Armadale to Ardrossan – the slow way

Picture above: A CalMac ferry approaching the jetty in the harbour of Castlebay, Barra (photo © Donaldford /


Here is the answer to the Scottish Slow Travel Challenge we posted in the hidden europe Notes section on 19 February. The heart of the challenge was to tell us the latest possible date on which it would be possible to leave Skye in order to arrive at Ardrossan at or before noon on May Day.

Solving the Scottish Slow Travel Challenge

The challenge was to travel entirely by scheduled boat services from the island of Skye to the port of Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast, arriving in Ardrossan at or before noon on Sunday 1 May.

As in any competition, we set a few rules, but the heart of the challenge was to tell us the latest possible date on which it would be possible to leave Skye in order to arrive at Ardrossan at or before noon on May Day. The competition closing date was Friday 11 March. We were gratified by the large number of people who rose to the challenge.

The correct answer is Monday 21 March 2016. The last possible sailing one could take is the Caledonian MacBrayne sailing to Mallaig which leaves the Skye port of Armadale at 1815. Congratulations to Eden Pearson who came up with a perfect solution to the Scottish Slow Travel Challenge. We say a few words about Eden below.

Yes, believe it or not, it really would take 42 days to travel by sea on scheduled boat services from Skye to Ardrossan.

In this note, we say a few words about the journey (with an optimal solution).

The journey relies on a number of ferry services which operate only seasonally. There are three major timetable constraints. They are:

  • The Lochboisdale to Castlebay leg which runs for the last time, at least for the coming months, on Thursday 24 March.
  • The CalMac service from Campbeltown is seasonal and this year starts only on Friday 29 April.
  • There is no Ballycastle to Campbeltown run on the Kintyre Express between 11 and 29 April. In the challenge we set a condition specifying that overnight stops must be at least 14 hours long, so the last viable departure from Ballycastle is thus on Monday 11 April.

Here is a suggested itinerary which takes into account the complicated timetable constraints and the other conditions which we included into the original challenge.

8Wed6/4Colonsay18.15Port Askaig19.30CalMac
9Thu7/4Port Askaig15.30Kennacraig17.25CalMac
10Fri8/4Kennacraig10.00Port Ellen12.10CalMac
11Sat9/4Port Ellen15.00Ballycastle16.05Kintyre Exp
12Mon11/4Ballycastle16.30Campbeltown18.00Kintyre Exp

The total fare for the entire journey, using standard single fares, is £165.95. The two very pricey sectors are those operated by Kintyre Express which cost £45 each. This is a specialist service using a small but very fast boat. It carries just a dozen passengers. The total cost of the 12 CalMac sectors is a very modest £75.95.

This would be a fabulous journey to make, although in truth we are struggling to think what one would do during a compulsory 19 day layover in Campbeltown. It’s a nice enough wee town, but it is unlikely that anyone, in the entire history of tourism, has ever opted for a three-week holiday in Campbeltown.

In our sample itinerary above, we include stops in Tiree and Coll. It would of course be possible to travel on a direct boat from Castlebay to Oban and then include a longer stop there or on Colonsay or Islay.

Our itinerary above takes in eight Scottish islands: Skye, South Uist, Barra, Tiree, Coll, Colonsay, Islay and Arran. It includes five Scottish mainland ports: Mallaig, Oban, Kennacraig, Campbeltown and Ardrossan. It includes a couple of nights at Ballycastle on the coast of Antrim in Northern Ireland.

The winner Eden Pearson has recently relocated to the English Midlands after a spell living in Norway, where there was surely ample opportunity for studying complicated ferry timetables. Eden tells us he is "happily addicted to traveling through our wonderful continent". As the son of a travel writer, Eden may have had a slight edge over mere mortals trying to unravel the complexities of Scottish ferry timetables. His father is Michael Pearson, author of the "Pearson's Canal Companions" books which are the perfect guides for exploring Britain's inland waterways.

Our sincere thanks to all who entered the Scottish Slow Travel Challenge.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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