Snapping Alfred at Campbeltown: a long day’s journey into night

‘Now Campbeltown Loch is a beautiful place…’: at least some of the words of the famous Andy Stewart song were apposite on the day Alfred visited the Kintyre port for berthing trials, even if the loch was not filled with whisky. Eric Schofield arrived in time to capture the catamaran ferry passing Davaar Lighthouse on an afternoon of glorious sunshine. This was not Alfred’s first visit to Campbeltown. She made her debut there on Wednesday 2 May during a day of berthing trials that included Ardrossan, Troon and Ayr, but the visit photographed by Eric on Tuesday 13 June was the vessel’s first since her ramp was adapted to suit certain west coast terminals

Eric Schofield thought a trip to Campbeltown to photograph MV Alfred’s berthing trial would make an easy day’s excursion. He got more than he bargained for.

‘That was a day and a half’: how many times have we found ourselves using that phrase to describe something which turned out to be more than we expected?

It seems the most appropriate way to sum up my feelings after a day trip to Campbeltown on Tuesday 13 June. The idea was to photograph the latest addition to CalMac’s fleet, the chartered catamaran vehicle ferry MV Alfred, when she paid a short visit to the Kintyre town for trial berthing. Although the CalMac website gave advance notification of the visit, there was no mention of why that particular afternoon had been chosen. I suspect it was because it would coincide with a low spring tide.

Lord of the Isles at Kennacraig on 13 June, pictured during the brief stop by Eric’s Citylink bus. Click on image to enlarge

Driving there by car was perfectly possible — at the cost of at least half a tank of petrol. But what about ‘Citylinking – Smart thinking’? For only £1 (with Saltire concession pass for over 60s), outward and return journeys could be booked in advance on the 926 bus, leaving at 0910 from Buchanan Bus Station, arriving 1330, with return from Campbeltown at 1700, due Glasgow at 2116.

So the plan was laid.

The admittedly long and possibly tedious bus journeys were offset by the knowledge that outward and return stops at Kennacraig would both coincide with MV Lord of the Isles’ presence at the pier. An educated guess for Alfred’s arrival and departure at Campbeltown suggested they would fit my timetable.

The outward run was delayed almost immediately by temporary traffic lights before we had turned onto West Graham Street. At the Balloch turnoff roundabout we joined a huge tailback and then lost our place in the line of traffic at Duck Bay, where we had to stop and pick up a fare. After that, ever so gradually things started to improve. The driver warned us that, as we were already running some 20 minutes behind schedule, the break of journey at Inveraray would not be possible, and our arrival at Kennacraig was perfect for the Islay ferry. Campbeltown was duly reached on schedule.

The accompanying photos tell the simple facts of my visit. Was the berthing successful? We need someone with inside knowledge to tell us that. Alfred docked in a single straight-backwards manoeuvre, but the guys in ‘high-vis’ helmets and gilets seemed rightly concerned with the angle of the ship’s ramp and the steepness of the linkspan — or so it seemed from my position outside the fenced-off pier.

Alfred docked in a single straight-backwards manoeuvre’

The bus left Campbeltown right on time at 1700. Kintyre’s west coast shimmered in the glorious conditions. The sight, both on the run down and back, of the beautiful beach at Westport recalled for me a Primary School holiday camp that we had, based in Campbeltown School, back in the mid 1950s.

In Inveraray we were stretching our legs during a 10-minute break when the 976 bus from Oban to Glasgow arrived, bearing news of the closure of the A82 Loch Lomondside road south of Tarbet, following a serious accident. With no likelihood of it re-opening soon, the two drivers discussed strategies to get their respective passengers to their destinations. We knew in advance that we would most likely be delayed by the roadwork at Rest and Be Thankful, but queuing alongside Loch Restil seemed to take ages — and when we moved forward it became obvious why: the A83 was closed for the ongoing construction work and we were being convoyed down the Old Military Road.

Both buses would divert at Tarbet to turn up the A82 to Crianlarich, then follow the A85 to Lochearnhead and the A84 towards Callendar and Stirling.  The Oban bus cut off to head southwest to Balloch (for known booked passengers) whilst we continued on to join the M9/M80 route at Stirling, hoping for a speedy run into Glasgow.

No such luck. The motorway was closed (quite why, I do not know) and we were diverted into the Castlecary/Haggs area, Dennyloanhead and Kilsyth. Progress was slow in local roads not designed for heavy traffic and eventually our driver’s allowed hours ran out.

Departure from Campbeltown

Stuck on a pavement in some part of Kilsyth, now in the dark, we had to await the arrival of a relief driver from the Citylink depot. Eventually we reached Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station about 23.10. With the last Neilston train gone I hurried down to Bath Street and was relieved to see that the last 38 bus to Newton Mearns was soon due.

I arrived home just after midnight. Thankfully, and most thoughtfully, my wife Carol had stayed up and soon dished up a welcome cup of tea and buttered toast.

Whilst relating the story of my seven-hour homeward journey, my thoughts drifted back to the 1960s when Duchess of Hamilton (or other steamer) brought me back from Campbeltown in four and a half hours with train connections via Fairlie, or even just under six hours via Gourock. Oh how I wished……….zzzzzzzzzz.

Eric Schofield, until recently CRSC’s honorary secretary, is a longstanding connoisseur of west coast travel. You can join CRSC here and, like him, share your interest in ships with like-minded enthusiasts.

Alfred basks in the sunshine on her approach to the pier at Campbeltown on Tuesday 13 June. This was not the Kintyre town’s first sight of a catamaran vehicle ferry: her fleetmate Pentalina visited two summers ago

A plume of exhaust smoke hangs in the air as Alfred prepares to berth

Next step: Alfred turns her stern towards the linkspan…

… and lowers her ramp

Was the berthing successful? ‘We need someone with inside knowledge to tell us that. The guys in ‘high-vis’ helmets and gilets seemed rightly concerned with the angle of the ship’s ramp and the steepness of the linkspan’

Time to move on: Alfred leaves Campbeltown pier — but will she ever come back?


Rob Beale’s Alfred Experience (May 2023)

A catamaran car ferry in CalMac Territory (Pentalina June 2021)

All tickets please — the full 28-part series of articles by Eric Schofield

Published on 16  June 2023