The Heather Hopper bus service, linking Strathdon and Deeside with Strathspey, makes a welcome return next week (Monday 3 July).
A pilot re-introduction of the Heather Hopper – which was withdrawn in the 1990’s – is being supported financially by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Aberdeenshire Council and The Highland Council.
Since the establishment of the Cairngorms National Park in 2003, there hasn’t been a cross-Park bus service. However, during the summer months (July – September) visitors and residents will have the opportunity to explore the National Park using public transport like never before.
The 501, twice daily service is being operated jointly, on behalf on the funding partners, by bus companies D&E Coaches and Stagecoach Bluebird. Stagecoach Bluebird will take passengers from Ballater to Grantown-on-Spey via Colnabaichin, Strathdon and Tomintoul. Meanwhile, D&E Coaches will take passengers from Inverness to Ballater, via Carr-Bridge, Dulnain Bridge, Grantown-on-Spey, Tomintoul, Colnabaichin and Strathdon. The D&E Coaches bus will offer free bike carrying facilities.
In a further move, Stagecoach Bluebird is introducing a commercial service to compliment the 501. The 502 Heather Hopper will connect Aberdeen and Perth running to Strathdon via the A944, then to Ballater and down the A93 to Braemar, Glenshee, Pitlochry, Dunkeld and Perth.
Launching the 501 service in Ballater next Monday will be Cllr Bruce Luffman, an Aberdeenshire Councillor and CNPA Board Member. He said: “Accessible transport is a basic need that becomes all the more difficult to provide in rural areas and the Park Authority has a role to play in addressing these concerns. With 80 per cent of visitors coming to the National Park by car and many residents feeling they need a car to get around, it is important that residents and visitors alike have the choice to use forms of transport that are less damaging to the environment.”
Cllr Alison McInnes of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee said: “Aberdeenshire Council is delighted to be able to support the reintroduction of the Heather Hopper. This is a good example of partnership working and will provide people with convenient access to public transport across the Cairngorms National Park for the whole of the summer period.”
Robert Andrew, Managing Director of Stagecoach Scotland said: “We are delighted to be introducing a new 502 service and to be involved in providing the transport for the reintroduction of the 501 Heather Hopper service. We would encourage the public to make use of these services over the summer months to enjoy great days out.”
John Thorne, the CNPA’s Economic Development Officer added: “The re-introduction of the Heather Hopper is a boost for the National Park in many ways. It will mean that people can ditch their cars and use environmentally friendly public transport instead. It will also help inclusiveness objectives, meaning that those without access to a car will have the opportunity to explore the Park and make journeys which they couldn’t have done previously. We will be undertaking research over the course of the summer to gauge the popularity of the Heather Hopper. If successful we would hope to see the return of the service again next year, over a longer period.”
One of the priorities for action in the emerging National Park Plan is ‘providing quality opportunities for outdoor access’, which includes the provision of suitable public transport where possible. The consultation period on the Draft National Park Plan comes to an end this week and feedback received already – especially from young people – is that public transport to and from rural areas of the Park is an issue.
For more timetable information on the Heather Hopper 501 or 502 please contact the service providers direct. D&E Coaches tel: 01463 222444 / Stagecoach Bluebird tel: 0870 6082608.