We’ll get to the reason for this photograph shortly – by which time you’ll be ahead of us. In the meantime, leaving Loch Fyne at 4.00am, we were in Edinburgh for Scotrail’s inaugural summer season direct train from Edinburgh to Oban.
This is a day-return service on Sundays from 25th July until and including 29th August. The train leaves Edinburgh Waverley at 8.10am, arrives in Oban at midday, leaves at around 5.00pm and gets back into Waverley around 9.00pm.
Our idea was to experience the route and the service for ourselves, talk to folk on the train to get a sense of how and why they were there, what they wanted to do at the Oban end of the journey and, afterwards, how their day had been.
Let’s fast-forward an account of the experience, meet some of the people on the train, find out how these pioneering travellers found their day, hit some facts and finish with our own analysis – at which point we’ll come back to the photograph above.
When we emerged from the car into Edinburgh at the end of Princes Street not long after 6.00am, the city was pale, still and empty. Beyond Waverley Station, its steep old town reared in its tiers of buildings as if auditioning to be a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
At the other end of this journey, there is another steep-sided town waiting for its visitors, with a crown of its own – Argyll’s Oban, unquestionably the prettiest town on the west coast mainland.
Inside the station, at Platform 14 the information board said it all. Several passengers arrived early, expecting a crowd and anxious to get a decent seat.
Many volunteered how helpful they had found the Scotrail booking staff – all tickets for this special trial service have to be booked by phone (08457 55 00 33).
We shared their experience with Scotrail, whose Press team went to extraordinary lengths to connect us in time with the ticket we’d bought – late. The plan had been with us since we’d heard that the trial service was starting on 25th July but – with a tiny team, a big audience and too much work to do, we’re famous last-minute merchants. So thank you to Clare Meikle and her colleagues who also offered to help.
Once away from Waverley, the train stops only at three other pick-up points on its way out of Edinburgh – at Haymarket, Linlithgow and Polmont. Then it’s an uninterrupted run straight on for Oban.
Staff on the train – the conductor and the catering trolley service which made several tours, were good natured and helpful.
Some passengers were knowledgeable about train routes and were fascinated before and during the journey on quite what the direct route, avoiding Glasgow, would be.
They found themselves passing through places they’d never heard of and were mustard keen to see the details of the routing – as were we.
The train nips through the Central Belt – a pleasant if not startlingly interesting journey, then short circuits Glasgow to pitch up on the Clyde east of Bowling where it runs northwards to the head of Loch Long, before cutting east across the isthmus to Tarbet before arrowing on north up the last finger of Loch Lomond to Ardlui.
Then it takes to the hills, up the glen to Crianlarich, gateway to the highlands, before swinging west to Tyndrum, through Glen Lochy to Dalmally and, drawn back to water, on across the head of Loch Awe and through the Pass of Brander.
Here it strikes out along the southern shore of Loch Etive where, at the Falls of Lora in the narrows at Connel, it drops south west, away from the A85, to run alone inland before emerging at Oban on the west coast.
And here is Oban – curving between its two piers, rising steeply to its crown of McCaig’s folly with the Isle of Kerrera across the bay to the west and the high mountains of Mull, on the far side of the Sound of Lorn, visible above and behind the smaller island.
At the station, to welcome the visitors, were Lucy Hamilton and Ina MacArthur (above) from Oban and Lorn Tourism Association, handing out Oban Passports, maps and information – and four pipers from Oban High School Pipe Band (below) with their Pipe Major and champion piper, Angus MacColl incognito in mufti, giving them support from amongst the audience.
As the group of visitors began to take their individual ways off the station concourse, some had a wander round the adjacent South Pier, seeing the fishing boats and ferries in this busy working port and finding the Elizabeth G tucked in a snug and almost secret berth (below). She’s a dive and cruise boat operated by Northern Light Charters, based north of Oban at Duror.
Across the bay, over at the North Pier, the red roofs of Ee-Usk (below), the renowned seafood restaurant where several visitors had already decided to lunch, contrasted with the boats in the bay below, brightening the overcast but, by now, lightening day.
Round northwest of the North Pier, boats berthed and at anchor foregrounded the Esplanade, dominated by the tower of St Columba’s Cathedral.
And close to hand was the Caledonian Hotel and the shops (below – taken from the bus to Glasgow on the way back to Edinburgh to retrieve the car for the journey back to Argyll – so forgive the window reflection).
The main pieces of the jigsaw of the afternoon to come in Oban were now in place were now in view and the visitors dispersed. We were to hear from them later on how it all went.
Meet the visitors and find out what they felt
This is where we share the fun we had on the train journey – with an introduction to some of the visitors we met on the train, a snapshot of what brought them to this experience, what they intend to do with it and, afterwards, how they found the entire experience.
Chris and Sara Kavanagh
Chris and Sara Kavanagh live in Edinburgh. Sara is from Wisconsin and Chris from Bangor in Northern Ireland.
They heard of the new train service by an email from Scotrail to its client database and are on the train because it’s running on part of the legendary West Highland Line. Chris did some googling and identified the day as a treat for Sara – and here they are.
They’ve promised themselves a fun day out to the west coast by this special route, to see why the line is so celebrated for its scenery.
They like the idea of the full West Highland Line experience – Rannoch Moor, the back of the Nevis Range, the Monessie Gorge and the run on out to Mallaig. OK – so we joined in celebrating the glories of the West Highland Line – but much of it runs through Argyll, the route is fabulous and the line was made the Best Rail Journey in the World last Year.
For Chris and Sara, part of the fun today is to have a great seafood lunch. Ee-usk is in the frame. Explorers by nature, they then want to ramble around Oban, getting a sense of what it is and what makes it tick.
Afterwards Chris said: ‘We had a great time yesterday, we had time for the following:
- A wonderful relaxed lunch at Ee-usk, an excellent recommendation. The food was great and we both loved the location on the pier.
- From there we took the short hike up to McCaigs tower where we were suitably impressed by the views out over the bay and the islands. We took many photographs and were glad that the weather forecast got it wrong, it was so bright and summery.
- From there we proceeded down into the town and took a wander amongst the shops. I was surprised by the varied nature with the highstreet stores sitting beside the more tourist type shops. I noted there was a variety of quality across the shops, some much stronger than others, but nothing felt particularly out of place.
- We then strolled along the promenade to the lighthouse and soaked in the sea air and the wonderful views. The old hotels and guesthouses are just so typical of the type of place and really make it feel like a proper seaside resort with their feel of slightly tired grandeur.
‘We wandered back to the train nicely relaxed and ready for the trip home. We had an excellent time overall and really enjoyed the town.
We’ll definitely be back for a longer stay at some point in the future, but will most likely drive to give ourselves more freedom to explore the surrounding area as well’.
Mary Simpson and Morag Park
Mary Simpson and Morag Park met way back in Mary’s home city of Aberdeen where Morag was based for 17 years. Since then Morag has spent long periods in a variety of places in the UK and has now been living in Edinburgh for 7 years. Mary is a former Professor of Education Policy at Edinburgh University – and delighted, after the kaleidoscopic tinkerings with the education system perpetrated by a series of governments, to have escaped before the Curriculum for Excellence arrived.
Mary got an email about the service via Scotrail’s client database and – messages she bins straightaway as often as not, happened to open this one. Weighing up what else they could do with the £30 cost of a day return, decided to give this train journey a whirl.
Neither really know Oban. One has paid a fleeting visit some time ago and the other has never been there. What they have in mind when they get there is an enjoyable and leisurely recce – ramble around the town, potter in the shops and have a good seafood lunch. Ee-usk is a strong likelihood.
Mary and Morag enjoy and interrogate their experiences. They had a great many piercingly accurate insights to offer on the marketing and information services needed to make this initiative the success it can be.
One major gap they identified is information on what is open in Oban on a Sunday. This is crucial for visitors to the town with only a few hours available and wanting to plan to make the most of it.
Oban folk know that much of the town is open for normal business but visitors cannot know this unless they are told – and their expectations are troubled by the fact that the west of Scotland is historically known for insistence on quiet and reflective Sundays.
Afterwards Mary said: ‘The sunshine made all the difference to our day, and we had a very pleasant time in Oban.
‘My additional suggestions would be as follows:
- Do a bit more advertising – say at Waverly, where tourists are arriving with no car, and may not stray much outside Edinburgh as a consequence.
- A piper at the boarding end at Waverly would certainly attract attention! A picture poster or large hand written notice ‘Board here for … etc’ could let people know what the excitement was about.
- Have a wee map of the rail trip on the advertisement flyer so that potential visitors know where they would be going if they took the trip, and that they would be seeing quite a bit of Scotland en route.
- Add a few details about Oban – it was a lovely old town with traditional buildings (for the most part!) and the smell of the sea was wonderful! We went and treated ourselves to lobster at Ee-Usk. Lovely!
- Have a more detailed map of the rail route on the train – this could be downloadable beforehand for those who can access it. I am Scottish, but from the East, and I had not a clue where we were most of the time!
- Also, the glossy brochure on Oban, with map and shops etc. which we were handed on arrival could have been handed out at the beginning of the rail trip so we could have familiarized ourselves with it while en route’.
And afterwards Morag said: ‘We had an enjoyable day, with a particularly good lunch, and were blessed with sunshine which was great.
‘As we said on the train, it would have been useful to have been provided with more information about Oban at the time we bought the tickets, so that we could plan ahead. It would also have been informative to have a map of the journey so that we enjoy the countryside we were passing en-route and any places of special interest.
‘We were given ‘Explore Oban & Mull Guide’ at Oban station although, I would guess, that businesses paid to be included rather than it being an indication of the best Oban offers and obviously quite a few shops were closed as it was Sunday.
‘Useful information would include: which shops / restaurants were open and when; places of interest and how to get there (i.e. bus times etc); things to do if the weather isn’t good’.
Alistair Noble and Olga Wojtas
Alistair Noble and Olga Wojtas are a couple from Edinburgh, with Olga retaining her Polish name – her father was in the Polish forces in the second world war , based in Galashiels and married her Glasgow-born Scottish mother in 1951.
A former editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement, Olga is now a freelance journalist and enjoying the freedom to write an night when it’s quiet, rather than scramble for press deadlines.
Their 24th Wedding Anniversary is on 26th July – the following day. They had honeymooned on Iona and passed fleetingly through Oban then, so this visit is both an advance mutual present for tomorrow and a chance to fill in part of their personal jigsaw.
Olga knows Oban from what have clearly been several visits to Iona, on the old steamboat and talks of how hairy it was to see elderly folk hefted from the steamer into the small boat that brought passengers ashore from the anchored ferry.
Since this day out is their anniversary treat, Alistair and Olga are planning a gentle day rambling around and having a special seafood lunch – and yes, Ee-usk scores again.
Lively conversation with Alistair and Olga took an unexpected turn when Olga mentioned that her mother, Elsie Wojtas, had been to Oban in 1937, at that stage had found nothing at all to do and had been so bored that she spent her time writing a poem to celebrate (not) the town.
Olga remembers the poem verbatim and its linguistic playfulness demonstrates where her own writing ability comes from.
So here – with no disrespect to Oban 2010 but to share the fun, is Elsie Wojtas’s poem about Oban 1937.
‘In Oban there is noban to do.
You go for a walk on the prom but there is no ban’,
Not even a nightingale singing in Ganavan,
So you might as well go home agan
And go to bed’.
Afterwards Olga said: ‘We had a fantastic time in Oban – it was extremely exciting to be met by the pipers, although we then had to battle our way through a large throng of tourists all taking photographs of the pipers!
‘We headed straight for Ee-usk which was just opening for lunch, but by the time we left, it was virtually full.
‘It was definitely the best anniversary meal we’ve ever had, particularly as I was a total pig and went for three courses, including the bread and butter pudding made with Baileys… After that, we felt obliged to climb up Jacob’s Ladder. The forecast wasn’t good at all, but in fact it was a sunny day, with stunning views.
‘The train journey back was gorgeous too – all in all, a Grand Day Out, and I would definitely do it again!
Heather and Scott Larnach and Dorsay Larnach
Heather and Scott Larnach and Scott’s mother, Dorsay Larnach, live in Edinburgh and often travel together.
They came across the new service in an article on Scotrail’s in-train newsletter, have done some advance research on the Internet to help to shape their time in Oban. Scott has a special interest in trains and is interested to see exactly how this train is routed to bypass Glasgow city centre. He has found route maps on Scotrail’s website which may help to work out the switching.
Heather is originally from North Carolina and her voice carries evocations of that place, overlaid with soft Scots inflections.
The three of them are full of energy and curiosity, fed by an outgoing and positive attitude and – like the best visitors (who seem to have infiltrated this train) information hungry and with information of their own to share.
Many of their insights into this new service have, as with Mary Simpson’s and Morag Park’s, made specific contributions to the analysis we offer at the end of this article.
Having got what information they can – and not all they would like – their plan for the afternoon is a good lunch and a visit to Oban Distillery whose almost secret location buried in the town attracts their imaginations. After that Scott fancies walking up to McCaig;’ tower to get a sense of the panorama it commands and Heather and Dorsay have their eyes on some shopping.
We talk about their surname, because this visit could be described as sort of homecoming. ‘Larnach’ means ‘of Lorn’ so that must be their family origin – although this is clearly very ancient. Their genealogical researches have traced Scott’s family back to 1696, to fishermen in Wick, in Caithness.
His grandfather was also a diver there in the last quarter of the 19th century – which must have been early days for commercial diving and particularly dangerous. The Larnach’s think he must have taken up diving to complement is fishing as he had a family of seven to rear.
Believe it or not, Guglielmo de Loreno invented the diving bell as long ago as 1535. However, it is of particular interest that the period during which Scott Larnach’s grandfather was diving in Caithness was marked by a series of crucial inventions that revolutionised the world of commercial diving.
- In 1926 Charles and John Deane patented a helmet for firefighters that was also used for divers – not attached to their suits but strapped to the diver’s body and with air piped in from the surface.
- In 1837 Augustus Siee sealed the Deane brothers’ helmet to the suit and created the all-in-one watertight environment that became the standard approach to core diving kit.
- In 1943 the Royal Navy set up the first formal diving school.
- In 1865 Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouse invented the first independent underwater breathing apparatus. They connected a steel tank filled with compressed air to a valve and a mouthpiece. The tank was strapped to the diver’s back and the diver was connected to the surface by a hose pumping fresh air into the low pressure tank. Then the diver disconnected the hose and was free to dive for a few minute, breathing from the tank on his back.
- In 1877 Henry A. Fleuss developed the first working, self-contained diving kit using compressed oxygen.
- In 1893, Louis Boutan invented the first underwater camera, not only contributing to the commercial potential of diving but opening up a world to the experience of people who would never otherwise have seen it.
After their day on the train and in Oban, Heather said: ‘We had a fantastic day in Oban. The weather turned out very beautifully as the day progressed and we got even better views of the scenery on the way home.
‘In Oban, we started with lunch at Ee-usk on the north pier which was really superb. The view from the restaurant was perfect and the food delicious and beautifully prepared. All the staff were friendly and efficient.
‘We then went over to the distillery hoping for a tour but alas they were unable to accommodate us on a tour. I had tried to find information on how to book in advance on the Internet but was unable to find anything so we just had a quick look around the free exhibition which had some interesting historical information about the distillery.
‘We only spent about 20 minutes at the distillery. We decided then to move on to the shops and we stopped in several shops along the road from the distillery.
‘I particularly enjoyed the Purdie’s of Argyll shop where I bought some lovely hand cream. Very impressive range and all natural and organic.
‘We also visited the local Waterstones and bought several books including those with local interest which are not normally available in our usual Edinburgh shop.
‘We visited the Iona shop with the lovely jewellery and the whisky shop where Scott found his favourite souvenir!
‘After our shopping we had a short rest on a bench in the square near the station. It was lovely just to sit and watch the people and the ferries come and go.
‘We then had a short walk around the pier and had a look at all the fishing boats which was fascinating. And we also heard and spotted the sea plane arriving which you had told us about. After all this it was about time to head back so we went to the station and waited for about 10 minutes for the train to be ready.
‘It was a really lovely day and in talking about it, we would be less inclined to attempt the day trip if we had to go through Glasgow and change trains. It’s not that we don’t like Glasgow but it means time lost and just more hassle changing trains. It was fantastic to get on the train in Edinburgh and just enjoy the entire journey as part of the day. The folks on the train were really friendly and made sure we had plenty of drinks and snacks from the trolley.
‘We also thought that it would be great to plan a holiday around the service because again if you had luggage, going by train is less attractive if you have to change at Queen Street. We thought it would be great to book a single journey out to Oban on the Sunday and the return journey the following Sunday, spending a week in the west with time in Oban – but also maybe time in the islands via the ferry. Lots of options from Oban!
‘We had a really lovely time in Oban and the train journey was brilliant. We hope our experience will encourage others to try it’.
Philip and Linda Lord
Philip and Linda Lord live in Veldhoven in the Netherlands and are on holiday in Edinburgh.
They found out about this service from the Scotrail Newsletter when they were on the train to Edinburgh from Glasgow. It immediately seemed like a great way to map more of Scotland during their holiday, with a flying visit to the west coast and by this scenic rail line.
They do not know Oban. They particularly want to get a visual sense of the highlands and are hoping for that from this day out.
Like everyone we spoke to, they enjoyed the prospect of being met at Oban station by pipers and by members of the Oban and Lorn Tourism Association with information. They wold have appreciated advance information and particuarly a map of Oban.
For many holidaymakers, a day’s break from tramping around cities has serious attractions. It’s the chill factor – offering the chance to sit on a train sweeping people through beautiful countryside with no effort their part. It means that no members of a party are unable to have wine with their lunch or sample a dram at a distillery because they’re doing the driving. It means that all members of a group – or both partners in a couple – see the same views at the same time – safely.
Philip and Linda, on holiday in Edinburgh from have offerd to contact us when they get back home to Veldhoven and let us know what they felt about their day in Oban. We will add their narrative here when we get it.
Linda Smith and Keith Barker
Linda Smith and Keith Barker live in Edinburgh and saw an article ‘East coast meets west coast’ on the Scotrail website.
Neither of them really know Oban but they thought the experience was good value at £30 each and saw it as an interesting and leisurely day out with a chance to sample the south west highlands.
This year the Barker’s made a conscious decision to holiday in Scotland. The possibility of strikes affecting air travel and the shadow of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano’s ability to spew out an ash cloud. stopping them getting away or stranding them abroad, just offered too much hassle.
In their view a holiday needs to be a relaxed and stress free business and poking about in Scotland at will is proving just that. yet to see.
Keith feels that the are likely to do more of this in the future. He’s already planning – and the anticipated pleasure is clear in his face as he says it – to take his grandson travelling Scotland.
For Linda, today is a rare pleasure as she normally does the driving and is painfully aware of forcing herself to keep her eyes on the road while Keith exclaims at a sudden stunning view. Today she can look as well and is looking forward to a glass of wine with lunch.
As with others on the train – a really nice lunch is a major feature of what they have promised themselves, followed by a leisurely ramble around Oban.
Afterwards Linda said: ‘Really enjoyed the day in Oban. It is surprising what you can cram into 5 hours when you have to:
- Went to the Tower after a walk along the ferry terminal and smelling the fresh fish.
- We went into one of the local bars after looking at some shops – quite a number open on a Sunday.
- Then along the seafront stopping at the museum – which was very interesting.
- We went to the seafood resturant on the harbour and enjoyed a lovely meal there.
‘As we said in our conversation on the train, I think receiving the brochure in Edinburgh would have made planning the day that bit easier but it did not spoil the day.
‘It was a nice touch with the pipers at the station.
‘This was a mini holiday for one day. I would recommend this trip to friends and colleagues’.
Afterwards Keith said: ‘It was good fun.
‘Getting on the train at Waverly Station there was definitely a holiday atmosphere on board. The Scotrail staff on board were friendly and attentive for the duration of the journey.
‘The only thing that did bother me slightly was when I initially booked the train tickets by phone using the Scotrail telesales number. Scotrail made a point of referring to available spaces on the train rather than seats (not bookable). The implication being that if the train was full people might not get to sit beside their travelling companions or even worse, have to stand for the four hour journey!
‘The views either side of the train as we made our way up the West Highland Line towards Oban were magnificent only interrupted by the trees lining the track (as you already know).
‘When we arrived at Oban station and were greeting by four Pipers it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Everyone took photo’s not just the train passengers. We were given a guide/map and the Oban Passport, a nice touch but I don’t think we used it.
‘After a short walk round the Harbour and Waterfront, smelling the Seafood cooking and regretting we had eaten so much on the train, we headed up to McCaigs Tower.Where else? It’s such an imposing landmark. The view from there was breathtaking well worth walking up the fairly steep incline.
‘On the way down (nuch easier) we popped into an artists workshop with a mosaic on the outside wall and a sign on the front “Artist working, please come in”.
‘Next we wandered down to George St and found the restaurant up a side street, that a friend had recommended - Room 9. Closed on Sundays unfortunately. Found a small friendly pub opposite the Highland Theatre. Only Pub in Oban in the Good Beer Guide and watering hole for the Oban Shinty Team by the look of it. Sampled the local beer (all have usual names) tasted good.
‘Chocolate factory after that and another unusual thing, a girl playing the Celtic Harp for the customers. Bought some chocs for Linda – only fair since she bought me a beer.
‘Looked into the War and Peace Museum. The large scale model of the Sunderland seaplane and various photos of seaplanes landing in Oban waters reminded me that you can still travel to Oban and Tobermory by seaplane today. Must try it some time soon.
‘Food now back on the agenda and we managed to get a window table at the Cuan Mor overlooking the Bay. Ordered seafood, of course. Mussels, Seared Scallops and Black Pudding, Tradition Oban fish and chips and a bottle of White wine. Enjoyed every mouthful.
‘Explored more of the town enjoying the sunshine and using the map we were given when we first arrived to find our way about. One final tour of the bay to see the fishing boats and then back to the station.
‘It was a long 12 hour day by the time we got home but we enjoyed every minute.
‘This was for us just a taster and since our visit I have made plans to come back to Oban in August as part of a five day holiday including Mull, Iona, and Colonsay’.
- There were 30 passengers on the train. We talked – at some length – with just over half of them, most happy to be identified, some preferring to talk but not to be named or quoted.
- They were single men and women, couples of all ages, long-time friends and families with older children.
- Most live in Edinburgh but some were holidaymakers.
- They were universally well informed, many with specialist interests, interested and interesting.
- Most had no idea that this was the inaugural service on the trial route.
- Not many knew Oban although some had passed through it at some stage, a few on the way to Iona by boat – one on the old steamer.
- Some were going either for or to revisit an important personal event.
- Almost all were focused on exploration, wanting to ramble around the town.
- Almost everyone had promised themselves ‘a nice lunch’ as part of their day and seafood was high on the wish list.
- Special experiences tailored to fit the hours in Oban would be popular.
- Some people said that, with the threat of air strikes and ash clouds, they had chosen to stay in Scotland this summer and were thinking of spending more time in the future in this exploration of inner space.
- The general opinion was that this train opportunity is good value.
- The direct route for the train was welcomed and, for some, is of very particular interest.
- The fact that part of the route, from Bowling to Tyndrum is also part of the celebrated West Highland Line, with its branch line to Oban, was a clear attraction.
- Most people on the train were given no angle on where they were en route, both physically and in terms of insights into where they were passing through. This throws away a rich part of the experience.
- Everyone we spoke to would appreciate more advance information – on the journey, on what is available on Sunday’s and on the day in Oban and a map of the town.
The very good news is that the idea and the reality of this direct train service, with its west coast and Oban taster, are really working for people who experience them.
The unequivocally positive responses reported afterwards by those we talked to is encouraging for everyone concerned in the initiative and reaffirms the conscious good fortune of those of us lucky enough to live in Argyll. We noted the fact that several people are now planning to come back.
However, if the potential of this initiative is to be realised – if it is even to survive for a second season, there are serious lessons to be learned and put into action without delay. This service was not calibrated on 30 people.
This adventure badly needs:
- Marketing – there isn’t any.
- Understanding the value of high quality information delivered when and where people want it. At the moment no advance information is given to travellers on any part of the experience.
- Making the scenery visible – back to the lead photograph on this story. Take it from us – we wus there: this was all you could see on 90% of the part of the journey everyone had come on the train to experience.
- Making people feel special, significant, wanted. This means paying real attention to who they are, what they want and making sure they get it.
- Understanding the power of a sense of special occasion – of party – and knowing now to create it.
It is not enough simply to offer a service and leave it to chance that enough people find out about it. This service will reward well informed and positive marketing, rather than the low profile happenstance that governed the emergence of those on the inaugural service on Sunday.
There clearly is a market – and a good one – for this experience. But it has to be actively SOLD.
The responsibility for reaching that market with information on the service is the responsibility of all three bodies involved – VisitScotland, Scotrail and Oban and Lorn Tourism Association. They should not be sitting on their hands waiting for one of the others to call. Each of them should be filling the vacuum by seizing the initiative. Each of them has credibility to lose as well as a market to gain.
The information on expectations and experience from these visitors on the inaugural trip is invaluable to a marketing intelligence.
Information empowers and transforms. Lack of it disables. This experience absolutely needs advance information:
- on the train lines used to route the service direct from Edinburgh to Oban
- on the route itself – the major points of interest about places passed – and sometimes seen – en route. Knowing what it is you are seeing on such a journey – and being equipped to see beyond the present to the layers of time any place has experienced, enrich any experience of travel. We have already begun to create just such a travellers companion to this experience – someone has to, no one has and this can be our contribution to the sustainability of a very good travel idea.
- on Oban
- on Sundays in Oban in the summer season – what’s open, what’s happening, what can you get to and how?
Some of this information should be provided with every ticket purchased – and part of the information provided should be good web addresses.
Given the people from Sunday’s train who are now planning to come back, visitors could find helpful a simple linked list of the major events that happen in Argyll every year – the major sailing regattas; the Tiree Wave classic world windsurfing event; the Mull motorsport rally; the Islay Beach Rugby Championships; Eat Bute; Cowalfest; the music festivals; the Ride of the Falling Rain; the half marathons…
Product development is an issue.
There is huge potential to develop this particular tourism product and it involves good thinking and connected-up planning rather than money. Loch Lomond Seaplanes could do a series of – say – twenty minute round trips on Sunday afteroons over Lismore, Morvern, the north of Mull and Kerrera – alternated with one over the Garvellachs, the Slate Islands, Scarbha, the Corryvreckan whirlpool, Jura and the Crinan canal basin. Seal watching trips could be timed to fit the afternoon and pre-advertised to Sunday train visitors; special Sunday afternoon return flights from Oban Airport to Colonsay must be feasible.
Putting yourself out to make an event special and to make those who are part of it feel special is important. At the Oban end of the train journey, the pipers and the Oban and Lorn Tourism Association folk were strongly welcomed. But a good send off at Waverley would be subliminal marketing and would send everyone onto the train feeling that this event is party central and it’s for them.
As for the issue of the invisible scenery, it is dishonest to sell something on expectations you cannot fulfill. We know the West Highland Line well. We’ve travelled it in winter when more is visible and we shared the visitors’ frustrations at the briefest of intriguing gleams of water and outlines of peaks against the sky – behind a tracery of birch scrub or the curtain wall of heavy and established self-seeding timber belts.
Of course Scotland cannot afford to do everything at once, but it could identify particularly telling vistas from points of the railtrack – and from roads – and clear those stretches of their scrub veiling.
There is something fundamentally perverse about creating an experience based on the fabulous scenic views available – and expecting people to take it on trust that they exist because they are masked from sight.
These days, only walkers and sailors ‘see’ Scotland as they pass through and around it. Drivers and those using public transport are left to imagine it, with a few fleeting prompts.
We need to make visible the secrets we’re sing as our national sales base.
Images accompanying this article are copyrighted to For Argyll by Lynda Henderson.