Spring time in the Cairngorms National Park means one thing – the return of the Heather Hopper bus service linking different areas of the Park.
The Heather Hopper provides the only cross-Park bus service and will run twice daily between Strathspey and Deeside from May to September. On alternate days it will run to Strathdon.
It is making a welcome return after a successful pilot scheme last year and will once again be funded by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and Aberdeenshire and Highland Councils.
One of the Priorities for Action in the Cairngorms National Park Plan, which sets out the Park’s short and long term future, is to provide high quality opportunities for outdoor access. The Heather Hopper will allow the public the opportunity to get out and explore more of the Park on public transport. It will also help to tackle climate change as it will encourage people to leave their cars at home.
David Green, the CNPA’s convener, said: “The Heather Hopper is providing a very important service as there is a need to improve public transport in rural areas to allow people to get around more easily.
“This will allow people who don’t have access to car to visit and enjoy more of the Park and it will make getting around easier. It will also provide residents and visitors with a more environmentally friendly means of travel.
“We are very glad to be co-funding the Heather Hopper again this year and hope as many people as possible use it to take them to parts of the Park they have always wanted to visit.”
Neil Stewart, Aberdeenshire Council's Principal Officer for Local Bus Services, said: ‘’We are delighted to co-fund the Heather Hopper Service 501 for a second year.
“This again demonstrates the Council’s commitment to partnership working and emphasises the added value that can be achieved by all interested parties working together.’’
Alison Magee, Convener of Highland Council, said: “We were pleased with the results of last year’s trial and the number of residents the survey identified who had used this service to access local facilities.
“The buses will provide visitors with the opportunity to explore a remote and beautiful part of the Highlands without having to provide their own transport. This will help to reduce the environmental impact of tourism on the Park.”
The 501 service will be launched on May 14th and will run until September 29th running seven days a week. A second service will be launched later in summer by Stagecoach, running from June 30th to August 11th, six days a week. Its 502 service will run between Banchory- Ballater- Braemar and Glenshee six days a week (starting and terminating between Pitlochry and Blairgowrie on alternate days).
The Heather Hopper was withdrawn in the 1990s, but was re-launched as a pilot scheme by the three partners last year to meet the need for rural public transport. A survey carried out at the time found it was very popular with residents and visitors. Further surveys will be carried out this year about its use and benefits to assist with discussions about extending the service for future years.
Timetable information on the Heather Hopper 501 or Stagecoach 502 is available from the Cairngorms Explorer, also available online at http://www.cairngorms.co.uk/park/visitors/explorer/index.php or from Highland Country Buses 01479 811 211 and Stagecoach 01224 212 266