Eric Schofield ends his epic 26-part series with a memoir of his sailings out of Oban in the summer of 1967. In common with all previous articles in ‘All tickets please’, this one is inspired by tickets Eric bought and stashed away in a drawer. Half a century later, he has used these tickets — matched to his beautiful photographs — to revive youthful experiences in a way all of us can share.
For many years on the Clyde we had tickets such as the Caledonian Steam Packet Company’s ‘Any Pier Season Ticket’ for 8 or 14 consecutive days, and British Rail’s ‘Area No 1 or No 8 Holiday Runabout Ticket’, later renamed ‘Runabout Rover’, offering seven consecutive days’ excursions and connecting rail travel.
In the summer of 1967 David MacBrayne Ltd got in on the act when they introduced a ‘Runabout Ticket’ for sailings from Oban (excluding the overnight Inner Isles Mail service to Castlebay and Lochboisdale), for six consecutive days’ sailings excluding Sunday. At that time, unlike CSP ships, MacBrayne vessels did not operate on Sundays.
Armed with MacBrayne’s pocket-sized timetable the enthusiast could easily plan a week’s programme of excursions. At first glance you might have thought there was an insufficient variety of trips out of Oban, especially when compared with the wide range offered from the various starting points on the Clyde. To balance that, there was arguably the best-ever day excursion in British waters — King George V’s Round Mull sailing to Staffa and Iona — and no doubt some ‘Runabout Ticket’ holders would happily have undertaken six consecutive day trips to the ‘Sacred Isle’.
However, pages towards the back of the timetable listed in brief fashion a variety of day trips, and there were in addition what we might call MacBrayne’s ‘secret’ excursions — occasional trips made known only by local handbills obtainable from one or other of the local MacBrayne offices. Many of these day excursions from Oban involved MacBrayne coach journeys linked to steamer sailings, holders of the ‘Runabout’ being able to buy a supplementary ticket for the coach part of the trip.
For my first ‘Runabout Ticket’, I was keen to make the initial journey to Oban by ship, as near as possible all the way, by taking Lochfyne to Tarbert on the Monday, crossing over to the West Loch at midday and joining Lochnevis for her sailing to Oban via Gigha (ferry call at north end), Jura, Port Askaig and Colonsay. What better way of getting to Oban could there be?
Just a pity for my finances that, in that first year, I was not aware that the sailing from West Loch Tarbert to Oban could be included in the ‘Runabout Ticket’. That is why the ticket I bought that year was from the Tuesday to the following Monday.
I had first developed a strong attachment to Lochnevis when I sailed on her on a Gourock-Ardrishaig return in 1965. The voyage from the West Loch to Oban on Monday 21 August 1967 further cemented my love for the ship. As if that was not enough, I opted to start my Runabout on the Tuesday by joining Lochnevis on the Oban-Appin (ferry call)-Fort William excursion, with coach trip to and from Inverness — all new ground for me.
On the return sailing down Loch Linnhe, we had to put ashore, via ferry at Corran, some excursionists who had mistakenly joined what they thought was an evening cruise out of Fort William.
I was aboard Lochnevis again on the Wednesday, this time on her Six Lochs cruise. The steamer sailed via Sound of Kerrera, Loch Melfort (where a dolphin dramatically rose up out the sea, flipped round and dropped back in – too quick for a photograph), Loch Crinan, Loch Craignish, the Corrievrechan Whirlpool, Loch Linnhe, Loch Corry and Loch Creran. Back at Oban there was sufficient time to get round from the North Pier to the Railway Pier and join King George V for her non-landing evening cruise to Fort William — and where better for my evening meal than the ship’s dining saloon?
Having originally planned to do the Staffa and Iona cruise on the Thursday, I found out from the Oban Office that Lochnevis would be doing a special one-off sailing via Lochaline to Salen and Tobermory in connection with the Mull Cattle Show at Salen. Here was an opportunity I could not pass up.
The day started with an atmospheric picture of King George V departing the North Pier, with the Lismore ferry Loch Toscaig berthed at the side. Then, in company with a large crowd heading for the Cattle Show from both Oban and Lochaline, I sailed on Lochnevis to Salen, nipping ashore for a couple of pictures of the ship at the pier. I re-boarded for the run up to Tobermory, where there was the bonus of having plenty time to explore every nook and cranny, and take photographs from every vantage point before the return voyage to Oban. On my return there in the late afternoon, I was able to join Columba for her evening return Oban-Craignure sailing, another ideal venue for my evening meal.
On Friday I eventually made it aboard King George V for her Iona and Staffa cruise, sailing by the south end of Mull. We were ferried ashore at Iona despite a stiff breeze, but landing at Staffa was out the question and we arrived early at Tobermory — so I found myself with yet more shore time there before sailing down the Sound of Mull back to Oban. Once again I then rounded the day off with Columba’s return sailing to Craignure and another excellent meal.
For the final day I boarded King George V at 9am and sailed to Tobermory, gaining a fine close-up view of Claymore passing down the Sound of Mull on her way back to Oban from Lochboisdale. I chose to disembark at Tobermory to get more pictures of KGV there, and then later in the afternoon joined Claymore on the supplementary car carrying sailing out to Tiree that she undertook on Saturday afternoons in high season, returning direct to Oban. This was allowable on the ‘Runabout Ticket’ as it was advertised as a non-landing excursion from Oban to Tiree. Running about ¼ hour late on the way out, she lost another hour loading cars by crane at Tiree, arriving back in Oban Bay at 11.30pm, and then taking a full 30 minutes in the darkness to tie up before passengers could disembark.
With no sailings on Sunday a fair bit of walking ensued during which I pictured King George V at her Railway Pier berth, with Claymore and the cargo boat Lochbroom tucked in along the face of the pier. Although my ticket was still valid for the Monday, I decided to repeat a trip I had first done the year before, but this time in better weather. I made my way to Achnacloich and joined Etive Shearwater for her excursion to the head of Loch Etive. This proved a wise choice, as later that year it was announced that these cruises would cease. In fact, Lochetivehead Pier was blown to bits in the January hurricane.
When I look back now it seems almost unbelievable how many fabulous cruising opportunities have been lost to us over the last 50+ years. At least I have these memories and have thoroughly enjoyed sharing them with you. I trust that you have also gained pleasure from these retellings of past Clyde, West Highland and other experiences in the ‘All tickets please’ series.
Click here to see the entire series of Eric Schofield’s ‘All tickets please’.
Published on 8 September 2021