‘It was a grand day out’

And the sun shone: Isle of Arran meets Hebridean Princess at Campbeltown on the occasion of CRSC’s excursion on 21 May 2017. Copyright Roy Paterson

Robin Copland records the extraordinary twists and turns of CRSC’s ferry hopper’ on Sunday 21 May.

Ardrossan on a dreich, smirry, wet Sunday morning is not everyone’s idea of a perfect start to a day out, but nonetheless they came from a’ the airts and pairts for another imaginative CRSC outing, put together by the Club’s Cruise Convenor, Neil Guthrie.

Caledonian Isles sat ready and waiting to take us to Brodick on the first leg, as did the 1979 Reliance 760 bus, central to our three-ferry day. Tickets having been duly circulated in the terminal lounge, we boarded our ship for the 09.45 sailing — and with another cloud to worry Mr Guthrie: Isle of Arran’s afternoon sailing from Campbeltown was on amber alert. Alice Hickford wondered about Islay; Tarbert to Portavadie was mentioned; plans B and C were discussed, but suddenly we were onboard and there was a bow view of a closing front door to consider.

Lawrence Macduff at the wheel. Copyright Neil Guthrie

The crossing to Brodick was uneventful. The clouds and rain looked set for the day, so most took the chance of a coffee or some breakfast in the Mariners Restaurant. Isle of Arran passed almost unnoticed on her way to Ardrossan. We all hoped that we would be making closer acquaintance later in the day.

I’m going to be honest. It was pouring by the time we reached Brodick. Fortunately, Lawrence Macduff drove our bus round to the stance in double quick time so we were able to board without too much of a soaking.

A word about Lawrence and his bus. When they built the roads on Arran, they did not have buses in mind and certainly not 38-year old buses with minimal power steering. Tight turns, oncoming traffic, steep hills — often at the same time. Lawrence took them all in his stride. But there was more. He is a driver of the old school. So, when a couple of cars queue up behind him, he indicates, pauses and lets them through. When another driver does something courteous, he gives them a friendly wave. In this self-obsessed world, it was rather nice to see someone doing something he loved and doing it well.

By the time we reached Lochranza, the weather was clearing but — there were a fair number of cars and motorhomes already awaiting the arrival of Catriona. Wiser heads than mine shook their heads and tutted as wise men do. Word on the street was that we would not be boarding the 12.00 sailing. Some thought this a splendid idea as the Lochranza Hotel Country Inn lies but a few hundred yards from the pier. First, there was an arrival to record and photographs to be taken.

Will the bus get on board? Neil Guthrie talks to Catriona’s crew at Lochranza. Copyright Roy Paterson

And now, step forward our Cruise Convenor! The words ‘rapid’ and ‘motorhome’ are not often seen together, but on this occasion, two of the blighters that had arrived after us somehow sneaked ahead of us. One even had the temerity to board before anyone could remonstrate. Neil moved quickly to sort out the situation, doubtless using some of the dark skills for which people in the retail trade are justly famous. Gently, he pointed out what had happened.

A crew member had a quiet word in the ear of the second offensive motorhome driver and the rest of us were left chortling as he engaged reverse gear and (hopefully) did immeasurable and irreparable damage to his clutch! By the skin of its teeth, our bus glided onto Catriona and the drouthy amongst us had to wait for Tarbert.

CalMac’s newest ‘hybrid’ ferry is silent as the lambs, but there was a fair swell to fool the hands of a photographer and recorder of names! She is a neat wee ship, well suited to her role. Most of the members chose the exposed upper deck for the crossing and the chat turned to Talisman’s funnel shape, the relative speeds of the Duchesses and the effects of SOLAS regulations on the CalMac fleet of bygone days. The rest of the passengers listened on in gentle amazement. Who are these people?

Catriona has these marvellously long ramps, so even though the concrete ramp at Claonaig is murderously short and steep, there was little danger of Lawrence having to break out the assortment of wood that he brought with him in case there was any chance of his charge grounding. Talking of the Claonaig ramp, I should add the word ‘narrow’. The swell was still there by the time we arrived, and the rocks on either side are perilously close to an approaching ship.

We’re on! Copyright Roy Paterson

Kennacraig next, to witness Finlaggan’s 13.00 departure to Port Askaig. As we reached the foot of the Claonaig road, where it meets the A83 to Campbeltown, there was a wee bit of a groan on the bus, for Finlaggan had already started to manoeuvre away from the pier.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so the bold Macduff drove us as quickly as he could to the car marshalling area.

A number of the party took the opportunity to take a walk in what had become a dry, if still overcast day. Finlaggan’s safety announcement echoed back to us from across the water, and we responded in kind with clicking sounds and wee phrases like “Aye, but she’s no Clyde-built”, or “She’s no a looker — her mither used tae pull the pram” or, perhaps most damning of all, “there were dodgy goings-on with the steel”. One listens and files. All I’m saying. Discretion is my middle name.

Gigha loomed to our right; the road to Carradale to our left. Sooner rather than later we were in the outskirts of Campbeltown and there, pretty as a picture on a day where the sky had suddenly turned an intermittent blue, sat Hebridean Princess. Before we left the bus, CRSC President Iain Morgan — in a few well-chosen words — thanked Neil and Lawrence for making the excursion possible.

Campbeltown in May — what can we say? The McCories (father and son) decided not to say too much, except “Is there a bar in the town where we could sample a 21-year-old Springbank”? Fortunately for them, there was. Even more fortunately, they asked the one guy on the pier who knew which bar it was. This was a result for McCrorie senior on the drinks front, but his wallet felt the pain. That’s a lot of angels to pay off if you are drinking 21-year-old anything!

Campbeltown in May: Hebridean Princess sits expectantly before Isle of Arran arrives. Copyright Robin Copland

I was given a guided tour of the area by my brother-in-law. The golfers at Machrihanish were walking that funny way folk walk in a 60 mph gale; the flagsticks looked painful; the clouds (yes, there were definable clouds now) scudded. It was time to return to Campbeltown to welcome Isle of Arran. But where was she? The amber alert had stayed stubbornly amber throughout the afternoon. Were our plans to be scuppered at this, the very last minute? Would we not be able to partake of CalMac catering? All eyes were glued to the whisky loch of Andy Stewart’s dreams, straining to see if Caledonian Isles’s pup had made it across the Firth.

She had. Again, her arrival was duly recorded and we drove onto a fairly busy car deck. The two outer lanes were full. There was a motorhome sitting at the bow door (they should just be banned) and Lawrence was asked to park in the middle of the deck slightly to the rear of midships. Around 50 CRSC members repaired to the restaurant for their evening meal, and the chat turned once again to Maids, ABCs, Duchesses, Kings, Queens and Glens.

It was a grand day. The weather turned blue after an unpromising start; the bus worked; various ships worked; Neil’s plans worked and tongues wagged. If Largs Thistle had not been relegated, all would have been perfect for Billy Tomlinson, our Treasurer. But they had been, so it wasn’t — perfect, that is.

And finally, spare a thought for the man who lost £10 over end of the pier. He tried to catch it before a zephyr (wrong word — hurricane!) snatched it from his grasping hand. Folk tried to help, but failed. As we vacated the pier a local man was seen in full diving gear getting ready to dive — amazing the lengths people will go to for a tenner. The rest of us had a whip-round to make sure that Brian Flanagan had his bus fare home. Least we could do really. I promised not to mention the man’s name and my lips are sealed on the matter; wild horses and all of that. His secret is safe with me.

Ardrossan was still there when we got back.

Isle of Arran in Campbeltown Loch on 21 May 2017. Copyright Robin Copland

Allan Smith and Lee Gallagher on Caledonian Isles at Ardrossan

Neil Guthrie, Alice Hickford, Cameron Shaw and Paul Semple

Paul Flint, Eric Schofield and Billy Tomlinson

Pat Anslow, Michael Beglan and Kevin Thomas

Peter Hall and CRSC President Iain Morgan

Davie Wright and Elizabeth Howie

Graeme Phanco and Ian Montgomery

John Macfarlane and Bill Coull

Robert Cleary and John Macnab

Jim and Anne Laidlaw

Michael and May Doyle

Margaret Shutt and Libby Jamieson

Eric and Sharon Smith

Jennie and Bill Brockie

Ian and Roderick McCrorie

Rachel and John Hooley

Disembarking at Claonaig. Copyright Roy Paterson

Faithful friend: Isle of Arran at Ardrossan in the evening light on 21 May 2017. Copyright Robin Copland

Click here to join CRSC and further your interest in Scottish shipping.