It is hard to know where to start. Sunshine — from start to finish. Ferries — as many as you could reasonably wish to see in a single day. People — a lively group interacting happily with each other and with the crew of MV Hebridean Isles. Satisfaction — that hard-to-describe feeling of euphoria that suggests you have hit the jackpot as far as cruising is concerned. Yes, CRSC’s trip to Colonsay on Saturday 12 May 2018 had it all.
Does fortune favour the brave? It certainly seemed so when we arrived at Oban after a remarkably swift and sun-blest coach journey from Bishopton Railway Station near Glasgow. CRSC’s band of intrepid excursionists had gathered at the civilised hour of 9am. We had taken in the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond as we sped north. We had admired the equally beautiful mirror-images of mountain and glen in the glassy waters of Loch Awe.
Then, let loose in ‘the Charing Cross of the Highlands’ for a couple of hours, the bonanza got underway. No, not the alfresco seafood on Oban’s Railway Pier or the coffee in harbour-front cafés; more than just the scent of the sea and the eternal allure of Morvern and Mull, basking beyond Kerrera beneath a radiant blue sky.
The real bonanza was the parade of CalMac ferries, each taking a bow in the bay for the benefit of the assembled company of CRSC photographers, as one after the other they pirouetted, berthed, unloaded, loaded and set off again, all beaming in reflected sunlight like the well-rehearsed performers they undoubtedly are.
Coruisk and Isle of Lewis led the procession westwards, bound respectively for Craignure and Castlebay. Loch Striven came in from Lismore, went for lunch (at the North Pier) and came back to the ‘King George’ corner of the Railway Pier. Isle of Mull came and went like clockwork. Coruisk came back and then, just as she was sidling out, crab-like, from the linkspan, our ship — Hebridean Isles, inbound from Lochboisdale — peeped over the brow of Kerrera. Soon she was sweeping past Coruisk in the narrow channel beneath Dunollie Castle and manoeuvring daintily into her berth.
We boarded just before 2.30pm, took up position on the open deck in front of the bridge (well, as many as could squeeze into the temporarily cordoned-off space there), and listened intently as intermittent bangs wafted up from somewhere beneath the bow door while a minor adjustment to ramp alignment was effected.
That slight delay served us well, because it gave us something that would not have been possible if we had left bang on time — a grandstand view of Lord of the Isles, as she arrived from Coll and Tiree and we left for Colonsay.
The mountains and cliffs of Mull, the land of Lorn, the Isles of the Sea (Garvellachs), the distinctive contours of Jura, Islay and, drawing ever closer, Colonsay — have they ever appeared more magical to the eye?
Less than 24 hours after gale force winds swept the Hebrides, here were we, soaking in the sun on untroubled waters. What a beneficial, calming effect it has on mind and spirit, to let the ship do the work and leave others to do the talking — though there was excitement aplenty when we were invited (in small groups) up to the wheelhouse.
There we were welcomed by Chief Officer Gary Calderwood and given the run of the high-flying open bridge wings: standing on that perch, looking down onto playful white waves in the ship’s wake, creates sensations that are impossible in the enclosed bridges of post-1980s CalMac ferries. ‘Heb Isles’ carved her way purposefully through a gentle southerly swell, and soon Colonsay was upon us.
Barra-born Captain Roddy MacLeod, 25 years a CalMac employee and 11 a master, negotiated the narrow harbour at Scalasaig with minimal fuss, turning the ship right in front of the pier roundhead.
An unexpectedly long line of 30-plus cars boarded, and soon we were off — to Oban, yes, but also to Hebridean Isles’ ‘mariners restaurant’ for a two-course meal (delicious soup, fish and chips, steak pie, apple pie and ice cream etc) served with a smile by the ship’s stewards.
Then the ‘glow’ of the return journey really set in. We headed north round Kerrera again (the passage through the Sound of Kerrera now being off-limits for CalMac ferries, apparently due to a proliferation of moorings and other obstacles), and watched Coruisk crossing to Craignure on her last run.
Isle of Mull and Lord of the Isles welcomed us back to Oban Bay, the former tied up at No. 1 linkspan, the latter moving off No. 2 linkspan to allow us to disembark — after which ‘Heb Isles’ transferred to the Lighthouse berth and ‘LOTI’ swung back round to take her overnight place for an early-morning departure.
As our coach set off along the esplanade on our way home, the sight of those three ferries in repose, now reflecting the dying western sun, made for a fitting finale.
Thanks to CRSC Cruising Coordinator Neil Guthrie for organising such a memorable day, to our driver Bobby Howie of Shuttle Buses Ltd for a smooth ride to Oban and back, and to the officers and crew of Hebridean Isles for their impeccable seamanship and attentiveness.
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