steady service on the Edinburgh-Bristol route, which can be used in a number of ways. However, I look forward to visiting Bath in future using the train!




Linköping to Haverdal (South by Lund)


After a lovely late autumn weekend in and around Linköping (the above photo is taken in the Omberg Ecopark by Lake Vättern), it was time to head back to Haverdal on the west coast. While I had benefitted from sale rates on my outbound journey, I discovered that I was attempting to travel on the final Sunday of the school half term holidays and was stuck with paying full rate for whatever I wanted. The upside of this was that everything – while very expensive – cost about the same, so I could pick and choose based on timings and routings. For the sake of variation from my outbound, I opted to return via the south, using a Linköping-Lund-Halmstad routing.

Having had a lovely day with my hosts, I set off for the station on the first day after the clocks had gone back, realising that sunset would be around the time of my departure at 15:59. I managed to take some lovely photos as I got to the station.



My train was already running a few minutes late, but it looked simply fantastic as it arrived.


Once onboard, I had one of the more interesting experiences I’ve had since SJ switched to personalised ticketing a few years ago. I no longer travel with printed tickets, but have the barcode for my booking in the SJ app (more on the app another time, perhaps). A few minutes after departure, the conductor came down through the coach and stopped next to my seat. First he turned to the other passenger who had boarded at Linköping across the aisle from me and said “Are you Sven?” to which the man agreed he was. The conductor then turned to me and said “You must be Ian?” and I also agreed. That was it – that was the ticket check!


The train was gradually losing time, and by the time we were on approach to Alvesta (yet another key railway hub in Sweden) the conductor had bad news. Everyone who was hoping to connect to the Öresundståg service to Kalmar was out of luck – we were going to be late enough that it would have departed. The solution – wait for over an hour in the freezing cold. There seemed to be a lot of people who were looking to connect and they didn’t seem very happy. However, just a few minutes later, the conductor came back and said they had spoken to staff at Alvesta who had agreed to hold the Kalmar service for connecting passengers (so please would everyone hurry across the platform upon arrival!). We arrived in Alvesta, and I watched as a lot of people scurried across the platform (see below). What is most striking is that post privatisation in Sweden, this kind of railway-think rarely happens any longer – but it did demonstrate that it is possible to look after the passenger’s best interests.


We continued to lose time, and by the time we got to Lund we were running over 20 minutes after our scheduled arrival of 18:31. This was only frustrating because I had been banking on having time to grab a hasty dinner in Lund before catching my connection. As it was, I had to make do with a quick stroll around the station before heading to my platform for my onward connection – a fast SJ service to Halmstad.

These are run as SJ 3000s, but are effectively Regina X55s. I’ve been on them a fair few times now and find them to be really pleasant trains to travel on. There’s not much to tell about the run up to Halmstad, which was smooth and on-time.

We arrived at 20:16, which meant I had ample time to pop over the footbridge to the bus station to catch my onward bus connection, scheduled to depart at 20:30. The bus station was deserted, and 20:30 came and went. I checked the usual social media channels to see whether I had a cancellation on my hands, but there was no indication of this. Eventually, the bus pulled up into my bay, unmarked, about 12 minutes late. The driver seemed puzzled, and the bus was freezing. But we set off, with the driver only making two rather confused, unscheduled stops in the middle of Halmstad. What was most peculiar was that once we got up speed, we really got up speed. The driver appeared not to be familiar with the route, being taken by surprise by corners in the road, but also driving much faster than you might expect (I had some idea of what we were doing by tracking the bus through the bus provider app). Suffice to say that despite leaving almost 15 minutes late, I was only 2 minutes late upon arrival in Haverdal. An interesting… experience.

Comparing my outbound and return journeys, both had their merits. I really liked using the direct northbound service from Halmstad to Katrineholm, but using Lund as the connecting point in the south is generally quicker. If travelling this route again in future, I might try the third option, which is to travel with Krösatåg across country from Halmstad to Nässjö, before connecting on to Linköping. Best to cover all the options!

Lothian Buses on Doors Open Day

Edinburgh’s Doors Open Day, organised by the Cockburn Association, is an opportunity once per year to see inside some of the city’s architecturally worthwhile buildings, as well as other buildings of public interest. This year’s programme can be seen here. For several years, Lothian Buses have opened up their Central Garage on the Saturday and each time I’ve missed it. This year, they were pushing it particularly hard via various social media channels, and I managed to round up some company to head to the north side of Princes Street.

We walked over from the Southside, which gave us ample opportunity to catch sight of a few of the vintage buses that were being used to operate the number 26 in honour of the big day. Below is a 90s throwback sighted at the foot of the Mound…


Meanwhile, we captured this beauty at the top of London Road.


Once we got down to Annandale Street, we discovered an enormous queue to get in (easily 1/4 mile long), but it was making steady progress, and we probably only waited 10 minutes before we were inside. As we came past the front of the depot, we saw what lay in store for us – bus tours!

Inside there was quite the hoopla going on, with people everywhere and all sorts of buses (and quite a few other vehicles) to look at. You could generally go inside the newer ones, while the vintage ones (pulled in from museums and the like) were for outside observation only. Of particular interest was seeing a bus used by East Coast Buses on services to Dunbar (no good photos, sorry), which really sets the standard for a high quality bus for use on rural services. From an Edinburgh-centric perspective, these brand new Volvo electric buses looked interesting. You could even walk underneath one! They were rather stumpy and it remains to be seen which routes they will be used on – they look most suited to use on regular circulators, but Edinburgh doesn’t have any of those…

Here’s an attempt to show a wider spread of the buses on show.


Some buses seemed to be a long way from home…


IMG_20170923_132106And finally the moment we had all been waiting for. Obviously the bus wash tour was fantastic fun – although it was rather like getting onto an evening rush hour bus in heavy rain really.

All in all, it was great to have the chance to see Lothian HQ. It’d be fun if they consider opening the doors to the tram depot at Gogar in future years.

Buses in rural Sweden: a few recent anecdotes


‘Hallandstrafiken: the best choice for travel’ reads the destination board on the front of the bus to the right. A recent visit to Haverdal, a rural community north of Halmstad in western Sweden, gave a few thoughts to take away.

The bus service provided to Haverdal is actually very good, with 25 services/day operating into town on weekdays, 12/day on Saturdays and 7/day on Sundays. I suspect there aren’t many rural communities of under 2000 people in the UK that brag a regular service like this. Buses are operated on a franchise basis for the local county public transit provider Hallandstrafiken, with the current franchise-holder being Arriva. While this has led to a number of changes over the years and much discussion in the local press about declining standards, the truth is that to anyone visiting from Britain, the service provided is excellent.

As already noted here, the connection between a lot of arriving trains at Halmstad and the buses is also good – it genuinely does manage to feel like an integrated travel system. On arrival at 7.45pm on a Monday night, we were able to connect smoothly onto an 8.00pm bus and had an unremarkable run out to Haverdal. The quality of the buses is very good, although there is no charging or Wi-Fi – perhaps to follow in future rounds of procurement?

A few observations and anecdotes though. The first being that after we arrived, we went out for a walk in the dark and happened upon the bus an hour later driving down the dark lanes of Haverdal. I stopped to take a photo. On the return from our walk, we found it again, driving in the opposite direction – nice coincidence I though, and I stopped to take another picture. The bus swerved towards me, a pedestrian on the verge on a dark country road and stopped. The driver opened their window and told me in no uncertain terms that photography was not allowed – a bit strange as it definitely is.

On another day, we headed off to nearby Harplinge on foot to get some bread from the excellent bakery. It rained so much that we decided to take the bus home – involving an exciting connection at Haverdalsbro, an interchange in the (relative) middle of nowhere. We jumped on in Harplinge, and the driver seemed so astonished by our requested destination that he in fact didn’t sell us a ticket to it. The driver on the second bus spent some time rectifying the issue, before deciding to let us travel for free. So much for integrated travel…

On our day of departure, the bus into Halmstad was being driven by a driver in the uniform of a different coach company – clearly, in the franchised service era, when there are staffing shortages, drivers can simply be brought in from elsewhere. Bizarrely, she seemed to have a better grasp of providing the best service possible than many of Hallandstrafiken’s in-house drivers. This includes the handy ability to sell tickets from rural Sweden all the way through the Copenhagen.

So, is Hallandstrafiken the best choice for travel? Well, it’s the only choice for travel unless you’re going to take a very expensive taxi, but it’s certainly not a bad choice. Buses are regular and comfortable, pricing is affordable, but the drivers can be a little … odd. I leave you with this rather nice photo of the 350 in Haverdal on a previous (summer) trip.


Edinburgh to Haverdal

For a variety of reasons, we had booked to spend a week in Haverdal, a rural community north of Halmstad in western Sweden. This was done at short notice, but there were still good fares available a fortnight before departure for travel on EasyJet and we were able to redeem some Nectar points to take advantage of them. A 13:55 departure seems like a pleasant, middle-of-the-day flight but in reality I ended up feeling a little annoyed as we couldn’t really go to work but had to kick our heels during the morning.

In the end, we made a start from the house at about 10:30 and took the 14 to South Bridge. We then stopped in the Milkman for a good cup of coffee to kill a few more minutes, before popping round the corner to catch a 100 to the airport. I’ve already discussed the new buses to the airport,  but one feature I hadn’t noticed previously was the inclusion of live airport departure screens showing flight statuses, which I think is a good touch.

The upside of travelling in the middle of the day is that the airport bus is definitely not impeded in the way it is during the rush hour – we made good time out to the airport. Travelling with hand luggage only, we were able to pop straight upstairs and we were through security in under 5 minutes. While there were teething issues with the new security hall in Edinburgh, it really does seem to have found its rhythm. We headed for our usual hang-out, the No 1 Lounge only to be told it was full. Instead, we headed for the Aspire Lounge, which was so busy it felt like people were hovering waiting to take seats. We eventually found some nice seats by the window where we could watch the buses coming and going outside the terminal. Before long though, we headed for the gate and boarded. Departure was prompt and on-time, and we headed to the west, with a a good – if rainy – view of the three Forth bridges.

We arrived at Copenhagen Airport on time and made quick progress through the terminal. After buying a ticket to Halmstad (a source of frustration is that the Skånetrafiken vending machines won’t sell tickets to bus-only destinations in Halland), we took the first available train across the Öresund Bridge to Malmö. While border controls are no longer in force, the train still stops for an extended wait in Hyllie, which seems a little futile. Our stop at Malmö C gave us time to pick up some groceries and dinner, before we caught our onward train to Halmstad. We had a clear run up and despite picking up some delays in Skåne, we actually arrived in Halmstad on time, demonstrating that there is a fair bit of leeway in the timetable.


We easily made our 15 minute connection onto the 350 bus to take us to Haverdal. Fortunately, the buses have returned to the bus station (having been in exile on my last visit), making it easy to catch. The ticket sold to us was very cheap – I can only assume that the system calculates what we should have paid to buy a through ticket and charges the difference, but details about this online are scant. While the run to Haverdal drags a little, especially as the bus does a loop through Harplinge, it was quick enough. Living in Edinburgh, it is a novelty to be on buses doing 50mph on dark country roads.

While it felt like the journey dragged out, the door-to-door travel time was only a little over 9 hours. Even if we had driven at the Danish/Swedish end, we wouldn’t have cut much off that.

Edinburgh to the East Neuk

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While my visit to Aberdeen had been in the pipeline for some time, a visit to the East Neuk of Fife for a couple of days came as a most unexpected surprise. Unsure of my own plans or energy levels after my trip to the north east, I had not made any arrangements but knew that I needed to join my companions – already insitu – during the course of a Saturday. This left me with the rare situation of deciding on the spur of the moment when to set off and how to travel. Sipping my cup of tea and checking train times, I noted that if I made it onto the 09:30 Scotrail service for Aberdeen, it would get me to Leuchars in a mere 53 minutes – 12 minutes quicker than most services. The time when I established this was 08:50. I decided to give it a go and threw the bits and pieces I needed into a bag while summoning a taxi using Gett(I may review Gett separately on a later occasion, but it’s a useful app in Edinburgh and London.) My car appeared within a few minutes and ferried me down to Waverley station quickly enough that I had time to buy my ticket and find a cup of coffee.

One of the more pleasant sides to spontaneous travel, especially a little closer to home, are the chance encounters. Looking for a good seat in the leading carriage, I ran into an old colleague which provided me with an hour of decent conversation and catching up en route to Fife. It was turning into a lovely looking morning, and the views from across the Forth Bridge, and along the south Fife coast were absolutely stunning. See below for a couple of examples.

Despite the train being stuffed with reservation labels, the passenger load was not all that bad. Presumably, a lot of people make reservations on their flexible tickets and then travel at other times. The reason for the speed of the Aberdeen services – and a plus for the eager traveller hoping to keep a table to themselves – is that upon departure from Haymarket the service runs non-stop to Leuchars. This meant that it didn’t feel like long at all until I was alighting round the corner from the old airbase and waving my train goodbye.

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I popped outside the station to catch the 99 to St Andrews, which was full but made a swift run, getting us to the bus station in around ten minutes. This is cash fare territory, and I was able to buy a through ticket to Crail and get change! The bus station was looking fresher than I remember it, but I suppose it merits investment as one of the smallest but busiest bus stations I’ve ever been to. When passing through last weekend, a real, playable piano had been provided for passengers’ entertainment. I didn’t have time to horrify passersby though, as my 95 – destined for Leven via the East Neuk – turned up shortly after I arrived. I hopped on and secured a good seat upstairs on the left hand side to ensure the best views.

The 95 is probably one of my favourite bus routes in Britain. The run from St Andrews as far as Anstruther is fantastically picturesque with some lovely rolling countryside and the blue ribbon of the North Sea always found on the left. The below is just one example of the view along the way, near to Kingsbarns. While it’s a good road to drive in any vehicle, doing it on the upper deck of a double decker gives you a far superior view – and I would recommend it to anyone on a fine day.

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About 25 minutes later I was in Crail, and two minutes’ stroll had me at my final destination. 2.5 hours door-to-door from suburban Edinburgh to the outer extremity of rural Fife using public transport is not bad at all, and the journey – segmented as it was – passed by very nicely. For what it’s worth, the area is well worth visiting too – the below photo is taken at the beach in Kingsbarns.

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To the Granite City

Last week I had to go to Aberdeen for a conference. This trip had been on the cards for almost a year, and I had put a fair amount of thought into how I wanted to travel there. The choices are not infinite though, and I have no particular interest in trying any of the road options on what is a fairly long drive. This left me with a choice between Scotrail, Virgin Trains East Coast or Crosscountry Trains. Scotrail naturally have the upper hand in offering the most services, while the other two offer better, long-distance rolling stock. At T-12 weeks, the choice was made easier by the fact that Virgin were selling 1st class tickets with railcard discounts for £18 one way – a very reasonable fare given the journey time of 2.5 hours and the standard of the soft product. I duly booked myself a round trip on Virgin.

On the morning of travel, I was up far too early given my train wasn’t until 10:28, so after having done some work at home, I ended up heading into central Edinburgh early to look for some breakfast. Despite killing time there, I still ended up at the station almost 40 minutes early. Fortunately, I was travelling with colleagues for the outbound leg, and one had already arrived so I wasn’t lonely. Once we had all assembled, we headed for our platform to find the train just arriving from Leeds.

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We piled on an made ourselves at home. My colleagues, who hadn’t been expecting to travel in 1st (I was in charge of travel arrangements) were pleasantly surprised. While the refurbished hard product on these trains looks the business, I have to say that in comfort terms it is a reduction in quality on what they had previously. Nonetheless, it’s a very pleasant setting to be in for a couple of hours on a weekday morning. This was improved by the friendly 1st class service – I find the Scotland-based crews for the Aberdeen and Inverness services are amongst the best out there. Despite the relatively early departure time, we were on a lunch menu – but with no hot items. Sandwiches and beer were the order of the day – and completely fine at that.

We made a good run going north. The weather in Edinburgh was changeable – August showers! Below on the left you can see the old Forth road bridge and the new Queensferry Crossing, as well as the somewhat cloudy weather. By the time we were crossing the Tay it was much foggier. No further photos were taken further north, as there was nothing to actually see. Aberdeen itself was obscured by some of the most miserable, stickiest mist I’ve ever encountered.

We arrived in Aberdeen a few minutes early, as the timetable has some fairly generous recovery time built in north of Dundee. A slow amble through the station/shopping mall had us at the bus station as we were heading for Hillhead, the home of Aberdeen’s student halls of residence. Google informed us that we would get there quickest on a Buchan Xpress, and using our plusbus tickets we duly tested the theory. It was certainly not a disappointing bus experience (note the 3/1 split of seats on the front row in the photo), although it seems a little peculiar to spend the first 500 metres creeping through the city centre picking up passengers like it is a local service. However, it did pick up the pace and got us where we were going in the time Google told us.

A few more, brief thoughts on the buses in Aberdeen. It’s a fairly well-provisioned city in terms of buses, although there are some issues. Perhaps the key one is the competition of multiple operators, meaning that – plusbus aside – you can’t buy a day ticket to cover them all. First Buses, responsible for running the 20 between the university and the city centre, was operating a limited timetable that stopped at 7pm – not much use for anyone wanting to get back at night. And, like in Edinburgh, the focus on Union Street for all bus routes seemed a little pointless at times. On the other hand, the ability of First to accept contactless payments puts them well ahead of many operators around the UK.

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Aberdeen is a mixed place – it looks like Scotland but it feels different. It’s by the sea, but it takes ages to walk to the beach. It wasn’t long before the conference was over and it was time to head south again, this time on the 14:52 headed for London Kings Cross. I won’t repeat material, as much of the service was the same as on the northbound. One difference was that the lunch service included hot options, and I had a very pleasant courgette risotto (at half past three in the afternoon…) with a crisp glass of white wine. The crew were excellent, and I remember them from previous occasions in the east of Scotland. As is often the case on this route, the time flew by and it wasn’t long before we were back in Edinburgh – on time – having enjoyed the panorama of fantastic sea views for much of the journey.

I suppose on a future visit to the north east, it would be worth trying one of the competing options for the sake of comparison, but in terms of price point and comfort, Virgin is currently the standout option when heading north of Edinburgh on the east coast.