We have reached Day Four of the 2010 ‘Island Hop’ — one of many ferry safaris undertaken by Stuart Craig and friends between 1989 and 2013. You can read about the first 20 ‘Island Hops’ in Stuart’s books Away with the Ferries and Still Away with the Ferries: click here to buy the latter volume from the CRSC Shop at a specially discounted price, and you won’t stop laughing.
This latest episode finds the fab foursome trying to complete one of their longest-ever trips, as they head back to the Clyde from Tiree. To find out how their 2010 island-hopping holiday has gone so far, click here and here. For Stuart’s two-part report on their 2009 ‘Island Hop’, click here and here.
Day Four — Friday 4 June 2010
It’s another early start and I decide to go for a walk. Tiree is one of those islands where everyone who drives past waves at you. It makes you feel as though you are either royalty or have lots of friends. In the 10 minutes it takes to walk down to the pier I’ve gained eight new pals — don’t know any of their names but with friendly waves like that it can only be a matter of time before we swap email addresses. Either that or I look like Prince Charles this morning.
I assured the chaps earlier that the pier would not be busy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Around 60/70 cars are awaiting the arrival of Clansman. This takes me aback as there was obviously a sailing to Oban yesterday afternoon. But this is the English Whitsun holiday and many families are returning home, having had a glorious week on the island. The weather seems to be changing, however, as splats of rain accompany me on my royal walkabout.
In the car a bit later we have a discussion about whether Clansman has a mezzanine deck or not. I say ‘no’ but should really know better. It transpires that Clansman, and her sister Hebrides, each have a shorter mezz on the starboard side only, and it is in use today. Gibbie certainly knows better and heads off to ask the purser how the car deck is balanced on such a busy ship. It’s the engineer in him – he just has to know those kind of things. To balance the ship, ballast water is pumped from one side to the other to keep the ship on an even keel.
The ship is certainly busy, the busiest I have seen Clansman, I think. There are lots of blond, tousle-haired children roaming about, lots of dads in shorts and no small number of women knitting — presumably they’ve fleeced a couple of Tiree sheep during the course of the week. In the children’s corner The Flintstones is on telly, so that keeps the dads out of trouble for a while.
We keep well out of the way out on the rear deck — which is to say the only deck on Clansman. We are heading for Coll now and amazingly there are another 30 cars waiting there! The deck officer then has a very difficult job trying to physically fit all the awaiting traffic onto the car deck. It is great fun watching this. Many of the cars have bikes on rear carriers and this adds to the problem.
It takes half an hour to load at Arinagour pier, but the last car is successfully crammed in and we are on our way again — heading now for Oban. As we are sailing with the wind the deck is the place to be and we spend the entire sail to Oban out there; well almost the entire sailing. As usual I am drawn at some point to the cafeteria. I buy a tea and the steward on the till is obviously in chirpy mood.
“That’ll be £13.70 please.”
Before I can react he quickly offers “only kidding, £1.15.”
“I bet someone would buy that,” I return.
“Oh yes, last week a chap came up to the counter with two fish and chips, I said £36.70 please and he just handed it over.”
“I hope he shared your sense of humour.”
“Yes he thought it was quite funny.”
“Strange, because I know some places where that’s quite cheap for a fish supper!”
At Oban we are the second last car off the ferry — we are on the mezzanine deck. We drive out of town speedily, making this the briefest visit we’ve ever made to the west coast metropolis. There is no hanging about because none of the other ships that regularly sail out of here are due in port.
Tonight we will be staying on Arran, so we take the most direct route to get ourselves there. That involves the Claonaig-Lochranza ferry. So our route is down the A83 to Lochgilphead, then Tarbert and on to the Kintyre ferry port of Claonaig.
The Claonaig ferry is not bookable so it is with a degree of concern that we join the end of a convoy of vehicles heading up the single-track road from Kennacraig towards the Claonaig slipway. But the cars ahead of us all turn off in various directions and we quickly realise there will be no problem getting aboard Loch Tarbert.
By now the sky has cleared completely, any remaining breeze has dissipated and a calm has descended. This is a shame in a sense because I always like a wee roll on this crossing, even a roll and sausage would be quite nice, but neither is on offer. We sail at 1620 and it is flat calm. Up on the top deck the peaks of Arran draw gradually nearer.
Andy drives us south through an Arran which is looking particularly stunning this afternoon. The hillsides are a vivid green dotted with yellow broom and white hawthorn bushes. It is nice to have someone else do the driving, even if it is Sterling Anderson, and to be able to ogle at the scenery. For although I have been here so many times, the dramatic scenery of the north-east corner of Arran never tires the eye as it has to be one of the most stunning parts of Scotland.
Brodick sparkles in early evening sunshine and we stretch out on the grassy front and wonder what to do now. Andy takes a sneezing fit and is now convinced he’s caught Gibbie’s cold. Gibbie meanwhile has made a remarkable recovery. So much so that he insists we head up to the Ormidale Hotel for dinner — and that’s up a hill! There we sip a beer, swat midges and listen to a pipe-band rehearsing. Their laments soon have Andy marching up and down with arms swinging and tears running down his face. We’ve got tears running down our faces as well, but not for sentimental reasons!
Tomorrow’s itinerary still has to be discussed. We had intended to depart Brodick on the 1105 sailing but this is full, so the 0820 it has to be. This throws Gibbie into a panic as it means he has to get up before 0700 and he has not seen that time of day for several years. But the positive side is that we have all day to weave an intricate pattern round the Clyde. So an amended itinerary is quickly penciled-in. That done, Gibbie heads off to bed at eight o’clock!
Day Five — Saturday 5 June 2010
“It’s amazing just how many people get up at this time.”
“Yes it’s called ‘morning’ Gibbie,” says Ian.
We’re up at 0630 for an early ‘continental’ breakfast. We are happy with cereal, fruit salad and toast but a ‘Mrs Doyle’ lookalike (as in the Channel 4 sitcom) is hovering over us determined to prepare us a cooked breakfast.
“Thank you, but we’re fine thanks.”
“Would a wee bit of bacon set you up for the day?”
“Honestly, the toast is delicious, and there’s plenty of tea. We can always get a cooked breakfast on the ship.”
This was clearly the wrong thing to say.
“It’s no trouble to put an egg in a pan!”
“We’re fine thanks.”
She takes two steps away from us then looks back with sorrowful eyes. I shake my head to her as tactfully as I can. She nods and heads back to the kitchen.
“This breakfast suits me just fine,” says Ian.
“Mmm.” We agree.
“I can fry an egg in a couple of minutes!” I jump out my skin as I never saw her return.
Caledonian Isles is loading at the pier and it is clear she is going to be full. I count a hundred cars waiting on the pier. It takes a while to load — but we are in no rush. Once on board, the queue for a cooked breakfast runs all the way to Ardrossan. Where is Mrs Doyle now?
We sit out on the capacious deck of ‘Caley Isles’ for the entire crossing. It is a magnificent day — there is no other way to describe it. By the time we are passing through the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ at Ardrossan I find the ‘roll and sausage’ queue has diminished, so I indulge.
From Ardrossan it is a quick drive up the road to Wemyss Bay. This means that we’re off to Bute now.
The crewman scrutinises our Rover tickets.
“Never seen them before.”
There are not many cars waiting for the ferry, but when Argyle struggles up to the pier and it is our turn to move forwards we find that there is no driver in the car in front.
The marshalling attendant is apologetic.
“Sorry chaps, could you reverse a bit and pass round it.”
Andy offers him good advice, “blow it up! It’s unattended baggage, blow it up!”
Argyle is full of large ladies heading for a day of culture in Rothesay. We join them on the upper deck and educate Ian on the differences between Argyle and her sister Bute. Something to do with windows.
We get deposited at Rothesay and immediately head north to the Rhubodach ferry. Daft, isn’t it? We arrive on an island and can’t wait to get back off again! In fact I lie: we first go to the Craigmore tearoom for four enormous wedges of apple pie. We indulge in this at the very end of the stone pier, or what remains of it, and reminisce on the fantastic ‘real’ steamers that used to grace these waters.
Loch Dunvegan has us back on the mainland faster than we can say “they should build a bridge here.” We’ve been on two islands and three ferries and it is barely past noon.
We’re finishing Island Hop 2010 with the Dunoon-Gourock crossing, the first time we have ended with this route since 2001. That day it was Juno. The dear old ‘streaker’ won’t be sailing today, in fact she won’t ever be sailing again as she has been laid up for the last three years at Rosneath. The usual incumbent on the Dunoon route nowadays is her sister Jupiter, but by chance she is having what could well turn out to be her final overhaul at Greenock. She may even be joining her sister Juno in suspended animation at Rosneath before the summer is out.
That means it will be Saturn today. Now, we have not sailed on Saturn since the days of 2000, so we are all excited about that chaps, aren’t we? Well, ‘not really’ is the answer and that’s fair enough. We have that inevitable ‘going home’ feeling.
At Dunoon there are only two cars head of us in the queue.
“Do you think we’ll get on?” says Ian.
The Rover tickets are thrust out at the CalMac chap in the yellow jacket.
The kind of puzzled look that we’ve seen before comes over his face.
“I’ve never seen these before.”
We are off sideways from the pier at 1350 and plonk ourselves on the deck (wooden by the way) as the ship weaves left and right to avoid the yachting regatta that is creaming past us in the opposite direction.
Soon it’s ‘finished with engines’ and I wonder if we will ever again sail on a ‘streaker’ on an Island Hop (it turns out that this was indeed the last time). The results of the tendering for the Gourock-Dunoon route will be announced soon and it is likely that a passenger ferry will replace CalMac’s old ships.
At Gourock we find a cafe to indulge in lots of health food, and then it is simply a case of getting Ian to Glasgow Airport for his flight home. His parting words are the same every time.
“See you next year!
ISLAND HOP 2010 – the full itinerary
ULLAPOOL 1025 Isle of Lewis
TARBERT 1600 Hebrides
ERISKAY 1300 Loch Alainn
CASTLEBAY 1515 Clansman
TIREE 0920 Clansman
CLAONAIG 1620 Loch Tarbert
BRODICK 0820 Caledonian Isles
WEMYSS BAY 1015 Argyle
RHUBODACH 1210 Loch Dunvegan
DUNOON 1350 Saturn