Magazine review: ‘Caledonian MacBrayne — Ferry services on Scotland’s west coast’

Front cover of the magazine devoted to Caledonian MacBrayne in Kelsey Media’s World of Ships series

Mark Nicolson’s latest work is a kaleidoscopic, magazine-style production for the World of Ships series. Titled Caledonian MacBrayne — Ferry services on Scotland’s west coast, it runs to 100 pages of full-colour photos of the current CalMac fleet, with additional gems for good measure. Here is Stuart Craig’s opinion of this attractive new publication.

Mark Nicolson (right) with Captain Lewis Mackenzie on the bridge of Isle of Mull in 2022

Mark’s magazine – if we should call it that –  starts with a résumé of CalMac heritage, describing the genesis and evolution of the company. He picks on some of the ‘classic’ ships that previously graced the fleet list: Glen Sannox, Pioneer and Iona to name just three. He then divides the CalMac network into recognisable geographic regions and gives detailed accounts of the vessels serving each area.

What makes this magazine stand out is the sheer number and exceptional quality of the photographs. I counted 212 of them, many of them stunning. Most of the photographs were taken by Mark, but he has also relied on other sources. My favourite is a double-page spread of Lord of the Isles approaching Mallaig, taken  by Mark himself in 2022. Every CalMac ship presently operating is given coverage, but he also includes vessels which previously sailed under the CalMac pennant, such as King George V and Waverley.

What strikes me about this work is that if anyone with just a little interest in the ships of CalMac wanted to learn more, this magazine would answer all their questions, and lead them, perhaps, to the start of a new hobby!

The text demonstrates that Mark either has done a lot of research, or just knows his subject intimately. I suspect the latter. It is written simply but well, with the abundance of facts that one would expect from the author. In each section the vessels operating on the respective routes is detailed in a chronological easy-to-read style. I’m sure no fact is missed out.

It is a well-known fact that Mark’s favourite CalMac ship is Isle of Lewis, and I noted that there are 17 photographs of her in the magazine. However, there are plenty of pictures of my favourite too, and indeed everyone’s favourite.

The ferries to Bute feature well in Mark’s survey of the CalMac fleet

The last couple of pages are devoted to the CalMac network route map and a familiar summary of the  ships currently serving on each route.

I have one or two quibbles. The captions would be easier to read if the ships’ names were printed in italics. Also, the provision of subtitles within each chapter seems a bit random.

For example, in the chapter ‘Outer Hebrides’, there is a  subtitle for ‘North Uist and Harris’ and another for ‘Lewis’, but the other islands in the chain are not given a similar sub-title treatment, although the services to all the islands are given considerable coverage.

Mark can be well proud of his work. The magazine format has given him a large platform to show his considerable photographic skills, and having it published in the World of Ships series will enable a large audience to enjoy it.

I would recommend this magazine to anyone remotely, or otherwise, interested in the CalMac fleet and the history of the company. At a price of £9.99 it represents excellent value.

You can buy the magazine from all good news outlets, or order direct from Kelsey Media here.

Mark Nicolson enjoys the benefits of CRSC membership. Why don’t you? You can join CRSC here and, like him, share your interest with like-minded enthusiasts.

Mark’s photos of Isle of Mull and Lord of the Isles at Lochboisdale are among the standout illustrations in Caledonian MacBrayne — Ferry services on Scotland’s west coast

Published on 31 October 2023