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Rail Travel Scotland

Help!! We are traveling to Scotland in April. We are planning to go to The Orkney Islands. I posted once before asking for advice driving but got a few replies suggesting we consider the train. I have had a hard time contacting ScotRail about a question so I am hoping someone may know the answer. We are flying into Edinburgh and want catch the train right away. There is a new station,
Gateway, with a tram from the airport. Here is the rub I can purchase the ticket online but must get the ticket from a station which in this case is Gateway but the ticket starts at the airport!! Anyone done this? Also if we want to take the train from Aviemore to Thurso. What is the best way to get to Scrabster to catch the ferry? Time wise this is looking to be a nightmare. Any or all advice is welcome.
Chris

Posted by
3262 posts

Okay. The timing is an issue. Sometimes transportation schedules aren't as perfect for what we want to do as we'd like.

The last ferry for Stromness leaves Scrabster at 19:00 regardless of whether it is an off-peak, peak or weekend day. You can see that toward the bottom of this Northlink Ferries page. The morning sailings vary. I took the 08:45 one on an off-peak day. The peak and weekend days have more and later sailing times than that.

Your challenge is to sandwich in the 7.75 hour or longer trip with 2 train changes from the airport to Thurso between your arrival at the airport and the ferry sailing.

According to Scotrail, the latest train you could take from Gateway departs at 09:46 and arrives in Thurso at 17:50. I used 10 April to do the experiment. Your actual date might produce slightly different results, especially if you're traveling on a peak or weekend day. I arrived at that time last May from Edinburgh. There were taxis meeting the train, specifically to get people to the walk-on terminal.

They all seemed to have been ordered in advance. Since I wasn't in a rush to get to the ferry, I asked a cab driver to come back for me, but his single passenger offered to share. My lodging, the Ferry Inn, was in Scrabster, right on the way to the ferry. They dropped me off. At the train station and on the drive to the hotel, I noticed no buses, but I wasn't looking.

If you made that sailing, you'd have the 90 minute crossing, followed by a bus ride of about 45 minutes on into Kirkwall. Not counting the flight, that makes for a very long day, and you will arrive in Kirkwall well after dark.

So a lot is going to depend on exactly when you arrive at the airport. If it was me, I'd either take the train to Thurso, spend the night and take the ferry the next morning, or split the trip with an overnight in Inverness.

In the former case, there's a good chance that you would miss a lot of the Highlands scenery because it will be dark. The later your plane arrives, the more likely that will be.

In the latter case, you'd see a lot along the way, but still need to take the last ferry to Orkney unless you travel on a peak or weekend day.

Posted by
2436 posts

have you considered flying to Orkney only takes about an hour with a stop off in Inverness.
The Gateway just opened recently and I passed through there on Sunday night coming from the airport, no idea of the facilities and no idea of the ticketing situation but will try and find out

Posted by
57 posts

Thanks for the information. My bad I neglected to say we were going to stay in Aviemore for a few days and rent a car while there then return the car and take the train to Thurso to do the walk on ferry. My husband doesn't mind driving and a car gives us more freedom but leaving the car parked for 3 days seems like a waste. Taking it on the ferry is expensive. Each bit of information brings up more questions! Thank you again.

Posted by
5461 posts

Christine,

Consider flying to Inverness. Pick up the rental car--i think Thrifty has pickup at the airport and a city centre drop off. You can then drive to Aviemore and enjoy your time. Then drive back to Inverness drop off the car at city centre near the railway station and head up to Thurso and Scrabster. I would recommend doing this in in daylight--which is long in the summer--as the views from the ferry of Hoy are lovely and why you are taking the ferry. :)

Pam

Posted by
3262 posts

That should work much better. You just need to use the Scotrail site to get your tickets from the airport to Aviemore and the ones from Aviemore to Thurso. Unfortunately, it looks like the only sailing you can make is the 19:00 one. But the train fare is very cheap, and there's only one train change at Inverness.

You will still need to take a taxi from the train station to the ferry. The details are on this page with phone numbers at the bottom. I wish I would've known about this last May. I just didn't explore the Northlink Ferries website thoroughly enough.

Edited to add this link to sunrise and sunset times for Thurso in April. That should give some hints about what you will be able to see and when.

Posted by
5461 posts

BTW we took the train the first time I did this, but the second time we did the bus. It was cheaper and a bit easier.

Pam