Glaswegians have always looked forward to a break from the city, especially since the coming of the railways and steamships. Most of the escapes were downriver, and as late as the 1960s, the paddle-steamer Waverley, then a workhorse, now a heritage experience, had a timetable of sailings from the centre of Glasgow to Dunoon, Rothesay and Tighnabruaich (Tey-na-BROO-aich, the final ‘ch’ as in loch — “village on the bank”).
Take a train from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay and catch the ferry across the Firth of Clyde to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Marvel at the preserved curving corridor from the railway terminus to the pier at Wemyss Bay, designed to optimise the flow of people between the two. Rothesay was a prime holiday destination for Glaswegians until the 1960s: today, there is a strong commuter presence. There are cafés and traditional shops, and walks along the promenade for a relaxing day out. In the south of the island, Mount Stuart, the seat of the Earl of Bute, is a red sandstone delight, though on a day trip, you may need to use taxis, such is the bus timetable).
Loch Lomond may be reached by train (from the low level platform at Queen Street station) to Balloch and possibly a twenty-minute connection on the 309 bus from Balloch bus station (just across the bridge from the railway station) to Balmaha (the bus runs every ninety minutes, and that gap should be plenty of time for a quieter break by the water and a simple lunch in the Oak Tree Inn). Of course, Balloch has shops and restaurants too. The 0843 train from Queen Street will get you to Balloch at 0933, where there is a 25-minute wait for the bus to Balmaha, arriving at 1030. The 1013 train from Queen Street will give you the same connections, arriving in Balmaha at 1200. Just time for a look in the Tourist Centre. There are toilets at the bus station, and also 2.5km along the West Highland Way from Balmaha.
Into the West Highlands
The West Highland Line (trains from Queen Street station’s main concourse) runs along the north bank of the River Clyde, then takes a high route passing Gare Loch and Loch Long on the left, then Loch Lomond on the right, to reach Ardlui and then Crianlarich, where the route divides. The northern option crosses the moors to Fort William and continues to Mallaig — this is too far for a day trip (and in any case, the train will be packed with Potterites looking for the famous concrete viaduct at Glenfinnan). The southern branch will take you past Loch Awe (on the left) and on to Oban, the main port for the southern half of the Hebrides. Time for a lunch in Oban and the train back.
The 0821 train from Queen Street arrives in Oban at about 1130, and the 1441 train from Oban gets back to Glasgow at 1745. Taking the same train only as far as Arrochar and Tarbet will give you an hour to explore the sneaky route used by the Vikings (they sailed up Loch Long, carried their boats across the gap, and sailed down Loch Lomond, attacking Dumbarton Castle from behind). There is a village shop at the station, and a bar/restaurant which opens at noon (so the 1036 from Queen Street would give you two hours and time for lunch).
New Lanark is an industrial heritage site, where Adam Dale and Robert Owen set up a community (with a school and a church) around their textile mill on the banks of the upper River Clyde. It is now managed as a visitor attraction, with tours of the complex. There is a café on the site, and a short walk will take you to the Falls of Clyde.
Trains run every 30 minutes from the low-level platform of Central station, taking almost an hour, to Lanark, from where it is a short bus or taxi hop to New Lanark.