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Skye with Dad 2020 – York to Fort William

Intro: A dementia-friendly holiday to Scotland

Dad has dementia, and it was reasonably clear that this would likely be the last chance for the two of us to do something this ambitious together, as his needs were increasing at a fairly rapid pace. The reason for the trip was really two-fold – a chance for father and son to reprise a pair of trips to this region made a decade previously in simpler times; and a chance for mum to have a few days to her own devices, with no-one’s needs trumping hers.

The timing turned out to be very fortuitous, with our trip booked to take place just a couple of weeks before the first covid lockdown – as dad’s condition has progressed over the last 12 months, this really turned out to be the very last chance for this trip to take place.

I love planning itineraries, but this one needed to be a bit different – i wanted us to revisit lots of places we’d been to in previous trips, but in a way that would require minimal levels of physical activity, in particular lots of stairs (a particular challenge), and also where we could have a chance just to “be” together. Dad’s dementia is a particular type which comes with (or even began with) aphasia, so long, in-depth conversations wouldn’t be a feature.

On our previous trips we’d driven the whole way up, but this time, as we both enjoy rail travel, we decided to take the train.

Planning the journey

Day one would see us heading from York to Fort William, where we had a night booked in the Premier Inn just by the Railway Station. The East Coast Mainline to Edinburgh offers plenty of possibilities for different train companies, and as we wanted to ensure leisurely changes of train in both Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street, I decided to book us onto the 0722 TPE service, rather than on one of the East Coast trains. Cue the first problem – TPE cancelled the 0722 at late notice, potentially throwing the whole plan into jeopardy – as there are only four trains a day to FW, missing the connections could lead to a five and a half hour wait in Glasgow – not very dementia (or indeed anyone else) friendly. Having said that, a bit of begging and pleading, and reasoning with the LNER station manager in York (a huge thank-you) got us a pass onto an LNER service up to Edinburgh instead (our ticket was a TPE-only one). The LNER first class breakfast remains excellent (even on a quiet weekend train), and we were soon enjoying the great views – Durham Cathedral, Lindisfarne, the cliffs over the North Sea as we sped towards Edinburgh.

In early March 2020, people were beginning to change their habits as the impact of Covid-19 became more keenly felt. All the trains we travelled on were relatively quiet, with a number of reserved seats left unused for example.

From Edinburgh to Glasgow

Changing trains in Edinburgh was really simple – although the station is complex with platform numbers seemingly rather random in pattern, we had left plenty of time, and there were lifts between the platform level and the bridge levels. We had booked separate tickets for this section (i learnt a lot about split ticketing and the different validity periods of various railcards when planning this trip), and were back into standard class! We would be using one of the 4-per-hour Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street express services on Scotrail’s new electric trains. Very comfy, plenty of room, and Scotrail serves the best hot drinks from the trolley (with excellent local shortbread) of any train company I’ve travelled with. The journey is only 45minutes, but there was still time for a quick drink onboard.

In Glasgow, a city I really love having been there a few times with work, and also with family, we had enough time to head out of the station (all level access) to grab a sandwich, before boarding the early afternoon service over the West Highland Line to Fort William.

The West Highland Line

This line is well-known for its spectacular views, often inclement weather, and the tough landscape the train has to head through. It takes the best part of four hours to travel the 110 or so miles to Fort William, so definitely more time for the odd cup of tea and piece of shortbread on the train! To be honest, the weather was being pretty Scottish, and views of the higher mountains (with snow) were few and far between, but we greatly enjoyed just watching the scenery (which varies from urban Glasgow, to the River Clyde, to great Lochs, forest, Rannoch Moor, the mountains of the Highlands and rushing rivers) changing, taking a few grainy, through-the-window pictures, and being together. For me, highlights were the small bridge over a footpath where I’d been walking with Mrs T and the children 6 months previously, the long slog over Rannoch Moor, and the wonderful descent above Loch Treig towards Tulloch.

In Fort William, all we had to do we find the Premier Inn, chose what to eat in the attached bar/restaurant and head off to bed to rest after a long and beautiful day of travelling.