The Roads Least Travelled: Contemporary Bus Operations in Gairloch

Or ‘Now You Know What I Did This Summer (2013 Edition)’

Westerbus Bova TLZ 2656, Shieldaig, Highland
Taking a morning break in Shieldaig on an excursion to Applecross. The bulk of Westerbus’ work are school contracts and excursions from Shearings’ Gairloch Hotel, next door to its depot.

East of the M60‘s series of obscure bus routes have covered Transport for Greater Manchester’s boundary in the last two months. Thanks to one of Miry Lane’s finest, I booked a Mystery Break with my Dad and we only found where we were going a week before leaving Ashton-under-Lyne bus station.

Our mystery break, and this year’s holiday was in Gairloch (our second Scottish excursion with Shearings in the last two years). The weather was gorgeous though nowhere near as stifling as the weather south of Hadrian’s Wall. As a consequence, yours truly took two cameras: one digital and one film based compact camera. (If anybody asks about the pictures or the camera, I have yet to finish the 36 exposure Kodak Ektar 100 film which I put in my 1962 Ilford Sportsman). Though we were a bit miffed about the lack of theatres and some nightlife, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Next to my hotel is MacKenzie and MacLennan’s petrol station, and behind it is their bus garage. They operate bus and coach services under the alias of Westerbus.

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Bus Operations in Gairloch

Strictly speaking, Gairloch comprises of three main villages: Charlestown (as in Ashton-under-Lyne’s main railway station), Strath and Auchtercairn. There is also a number of hamlets, and they all overlook the village’s eponymous loch. Strath is referred to its residents as ‘the city’, being Gairloch’s commercial centre. Its harbour and Bank of Scotland branch is in Charlestown. There are two sub-Post Offices: one in Strath and another in Charlestown.

With three main villages, some may assume scope for good bus territory. Living on the foothills of the Pennines, we complain if our bus services are once hourly. There may be some residents in Gairloch who would be more than happy with a frequent (hourly or two-hourly) bus service. What constitutes a frequent bus service, owing to its sparse population, is one return journey each weekday.

Gairloch’s bus services are within the 700 series, a hangover from the Scottish Bus Group’s renumbering scheme. The Scottish Bus Group was formed in 1961 as a subsidiary of the state-owned Transport Holding Company. On acquiring MacBrayne’s operations in January 1969, they became the Scottish Transport Group. As well as buses, MacBrayne’s ferries fell under their jurisdiction.

Gairloch’s SBG constituent was the Highland Omnibus Co. Ltd. Before then, J. Bain and Son was Gairloch’s main operator with services departing from its depot in North Erradale.

Bus Routes in Gairloch:

  • 700: Gairloch – Braemore Junction – Inverness (Mondays and Wednesdays);
  • 700: Laide – Gairloch – Achnasheen – Inverness (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays);
  • 705: Shieldaig – Gairloch (Schooldays only);
  • 707: Gairloch – Ullapool (Thursdays);
  • 711: Poolewe – Gairloch – Dingwall (Wednesdays).

Unnumbered School Services to Gairloch High School (schooldays only):

  • South Erradale – Gairloch;
  • Gairloch – Melvaig;
  • Mellon Charles – Gairloch.

Though it is quite easy and lazy to lay the blame on bus deregulation for Gairloch’s routes, service levels have changed little since the 1950s.

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700: (Laide (TO, ThO, FO)) – Gairloch – Achnasheen (TO, ThO, FO)/Braemore Junction (MO, WO, SO) – Inverness

Confusingly there are two variants of the 700 from Gairloch to Inverness, taking 90 – 100 minutes to complete one journey. It would have been easier to renumber one of them as 701.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, the eastbound journey leaves Strath Post Office at 0750, after originating at the Old Inn in Charlestown (d. 0745) and approaches Inverness via Poolewe (0805) and Braemore Junction (0910). It arrives at Inverness for 1025. The return journey leaves Inverness at 1720, arriving at Braemore Junction for 1840, Poolewe at 1945, and its terminus at The Old Inn for 2005.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, it takes a more southern route via Kinlochewe and Achnasheen. Its outward journey begins at Laide Post Office (d. 0750), calling at Strath Post Office 35 minutes later. It reaches Kinlochewe for 0900 and Achnasheen ten minutes later. It arrives at Inverness for 1020. The return journey leaves at 1720, arriving at Achnasheen for 1835 and fifteen minutes later at Kinlochewe, before reaching Strath Post Office for 1925. Its terminus at Laide Post Office is reached at 2000, though this could be changed to Aultbea [Pier Road] subject to patronage.

707: Gairloch – Ullapool (Thursdays only)

Ullapool is an important connection point for the Outer Hebridean ferries to Stornoway. Gairloch’s link to the Western Isles departs from the Old Inn at 0900, arriving at Ullapool for 1045. This observes most of the Monday, Wednesday and Saturday route of the 700 to Inverness. Return journeys leave Ullapool for Gairloch at 1315, returning to The Old Inn for 1500.

It connects well with the 1735 sailing, but misses the 1025 one by twenty minutes. Therefore, passengers on the 707 would have 6 hours and 20 minutes to kill before checking-in! Thankfully, the connection time between the 0700 sailing from Stornoway is shorter: 3 hours and 20 minutes!

711: Poolewe – Gairloch – Dingwall (Wednesdays Only)

This journey takes 1 hour 55 minutes to complete leaving Poolewe Post Office at 0915. It reaches Strath Post Office for the pensioner friendly time of 0930 and follows the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday route of the 700. It reaches Dingwall [High Street] for 1108 and calls at the town’s TESCO store three minutes before then. The return journey starts at the TESCO store, departing at 1305, returning to Strath Post Office for 1445. It reaches Poolewe Post Office for 1500.

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Rail Connections

The main interchange between Westerbus’ routes and the National Rail network is at Achnasheen. The following routes call near Achnasheen railway station:

  • 700 (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only);
  • 711 (Wednesdays only).

Westbound connections (towards Kyle of Lochalsh):

a (TO, ThO, FO):

  • 700: Gairloch, Strath Post Office (d. 0825) – Achnasheen (a. 0910);
  • Train: Achnasheen (d. 1019) – Kyle of Lochalsh (a. 1128);
  • Connection Time: 1 hour 9 minutes.

b (WO):

  • 711: Gairloch, Strath Post Office (d. 0930) – Achnasheen (a. 1020);
  • Train: Achnasheen (d. 1019) – Kyle of Lochalsh (a. 1128);
  • Connection Time: 1 hour 59 minutes.

Return Journeys:

c (TO, ThO, FO):

  • Train: Kyle of Lochalsh (d. 1714) – Achnasheen (a. 1822);
  • 700: Achnasheen (d. 1835) – Gairloch, Strath Post Office(a. 1925);
  • Connection Time: 13 minutes.

d (WO):

  • Train: Kyle of Lochalsh (d. 1205) – Achnasheen (a. 1315);
  • 711: Achnasheen (d. 1355) – Gairloch, Strath Post Office(a. 1445);
  • Connection Time: 40 minutes.

Eastbound connections (towards Inverness):

a (TO, ThO, FO):

  • 700: Gairloch, Strath Post Office (d. 0825) – Achnasheen (a. 0910);
  • Train: Achnasheen (d. 1315) – Inverness (a. 1440);
  • Connection Time: 3 hours 55 minutes (stay on the bus!).

b (WO):

  • 711: Gairloch, Strath Post Office (d. 0930) – Dingwall (a. 1108);
  • Train: Dingwall (d. 1145) – Inverness (a. 1213);
  • Connection Time: 42 minutes.

For the purpose of this entry, staying on the 711 to Dingwall and changing there for the Inverness train is chosen ahead of changing at Achnasheen. The connection time at Achnasheen is 2 hours 55 minutes.

Return Journeys:

c (TO, ThO, FO):

  • Train: Inverness (d. 1334) – Achnasheen (a. 1451);
  • 700: Achnasheen (d. 1835) – Gairloch, Strath Post Office(a. 1925);
  • Connection Time: 3 hours 49 minutes.

d (WO):

  • Train: Inverness (d. 1100) – Achnasheen (a. 1219);
  • 711: Achnasheen (d. 1355) – Gairloch, Strath Post Office(a. 1445);
  • Connection Time: 1 hour 36 minutes.

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The Wester Ross district is dependent on tourism as its main economy, particularly outdoor pursuits. Other than the sparse bus services, Gairloch’s only car alternatives are foot or taxi. The village is served by two private hire companies, and in spite of this, there is no suitable Demand Responsive Transport alternative.

As a consequence, only car owners are free to explore this area properly. The present day routes have at best inadequate, and at worst, woeful connections with ferry and rail services. The best connections between Gairloch’s buses and rail transport are achievable if travelling to Kyle of Lochalsh, or the connecting bus from there to Uig for Hebridean ferries.

To guarantee the future of Gairloch’s buses, there needs to be improved connections with other modes to ensure the viability of present day services. If that works out, there could be scope for modest expansion.

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Next Time on The Road Least Travelled…

We shall return to Greater Manchester with details of an obscure service linking Wythenshawe and Withington hospitals. All will be revealed some time within the next week.

S.V., 25 July 2013.


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