All tickets please (6)

‘A heavily laden truck was waiting to embark, a process that took a number of attempts with planks and suchlike props to get the angle of jetty and ferry ramps aligned’: Sound of Islay’s inaugural visit to Red Bay, County Antrim, on 1 May 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

Eric Schofield’s life-long habit of saving tickets has given him not just a pile of memorabilia to sift through but also a fund of memories — the inspiration for this series in which he matches a ticket to the photographs he took on each occasion. His latest ‘find’ has taken him back to the day he sailed on the inaugural Western Ferries crossing from Kintyre to Northern Ireland in May 1970.

The rather plain, inconsequential-looking piece of white card ticket with indistinct printing gives no hint of the significance of the journey it covers. Dated 1 May 1970 it was apparently the first ticket issued for the sailing of Western Ferries’ Sound of Islay on a completely new venture — a ferry service from Campbeltown, near the tip of Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula, to Red Bay, Cushendall, Northern Ireland, a spot right at the heart of the beautiful Glens of Antrim area.

No. 6  Campbeltown to Red Bay

In the Spring of 1970 I was due to start a new job on Monday 4 May. With a couple of days’ holiday entitlement from my previous employer, it seemed appropriate to take these as my last two days of ‘employment’. Thursday 30 April and Friday 1 May, added to the weekend, gave me the chance of a short break before taking up a job that would almost certainly limit future available time for ‘days away’ on the steamers and ferries.

“What if, instead of CSP or MacBraynes, I was to try Western Ferries’ new Sound of Jura,” I thought, “and then follow that with their new Scotland/Northern Ireland service, due to commence on the 1st of  May on Sound of Islay?” With bed-and-breakfast organised for the Thursday and Friday nights in Campbeltown, I had a leisurely drive to Tarbert to photograph Maid of Argyll arriving on the last day of the penultimate month of the Royal Route service, before heading to Kennacraig to join Sound of Jura for the 1600 sailing to Port Askaig. With 45 minutes before the return sailing I had time to take a few pictures: it felt like a bit of industrial espionage photographing a MacBrayne lorry as it reversed aboard the Western Ferries vessel. Was it just a case of expediency, or a sign that MacBraynes were acknowledging that their old style method of cargo handling had had its day?

Western Ferries’ Sound of Jura at Port Askaig on 30 April 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

Next morning, after breakfast, I was down on the Campbeltown promenade to capture an unusual shot of three passenger vessels in the one picture — Evening Star, the ferry to Davaar Island, Sound of Islay ready for her inaugural run to Northern Ireland, and Duchess of Hamilton, which had spent the night there after her annual trip to Ayr Agricultural Show. The ‘Duchess’ set off quite early on a light run to Ayr from where she had a charter sailing the following day. Nestled in the L-shaped corner of the pier Sound of Islay loaded a single Land Rover at the not quite completed cut-away area of the pier, for what was an apparently trial run.

It was only when I was arrived on the pier that I found the official start date had been put back a week to 8 May. The Master must have felt sorry for me having made the effort to come to Campbeltown, and duly allowed me to board this supposed trial run after hurried arrangements to organise a ticket.

We set off at 0900 for the 3 ¼ hour sailing, and as we made our way down the coast past Johnston’s Point, MacBrayne’s Arran was spotted passing Sanda on her way in to the Clyde for repairs after hitting rocks at Port Askaig. At Red Bay the arrival of Sound of Islay had generated some local interest, with many down at the stone quay to see this interesting new venture. I did not wander too far from the pier just in case of an earlier than expected departure. However, a heavily laden truck was waiting to embark, a process that took a number of attempts with planks and suchlike props to get the angle of jetty and ferry ramps aligned, this delaying the expected departure by three-quarters of an hour.

Sound of Islay berths at Campbeltown after her inaugural trip to Northern Ireland on 1 May 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

On the return journey I was speaking to the driver of the lorry, who said that on hearing of this new crossing to Scotland, and it being much cheaper than the rates applying from Larne to Stranraer, he had been quite happy to act as a guinea pig for the route, but clearly he had not been told, or given much thought to his onward road journey. He said he was going to Wishaw, and was quite taken aback when I advised him that he had a lengthy drive ahead of him and it would be near 11pm before he would get to his destination. When we got back to Campbeltown Sound of Islay initially lay alongside the pier, as the tide was not immediately suitable for the ramp. I asked if I could maybe get ashore to get a photograph, and was allowed to climb on the side railing and up onto the pier.

The following morning I had time to picture Sound of Islay setting off again on another trial run to Red Bay, and followed this up with pictures of Sound of Jura leaving Kennacraig, Maid of Argyll arriving at Tarbert and finally Duchess of Hamilton at Inveraray, where I was able to board for an hour-long cruise to the Head of the Loch — part of her charter excursion from Ayr. As Duchess of Hamilton finally left to return to Ayr I found myself contemplating the previous four days — a fabulous time which could only have been improved if the weather had been kinder.

Sound of Islay and Duchess of Hamilton at Campbeltown on 1 May 1970, with the Davaar Island ferryboat Evening Star in the foreground. Copyright Eric Schofield

MacBrayne’s Islay ferry Arran, newly transferred from CSP ownership and on her way back to the Clyde for repairs, passes ahead of Sound of Islay, with the island of Sanda in the centre of the photo. Copyright Eric Schofield

Sound of Islay unloads a Land Rover at Red Bay, County Antrim, after her inaugural crossing from Kintyre on 1 May 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

Sound of Jura leaves Kennacraig on the morning of 2 May 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

Maid of Argyll arriving at Tarbert on 2 May 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

Duchess of Hamilton leaves Inveraray for Ayr on a charter sailing, on the final day of Eric Schofield’s multi-faceted odyssey to Loch Fyne-side, Kintyre, Islay and Northern Ireland in the spring of 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield


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

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Published on 25 June 2018