In praise of buses

I spend a lot of my life on buses, usually commuting so on local services full of folk doing much the same thing. Buses are much maligned, so often full of discarded copies of the Metro, empty plastic bottles and of course the greatest variety of people. Well, in Glasgow they are anyway. Some buses aren’t watertight either – more than once coming home on the 34 I’ve ended up wet because of a window not shutting right – or indeed blessed with windows at all. Some buses don’t even have seats facing the right way, which is just wrong, like the 17 run by McGills. Mercedes buses aren’t that practical, it seems, much like a Mercedes car.

If I am day tripping in Scotland, I tend to take the easiest and cheapest route available. Very often it’s by bus. For some destinations, particularly Fife, there’s no other option as trains are invariably dearer and via Dundee or Edinburgh. Some others, like Oban, Aberdeen and Inverness, are roughly the same length of time by bus or train so it’s just a case of cost. Oban is nicer by bus so Citylink tends to win there.

Day tripping is one of those things where I might just want to be out but not be much fussed with visiting museums or anything. In such cases, I have been known just to sit on buses for hours, usually going in a loop to take me back to Glasgow many hours later. I don’t mind just seeing where I go, sitting reading, looking out the window and listening to music, and it often just happens as I am going along. Strangely it is an all-year sort of activity, sometimes an occupation on warm days as much as in the winter.

Friday was a day like that. I just felt like going on a bus somewhere, anywhere, but the day was marching on. It was about 12:30 by the time I got to the bus station. Buchanan bus station is the busiest in Scotland and it is possible to get a bus just about anywhere in the country if you hang about long enough. I had decided by the time I got there to jump on the 900 to Edinburgh. I travel to Edinburgh a lot but usually by train. I felt like going on the bus instead, thinking maybe about a trip to the National Museum.

The 900 is Scottish Citylink’s flagship service, running every 15 minutes between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is usually full of folk, students, tourists, elderly people and everyone else in between. It follows the M8 for most of its route, first taking in Baillieston before hitting the motorway, stopping next at Harthill Services, the only place I know which has its own unique weather system, the first place in Scotland to snow besides Glenshee, before hitting the capital. The M8 isn’t the most glamorous bit of road, with transmitters, offices and the odd sculpture the most exciting features. They have made an effort with art, though, including the pyramids near Livingston, the heads you can see through, the metal horse that sits near Barlinnie and the Teletubby horn. My favourite bit is just beyond Uphall and Livingston where you can see the bings and the river Almond, just as the Pentland Hills come into view and Edinburgh draws nearer.

I took the 900 to Edinburgh, sitting all the way into the bus station. It wasn’t the nicest day in Edinburgh and I didn’t feel in the mood to wander. Instead, I decided to do a loop, heading across the Forth to Fife before heading home. I went onto Traveline Scotland, checked the buses home then walked down to Waverley Station, where I bought a ticket to Kirkcaldy, purely and simply because I fancied crossing the Forth Bridge.

The Forth Bridge is a feat of Victorian engineering, for sure, and it is brilliant to look at, preferably when sitting on a train crossing it. The views are pretty good too, up river to the Road Bridge and the new Queensferry Crossing, down towards Aberdour, Inchcolm, Inchkeith, Cramond and East Lothian beyond. Thankfully the ticket inspector had been by that point as so often they come calling just at the good bit.

To Kirkcaldy, then, and the train passes across the Forth Bridge, continuing along the coast via Inverkeithing, Dalgety Bay, Aberdour, Burntisland and Kinghorn. I like this coastline for lots of reasons, particularly for its history and scenery, looking right across to Edinburgh with its seven hills. It is particularly fine in the section between Burntisland and Kinghorn as the sands open out and there is little between the train and the Forth below. There are usually some dog walkers but it was deserted the other day. It was brooding and dramatic with the low, dark cloud but it made it more atmospheric and interesting as I gazed out the window.

The train pulled into Kirkcaldy and I planned just to hoof it down to the bus station and head for home. Instead, I had a much better idea. Right next door to the train station is Kirkcaldy Galleries, the town’s rather fine museum, art gallery and central library. The art gallery is, for my money, the best in Scotland, with a rather fine collection of works by the Scottish Colourists, William McTaggart and Glasgow Boys. I had been there only two weeks before, realising only when I arrived that they had two temporary exhibitions on, of seascapes and all about archaeology in the east of Scotland. That’s just the cut of my jib and I couldn’t pass by again without taking a wee look. (They close on Sunday, incidentally, so I won’t get time to go back along.)

Kirkcaldy Art Gallery

A wee bit later than planned, I boarded the X27 home to Glasgow. The bus had come from Leven and took just under 2 hours to get home, via the Victoria Hospital, Dunfermline, Kincardine, Forth Valley Hospital in Larbert and Cumbernauld, where it got stuck in traffic. I didn’t mind – it was that sort of day. I sat and wrote, read and studied, even, making full use of the time. It was just getting dark by the time the bus got to Dunfermline so there wasn’t much to see. There were a few folk heading out on the town in Glasgow while I was heading home, being more of a day life kind of guy. I felt quite old as a fair few of my fellow passengers were teenagers, checking out what the big city had to offer, while I was going home to put on my slippers and watch telly.

Strangely, day tripping by bus is really quite good, depending on where I’m going. There is a greater variety of people, for good or ill, and a bus can stop just about anywhere. The scenery is more varied. The bus to Oban, which I hope to be on again in the warmer weather, goes via Arrochar, the Rest and be Thankful, Inveraray and Loch Awe, through some of the most beautiful country in Scotland. By train, by contrast, the journey goes via the Holy Loch, Crianlarich and along the side of Loch Awe, still stunning but not as special as by bus. Sometimes just taking a loop is what’s needed, just to let someone else drive and take things out of my control as I sit back and watch just where I’m being taken.


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