All tickets please (3)

The trip across the Corran Narrows was an afterthought, but Maid of Glencoul provided an unexpectedly satisfying finale to the three-day Hebridean trip undertaken in November 2017 by Eric Schofield and fellow CRSC member David Scott. Copyright Eric Schofield

CRSC Honorary Secretary Eric Schofield is well known for his ingenuity in devising itineraries and photographic angles that other west coast shipping enthusiasts sometimes miss. In the latest instalment of his series looking at journeys through the tickets he has kept, Eric recalls a recent trip that surprised even himself with its variety of diversions.

No. 3  Ardgour to Nether Lochaber (Corran)

For the latest in this ‘ticket talk’ series, I do not have to dig into the memory bank to recall the events linked to the retained ticket shown below, as it refers to an outing towards the end of the year just past — though as one ages, it sometimes seems harder to recall events of recent months than those which occurred some decades ago.

For that reason alone it is perhaps appropriate to record the detail of this out-of-season three-day trip, especially as the journey covered by the ticket was not part of the original plan which fellow CRSC member David Scott and I devised for our visit to the West Highlands in the dark winter days of November 2017.

A special notice on the CalMac website gave warning of amendments to sailings between Skye and the Outer Hebrides due to planned work on the Lochmaddy linkspan from 13 to 19 November 2017. The amendments provided for a two-ship service (Hebrides, assisted by Isle of Arran) between Uig and Lochboisdale for a seven-day period.

Here was an opportunity for a rarely traversed passage by the west coast of Skye and, despite the limited hours of daylight and attendant risk of inclement weather, a really unusual crossing of the Minch which might not occur again, at least in the foreseeable future. From a study of the proposed timetable, and with a modicum of knowledge of what boat would be where, we could see that from the Monday to the Sunday there would be six variations of the daily sailing schedule, only Wednesday’s timetable being a repeat of the Monday.

A dreich morning scene at Uig on 14 November 2017, as Hebrides arrives from Tarbert. Copyright Eric Schofield

Hebrides would have seven return sailings and one single journey from Uig to Lochboisdale, and Isle of Arran two return Lochboisdale/Uig sailings, the second of which did not in fact happen, being a weather-related cancellation. The Uig/Tarbert link was slightly less complicated: Hebrides would begin and finish each day at Tarbert, and would be required to make an unlisted positioning run from Lochboisdale to Tarbert on the Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Isle of Arran would make only one return Uig/Tarbert run on the Tuesday.

After working this out, we concluded that our best option would be a three-day trip: by car to Uig on the Monday, Hebrides return journey to South Uist on the Tuesday (departing Uig for Lochboisdale at 0840, and arriving back at Uig at 1500), then return home by car from Uig on the Wednesday, this relatively easy schedule giving us a bit of leeway should sailings or timings go awry due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

Angus Ross had graciously offered to put us up at his home in Uig, and a few days before we were due to head north he phoned to say he had been staying in Edinburgh on business, and could he cadge a lift back home on the Monday — which we were delighted to give. It was arranged that Angus would get the train from Edinburgh to Dunblane, where I had planned to pick up David. The train arrived late, Angus telling us that the passengers had been advised this was due to a “timetable malfunction”. No, none of us could work out what was meant by that either!

David Scott and Angus Ross on Hebrides at Uig before departure for Lochboisdale. Copyright Eric Schofield

Having originally intended to drive via Kyle and the Skye Bridge, the day before heading off I thought I would chance my arm and see if there was car space on the Monday afternoon Lochnevis sailing to Armadale from Mallaig, and was lucky to get the last spot. We arrived in Mallaig in plenty of time to check in and collect our tickets, and incidentally to book for Lochnevis’s Wednesday morning Armadale/Mallaig crossing. We sailed across to Skye in heavy rain and pitch darkness, and made our way safely to Uig.

We awoke on the Tuesday morning to a somewhat depressing scene, mist and rain almost obscuring the excellent view from Angus’s house of Hebrides arriving from Tarbert, and berthing at Uig pier the ‘wrong way round’. This is what the ‘Heb’ would have to do all that week to allow stern-to berthing on the Lochboisdale calls.

Once we were underway at 0840, the weather slowly improved, although warm wind-proof clothing was required when up on deck. We knew to look out for Isle of Arran on her way up from Lochboisdale, and catching her passing the dramatic bulk of Dunvegan Head was the ‘icing on the cake’. Arriving at Lochboisdale we were amazed at the number of vehicles to be seen – surely everyone in South Uist had not come to see this unusual visitor?

No — it just so happened to be the local livestock market day. I had never seen so much life about Lochboisdale in all my many visits over the years. With just enough time to nip ashore for a quick couple of pictures, we were soon on our way back to Skye, our course taking us over towards some of the dramatic scenery of the Duirinish peninsula. We were soon back at Uig. In the failing light, a hint of sunshine through a gap in the clouds low on the western horizon highlighted Hebrides as she prepared for the evening run to Tarbert.

Having booked for the Wednesday morning ferry from Armadale, David and I had to make an early departure from Uig for that 0925 sailing, the quiet roads allowing us to arrive with plenty of time to take pictures of Lochnevis coming in. We added shots of Loch Fyne on standby at Mallaig before viewing Lochnevis heading off to Eigg and Muck.

Driving on the way towards Glenfinnan the idea sprang to mind – why don’t we take the single track A861 round the south side of Loch Eil down to Ardgour and ferry over to Corran? Maid of Glencoul was on duty, recently returned from overhaul, and what a picture she made – surely the most colourful of all the double-ended ferries in the country, with her black hull and white upperworks, green decking and yellow handrails, red and white onboard superstructure, yellow stairways with blue handrails, and white wheelhouse topped with an orange band and ochre mast. Highland Council staff must be congratulated for looking after this basic ferry in such a thoughtful way.

So a Highland Council ferry ticket — for what was an afterthought — is the link to a unique sailing by Hebrides, a unique view of Isle of Arran off Skye’s west coast, a pair of winter-only car-ferry sailings to and from Skye by Lochnevis, plus the sight of Loch Fyne on winter standby at Mallaig. I doubt if that will be a sequence which can be repeated.

Hebrides turns off Lochboisdale pier before berthing stern-to. Copyright Eric Schofield

One of the purposes of Eric’s trip was to catch Hebrides on a rare visit to Lochboisdale. Copyright Eric Schofield

The west coast of Skye, pictured from Hebrides on her return voyage to Uig on 14 November 2017. Copyright Eric Schofield

The evening light catches Hebrides as she lies bow-in at Uig on 14 November 2017. Copyright Eric Schofield

Lochnevis makes her approach to Armadale pier on the morning of 15 November 2017. Copyright Eric Schofield

Memories of a unique trip: Isle of Arran is dwarfed by the cliffs on the west of Skye while on passage between Lochboisdale and Uig on 14 November 2017. Copyright Eric Schofield

All tickets please (1): Excursion to Ardrishaig with return journey up-river to Glasgow

All tickets please (2): Helensburgh to Holy Loch Cruise

Published on 25 March 2018