Eric Schofield’s knack of seeking out unusual excursion routes — and using the saved tickets to remind himself (and us) of what he got up to — has furnished readers of this series with a remarkable photographic diary of his exploits over the past 50 years.
The ticket this time is the return portion for a 2009 crossing to Mull that was not undertaken as expected, the journey being completed in an altogether more roundabout way. Who would think that the ‘run of the mill’ return sailing from Craignure to Oban depicted on the ticket (see below) hides an altogether more intriguing story?
No. 14 : A Long Way for a Short Sail
After an early drive up to Oban my original plan for the day was to cross on Isle of Mull’s 0930 sailing to Craignure, then get the bus up to Tobermory with a view to cruising from there on Waverley to Armadale and Inverie on her one-off trip into Loch Nevis — then back to Oban and drive home.
Little did I realise that the combination of a scorching hot day and the breakdown of the Barra ferry Clansman would give rise to a unique example of emergency planning and action, which had a successful if somewhat fraught conclusion.
When I arrived at Oban that Saturday morning, I was surprised to see Clansman still there when she should have left at 0700 for Coll and Tiree, and Lord of the Isles lying off in the bay seemingly with no intention of taking up her 0815 sailing to Lochboisdale. With Waverley getting steam up for her 1000 departure from the North Pier, my focus was on getting a nice picture of the paddler at the pier with Lord of the Isles positioned rather fortuitously in the background, and then hurrying round to the CalMac terminal building to get my ticket to board Isle of Mull.
It was only after we had left Oban for Craignure that I learnt from one of the crew that Clansman had broken down the previous day, requiring Lord of the Isles to make an emergency sailing late that evening to Coll and Tiree in her place. LOTI had not returned to Oban until just before 0700 on the Saturday morning. Having started the previous day in the Outer Hebrides, her officers and crew were required to take the appropriate rest period, hence the reason for lying off in Oban Bay.
The day was already warming up and the signs were that it would turn out to be a scorcher on the sail on Waverley round Ardnamurchan. At Tobermory, however, my plan began to unravel. Just as Waverley arrived, already packed to the gunwhales, I was informed that the entire ticket allocation for her trip had been taken up. Although it might just have been possible to board and purchase a ticket, I decided that a selection of pictures of the paddler at Tobermory would be preferable to being shoehorned aboard an overcrowded boat in baking heat for the next nine hours.
Just minutes after Waverley departed, Loch Linnhe arrived back at Tobermory from Kilchoan, making an ideal photographic centrepiece through a gap in the trees on the path to the lighthouse.
There was ample time for a snack lunch before catching the bus back down to Fishnish and a sail over to Lochaline on Loch Fyne. I enjoyed some good walking time and found good photo spots from which to picture the ferry going about its business.
On the way back across the Sound of Mull, what should pass off Fishnish but Isle of Mull, clearly heading for one or other of the outer islands. The crewman on Loch Fyne told me that she was doing the Coll and Tiree service, and that Lord of the Isles would cover Oban-Craignure, Clansman still being under repair.
Back at Craignure the biggest problem of the day became apparent as bus loads of day trippers from Iona were deposited at the pier and herded into the passenger access tunnel, which was like an oven in the still fiercely hot sunshine. It was very evident that we were not all going to get on Lord of the Isles, a ferry with a passenger capacity about half of Isle of Mull. When she sailed, now about an hour behind the scheduled 1700 departure, 95 passengers were left stranded — including me.
A member of staff from CalMac’s Craignure office gathered us as best he could to advise that, when she reached Oban, Lord of the Isles would be picking up her much delayed run to Lochboisdale. She would not be coming back for us, and there was no other vessel available.
We would be bussed up to Fishnish for the ferry to Lochaline, and more buses were being arranged to take us via the Corran ferry all the way back to Oban. I knew it would be a very late arrival there, but no indication of this was made to the assembled passengers, most of whom had little idea of the journey that faced them.
I was somewhat amused to think that here I was, going back to Lochaline when I had been there four hours earlier. Bowman’s buses duly dropped us at a deserted Fishnish and beetled off, leaving us in the welcoming arms of the Fishnish midges.
On arrival at Lochaline we were advised to wait beside the little wooden cafe building which, thankfully still being open, did considerable extra business over the next 35 minutes or so, as did the Lochaline midges with a bite more ferocious than that of their Mull cousins.
Eventually a coach arrived — a 53-seater. While the driver stood aside for a quick smoke, people started crowding aboard. The young kids in the crowd were by now weary and girny, and it became clear to me that some were not going to get on that bus. With no one taking command, I stood up on a large rock and shouted out that, as it was going to be a late return to Oban, surely those with youngsters should be allowed on this first bus. A group of lads who had been first aboard readily jumped off and their seats were taken by the families with youngsters. It was now nearing 2000, and still no sign of a second coach. Some 30 minutes later it arrived – a smaller 38-seater.
With 42 still to be transported it fell to four of these lads to sit on jackets or bags on the bus floor for a far-from-comfortable journey, the driver advising that he would go as fast as he could along the bumpy single track road to try and catch the last ferry from Ardgour at 2120.
He made it just in time. At Corran quite a number of passengers piled off the bus to use the public toilet facilities at the head of the slipway, and as we were about to depart someone shouted out that “the lad walking with the help of sticks is not back aboard”. Eventually it was discovered he was locked in a toilet block supervised by Highland Council ferry employees, one of whom was designated each day to lock the toilets before the last ferry. Clearly he had done so without checking if it was empty.
The ferry by this time was now almost back over at Ardgour. Thanks again went to a couple of the lads as they readily lent their shoulders to the task, bursting open the locked door to free the disabled person. Who says travelling by these little ferries is dull? The journey was completed without hassle, the coach arriving in Oban shortly after 2300 — not that much later than Waverley on her delayed return from Skye.
It was 2330 on my car clock as I set off on the 90-mile drive home along virtually empty roads — other than the A819 climb over to Inveraray when, for a fleeting moment, my headlights picked up a Scottish wildcat on the road ahead, before it sped off into the inky blackness.
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