Island Hop 2011 reaches its watery conclusion. Does the bad luck which has dogged this trip continue? Will Stuart Craig and pals, Gibbie, Ian and Andy, give up their annual sojourn in the Hebrides? Let’s catch up with them at Port Askaig.
Day Three — Wednesday 10 August 2011
Another day of island hops, or in today’s case, hop. We are going to Colonsay and no further. This gives us another opportunity to stay overnight on this paradigm of a Hebridean island; it will be Andy’s first chance.
Imagine walking the empty beaches and driving the quiet roads of this beautiful island, stretching out on the dunes and sunning our weather-beaten brows in the hot August sunshine. Well, we can imagine all we like but it ain’t going to happen today: the entire west coast is shrouded in low, saturated stratus cloud and it’s dreich. We can barely see our ship arriving at Port Askaig for the cats and dogs rain. But we can see enough of her to identify the unmistakable lines of Isle of Arran emerging from the gloamin’.
“So it’s not Finlaggan, then?” enquires Gibbie – his glasses are steamed up again. We embark via the car deck where Andy gives a Highland Fling dance to amuse the deck crew, until he almost gets mown down by a B. Mundell truck.
The trip to Colonsay takes 75 minutes. A pleasant, benign swell is rocking the ship, giving us that ‘oh we really are out at sea’ feel. But the weather is worsening and Ian is beginning to have reservations about spending a whole day on the island. “If this keeps up, we’ll end up spending most of the day in the bar!” As this sounds like a sensible suggestion, I add it to the ‘things to do on Colonsay in the rain’ list.
At least we have a car, allowing us to stay dry, in both senses of the word, at the Colonsay Hotel. Here, after our delicious — if pricey — soup, we plan the rest of our day.
“Five pounds for a bowl of soup!” Andy is muttering. So we quickly drag him outdoors and head off on a whirlwind tour of Colonsay.
First stop is the golf course where Andy swings an imaginary club at the attendant sheep. Then it’s Colonsay House and finally back to the pier to watch Isle of Arran emerge from the murk on her return from Oban. We have to lock Ian in the car to prevent him getting back aboard her. After that there’s nothing else for it – it has to be the bar. It’s a pleasant evening, and Andy is the last to call-it-a-day. As I lie in my bed, I can hear him coming along the corridor to his room muttering “Five pounds for a bowl of soup!”
Day Four — Thursday 11 August 2011
It is another grey day as we prepare to leave Colonsay. The rain eases slightly, allowing our camera to record Lord of the Isles’ arrival from Oban. Andy records it just a bit too closely. He is at the sharp end of the pier as the ship creeps in and receives a fully justified admonishment from one of the pier men. He shuffles back to us looking like a schoolboy who’s just been caned for forgetting his homework. “Health and Safety,” mumbles his big brother, “two words that ruined the empire.”
Lord of the Isles is a favourite of ours. As she sits at the pier with her visor agape she seems to be saying “where have you been boys?”
In the bar we toast Island Hop 2011 with coffee. Coffee! Well, it is early. Suitably refreshed, Andy gets chatting to the girl at the servery. “Do you think five pounds is a lot for a bowl of soup?”
The shop has a good selection of ‘steamer’ and ferry books. Including copies of Still Away With The Ferries, so I rearrange the display, hiding a well-known steamer luminary’s book behind mine.
We exit the Sound of Kerrera at 1415 and pass into Oban Bay. It looks like a race for the pier against Clansman, which has entered the bay from the north. Strange, she should be at Tiree. I head off to the purser’s office to find out why. I have an enquiring mind – I caught it from Gibbie years ago. Clansman has engine problems, apparently. She set off for Coll and Tiree this morning but had to turn back at the north end of Mull. Just as well we didn’t spend the night on one of those islands.
In a way it sums up our trip this year. A lot of things haven’t worked out as planned on Island Hop 2011 – most conspicuously the Waverley and Saturn cancellations. Usually they do – maybe we’ve just been so lucky over the years. It’s a long drive back to Glasgow. I raise the thorny question: “Well chaps, are we coming back next year?” There is a stony silence, broken only by Andy muttering “five pounds for a bowl of soup!”