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Eric Schofield’s portrait of Craignure Pier in the morning light on 21 October 2019, with Isle of Mull berthed unusually stern-in

As evidence of two unusual visits to Mull last year, Eric Schofield can offer little more than a pair of bus tickets but, together with the photographs he took, they have set him on a trail of reminiscence going back to childhood.

Eric Schofield

During 2019, two remarkably different days’ sailing out of Oban to Mull provided me with experiences well worth recording, even though the sailings themselves were not particularly special.

What was of interest was, first, the opportunity on Saturday 1 June to achieve the rare if not unique feat of travelling by four different ferries to and from Craignure in one day.

Second, on Monday 21 October I had the chance to visit the former David MacBrayne pier at Lochaline on MV Lochinvar, bringing to the fore memories of visits to that traditional wooden pier on various vessels in times past.

Deprived of the opportunity to retain any of the tickets for my Oban/Craignure journeys or the Fishnish/Lochaline return crossing, I only have the bus tickets for the Craignure/Fishnish runs as a memento (see illustration further down the page).

Craignure x 4

On the first occasion, with Clansman out of commission due to an engine failure from Monday 27 May to Wednesday 5 June, the rosters of seven ferries were amended in whole or in part over that period. The revised arrangements for Saturday 1 June stood out (a mixture of delayed, early, additional and cancelled sailings), and careful study of the revised rosters showed that Isle of Mull, Isle of Lewis, Coruisk and Lord of the Isles would all serve Craignure at some point during the day and that an enthusiast (who else?), armed with a couple of return tickets and of course camera, could encompass travel on all four as follows:

Isle of Lewis at Craignure on the afternoon of 1 June 2019, viewed from Coruisk

Isle of Mull from Oban at 1015, arriving Craignure at 1100 (the ferry then heading off to Coll and Tiree)

Isle of Lewis from Craignure 1200 to Oban, arriving at 1245 (on her inbound passage from Barra to Oban)

Coruisk from Oban at 1415, arriving Craignure at 1510 (the normal 1400 sailing, delayed by 15 mins)

Lord of the Isles from Craignure at 1610 to Oban, arriving at 1655 (a 1455 from Oban return sailing fitted in between arrival at Oban from Lochboisdale and departure thereto at 1720)

The packed activity of the day was rounded off with a chance to record the delayed berthing of Hebridean Isles from Islay and Colonsay, caused by the additional trips to and from Craignure required of Isle of Lewis.

Landing at Lochaline Pier 

The rebuilding of the Lochaline slipway, including improvements to the vehicle marshalling area, necessitated withdrawal of the Sound of Mull vehicle ferry service from Monday 21 October to Sunday 1 December 2019. During this period MV Lochinvar was scheduled to provide a passenger only service from Lochaline to Fishnish utilising the old David MacBrayne pier, regular services to which had been withdrawn in September 1986.

So, on that first day of the temporary service I found myself in the early hours at Oban for Isle of Mull’s first crossing of the day to Craignure. Not just a normal sailing this, as the vessel’s bow ramp was inoperable and she had to load/unload by her stern ramp at both terminals.

Lochinvar at Lochaline Pier on 21 October 2019

The unfamiliar view of Isle of Mull stern-in at Craignure was made even more special as the diffused light of the rising sun spread a mauve glow over the early morning scene.

This being the first day of the CalMac winter timetable, I was not sure of the bus connection up to Fishnish as the Traveline website was still showing the summer service, in which there was no Monday morning connection for this particular sailing.

On arrival at Craignure there was no sign of a Tobermory-bound bus, so after taking some photos and still no sign of a bus, I set out to walk to Fishnish.

Having proceeded just 150 yards from the bus stop, I glanced round and saw a bus without a lit destination screen coming along. I stuck out my hand, more in hope than expectation, but thankfully the driver stopped.

This was the winter timetabled school bus, the service starting from Lochbuie Crossroads, running some seven minutes late, so not now due to reach Fishnish until two minutes after Lochinvar was scheduled to depart.

As the bus drew down to the ferry slip Lochinvar was still there, but the bow ramp was already up. Seeing me alighting from the bus, the skipper lowered the ramp specially and I hurried aboard.

The clear skies of the morning were gradually being lost as a thickish band of cloud spread from the west, but I managed a few shots of Lochinvar lying at Lochaline Pier before the sun said goodbye for the day.

The 1908 Lochinvar arriving at Lochaline Pier in the mid 1950s

It was whilst chatting with some of the crew and CalMac’s shore-based staff as I awaited the return sailing at 1000 that the comment was made about it being nearly 65 years since the original 1908-built Lochinvar last called at the pier, and there may still be some locals who travelled on it and might take a trip on the current Lochinvar.

It was only then that I realised I was certainly the first person who could claim the distinction of sailing into Lochaline Pier on both vessels named Lochinvar, although back in 1946 I was with the family en route to Tobermory, so did not land from the first Lochinvar. I was only two years old at the time, so it is no surprise that I have no recollection of the occasion.

Lochaline pier is now little more than a landing stage, devoid of its once well maintained and brightly painted waiting room, office and storeroom building as seen from Columba in 1972 (see further down the page).

The trim nature of the pier speaks for itself in the 1976 view of Iona calling on her way to Castlebay and Lochboisdale. The flagpole from which a signal flag was flown when there was passenger traffic awaiting the scheduled steamer can clearly be seen. If no traffic was on offer, or due to be landed, the steamers would more often than not omit the call.

The buildings and loading gantry for the silica sand shipped from there, as seen in the picture from onboard Lochnevis preparing to call in 1967, and of the coastal cargo vessel Saint Aidan being loaded, were removed when the sand mine closed in 2008.

When the mine was re-opened in 2012 a new access point and pier were created further within the loch.                               

If ever a photo could convey the laid-back pace of highland life, seemingly always evident at Lochaline, then Columba’s arrival in August 1972 is that picture (see further down page).

Who would have thought that a temporary service on a short car ferry crossing in these rather austere times could engender such pleasant memories from decades past?

Isle of Mull leaving Craignure for Coll and Tiree on the morning of 1 June 2019, with Isle of Lewis waiting to berth

Arriving from Barra en route to Oban on 1 June 2019, Isle of Lewis eases into the Craignure linkspan

Coruisk, newly arrived from Oban, waits patiently for Isle of Lewis to depart Craignure

Lord of the Isles berthing at Craignure on her 1540 sailing from Oban on Saturday 1 June 2019

Bow to bow: before leaving Oban for home on Saturday 1 June 2019, Eric Schofield recorded the delayed arrival from Colonsay of Hebridean Isles, with a broken-down Clansman blocking the No 1 berth

The Craignure-Fishnish bus tickets handed to Eric Schofield on 21 October 2019

The picturesque sight ofMV Lochinvar at Lochaline Wood Pier on 21 October 2019. Among the green containers on the pier are a temporary generator and attendant oil supplies for re-charging the ship’s batteries

Laid-back pace of highland life: MV Columba arrives at Lochaline in August 1972

The neatly painted Lochaline Pier building, viewed from the deck of MV Columba

The coastal cargo vessel Saint Aidan loading sand at Lochaline in the days when it was a busy working pier

Iona calling at Lochaline on her way to the Outer Isles in 1976. Note the flagpole with flag flying to notify vessels to call

The old MacBrayne days: a 1967 view from the foredeck of the 1934 Lochnevis approaching Lochaline Pier

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ALL TICKETS PLEASE — the series so far:
Excursion to Ardrishaig with return journey up-river to Glasgow
Helensburgh to Holy Loch Cruise
Ardgour to Nether Lochaber (Corran)
Princes Dock to Ardrishaig and back via the Millport Illuminations
Campbeltown to Craigendoran
Campbeltown to Red Bay
Arran Embarkation Tickets and Brodick/Craigendoran single
Tobermory to Drimnin
Gourock/Kilcreggan return
The Short Sea Route and Larne/Islandmagee ferry
Up-river to view QE2 before launch
Glenfiddich pub menu (holiday trip to Denmark)
Midsummer amendments at Oban
Oban to Oban via Craignure, Lochaline and Corran
Cairnryan to Belfast with Stena Line
Visits to Gigha over the past 50 years
●     ●     ●     ●     ●     ●     ●     ●

Published on 4 April 2020