Eric Schofield’s series is inspired by tickets documenting the most memorable journeys he has made. The following account makes clear that Journey No 8 was a day packed with interest from start to finish.
A flimsy slip of paper ticket casually ticked to indicate the journey to be undertaken, a crossing which might seem to be an interesting but nevertheless fairly standard trip: these give no hint of what an adventurous day 18 June 2010 turned out to be, leaving an indelible mark in my memory.
No. 8 Tobermory to Drimnin
David MacBrayne’s Lochinvar of 1908 was apparently the first ship I travelled on. I was too young to have any recall of the journeys, but as I grew up I developed a unique sense of attachment to the ships running up and down the Sound of Mull — particularly those that called at Tobermory. It was there that the family travelled in 1946, with me in my pram, for a short holiday at Rhuba nan Gall Lighthouse, my great uncle John Clark (‘Black John’ to the locals) being then the lighthouse keeper.
That sense of attachment was fuelled as gradually I learnt more of the history of the Sound of Mull steamer services and got to know the area, with sailings on King George V and Lochnevis as well as Outer Hebridean trips on the 1955 Claymore, her 1978 namesake and other CalMac ferries. From this youthful experiences grew a hankering to view at close quarters the one former calling place (only ever a ferry landing stop) that no longer featured in the schedules of the steamers and ferries traversing the Sound in the Sixties and thereafter – Drimnin.
Back in June 1986 I undertook a touring holiday by car and achieved my ambition, incorporating a run up the Morvern coast road from Lochaline to Drimnin and back. I can remember thinking at the time that it would be great if a visit could be made by sea, never for one moment expecting that such an opportunity would ever arise.
But in 2004 a locally formed association, under the title of Sound of Mull Transport Group, with the financial assistance of local councils and the Scottish Government Development Department, began a limited summer service on two days per week linking Tobermory and Drimnin, starting and finishing the day at Laga in Loch Sunart.
It was never going to be easy to fit the crossing in, and it was not until 2010 that I was able to fulfil my ambition, which was just as well as the service was withdrawn after the 2011 season. I came up with a plan for a day trip from Glasgow combining ferry trips and another passion – a good hike. Leaving Glasgow just after 0400 I drove to Oban, arriving in plenty time to view the Lismore ferry Raasay heading off at 0650 for the first run of the day.
It should have been Eigg, but she had broken down — the first surprise of the day. We boarded Isle of Mull for the 0745 sailing to Craignure, and just as we were about to leave, Hebridean Isles arrived on the first of her emergency runs from Tiree and Coll with passengers stranded there the previous day after Clansman had broken down – the second surprise of the day. As we left, Clansman was preparing to set off for Greenock for repairs. Then, once out of the bay, we passed Hebridean Princess coming into Oban from her overnight anchorage – a nice added picture bonus.
On the bus from Craignure to Tobermory were two passengers bound for Kilchoan who had notified CalMac to ensure that the ferry would await arrival of the bus. I therefore knew that I would have the chance to picture Loch Linnhe as she headed off on the slightly delayed 0930 run – another unexpected picture opportunity.
Time then for a coffee before Laurenca arrived at the Ledaig pontoons with a couple of passengers from Drimnin. Another wonderful surprise now awaited me: as we set off, Laurenca headed for the south of Calve Island, the first time I had ever seen, let alone experienced, a sailing by this passage out of Tobermory Bay. Enquiring of the skipper if this was the regular route he advised me that he only took this narrow and shallow passage when the tide was high and wind and wave conditions were benign. I couldn’t believe my luck in having chosen this day for the trip.
Over at Drimnin there was time for a number of pictures before Laurenca departed back to Tobermory. I then set off to walk the 12-and-a-bit miles to Lochaline. I knew by this time to expect the sight of Hebridean Isles heading back up the Sound to Coll and Tiree, but of course with the scheduled timetable now awry, exactly when this would be was anyone’s guess.
For the first few miles of the way, my views of the Sound were interrupted by trees or by the road dipping behind the coastal headlands. All of a sudden I heard (rather than spotted) a vessel passing, and ran to where there was a gap in the tree line, thankfully just managing to capture Hebridean Isles outward bound.
Thereafter I made good progress — despite stopping every so often to take pictures of the beautiful scenery and viewing the ruin of Caisteal Nan Con at Killundine. A former hunting lodge in common ownership with Aros Castle in Mull, the ruin is not easy to pick out when sailing up the Sound. I then reached the Forestry Commission picnic site to enjoy my sandwiches prepared at home the previous evening. This was a perfect spot to photo Lord of the Isles passing the Green Isles at 1316 on her way in from Castlebay and Lochboisdale.
With just under half the distance to go, my aim was to catch the 1515 ferry from Lochaline, so I pressed on and made it, just as Loch Fyne came in. Back over on Mull, I had time to kill before the bus to Craignure, which was ideal, as I could then search out the best spot to capture a few pictures of Lord of the Isles heading back out to Castlebay.
My day of fabulous photo opportunities and surprises was not yet complete. On leaving Craignure, I spotted Loch Alainn heading out west for the Barra/Eriskay service after her overhaul, and as we arrived back in Oban Bay Hebridean Princess was basking in the evening sunshine at the North Pier, a berth familiar to her from her days as Columba on the Oban/Craignure/Lochaline service.
I could not have asked more from the day – 45 pictures of ferries and 12 colourful shots of the magnificent Sound of Mull scenery, all in glorious sunshine. A day still fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday — and it will remain so forever.
All photos © Eric Schofield
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Published on 25 September 2018