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For many enthusiasts, the global pandemic has fostered a stay-at-home mentality. Undaunted, Eric Schofield recently experienced afresh the open expanse of the Sea of the Hebrides — without breaking travel restrictions. Spurred by his love of a good sea journey and an eye for unusual opportunities, Eric devised an itinerary that enabled him to travel from Glasgow to Lochboisdale and back in a day. Unlike other adventures in his CRSC series inspired by tickets, this latest CalMac trip necessitated printing the ticket at home on his own printer.
One of the changes brought to the fore by the 2020 pandemic is the requirement to book your passage in advance on the major CalMac Ferries.
This seems like an imposition for those of us with long experience of spur-of-the-moment decisions to jump on a boat — either because the weather is looking good, the ship is new to us, the sailing is somewhat different from the normal schedule, or it is not the usual ferry on the route. The urge for a day trip on one hand, and the need to plan ahead on the other, are not natural bedfellows.
A by-product of CalMac’s decision to require pre-booking, even for foot passengers, has been greater use of ‘print-at-home’ tickets — as represented at the top of this page by the outward portion of my day return ticket from Oban to Lochboisdale.
Also featured from that ‘Day Away’ are the Western Ferries single car and driver tickets from McInroy’s Point to Hunter’s Quay.
I had noticed on CalMac’s website that a special one-off return Oban-Lochboisdale sailing was scheduled for Wednesday 16 September. So, without concern for what the weather might be, I went ahead and booked my ticket about 10 days in advance. Come the day and the A83 (the notorious Rest-and-be-Thankful road) decided to get itself blocked by a landslide yet again.
No problem — that just meant an earlier departure than originally planned. Quite a bit earlier, in fact, as I decided I might as well make the most of a full day’s freedom, and travel on the first Western Ferries sailing of the day from McInroy’s Point to Hunter’s Quay, to avoid the extensive queuing and time-consuming wait for access to the Old Military Road detour, or the alternative (and at times tortuous) journey from Tarbet up to Crianlarich.
Sound of Soay carried me across the Firth in the heavily clouded morning light (sorry, no photographs). Nearing Cairndow, where the A815 meets the A83 (and thus avoiding Rest-and be Thankful), I had to drive on the wrong side of the road, round a blind bend, to pass the tailback of lorries unable to join the queue of eastbound vehicles stretching all the way (4+ miles) from the access point for the Old Military Road.
After a stop at Inveraray for a welcome breakfast roll and coffee, I reached Oban in plenty time to watch, from the North Pier, Isle of Mull sidling in to her usual berth on her early morning return from Craignure.
The underlying reason for my journey was to release myself from the seeming imprisonment brought on by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
There were, however, a couple of other significant factors influencing my decision. One was the rare opportunity for a day trip from Oban to the Outer Hebrides, giving nearly 10½ hours’ sailing plus one hour shore time. The other was the chance to repeat a favourite trip of years gone by, when Lord of the Isles gave this run on summer Saturdays, enabling me to see my sister who was resident in South Uist (and later Benbecula) at that time.
There was added interest in that the sailing was designed principally to provide livestock shipment on the return from Lochboisdale. As I write this some days after the event, the scent of lorry loads of sheep on the car deck is still in my nostrils!
With a bit of time on hand I walked out to Dunollie. Just past the Dogstone I espied my ferry for the day, Clansman, returning up the Firth of Lorn from her specially re-timed early Colonsay run.
The manoeuvres of Isle of Mull and Clansman at the entrance to Oban Bay occupied the camera lens before I made my way to the terminal departure lounge, where I and the two other foot passengers waited for the call to board.
Clansman was soon on her way, heading with purpose for the channel between Lismore and Lady’s Rock, so Isle of Mull on her return from Craignure decided the wiser option was to take the passage south of Lady’s Rock.
Off Craignure Isle of Lewis passed on her way in from Barra, and in the background Coruisk could be seen resting at the pier until her 1300 sailing was due.
For the remainder of the trip out to South Uist that was that as regards sight of further shipping, apart from the occasional yacht or fishing boat, but the extra 40 minutes’ sailing time given Clansman on the outward run seemed to allow some minor but interesting variation from the most direct course.
We passed closer to the Ardtornish Castle ruins than I had previously experienced, and then, out from Ardnamurchan, our course took us northward, considerably nearer to Rum and Canna than is usually the case.
At Lochboisdale there was time for a photograph or two, the scene still wrapped in the heavy cloud cover that had persisted all day.
As we headed back into the Sea of the Hebrides on the return journey, Lord of the Isles was spotted in the distance, returning home from Mallaig, but unfortunately too far away for a picture.
The enveloping darkness as we sailed back to the mainland was blacker than I had ever experienced at sea.
The lights of Hyskeir, Ardnamurchan and Rubha Nan Gall were just about all that could be recognised for the remainder of the voyage.
There are more photographs from Eric’s trip to Lochboisdale at the end of this post. Please note that all images on the CRSC website are protected by copyright law. Do not reproduce them on Facebook, Pinterest or any other public platform.
Published on 9 October 2020