Skiting sunwards on snowy roads

‘I set eyes on the most glorious sight to behold. Nature’s beauty was all embracing’: Lawrence’s photo of Isle of Arran approaching West Loch Tarbert on 8 December 2010, with snow-covered Jura as a backdrop

In the latest of his ‘Confessions of a Cameraman’, Lawrence Macduff recalls how, after a night of snow across central Scotland, he set off on another of his ‘madasafish’ ferry photography escapades — and came back with a set of glorious images.

The 7th and 8th December 2010 will be remembered by many in central Scotland as a nightmare time when they were trapped overnight in their cars on the M8 and elsewhere after a huge snowfall and then a freeze. A certain transport minister of the day had to carry the can for that and, soon after, got the bums rush. As for me, then temporarily unemployed, I saw only a blue sky, sunshine and snow-covered landscapes, and was driven by the ultimate resolve to go and take pictures of a certain ferry, then as I wrongly thought, making an uncommon appearance on the Islay service.

Lawrence Macduff

The biggest drawback of living in a place like Kilmarnock is the distance you have to travel to get anywhere towards the west and north west, let alone anywhere in a hurry. For many missions up north, I have long considered a 4am departure essential. The alternative, of getting the first Western Ferries departure from McInroy’s Point, is not always an option, but if you do, you then have a 30-mile drive to get to the main A83 at Cairndow before you can even head for Inveraray and then proceed either to Oban or to West Loch Tarbert, depending on your plans.

Now, as it happened, I had been made redundant for a time since late summer 2010 and thus found myself able to grab weather windows to take off and shoot pictures of anything that looked worthwhile. During the second half of November, Lord of the Isles had been down to relieve Hebridean Isles on the Islay run, and on 30 November, after a little overnight snowfall, I rushed down and had a successful day filming the ship from my usual vantage points on West Loch Tarbert.

Then, overnight on the 6th, there was a far greater snowfall, and when I woke at 3.30am on the 7th and saw a clear starry sky, I was quite sure it would be glorious in Kintyre, and knew I had to attempt another journey to Kennacraig. I realised that the only hope of getting there from Kilmarnock was to make for the A78 coast road and McInroy’s Point, as the main A77 over Fenwick moor would almost certainly be a no go.

The moderating influence of sea air might mean the coast road wouldn’t be so bad — and so it proved. I reached McInroy’s without too much trouble, but as soon as I set off inland on the A815 Loch Eck side, road conditions deteriorated. At 6.45am no one with any common sense was about, and who other than a supreme optimist (or a bampot like me) would be attempting this journey for leisure purposes.

Hebridean Isles off Dunskeig, West Loch Tarbert, on 7 December 2010, the day after horrendous snowfall caused havoc on the roads of central Scotland

At this point I had heard nothing about the overnight disaster on the M8 and all the trapped cars stuck in freezing conditions. As a classic car buff, I have a number of elderly models which are first rate in snow, but this time had opted, maybe unwisely, to use one of my more modern cars (for me, that’s about 15 years old!). These tend to have wider wheels and thinner tyres, and are often like Bambi in snow, though on this particular morning’s roads, I had space to slither about without hitting anything.

As I rounded the head of Loch Fyne at 7.30am, conditions were better than expected – yes, there was snow around, but there was now a cloudless sky, the sun was beginning to rise and I was full of hope that my mission would be hugely rewarding.

All was going perfectly well until a quite unwanted appearance by H.M. Constabulary, who flagged me down just beyond the canal bridge at Ardrishaig – just a spot check to see that I had working lights, trafficators, seat belt in place and tyres that looked OK.

No query as to where I’d come from or where I was going. Proceeding thereafter without further delay, I reached Corran Point at the foot of West Loch Tarbert by 9.30am and set eyes on the most glorious sight to behold. Nature’s beauty was all embracing and it was so satisfying to have been able to reach this favourite place, despite the road conditions. I found I had some radio reception and was quite staggered to hear about the extent and seriousness of conditions in the central belt.

I had been motivated in part by the possibility of having a second bite at the cherry and taking further good shots of Lord of the Isles, but since the previous week’s visit, she had been replaced by Hebridean Isles. Nevertheless, that ship was fresh from the paint shop, so to speak, and when I saw her approach, I was soon hopping about in delight at this prospect, just like a big wean, though part of that exuberance was an attempt to try and restore circulation to two frozen walking-boot-clad feet.

In winter, one big bonus if you can get the angle right, is to line up the ship with the Paps of Jura in the background — even more so if they have some snow on them. Well, they sure did, but I needed height to get what I thought would be the best results. Everything was thickly cloaked with snow, and the grass and rock mound I often use for elevated pictures was similarly covered. What a pity that my walking pole, which would of course have been ever so handy here, was safely ensconced in the hall rack at home — this is all part of the ‘ syndrome’ that comes with pension age!

The snow was so thick that as I put each foot forward I had no idea what I was sinking into, until I hit solid ground several inches below. I finally clawed my way to the top, but even up there, the sun was so low in the sky, even at midday, that as the ship passed, her hull plating reflected sun dazzle throughout the firing sequence — though most of the pictures were really nice….

It was all worth it, and knowing that Isle of Arran would be on these timings tomorrow, I repeated the operation on an equally beautiful morning, with road conditions a little improved. My final glorious sight of the day was that of the ‘Arran’ receding into the distance with the Paps of Jura, still sunlit but part covered by a raging snow squall.

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‘I was motivated in part by the possibility of taking further shots of Lord of the Isles’: LOTI enters West Loch Tarbert on 30 November 2010

The approach of Christmas: Hebridean Isles heads down West Loch Tarbert en route to Islay on 7 December 2010

Hebridean Isles off Dunskeig on her way to Kennacraig on 7 December 2010

‘My final sight of the day was of the ‘Arran’ receding into the distance with the Paps of Jura’: Isle of Arran heads for Port Askaig on 8 December 2010, viewed from the southern end of West Loch Tarbert

Lawrence’s Mission Improbable
Return from Mission Improbable
Boating with a Box Brownie
Remembering Jim Aikman Smith
Three Lochs Tour: Loch Shiel, Loch Boisdale and Loch Snizort
Kerrera, bank keys and the ‘King George’
A fitting introduction to the Kingdom of MacBrayne
Golden memories of the Inner Islands mail
‘Hielan Mary gets all the best steamer views!’
A brand new ferry to pursue (MV Pioneer)
What one does for the love of a steamer photo
The delights of Dunskeig
Hiking up to Hutcheson
That Kennacraig foreshore is bogging!
Lawrence Macduff on MacBraynes’ Lochiel (CRSC members only)
Lawrence Macduff on MV Iona
Lawrence Macduff: ‘On the Spot’
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Published on 9 September 2020