I’m lucky enough to live in one of the few villages in North Argyll with a train station, an easy, downhill walk from my house. It’s understandable that many folk don’t see their local station the way I do. If your main experience of rail travel is overcrowded, urban commuter trains then you are unlikely to look forward to starting a holiday by rail but for me this station is the start of adventures. From the short hop into town for a pint or a few tunes with my pals, to the Glasgow train and onward connections to anywhere in Europe, I love that walk to the station on the first day of a trip, full of anticipation and excitement.
There are six trains a day to Glasgow (plus seven to Oban) including ‘the red eye express’ which leaves at 05:44. This train is the most useful for starting long journeys like this one. It allows you to catch an afternoon Eurostar to Paris or Brussels but on this occasion I decided to bypass most of England and use the ferry from Newcastle (North Shields) to Amsterdam (Ijmuiden) to get to mainland Europe.
As is often the case, the early train was almost empty so I chose a table seat. Once in Glasgow I met my first travel companion and fellow Absurdist Pipe Band piper Rob who had taken an earlier train from Lochwinnoch. We had time for a quick visit to McDonald’s (the bakers, not the fast food chain) on Union street for a hot roll and a tea before jumping on the Avanti West Coast to Carlisle.
The usual route to Newcastle would be via Edinburgh and down the East Coast Line but Northern Rail had a sale on and tickets from Carlisle to Newcastle were only £1.50. Advance tickets to Carlisle were also cheap so there was no point using our Interrail pass for this leg of the journey.
Once in Newcastle we had time for a pint and some picnic shopping to avoid the rather expensive dining options on the ferry to the Netherlands. The boat leaves from North Shields, about 14km from Newcastle, so DFDS run shuttle buses which cost £6 each. These buses are crowded double deckers with no real luggage storage, not a problem for us but with mobility problems or a lot of luggage they could be a challenge.