“8 Days – A (Rover) Week”

Sun, Sea – and Scottish Islands   
A report by member John Park on his 8-day CalMac Rover trip in April 2012

I have to admit that this began as an “island bagging” exercise more than anything else.  Youthful exuberance had me bagging “Munro” mountains many years ago, but bagging as many islands as possible using a Calmac Rover ticket was a long-held wish that had never come to fruition.  A move to England brought the Munro bagging sessions to an end however, and caused the island bagging notion to be put on a back burner.  Subsequent family holidays to the west of Scotland could occasionally be arranged in such a way as to include new tonnage, but some of the newer ferries and routes still managed to elude me.

Fast forward to the present and an opportunity to revive the island bagging idea came about.  A carefully planned itinerary was pieced together and just about finalised when it became apparent that I was close to covering the entire Calmac network as it currently stands.  A further re-working of the plans made this seem possible in theory at least, although it would mean an intense schedule with little or no recovery time if something went wrong.   It would take in just about everything including any new stuff I had missed over the years.  A good long-range weather forecast was the final deciding factor, after which hotels, tickets and car reservations were made for an ambitious week.

The only minor hitch prior to departure was learning that Finlaggan had left the Islay service for the Clyde just a couple of days beforehand, to be replaced by Isle of Arran.  While this would mean missing out on the new ship, at least the Arran’s presence meant my planned itinerary would remain intact.  

Quite remarkably, everything held together perfectly over the whole eight days.  Only one connection proved to be tighter than envisaged due to road works, which caused driving at speeds best not recorded here in order to make the connection.  And other than one wet morning in the Mallaig area and an isolated shower on Eriskay the weather remained quite perfect throughout, with cold and frosty mornings giving way to beautiful clear sunny days.  

A total of 27 islands, 24 ferries, and 42 hours at sea was the sum total of this intensive week of travelling.  Actual time spent on some of the islands can be counted in minutes rather than hours or days, but hopefully they still count towards some sort of record – unless of course someone out there can claim to have achieved more.  Of the few ports not called at, Muck proved to be out of reach while Lochmaddy and Lochboisdale could only be visited by car.  The island total almost reached 28 – Vatersay was tantalisingly close to Barra but with only 50 minutes between landing at Ardmhor and the latest check-in time at Castlebay it was just a bridge, or causeway, too far.  The photographs will perhaps tell the story of the week better than words, but each day is summarised in the paragraphs below in order to pull together all the travel details between the crossings.

Friday 13th April – 3 islands, 4 ferries, 5 crossings
Scraping frost-covered car windows in the dark at 0500, and on such a date, was not ideal but necessary in order to reach Ardrossan in enough time to collect my pre-booked Island Rover tickets and check in for the 0945 crossing to Brodick. The sight of Caledonian Isles arriving on time made the early start worthwhile though, as did her prompt departure which followed.  Upon arrival at Brodick there was just enough time to watch her depart again before heading for Lochranza and the next leg.  Loch Tarbert played her part without a hitch and she departed at 1200 for Claonaig.  After watching her return towards Arran, a more leisurely drive over to Tayinloan followed for the 1400 crossing to Gigha on Loch Ranza. Construction work here meant the entire shore area was fenced off making photography difficult, but an angle was found prior to departure.   After landing I took a short drive to the north end of the island, it was very quiet with only a couple of locals visible, before joining Loch Ranza again at 1530 for the return to Tayinloan.  After watching her depart again for Gigha I drove to Kennacraig in time to watch Hebridean Isles arriving for her 1800 crossing to Port Askaig, which departed exactly on time.  Port Askaig was already in the shade as she arrived but the Paps of Jura were lit up in a glorious splash of rich colour as the sun slowly set.  A short walk to the Port Askaig Hotel was the last action of a very long and busy day.

Caledonian Isles arriving Ardrossan
Caledonian Isles leaving Ardrossan Caledonian Isles departing Brodick Loch Tarbert – Lochranza
Loch Tarbert – Claonaig Loch Ranza – Tayinloan Gigha locals Loch Ranza – Gigha
Loch Ranza – Tayinloan Hebridean Isles – Kennacraig Eilean Dhiura – Port Askaig Paps of Jura

Saturday 14th April – 3 islands, 5 ferries, 7 crossings
Although not covered by the Calmac Island Rover ticket, an essential part of the island bagging exercise was to take the 0830 crossing to Jura on Eilean Dhiura.  This briefest of visits to Jura consisted of walking briskly up the slipway and taking a quick photo, before retracing my steps back to the ferry and an immediate return to Port Askaig.  On the return crossing Isle of Arran could be seen making her way up the sound and she arrived at Port Askaig a short time after the Jura ferry.  She took on a full load of vehicles but still managed to depart Port Askaig on time at 0945, passing Hebridean Isles an hour later north of Gigha.  After landing at Kennacraig it was a brisk drive to Oban in order to check-in for Isle of Mull’s 1400 crossing to Craignure, and this was achieved without any problems.  Just as the Mull was leaving Raasay came into view, arriving from Lismore in place of the more usual Eigg. Next step was a drive from Craignure to Tobermory in order to board the 1600 crossing to Kilchoan on Loch Linnhe, returning straight away at 1645 after a brief photograph. On the return trip Clansman made an impressive sight at speed heading for Barra, while on arrival back at Tobermory Loch Linnhe moved round to the steamer pier for a brief rest. The final trip of the day involved driving to Fishnish to board Loch Fyne for her 1900 crossing to Lochaline, after which the nearby Lochaline Hotel was to be my next overnight stop.

Eilean Dhiura – Feolin Isle of Arran – Port Askaig Eilean Dhiura – Port Askaig Eilean Dhiura – Port Askaig
Hebridean Isles
 Pharos – Oban
Raasay – Oban
Loch Linnhe – Tobermory
Tobermory Loch Fyne – Fishnish Loch Fyne – Fishnish

Sunday 15th April – 3 islands, 4 ferries, 6 crossings
A perfectly calm Sound of Mull was disturbed by Loch Fyne sailing past the hotel at 0900 on her first crossing of the day to Fishnish.  I joined her an hour later in order to return to Mull for the scenic journey to Fionnphort.  After a pleasant drive I boarded Loch Buie which left at 1145 for the short crossing to Iona.  Shortly after arriving Ullin of Staffa left the slipway for Fionnphort and Staffa, while the Calmac vessel loaded a couple of vehicles before her return to Mull.  Unfortunately I had to leave Iona less than an hour later on Loch Buie’s next sailing at 1245, and upon landing at Fionnphort I made my way to Craignure to check in for the 1500 Isle of Mull crossing to Oban.  The Mull duly arrived and departed on time and her arrival back in Oban Bay found Clansman at one of the linkspans, however a call for drivers to return to their vehicles brought this brief photo opportunity to a premature end.  Having landed at Oban I took the opportunity to park the car up and check in at the Columba Hotel before walking back to the railway pier for the final trip of the day, Lord of the Isles 1730 sailing to Colonsay and back.  LOTI appeared in Oban bay right on schedule, and she was very quickly turned around by the crew before heading off down the Sound of Kerrera just as Isle of Mull arrived back from Craignure again.  A pleasant crossing made in perfect clear conditions was followed by another impressively quick turnaround at Colonsay, while on the return sailing Islay and Jura could be clearly viewed as the light gradually faded.  It seemed that LOTI’s crew manage to do everything quickly as the speed of service in the restaurant was also impressive, as was the rate at which they cleaned the passenger accommodation prior to her arrival back at Oban.

Loch Fyne – Lochaline
Isis – Lochaline
Iona Abbey 
Ullin of Staff
Loch Buie – Fionnport Isle of Mull – Craignure
Lord of the Isles – Oban
Jura and Islay from LOTI
Monday 16th April – 3 islands, 1 ferry, 1 round trip
An early start from Oban was required to reach my next destination – Mallaig.  I left behind a perfectly calm and still Oban bay with LOTI loading at the linkspan and set off.  Roadwork delays north of Oban resulted in only a brief photo stop at Corran ferry, but a much longer roadworks delay in Fort William almost ruined the plans for the whole day.  However, after running the risk of being mistaken for a low flying military jet I somehow managed to reach Mallaig some 5 minutes before Lochnevis was due to leave at 1015.  I parked the car with further indecent haste and sprinted for the harbour, being the last passenger to board her.  This was my first experience of Lochnevis and once I had regained my composure found her to be a sound and comfortable vessel on which to travel on.  Her Monday routine took her on an Eigg – Rum – Canna – Rum – Eigg round trip which provided a longer spell at sea away from driving.  Unfortunately I could find no way to include Muck in my plans for the week.  On the return sailing the beginning of a change in the weather became apparent, while closer to Mallaig Coruisk came into view and entered the harbour first.  A return trip along the A830, at a much more relaxed pace than earlier, brought the day to an end at the very comfortable Arisaig Hotel and marked the halfway point in the Island Hopping week.  A very quick four days had passed already!

Lord of the Isles at Oban Oban Bay Oban Cathedral Corran Ferry
Corran Ferry Leaving Mallaig Arriving Eigg Arriving Rum
Arriving Canna Coruisk – Mallaig Loch Nevis – Mallaig Arisaig Hotel

Tuesday 17th April – 3 islands, 3 ferries, 4 crossings
A wet start to the day, the first and as it turned out, only wet spell of the week.  I made my way to Mallaig in time to photograph Lochnevis setting off for her Small Isles cruise at 1015, and watched as she performed an eye-catching turn to port as she cleared the harbour area.  In the gloomy distance behind her Coruisk was just visible making her way back from Skye, so I made my way back to the harbour to check in for her 1040 crossing to Armadale.  After a driech but uneventful crossing on Coruisk there was plenty of time to photograph her in the dull conditions before making my leisurely way to Sconser and Loch Striven.  Her 1300 crossing to Raasay departed promptly and after her arrival there she backed away from the slipway for a short break.  Setting foot on Raasay for the first time, I took a couple of hours to explore before returning to the terminal for Loch Striven’s 1530 crossing back to Skye.  The sun made a welcome return just as Loch Striven approached the slipway, making the return journey much more colourful.  Back at Sconser I had enough time to watch her next departure at 1615 before heading north to Uig.  I checked in at Uig in enough time to watch Hebrides come into view and sweep across the bay at speed before making an impressive turn towards the pier.  She managed to load quickly which made for a sharp departure and a most comfortable crossing of the Minch followed.  On the approach to Tarbert the confines of the loch make her size seem all the more obvious but she berthed for the night with ease.  A short drive to nearby Ardhasaig for my next overnight stay was the last action of the day

Loch Nevis – Mallaig Loch Nevis – Mallaig Loch Nevis – Mallaig Coruisk – Mallaig
Coruisk – Mallaig Coruisk – Armadale Loch Striven – Sconser Raasay new pier and harbour
Loch Striven Sconser Hebrides Hebrides – Uig Hebrides – Tarbert

Wednesday 18th April – 3 islands, 1 ferry, 2 crossings
A quick word here about Ardhasaig House Hotel, my base for 2 nights on the Isle of Harris.  It features in Calmac literature and can best be summed up in only 2 words – hotel heaven!  Returning to Island bagging business, I re-traced my steps to Tarbert and then continued on to Scalpay.  Despite the welcome addition of the bridge in recent years it is still without doubt an island as nature intended and was therefore “bagged” by car rather than ferry.  My 3rd island of the day was ticked off later in the morning when I arrived in Stornoway, where I had time for a pleasant walk around town in the sunshine before Isle of Lewis came into view and berthed ready for her crossing at 1350 to Ullapool.  Her top deck gave me an excellent view of Muirneag and the harbour area as she turned and headed out past Arnish.  There were bright and breezy conditions for the uneventful crossing to Ullapool, where I briefly disembarked for photographs before rejoining her again.  On the return sailing at 1735 a Harrier-free HMS Illustrious was found loitering off the Summer Isles, her helicopters flying sorties up and down Loch Broom as part of NATO exercises taking place in the area.  An increasing northerly swell became apparent shortly after this when Isle of Lewis began to indulge in her rather noisy method of dealing with what was no more than a moderate sea.  The sun had just set as she arrived back at a breezy Stornoway, where Muirneag was seen preparing for her nocturnal meander across The Minch.  After photographing Isle of Lewis in the fading light I set off and returned to Ardhasaig.

Ardhasaig House Isle of Lewis – Stornoway Muirneag – Stornoway Admiral Day – Stornoway
Arnish Lighthouse Isle of Lewis – Ullapool HMS Illustrious  Isle of Lewis – Stornoway

Thursday 19th April – 9 islands, 3 ferries, 3 crossings
Extreme Island hopping!  The biggest number of islands bagged in a single day but it required an early start from Ardhasaig to make it happen.  An early drive through South Harris brought me to Leverburgh in time to see Loch Portain arrive at 0815 before departing again 10 minutes later.  After an hour of left and right turns she found her way to Berneray, where she quickly unloaded before heading to Otternish for a break.  A series of islands were then bagged by car as I crossed first onto North Uist for a quick visit to Lochmaddy.  Timings wouldn’t permit any ferry bagging here so it was back in the car and head south through North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist to Lochboisdale.  This was also a ferry-free zone for the same reason so it was quickly on to Eriskay for Loch Alainn’s 1300 crossing to Barra.  A prompt arrival on Barra at 1340 was a welcome relief because the latest check-in time at Castlebay for Clansman’s 1515 departure was 1430!  This was safely achieved not long before she swept purposefully into the bay and swung quickly round into the berth.  Ramp up and cast off by 1510, her Thursday only return sailing to Oban via Tiree and Coll was the easiest way to incorporate these 2 islands into my plans.  It was also my first time through Gunna Sound, after which Hebridean Princess could be seen at anchor close to Coll.  A surprising amount of traffic awaited Clansman at Tiree although Coll proved to be quieter.  A blissful evening cruise back to Oban then followed, enhanced by a memorable sunset over Tobermory as Clansman made her way down the Sound of Mull towards Oban.

Luskentyre Loch Portain – Leverburgh Loch Portain – Berneray Loch Alainn – Eriskay
Loch Alainn – Eriskay Ardmhor – Barra Clansman – Castlebay Hebridean Princess off Coll
Clansman arriving Tiree Clansman arriving Coll Sunset over the Sound of Mull Sunset over the Sound of Mull

Friday 20th April – 4 islands, 5 ferries, 7 crossings
Eigg was my first ferry of the final day on her 0900 sailing to Lismore, passing Isle of Mull in the distance as she headed for Oban.  A brief landing at Lismore for photos was followed by an immediate return to Oban on her 1000 sailing.  Her arrival back at Oban 50 minutes later brought my West Highland sailings to a close, while a short time later Seil became the final island to be bagged by car as I made a slight detour on my way south from Oban to Tarbert.  Isle of Cumbrae marked my return to Clyde waters and my first time over this route with her 1315 sailing to Portavadie, after which a leisurely drive along to Tighnabruaich plus a quick stop at the Kyles viewpoint took me to Colintraive.  Loch Dunvegan then carried me across to Rhubodach at 1500, and I watched her depart again before making the short drive round to Rothesay.  It would take just a little too long to fit in a crossing on both Argyle and Bute, so I decided instead to photograph each ship in turn from the same spot before catching the sailing after that.  Argyle appeared first followed a short time later by her sister, after which I checked-in for the 1730 sailing to Wemyss Bay on Argyle.  After landing at the Bay, it was a brief drive to Largs where Loch Riddon lay at the south side of the pier.  Loch Shira arrived shortly after and I boarded her for the 1845 sailing to Cumbrae Slip.  Rather than return straight away I took the short drive round Cumbrae, which brought me back in time for her 2000 sailing back to Largs.  This last crossing of my Island Rover week on Loch Shira proved uneventful and I landed at Largs 10 minutes later to bring a successful week to a close.

Eigg and Raasay – Oban Eigg – Oban Raasay – Oban Eigg – Lismore
Isle of Cumbrae – Tarbert Isle of Cumbrae – Tarbert Isle of Cumbrae – Portavadie Kyles of Bute
Loch Dunvegan – Colintraive Loch Dunvegan – Rhubodach Bute – Rothesay Argyle – Rothesay
Argyle – Wemyss Bay Loch Riddon – Largs Loch Shira – Cumbrae Slip Loch Shira – Largs