The touring coach will always be the basic method of transport for a group of people who have a lot to see in a fairly short time. Most of them nowadays have around 53 seats with fourteen rows of two seats on one side and twelve on the other with a second door where a tight little toilet is tucked in. We generally do not encourage its use because it has limited capacity and prefer people to use the public facilities, although they may have to pay to pee.
Because of driving hours and compulsory rest days for drivers the days of one man (usually) combining the role of tour manager and driver are largely over now and it is a two person operation with the driver – but not the guide – having compulsory days off during the trip. Establishing a good working relationship with your coach driver is one of the most important jobs of the guide/tour manager. It helps if you refer to him as a coach driver rather than a bus driver – although occasionally he becomes the latter if he can nip down a bus lane.
On this trip, as on most ones, we take a break from travelling on our coach to take a boat trip or a train ride. The boat trip was on Loch Ness, a great treat as I have been driven down the shores of the Loch many times but never cruised on it. We started just outside Inverness and ended at Urquhart Castle, once the largest in Scotland, now a ruin, destroyed 300 years ago, but the second most visited after Edinburgh. Even Nessie showed up.
We have also had a couple of interesting train rides, again ones I knew about but have never experienced. The first was on the Jacobite steam train from Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland to Fort William. It took the best part of two hours and, as is often the case in that area, it was damp and misty but it was interesting to go over the viaduct and see the Glenfinnan monument from above rather than below. The train is famous for being used in the Harry Potter films when Harry, Ron and Hermione travel along the Hogwarts’s Express to school – although we did not encounter any dementors on this journey.
Then today another new experience: the Snowdon Railway to the top of the highest British mountain outside Scotland. The ride was fun but the weather was not kind to us and, dressed for the summer, I got soaked walking the few steps up to the summit.
The coach will always remain the basic method of transport for the tour. Air-conditioned, flexible, speedy and able to take sixty or so suitcases, it is unlikely to ever be superseded. Taking other forms of transport does break things up, however, and provide novelty. I have yet to charter a plane on one of my trips. But you never know…