Taking passage to Arran — the CSP years

Glen Sannox at Brodick on 27 July 1968, viewed from Queen Mary II: of all the vessels showcased in Eric Schofield’s presentation, Glen Sannox had special prominence in recognition of this being the 60th anniversary of her 1957 debut on the Arran run. Side-loading was the norm at Brodick until a linkspan was fitted in 1970

Eric Schofield delighted CRSC’s March meeting at Jurys Inn, Glasgow, with his vintage collection of colour photographs themed round the island of Arran. Report by Robert Cleary.

During introductory remarks by our President, Iain Morgan, a frisson of eager anticipation swept through the audience as we contemplated the title slide “Passage to Arran — the CSP years”. The speaker for the evening was our well-known and respected Honorary Secretary, Eric Schofield.

Iain Morgan welcomes everyone to the March meeting, before handing over to Eric Schofield (right)

Eric began by outlining the scope of his talk — the many sailings he had made to, from and round the island of Arran, with special emphasis on the 60th anniversary of its full car ferry service. Having outlined the scale of the task, Eric went back even further, to his first holiday visit to the island, at Mid Thunderguy in 1953. He realised it would take too much time to cover the entire intervening period in one evening, hence the decision to restrict himself on this occasion to the CSP era, ending in 1973.

Throughout a delightful, well researched and beautifully illustrated lecture, Eric as always had an eye for the telling detail in his photographs, such as the busy pier scenes, the local variety of Arran buses, the simple pleasures of a family holiday on an island then much quieter and underdeveloped compared with today, and above all the variety of scenery available to the traveller from the decks of a steamer or ferry.

In particular he highlighted the ease of access people had in the past at piers, where good close-up shots could be had of the steamer arriving or departing. Those comings and goings were important events in themselves for families, day-trippers and local folk alike.

Eric calculated that he had worked out around 50 varieties of ways of reaching Arran by steamer, setting out from the railheads at Ardrossan, Fairlie, Wemyss Bay, Gourock or Craigendoran on regular services, or reaching the island by steamers the Club had chartered, two of which were especially notable — Queen Mary II to Lochranza with ferry landing at Corrie in September 1967 and King George V on an evening charter from Gourock and Wemyss Bay in 1970.

Onboard Glen Sannox at Brodick on 14 November 1970, showing seats inherited from Duchess of Montrose. Copyright Eric Schofield

As well as the regular vessels from Ardrossan and Fairlie, Eric travelled via special holiday relief runs undertaken by the ‘Duchesses’, Queen Mary II, Caledonia and Waverley. Various connecting services meant that all the main car ferries were used, and even the ‘Maids’, Talisman, Keppel and Countess of Breadalbane played their part in creating a whole day’s programme.

Eric’s extensive photographic record and detailed notes of sailings gave us many memorable moments to savour: the various facets of the island’s beauty were seen from every angle and through the prism of the changing seasons. The piers at Lochranza and Whiting Bay featured prominently, but of course Brodick itself was the star: Eric showed how dramatically it has changed over the years.

Several photographs stood out for this reviewer — an evening shot of Queen Mary II arriving in the sunshine at Brodick, Glen Sannox emerging from a sea fog on her way into Ardrossan, Waverley sweeping out astern from Ardrossan Harbour, Manxman at Ardrossan and a view of Glen Sannox at Winton Pier from the high vantage point of the Burns Laird car ferry Lion. These were excellent photos in themselves but they highlighted in detail what used to happen.

Despite what we tell ourselves, the weather in the past could be unpredictable too, and we saw Waverley punching her way down-firth in stormy conditions from Largs to Brodick.

View of Pladda from Duchess of Hamilton on the Sunday afternoon return trip from Campbeltown. Copyright Eric Schofield

Two ways of reaching Arran featured with special prominence — Duchess of Hamilton’s Sunday trip outwards via Lochranza to Campbeltown, returning via Pladda and Whiting Bay (latterly Brodick after Whiting Bay closed at the end of the 1961 season), and the ‘Evening Breather’ excursion by train from Glasgow to Ardrossan, Glen Sannox to Brodick with high tea on board, and the last run of the day back to Fairlie and train home. As the years went by old favourites disappeared, but relief ships and holiday specials added variety and excitement for Eric in his travels.

The further development of the car ferry service using Cowal to serve Arran and Kintyre from Fairlie, though short-lived, provided further opportunities for Arranophiles. The introduction of a new Caledonia in May 1970 brought more change with drive-through operation. Glen Sannox received a stern ramp and the new MacBrayne car ferry Iona brought special loads to Brodick on winter Sundays.

In a 2016-17 session when the Club’s programme of talks has been particularly strong, Eric’s was for me a memorable highlight. As they say, it ‘ticked every box’ for the steamer enthusiast, and reminded us again of the panoply of services available to the travelling public from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Eric is to be commended and thanked for a truly wonderful evening’s entertainment, which surely will encourage members to go back to Arran again and again — especially in the coming summer when further opportunities will be available on board Caledonian Isles and Isle of Arran on the main route from Ardrossan, on the new hybrid ferry Catriona from Claonaig to Lochranza and on the excursion steamers Waverley and Balmoral to Lochranza.

Of particular interest will be the opening of the new harbour facility at Brodick in August, when the regular ferries will inaugurate an enlarged two-berth pier and Waverley is also scheduled to call.

The meeting closed with a hearty vote of thanks proposed by Andy Anderson.

Before Eric’s talk Iain Morgan paid tribute to Mike Mackenzie, a longstanding and well-kent Club member from Largs, who died at the weekend.

Period peace: Caledonia arrives at Whiting Bay on 12 August 1961. Copyright Eric Schofield

Duchess of Hamilton speeds past Kings Cross in August 1961 on her way to Whiting Bay. Copyright Eric Schofield

The way things were in 1969: Goatfell looks much the same today, but Duchess of Hamilton is long gone. Copyright Eric Schofield

Lochranza pier viewed from Duchess of Hamilton on her return from Campbeltown on 25 August 1964. Copyright Eric Schofield

Cowal sits at Brodick pier on 24 January 1970, as construction of linkspan and causeway begins. Copyright Eric Schofield

Barely half a year later, the newly imported car ferry Caledonia lies at the new Brodick linkspan in September 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield



Special load: Iona at Brodick on 18 October 1970. Copyright Eric Schofield

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