Day 1: Wednesday 16 October 2019
Our pre-boked taxi arrived on time at 09:30 and conveyed Margaret and me to Preston Railway station. It was my 73rd birthday and in celebration we were embarking on a visit to Glasgow and The Highlands. As a follow-up to last year’s ‘recce’ visit, this year’s was to allow a little more time in Glasgow, with a double overnight stay.
Having chosen the railway as our mode of transport, we bought a ‘Two Together’ railcard, which allows discount of a third off the price of all tickets we buy during the next year. The first tickets purchased were for the Trans Pennine Express service from Preston to Glasgow. We found the service to our liking! Our advanced booking had allocated forward facing seats, without a table but with a drop-down seat-back shelf and, most importantly, lots of legroom! The approximate 2 hour 50 minute journey was very comfortable and weather conditions made for favourable views from the carriage window. Unfortunately I didn’t have my phone to hand when presented with a particularly snap-worthy Lake District stream, tumbling down a mountain, within view!
Upon arrival at Glasgow Central Station we detrained to the shuttle bus waiting outside, for the five minute transfer to Queen Street Station, next door to the Millennium Hotel where we were to stay. Despite being 40 minutes early we were allowed to book in and, into our room. Compared to the – ‘executive double room, city view (overlooking George Square), 441 sq. ft. with a king bed’ – secured last year at the bargain price of £78 for one night, this year’s room at £166.26 for two nights, was a distinct comedown! Although we still had the view over the square, the room and bed were only just big enough!! The heated towel rail wasn’t heated and, although we had abundant hot water this stay, the push-lock plug in the wash basin would not push-release and I had to leave my shaving water for housekeeping to empty – we didn’t risk pushing down the plug again!
1. Cathedral Quarter
First on our site-seeing itinerary was the Cathedral Quarter with several attractions to choose from upon arrival. Setting off on foot, we had ascended North Hanover Street and had proceeded some way along Cathedral Street when it started to rain as we came within a stone’s throw of the cathedral but, as we were equally close to The Howgait pub, we decided to abandon the rain and have a late lunch, while optimistically waiting for the sun to come out! The sun was shining as we left the pub following excellent individual steak and ale pie meals and a couple of pints of cider each!!
2. Glasgow Necropolis
By this time the Cathedral was closed so I suggested we climbed to the summit of the Necropolis to take advantage of views over Glasgow in the sunshine. I told Margaret that this was the dead center of Glasgow and that people had been dying to get in here for centuries. After a tour of the Necropolis it was abundantly obvious that a shed-load of money has been spent on the fulfilment of that desire – as can be seen by the photos . . .
Slideshow of Glasgow Necropolis Photos – 01′:31″
3. St Mungo
Back down in the Cathedral Quarter, we squeezed in a quick tour of the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, just before it closed for the day, then retraced our steps on our walk back to the hotel.
We were hoping for a repeat dining experience to that we enjoyed here last year but were even more disappointed than we were with our room. The restaurant was closed (as it was last year) although the conservatory, with its view over George Square was again available. Margaret remembers being presented with two menus last year; a bar menu and a main menu, with us making our selections from the main menu. I remember that we were both highly impressed with our meals and looking forward to a return visit. On reflection, the one menu we were offered appeared to be a bar menu: the starter choice was so limited that neither of us could find anything suitable; the mains choices were also limited. I can’t remember the ponsy name, nor exactly what was in my meal but the ingredients looked to my taste and indeed it was tasty. However, it resembled nothing more spectacular than a tipped out can of Heinz Big Soup when presented in its bowl. Margaret was not impressed by her two little pieces of duck! Adding a pint of Guinness and a large glass of Shiraz brought the bill to what we may have expected to pay for a single course of adequate portions with included sides from a wide choice menu. We shall not be returning!!
Day 2: Thursday 17 October 2019
Last year we had found the hotel’s cooked breakfast overpriced and not even of acceptable quality. That, together with the previous night’s dining experience, saw us breakfasting at a small café close to the entrances of both Queen St over-ground and Buchanan St subway stations. There we had full Scottish breakfasts – at a third of the charge the hotel were asking!
1. Provand’s Lordship
Following breakfast, we called in at Buchanan St station to buy our all-day subway ride tickets before heading once more for the Cathedral. On arrival at the Cathedral Quarter we were drawn to Provand’s Lordship 1471 – Oldest House in Glasgow. It doesn’t take very long to look around its three floors but provides a good insight into what life there was like during the passing centuries. Behind is a tranquil herb garden with abundant seating arrangements for relaxing and perhaps some reflective thinking!
2. Glasgow Cathedral
In contrast, the Cathedral requires much more consideration. There is a wealth of matter to be observed and digested within; several hours could easily be passed trying to take in all that is on offer. I didn’t take any photos as I thought they would be unable to reproduce the majesty bestowed from personally being there, together with the ability to read the texts accompanying the many historic artefacts. As if the vastness of the Cathedral and variety of the contents were not enough to astound us, we found some steps within leading down – to a medieval church beneath the Cathedral!
3. Glasgow Subway
After a walk back to Buchanan St subway station we chose the Outer Circle, to take us the long way round, to Partick so that we may more appreciate our first Glasgow Subway experience on the way to our next activity.
4. Tallship and Riverside Museum
A short walk from Partick subway brought us to The Tallship at Riverside and the Riverside Museum, both family friendly and very worth visiting – although I suspect they both may be a little claustrophobic if busy. We were fortunate, it being midweek off-season and so, relatively quiet! . . .
Slideshow – Tallship & Riverside Museum – 01′:12″
5. Argyll Arcade and Buchanan Galeries
After walking back over to Partick we caught the subway train to St Enoch, this time by way of the Inner Circle, then walked across to Argyll Arcade (Margaret’s ‘Heaven’) – four floors of jewellery shops! As my feet, legs and body were now beginning to succumb to all the walking and sight-seeing, I was not relishing standing gazing into a host of shop windows! I found salvation in the form of Sloans Bar, where I relaxed with a pint while Margaret did a tour of the Arcade. We had another drink after Margaret joined me, before completing our circumnavigation of the subway system with the one-stop journey from St Enoch to Buchanan Street, continuing on foot to Buchanan Galleries, where Margaret browsed John Lewis as I waited in a comfy seating area!
On one of our journeys between Buchanan St Station and the hotel we spotted Waxy O’Connor’s so, as we had enjoyed the Waxy O’Connor’s in Manchester, decided to dine here once we had freshened up.
The pub was well filled, with a warm atmosphere and, although there was a live band playing, we were able to converse without having to shout. As we were saving our “Gourmet” dining experience for the following evening, we both chose Waxy’s Steak Burgers, although there was a large choice on offer from the bar menu. It was a wise decision as these proved to be more nourishing and filling than the previous night’s meal – at half the price!
Day 3: Friday 18 October 2019
Shunning breakfast at the hotel once more, our priority was to check out, grab a newspaper, drink and snack then get to the station and catch the train to Mallaig. Greggs was this morning’s choice: tea and a baguette for Margaret, a coffee and toastie for myself. Having checked out, we pulled our cases behind as we turned the corner from the hotel and climbed part way up the hill to the bus stop to wait for the shuttle bus to take us to Glasgow Central Station. Unfortunately we didn’t know what the bus would look like nor what number it would display. By the time the bus we required was close enough for us to read its destination it was too late for us to stop it and it sailed by without stopping! Although we had plenty of time to wait for the next one in 15 minutes time we decided to walk to the station, the reasoning being that we would arrive before the next bus and it would remove any chance of missing the next bus or it not turning up. Checking the destinations board revealed no details of our journey, then enquiries revealed we were at the wrong station!! After all the careful planning, checking and re-checking how could I have made such a basic error?
Our train would be leaving in 24 minutes time, from Queen St Station next door to our hotel!! We rushed out of the station and into St Enoch station for a one-stop subway ticket to Buchanan St station which adjoins Queen St. The sympathetic teller assured us that we would just make the train on time, then waivered the charge for the tickets! We arrived on the platform with no time to locate our coach, being ushered onto the train and told to find it once onboard, as the guard signalled the train to leave!! Even after locating the coach, and our seats, it took several minutes before I had caught my breath and was able to make myself comfortable in my seat.
On Our Way
As we moved out through the suburbs of Glasgow I reflected on how we had nearly missed out on an afternoon travelling Scotland’s most scenic railway line together with an overnight stay at an idyllic Highland hotel. However, once the countryside began to open up and the River Clyde came into view, the beauty unfolding outside the window gradually calmed and smoothed my mood.
I can imagine how, on foggy or rain-lashed days with steamed up carriage windows, the ability to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding countryside on this journey might not be afforded. However, we were blessed with bright 🌞 for nearly all of the 5h:20m journey. Obviously it was impracticable to take continuous photos throughout the whole 5 hours+ (a fellow passenger managed to capture a magnificent stag via telephoto lens), but I have managed to put together a collection that gives an indication of what is out there as you travel . . .
West Highland Railway – Views from a Train Carriage – 2′:29″
It was around 5.45 pm when we alighted at Mallaig. I knew from Google Maps that the hotel was within easy walking distance! What I hadn’t anticipated was what I saw on the sign ahead; and then what my eyes saw when I looked in the direction the arrow pointed on the sign depicting ‘West Highland Hotel up the hill’. Nor did I anticipate the long flight of steps up through the garden to the hotel! To avoid the steps we pulled our suitcases up the pavement to the side of the hotel so that we could approach it on the level. The ‘climbing’ theme continued as we heard the couple checking in ahead of us being apologetically informed that the hotel did not have a lift! They were also informed that they had been given an upgrade. Upon our check-in we were given the same information, including that we too had been given an upgrade. Accepting that we wouldn’t be ‘Running Up That Hill’, a la Kate Bush, we happy with our lot and would be grateful should the room would be comfortable. After booking a table for our evening meal we climbed the three or more flights of steps to our room which was – where else, but on the top floor!!
Anxious to settle in and then freshen up for dinner, we opened our room door to a wonderous sight! The window facing us was like a panoramic screensaver, with the setting sun, the sea and the view over the islands. The wow factor didn’t end there; the room was cosy, comfortable and large enough to move around and lay-out the suitcases. The ensuite bath/shower was sparkling and modern and the bed comfortable. The five-hour-plus journey and our strenuous route from station to bedroom was well worth the effort. – We were going to enjoy our stay!!
After reading a sample menu I had been savouring the prospect of an excellent meal – ramping up expectations and therefor the risk for disaster (especially after our experience at The Brasserie).
What a trouper! After we had ordered our starters, what looked like surgical instruments (actually, claw shaped shell crushers and a lobster pick) were delivered to Margaret. She commented, “It looks like we are going to have a battle on our hands” and then, when her starter arrived, “They’re all looking at me!” To her credit, she competently completed the task in front of her and finished her starter – and she’s the fussy eater!! I wouldn’t have had a bloody clue!!!
Margaret had ordered Grilled Mallaig Langoustines served with Garlic Butter, which she thoroughly enjoyed, whereas my adventurous choice was for Mallaig Parton Cheesecake (Avocado & lime sorbet, Bloody Mary gel). That was a new experience for me! Although it initially tasted like ice-cream, the combination of ingredients worked well as a palate cleanser. My initial thought, there was very little compared to Margaret’s starter, was dispelled once I started eating it! It remained tasty throughout, lasting longer than I expected, sufficiently taking the edge off my hunger but leaving me still eagerly anticipating my main course.
Margaret’s main choice was 8oz Pan Fried Sirloin Steak Chunky chips, grilled tomato & mushrooms. I chose Venison despite Margaret’s warning it was a meat that, if not cooked absolutely to perfection, might upset my already medication accelerated digestive system! The meal closely resembled this photo from the restaurant . . .
. . . but I also had a garnish of whole baby carrots with little tufts of green poking from the top ‘Bugs Bunny’ like, and laid across the meat. I think there was also some speciality sweet potato mash? The sticky spiced red cabbage, creamy mash, cabbage/spinach? and red wine jus? were much as in the photo. I also ordered a side of onion rings – a bowl of eight were served up!
Yes, the meal cost more than we are used to paying, but the quality was higher than what we are accustomed to when dining out! Every item of the entire meal: starters, meat, accompaniments, sides; for the pair of us, was cooked perfectly and to our taste. The atmosphere of the dining room was warm and inviting and, had it not been dark, we would have had the same view over the sea to the islands as afforded from our bedroom window. Our disappointing return to the Millennium Hotel, and The Brasserie restaurant, had well and truly been compensated by our satisfaction on this visit to the West Highland Hotel and The Terrace Restaurant.
Day 4: Saturday 19 October 2019
The morning train from Glasgow would have required us to be checked out, breakfasted and boarding by 08:23, whereas the evening train would have seen our arrival in Mallaig at 23:35! The mid day train (12:24) which arrived at 17:43, together with similar consideration for the return journey, was a compromise as, although it was the most practical by way of meeting both departure and arrival preferences, it left no time to spend exploring Mallaig. I was conscious of this, while tagging on Mallaig, when planning what was originally to be just a two-night stay in Glasgow. Having researched the West Highland Line, the West Highland Hotel and a sample menu from the Terrace Restaurant, I surmised that it might be rewarding – even if we were to forgo spending time in Mallaig.
Indeed, the excursion served as a taster for a return next year, on a two-night stay, with an over-night in Glasgow on our way home! We’ve even got our eye on a hotel to replace the Millennium – it’s next door to Waxy O’Connor’s!!
Despite our reluctance to pay what we feel to be unrealistic prices for a hotel cooked breakfast, we reservedly took our seats and, while sipping on orange juices from the self-serve, browsed the menu. Unlike the Main Menu, the Breakfast Menu was extensive – the cooked selection as well as continental options. Margaret selected her preferences from the items that make up a Full Scottish Breakfast whilst I chose Eggs Benedict, another first – which I had long been curious about! Service was prompt and the food excellent, reflecting the Terrace Restaurant quality which made the expense more palatable. Even so, I still can’t see how charging £25 for our breakfasts can be justified!
There are several negative reviews of this hotel, the restaurant, breakfast and service which appear to be adverse to our experience. That’s not to say those people were lying – our experience at the Millennium was adverse to last year’s. However, in conclusion we were enthralled enough to want to return next year for double the stay – we may even splash out again on ONE morning’s breakfasts, so that I may sample another first for me, from the alternative cooked breakfasts!
Journey Leaving Mallaig
As we boarded the train at 10:00 am, it was overcast and a little chilly but it brightened up enough to capture these final three pictures and the last video.
And . . . the final video . . .
Leaving Mallaig – Glenfinnen Viaduct – 00′:50″
Glasgow to Preston
There was no confusion this time, after we landed at Glasgow Queen Street Station, as we are now knowledgeable of the direct walking route, which is the quickest transfer option to Glasgow Central Station. We were able to board the waiting London Euston bound train, locate our seats and settle in well before its departure time. I have since found out that there is an option to leave the Queen Street Station bound train at Dalmuir Station and change there to the Queen Street Central bound train!
The Virgin Experience
And, finally . . . Neither Margaret nor I had ever travelled on a Virgin train – our Preston to Glasgow journey had been by Trans Pennine Express. It is 18 years since Virgin introduced their Pendolino trains. They were ahead of their time in this country, as yet are not too dated and are still extremely comfortable. Although designed to be able to travel at 140 mph, limitations to track signalling systems restrict the units to a maximum speed of 125 mph. I’d forgotten about Pendolino trains and was as surprised as Margaret as our train went into its first curve after having built up some speed! The train tilted over and the horizon moved skywards!! I felt that the speed even enhanced the mild gradients of the line, leading to the sensation of travelling on a very gentle funfair ride!
A short taxi ride from outside the station completed our journey home in anticipation of our next rail journey.