In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a bit of a fan of travelling around my bonnie country; whenever I have a spare minute I love nothing more than jumping in the car armed with a camera, tripod and old pair of jeans (I’ve ruined more than I quite dare admit) to explore. But there’s just one teeny-tiny issue that sometimes gets in the way of my grand plans; the fact I don’t yet have a licence to drive (I’m working on it, promise).
It’s a decision that’s led to many a weekend sulk at home when I’m unable to visit far off places; trading sunsets and adventure for Saturday night TV and last night’s dinner. Being reliant on my oft-weekend working partner and friends to visit places means missing out on some of the best views this country had to offer, or so I thought.
When I first heard about ScotRail’s City Days Out pass, it peaked my interest; unlimited travel for journeys around an hour outside the city, however I wasn’t quite sure how it worked. Could you really jump on any train? And how exotic were the places on offer? When a spare weekend came up then, I decided to give it go, grabbing a friend and opting for a family ticket costing just £34 for the two of us – ALL weekend (if you’re travelling alone it’s just £18 a pop). To test out the pass, I decided to explore the not-too-distant-but-somehow-not-yet-explored West coast near to Glasgow; heading toward Ardrossan, West Kilbride and Troon.
Here’s a breakdown of everywhere me and my trusty plus one visited over a two day trip from Glasgow; all on the one ticket (that covered two adults AND two children), complete with a couple of standard recommendations for places to visit.
Train one: Glasgow Central to Lochwinnoch
Well, I say train one. But I lie – my first was actually Hyndland to Glasgow Central, but we’ll ignore that slight fact for the time being. My first *real* train (i.e. the one I don’t catch everyday to work and back) was a 23 minute journey through lush greenery and gorgeous hills to even more lush greenery at Lochwinnoch; home to an RSPB centre and the most gorgeous moments of serene nature.
Having recently said a final goodbye to my 27 year old feathered best friend, I’m a huge fan of anywhere I can get up close and personal to birds and wildlife and, thanks to the incredible guidance of Learning Officer Nikki, I was able to do just that – trying out pond-dipping to see the everyday nature we ignore, hiding in bird-watching keeps for rare views of lesser-known breeds, and taking in the flora the area has to offer.
The best thing about the centre is how flexible it is for different needs; as an amateur photographer and nature lover, it provided the perfect escape from a busy city. But, for families, there’s a huge array of activities to undertake and tons to keep the little ones occupied (without them intruding on the serious twitchers). Best of all, it’s about a two minute walk from Lochwinnoch station (if that!), making it accessible and, indeed, possible to run for that train you forgot you were getting at lightning speed.
Train two: Lochwinnoch to Glengarnock
Just ten minutes, and I’m in a different place; sheep in fields and rolling green hills included onto my final destination for the first day.
Train three: Glengarnock to West Kilbride
After a brief stop in Glengarnock, it was time to jump on another train (still on the same ticket, remember), this time to my bed for the night. My travelling companion had been informed to sit on the left side of the train for this part of the journey, and I’ll pass on the same advice – you won’t regret it. The views from the train are to die for; with Arran’s towering skyline dominating the windows from Stevenson onward. A slight difference from my usual sights over the Clyde.
My final destination for the day, around another 15 minutes from Glengarnock, was West Kilbride; a place that, coming from Glasgow, brings up connotations as its East counterpart’s older sister. Now, as lovely as East Kilbride is, the slightly more westerly version is nothing like its namesake. Despite resting just over 30 miles from my starting point at Glasgow Central station (remember, we’re still ignoring that first trip) the picturesque coastal village feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city; with only a handful of shops and restaurants, but views to die for.
Hailing originally from the East Coast of England, I know that if there’s one thing the West of Scotland does well – it’s sunsets. No matter how awful the weather during the day, I very rarely find a summer’s eve in Glasgow disappointing, with most nights lit up in a glorious display of pinks, orange and reds. And, despite drizzle and humidity galore all through my day of travel, the evening sky at West Kilbride was no exception.
Unlike a usual day trip minus car, however, the City Days Out pass meant I could stay and watch the beams of light in their entirety, complete with a bottle of prosecco to toast an incredible sight. The word bliss is thrown around all too easily these days. But, in this case at least, it’s definitely appropriate – less than an hour from Glasgow, but a whole other world away from everyday life.
Train four: West Kilbride to Kilwinning
After an evening and morning reflecting on one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen, it was time to move on for another day of train travel.
Another joy of using the City Days Out pass is that you’re not set to timetables so, while I had a busy day around Troon planned, I could still make time for a quick visit to Portencross Castle before leaving West Kilbride. The site, which has been fortified since the 13th Century, was recently refurbished and brought back to life by the efforts of the local community and it’s an incredible vision to behold; both for the huge amount of work put on the inside, and the incredible views across the sea from the top of it.
The knowledgeable staff and volunteers are worth visiting in their own right; with plenty of information on the area and the castle, while a quick walk along the coast around the area is sure to clear the lungs for the day ahead; with stunning scenery and blissful calm. Just the ticket before hopping on a train from West Kilbride to Kilwinning.
Train five: Kilwinning to Troon
Again, just a ten minute jolly on the train, my last stop for the weekend was the glorious seaside town of Troon; home to the famous Royal Troon Golf Course, seaside walks galore and, as I soon found out, quite possibly the best fish restaurant this side of the North Sea. Without a doubt the highlight of my trip was a stop at MacCallum’s of Troon; a seemingly tricky-to-get-to institution that is well worth the 30 min walk from the centre of town, slap-bang in the middle of the harbour.
Incredible staff, bustling atmosphere and food to die for – I could have spent all day in the restaurant, had I not eaten so much that I needed a brisk walk along the coast to justify my gluttony.
Train six: Troon to Glasgow
The final goodbye was a 40 minute train journey back to Glasgow; a sad farewell to an incredible (and surprisingly exhausting) weekend of travel, complete with gorgeous views of lochs, greenery and hills outside Glasgow. I’ve friends who live in the area and commute daily, but making a weekend of those gorgeous sights just beyond the city made me view it in a completely different way.
The ideal way to spend a bank holiday, week off, or simply a weekend (like I did), the Glasgow City Days Out Pass helped me explore a little bit of heaven on my own doorstep, for less than a tank of petrol (and no traffic jams required). If my choices don’t pique your fancy, I’d advise checking out the #UnlockScotland hashtag on Twitter and Insta for some incredible inspiration – even if you live in Edinburgh (there’s a version available just for those living in the capital too).
For full information and to start planning, visit: www.scotrail.co.uk/citydaysout