In the third instalment of his ‘Confessions of a cameraman’, Lawrence Macduff freewheels over West Highland roads to catch ships at Loch Shiel and Lochboisdale, and discovers the joys of Ru Idrigil on Skye.
July 1967 holiday to the Outer Hebrides
The Seamen’s Strike in June 1966 destroyed what should have been my first proper holiday to the Western Isles, so the following summer I planned a similar trip encompassing most ships in the fleet. This involved one hairy early morning taxi journey from a B&B in Fort William to Acharacle on Loch Shiel to allow me to see, photograph and travel on MacBrayne’s mail boat Lochailort.
Our taxi driver had had a late hire the previous night and had been unable to get petrol in time for our job, so he was concerned about running out of fuel before we reached Acharacle. This involved driving along the main A830 Mallaig road as far as Lochailort, then turning off onto the then just completed new section of the A861 heading for Glenuig, before the road ran inland towards Acharacle.
By dint of some judicious freewheeling, he reached Acharacle without incident and, much relieved, my companion Judy and I were able to walk up the pier to Lochailort, which was sitting awaiting passengers.
I had enough time to take my obligatory photographs before we boarded for the two-hour sail up the 18-mile length of Loch Shiel.
I had heard that this mail service was due to be withdrawn now that the road had been improved. The wee craft made calls at Dalilea and Polloch, and arrived on time at Glenfinnan pier. This is not that close to the station, so a high-speed scramble was necessary to get the connecting train for Mallaig.
That was not the only worrisome connection on this holiday. In order to maximise sailing on as many ships as possible, I had arranged that on arrival at Lochmaddy a couple of days later, we should hire a taxi for the 47-mile drive to Lochboisdale where we would join Claymore for her overnight return passage to Oban.
Hebrides ran a bit late, so the available time to reach Lochboisdale was shortened and, to make matters worse, the taxi conked out before we had even got half a mile out of Lochmaddy. It turned out to be a poor coil lead connection — not that I had any car knowledge then. Anyway, we finally reached Lochboisdale in near darkness after a two-hour journey, just in time to board Claymore for our passage back to Oban.
Ru Idrigil in 1970, my first attempt at ‘aerial’ photography
By this time, having crossed the Minch several times, I couldn’t help but notice this striking headland which overlooks the village of Uig: it had the makings of a fantastic site for taking pictures of the resident ferry Hebrides as she came and went on her Minch crossings.
In July 1970 I reached Uig by bus from Kyleakin and, after securing a B&B in the village, decided it was time to go and find out how on earth a body could get up to Ru Idrigil. As it happened, there was only one way — the hard way! Sodden ground, bits of old barbed wire fence, slippy rocks, plus the burden of an overladen camera holdall — everything you need to make life hard.
But then, after a breath-extracting 30-minute slog, I was rewarded at the top with a splendid view across Loch Snizort and a ferry in the distance, drawing closer all the time. This location offered marvellous aerial-type shots of the ferry — in this case, the still-quite-new Hebrides, best seen on either a morning arrival or evening departure.
Morning pictures were usually better as the ship passed the headland at full power with little smoke from the funnel. On an evening departure she would had been at the pier for at least three-quarters of an hour before leaving, and that meant lots of smoke. On one beautiful night, an otherwise sunlit ship was half obscured by exhaust as she approached me, leaving me fuming as well. That’s Macpherson’s law for you!
At this point in the story I have to say that, while I was frantically picking off various ships in various places with the camera, the fact that I found myself amid beautiful scenery prompted me to begin taking photographs of scenic views, wild life, iconic buildings and anything else that looked appealing.
Skye was a perfect example of stunning land- and seascapes, and I hold that first visit to Ru Idrigil as the catalyst for widening the range of work I tackled. It mattered little that the photographs I took were poorly composed, badly lit or unoriginal. As time went by, the memories they stirred were just as important. Gradually I started to improve on the pictures of places I had visited before, and the process continues to this day.
NEXT: Lawrence visits Shetland in 1972 for an unforgettable trip on Earl of Zetland.
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