Have you ever wondered how Hamish gets to all these places? Come along then and read about a day in the life of the Tourist Guide Hamish is travelling with.
It is mid-April and the first time to welcome cruiseship guests in Oban, on the West Coast of Scotland, since the summer of 2019. They are coming for an afternoon excursion, so we have time to travel in from Glasgow. The bus stop looks a little frosty in the morning light and the trees are still bare.
We arrive early at Queen Street Station to print out the train tickets and get a coffee. The train to Oban and Fort William / Mallaig is ready and we leave Glasgow at 8:20 in the morning. There were supposed to be two tourist guides travelling from Glasgow, but my colleague was cancelled two days ago, because numbers for excursions are low. A long and beautiful journey begins along the Firth of the River Clyde, the Gare Loch, Loch Long, Loch Lomond and into the West Highlands. This must be one of the most beautiful journeys to work. At Crianlarich Station the 4 carriages of the train are separated; two continue west to Oban and the other two north to Fort William and Mallaig. From Tyndrum we follow the same route our excursion will take this afternoon. We arrive in Oban at 11:30.
Report time at the pier is only at 13:45, plenty of time to wander around the town, see what has changed and have some lunch. I can’t resist a visit to the CalMac Ferry terminal, which gives Oban the status of the gateway to the isles. Oh, I so long to visit the Hebrides again. Meanwhile here in Oban, the tide is low. Luckily the new marina is finished, where the cruiseship tenders will have an easy berth and guests can walk up the shiny new pier.
The ferries are going out and the cruiseship is coming in. In the photo you can see Hurtigruten’s MS Spitsbergen appear at the northern tip of the small island of Kerrera. At the pier the goundhandler’s port co-ordinator, the Town’s Ambassadors, the Piper and the Tourist Guides are getting ready. There will be a number of walking tours and two coach excursions – one to Inveraray Castle and ours entitled ‘Scottish Highlands and Glencoe’. Waiting here is a great opportunity to exchange the latest news with colleagues, especially our local experts, and to do some last minute co-ordination. The first tender, carrying the ship’s shore excursion team, arrives and tells us that the guests for the Scottish Highlands are coming ashore first. There will be about 3 to 4 tenders to fill our coach, which has now also pulled up alongside. A quick hello and check in with the driver, signs into the window, check for safety features to be announced … and the Piper strikes up. The guests are arriving. ‘Welcome to Mainland Scotland!’ – all other calls are in the islands. Eyes and ears open as guests embark the coach: It is a mixed group, different languages, ages, preparedness for the expedition (as excursions are called with Hurtigruten). The expedition co-ordinator will come with us. Bang on time at 14:15 the excursion leaves the pier – after about 7 hours travelling and waiting, work can begin.
After a one-hour scenic drive along the coast of the Loch Linnhe we arrive at the Glencoe Visitor Centre, managed by the National Trust of Scotland. A lot of work has been done since my last visit in 2019: a different way to enter and navigate the centre, a brand new exhibition with a new film and a refurbished and larger Café. Hamish was looking forward to exploring the new Turf and Creel House, but it is closed today. There is some feedback from the guests: We want photostops and … commentary in German as well as English. The Expedition Co-ordinator confirms the tour was advertised and sold as an English-speaking tour, but if at all possible, give a summary in German. Off we go again into sunny Glencoe for a 10-minute photostop and the scenic drive continues towards Rannoch Moor, plenty of stories along the way. We make it into the Green Welly Stop at Tyndrum for the last 15 min of opening time and our much appreciated comfort stop. The last leg of the excursion takes us along Loch Awe with the intriguing ruin of Kilchurn Castle until we reach Loch Etive again and once more see the tidal race of the Falls of Lora in good flow. We arrive back at pier on time at 18.30 and the rain starts. Good byes and thanks you and hopefully good memories. Check out with the port co-ordinator, quick feedback and a bit of a wait until the train home. After dinner the sun comes out again and brings another chance for photographs.
The MS Spitzbergen sails south to Islay (middle photo). Our train leaves at 20:35 and takes us back to Glasgow. The sun sets over Loch Etive and twilight lingers. Day trippers and hillwalker populate the train. When we arrive in Glasgow, just before midnight, the buses have stopped – quick taxi home.
A long, but successful day comes to an end: 6 hours travel, 4 hours wait for 4.5 hours work. I’m cold and I’m looking forward to my bed. Tomorrow will be a desk-based day for reporting, follow-up and preparation of future tours.
Sadly, this was the first and last of my cruiseship excursions from Oban this year. All other excursions start in the morning. It is not cost-effective for the groundhandlers to pay for a guide’s overnight in Oban and it is impossible to make it there by public transport on time. Driving is not a sustainable option, in many ways.