Climbing Scotland’s munros by public transport is often not as difficult as you might imagine, and certainly adds to the sense of adventure. Whether you’re keen to reduce your carbon footprint or simply don’t have a car there are many options available.
It’s estimated that 212 of the 282 munros can be climbed using public transport – that’s 75% – and I’ve found two very informative websites that catalogue the details of the access and walking routes:
Munros by public transport (Steve Rabone)
Of course, using public transport normally takes longer – sometimes much longer. Bus or train services may only run a few times a day or just a few a times a week. This means you have to have time at your disposal – not everyone does – and also need to be ultra organised so that can you time your walk to be able to get back in time for the return journey. There can be risks involved in this. For example, if you’re planning to catch the last bus back to the city by sticking out your hand and thumbing a lift and the bus driver doesn’t stop or the bus is full, then you’ll have a long wait until the morning. Where day trips aren’t possible from, say, the Central Belt of Scotland (or you miss the bus!) then you may often need to camp or stay in hostels or B&Bs.
Of course, you don’t need to only take day trips. Often the much more rewarding walks come from multi-day trips where you might take a train to one location then return by bus from another, for example. There are some fantastic ‘walk through’ options in the hills between Dalwhinnie and Fort William; in the Cairngorms from Aviemore through to Braemar; through Glen Affric from Cannich to Shiel Bridge; and in the Letterewe Forest from Dundonnell to Poolewe. If time isn’t an issue, taking public transport and taking a more creative route than would be possible on a day walk definitely gives an added sense of achievement. Slowing down and getting off the beaten track is much more adventurous than following the well-worn, usual routes.
Talking about getting off the main track, let’s take a slight diversion by way of an example. The photograph is taken from my multi-day walk traversing the Grey Corries, the Aonachs and Ben Nevis in 2010. I took the train from Crianlarich up to Corrour Station, the UK’s highest mainland station and without any public road access (the nearest road is 10 miles away). It turned out to be the overnight sleeper from London Euston and several other walkers and I got into the weirdest lounge carriage you’ve ever seen, a real relic from the 1960/70s with leather sofas and steward service. The train trundled slowly up past Tyndrum, around that glorious ‘horseshoe curve’ you see from the A82 just south of Beinn Dorain, and then over Rannoch Moor. It was a great route, giving perspectives and views entirely unfamiliar to people used to tearing up and down the A82 race track.
I got off at Corrour and watched the train disappear into the distance, relishing the instant ‘hit’ of isolation. There’s a good long distance footpath that skirts the southern end of Loch Treig and within a couple of hours I’d climbed Stob Ban at the eastern end of the Grey Corries ridge, For the next two days I stayed up high climbing the eight munros, wild camping overnight on the ridge then descending the ‘tourist track’ from Ben Nevis before catching the Citylink bus back to Crianlarich. I don’t think I saw a soul on most of the ridge … until I arrived at the summit of Ben Nevis of course.
While detailed route guides and timetables are available for each of the 212 munros accessible by public transport here I thought I would select some of the most obvious hills accessible via public transport. Some of these are easily accessible either by Scotrail or Citylink bus services, but some can climbed using the overnight sleepers from London and Northern England.
The man in Seat61.com calls the West Highland line from Glasgow to Fort William and Mallaig the most scenic train journey in Britain (and he should know). In fact, Wanderlust magazine voted this the world’s best train journey in 2009. For all the necessary information, including the timetable and a video of the route up from Bridge of Orchy northwards past Corrour Station, check out the website. The Caledonian Sleeper takes three routes northwards, heading for Inverness, Aberdeen and (via the West Highland line), Mallaig/Fort William. So, leaving London Euston at 9.15pm you can be getting off the train at Corrour Station at 9am the next morning, Dalwhinnie at 7am and Aviemore at 7.40am.
If you’re taking the sleeper to Scotland, consider these options:
- take the Caledonian sleeper to Dalwhinnie then trek through the glorious mountains around Ben Alder, picking up the sleeper back down south again from Corrour Station. There are 14 munros, a youth hostel (Loch Ossian), one or two bothies and countless wild camping spots;
- take the sleeper to Blair Atholl and walk up Glen Tilt, either turning west to Braemar to climb the Grampians west of the A94 (14 munros in all) or continue north via the Cairngorms to return from Aviemore;
- lose yourself in the Cairngorms for several days via Aviemore station (14 munros);
- get off at Arrochar to climb the ‘Arrochar Alps’ (4 munros).
If you’re travelling within Scotland, why not look at some of these routes (in addition to those listed above):
- take the Citylink bus to Fort William from Glasgow and get off at Sloy Power Station to climb Ben Vane. There’s a visitor centre here with a cafe and toilets while you’re waiting for the return bus;
- take either the train or Citylink bus to Bridge of Orchy to climb Beinn Dorain and Beinn an Dothaidh, both immediately accessible, and have a pint and a bite to eat at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel afterwards;
- climb Ben Cruachan and Stob Diamh from the Falls of Cruachan rail station on the Glasgow to Oban line. A Citylink bus also plies this route. This gives you around 8 hours to climb the hills;
- take Stagecoach bus 41 to Glen Nevis Youth Hostel from Fort William to climb Ben Nevis via the ‘tourist track’;
- climb A’Bhuidheanach Bheag and Carn na Caim via the train or Citylink bus from Dalwhinnie (there are another 5 munros in this area which involve a walk of up to 6km each way);
- climb Sgurr Thuilm and Sgurr nan Coireachan from Glenfinnan Station on the West Highland line between Fort William and Mallaig;
- after staying at Glen Shiel Youth Hostel overnight, persuade a friendly hosteller to drop you at the layby in Glen Shiel (near the 1719 battle sign) to climb the Five Sisters (ie the North Glen Shiel Ridge), walking back to the Youth Hostel (I’ve done this). Or from the layby, walk the South Glen Shiel Ridge and then take the Skye/Glasgow Citylink bus home from the Cluanie Inn;
- take the train to Achnasheen Station to climb Fionn Bheinn.
I’ve selected what I think are some of the most accessible options – there are many more that are possible but be warned, you would have to be pretty determined (and have lots of time) to climb some by public transport.
If you’re able to get away for 3 or 4 days, my suggestion would be to focus on longer ‘walk through’ routes that have different start and end points. Of course, you’d need to wild camp or stay in bothies (where available) but this is all part of the adventure !