Inspired by a conversation on Twitter and Steven Fallon’s best Munros by train, I’ve put together my own list of public transport enabled running routes in Scotland (or walking and some are even bike-able!)
Why use public transport? Apart from the obviously lower climate impact than driving a car, using public transport opens up a new world of point-to-point routes. Personally, I find these routes fun to plan and gain a lot of satisfaction in journeying on foot to a different place.
Doing outdoor activities by public transport has its own peculiar challenges. Most importantly timing – arrive late and you’re condemmed to a long cold wait in many parts of the country. So ensure you have the right kit and experience to be self-reliant and if possible run towards your dry clothes i.e. your accommodation, or car if you are using that for the final leg of the journey.
Using public transport means planning routes differently. I find railways easiest as they are clearly marked on maps, timetables are reliable, and there is often somewhere indoors, or at least sheltered, to wait. Bus routes, in my experience, are harder to figure out and less reliable on the ground (caveat – online apps are much better than when I was doing these runs more regularly so I may be being a bit unfair on bus services here!) Ferries are similar to trains in terms of ease of use, but more limited in the routes they enable due to fewer ports.
I look for geographical features, for instance a coast line or a range of hills, which run alongside a transport route or link two branches which share a station/stop. This list isn’t a ‘best of’ – though I have run all of these and happily recommend them (note that they require varying levels of endurance and navigational ability and definitely need more thorough research before setting out than merely reading this blog post. All apart from the Kilpatricks feature in my guidebook either as a described route or a suggested alternative.) The aim of this post is to illustrate the opportunities public transport represents for point-to-point running and inspire readers to try these routes (in line with Scottish Government pandemic guidance) and get out the maps to plan your own!
- The Kilpatrick Hills
Just outside Glasgow, the branch line to Milngavie splits from the main west coast train line at Westerton. Getting off the main line at Old Kilpatrick enables a one way run across the Kilpatrick hills to Milngavie. The route climbs up to Loch Humphrey, over the high point of Duncolm, across to the John Muir Way and then along the West Highland Way to Milngavie to catch the train back to Westerton.
- The Pentlands
Regular bus services leave Edinburgh city for the north and south sides of the Pentland Hills. The bus terminus at Balerno makes a good starting point, even though the hills themselves are still a mile or so up a fairly quiet country road with no pavement. From here you can cross the hills to the south and pick up buses running along the A702 at Nine Mile Burn or Flotterstone or head east over the summits to catch the bus at the Hillend ski centre.
- Berwickshire Coastal Path
Steep cliffs, noisy seabirds and glorious sandy beaches are features of this well waymarked path along the coast between Cockburnspath and Berwick-upon-Tweed. Towns and villages along the path are linked by local buses so a variety of distances are possible. I ran a 13km section by taking the bus from Coldingham to Burnmouth.
- Fife Coastal Path:
Both train and bus routes follow the Fife coast enabling a wide range of short and long distance point-to-point runs along the waymarked Fife Coastal Path. I particularly recommend the section between Leven and Elie which includes vast sandy beaches and the entertaining Elie Chain Walk (only at low tide!)
- Cairngorms glens
The Cairngorms block the way north for the A9 and train line, forcing both into a large western detour. The direct route between Aviemore and Blair Athol railway stations links well known Scottish glens – Glen Feshie or the Lairig Ghru, then Glen Tilt on good tracks and paths (mostly, there is a mid-section of untracked bog/tussocks). Much shorter routes between stations are also possible, a straightforward and scenic one being the low level trail between Aviemore and Boat of Garten.
- Corrour Station
There is something rather special about leaving the train at Corrour, a station disconnected from the public road network. From Corrour high and low level routes radiate out: eastwards to connect with the A9/train at Dalwhinnie, northwards to the A86 and Tulloch, Roybridge or Spean Bridge stations and west to Fort William or Kinlochleven. So many options (though all include bog)!
The train journey between Fort William and Mallaig is arguably the most scenic in Scotland with many passengers there for the train ride alone. Better to link it up with the boat over to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula and run from there over hills and through glens to one of the more southerly stations on the line, such as Glenfinnan. The old paths connecting the Knoydart glens were well constructed and have stood the test of time. The ridgelines with their sea and mountain views are superb. Best to shoulder a lightweight tent in order to prolong the experience.
A well trod path runs through the Fisherfield Munros and past An Teallach, linking Poolewe with Dundonnell. The main obstacle is the unavoidable crossing of the Sealga river, usually a straightforward wade but the route should be avoided in periods of high rainfall. An infrequent bus service links the two ends of the route. An alternative start/finish leaves the Poolewe-Dundonnell trail at Fionn Loch, to follow an excellent stalking path over the hill to Letterewe, then a rough lochside path or over Slioch to come out at Kinlochewe.
The bus handily meets the ferry at Brodick, so getting to the start of the run couldn’t be simpler. Hop off the bus at Sannox to head up Glen Sannox, over The Saddle and down Glen Rosa back to Brodick, or take the high route over Goatfell. In the north of the island a coastal path can be run one way connected by bus or as a loop from Lochranza.
The Orkney island of Hoy is two ferries from mainland Scotland, with the second to Moaness being passenger only. Vehicles must go via the southern port of Lyness. A low level route from Moaness runs through the island to Rackwick Bay. From there a well made path runs out over the cliffs to overlook the Old Man of Hoy seastack. High level outward or return routes go over Ward Hill to the east or Cuilags to the west of the Rackwick path. In summer months the machair is glorious along the coast, but watch out for nesting bonxies on the high ground.