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16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse

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Ferries galore - or are there?

I'm blogging out of area again. Sorry. It is actually quite a large issue, and would like to hear from other island bloggers (Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and further down the Western Isles chain) about the below issue.

Councillors from Argyll and from South Uist had it out this week over the ferry services between the mainland and South Uist. People in South Uist prefer their ferry to go to Mallaig rather than Oban. The journey from Lochboisdale to Oban takes nearly 5½ hours, but from Lochboisdale to Mallaig is only 3 hours. In the 1990s, there was a summer service between the two ports, which was discontinued by operators Caledonian MacBraynes.

The Argyll councillor did not want another ferrylink to the Western Isles as they are already plentifully served with ferries. The South Uist councillor protested vehemently against his Argyll counterpart, as the introduction of the Mallaig ferry is seen as a potential boost of the Uist economy as a whole.

Central to this argument lies the fact that Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray are all linked by causeways. A ferry also plies between Lochmaddy (North Uist) and Skye. The assertion by the Argyll councillor that the Western Isles are ALL linked by causeway is deplorably incorrect. Barra is linked to Eriskay by ferry, and Harris can only be reached by ferry from Berneray, Skye or (after a 40 mile roadjourney) Ullapool through Stornoway.
Another argument against the alleged (sic) supplementary ferrylink is that Colonsay, Coll and Tiree only have 3 sailings a week in the wintertime.

I think there are a few things not being made clear here. I would think (my idea) that on introduction of the Mallaig - Uist ferry, the Oban - Uist ferry link would be withdrawn. It would stand to reason that the Barra ferry would follow suit, or even be discontinued altogether. You can go from Barra to South Uist by inter-island ferry after all. Although the Argyll councillor does not say as much, Oban stands to lose a lot of traffic, trade and tourism if the Outer Isles ferry were to stop using it as its mainland terminus.

The Outer Isles are fairly well served by ferries, but the Skye to North Uist service is at best inconsistent, as its ferry has to be shared with the Skye to Harris route, both operating out of Uig, Skye.

Colonsay, Coll and Tiree are going to have air services in the near future. That is not as expensive as it may sound; I have done a 40 mile return air journey in Orkney return for £12.

As the Calmac routes are currently out for tender, I suggest (who am I) that a healthy debate be conducted over ferries, routes and frequencies on the West Coast. There is a lot of room for improvement.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 19:57


While on the subject of Calmac it was rumoured recently that prior to the Queen taking her cruise, Buckingham Palace rang Calmac thinking they owned the Hebridean Princess only to be told that no vessel was available for the Royals. Calmac is now advertising itself as a company ' By Royal Disappointment'.

calumannabel from ness lewis

The main issues with Cal Mac regarding Arran is the rediculously high fares, the huge drop off of services in the winter including the last ferry to the mainland leaving at 4.40pm and the last ferry for Arran from Ardrossan leaving at 6pm. There is another ferry operator from Campletown who writes to the Banter now and then trying to muster support for some competition but as long as Cal Mac own the piers and therefor decide who gets to berth there I think it will be a long wait. As for the ferry services being put out to tender, as far as I'm aware, alledgedly, I could be wrong but I thought it was common knowledge that the routes have only been put to tender because a European directive gave the executive no choice and the executive have made no secret that Cal Mac are going to win the contract?

Sunny from Arran

The general principal re ferries seems to be that the crossing should be the shortest possible, which has changed over the years as road links have improved. Once upon a time the Hebrides were serviced by MacBraynes out of Glasgow, when the roads in the Highlands were not even surfaced. With the final upgrading of the Fort William Mallaig road in progress I really cannot see any excuse for retaining the long trip from Oban to Lochboisdale. However, there may be some problem with the PSO bids as these would seem to be so proscriptive as to put a brake on change. In Orkney we have the prospect of competition between Andrew Banks (unsubsidised) on the short sea crossing and Northlink (wholly owned by Calmac) running the subsidised route to Stromness.

hrossey from Mainland Orkney

Hrossey, how about the Pentalina B from Gills Bay to St Margaret's Hope? In my area, I don't understand why the route between Uig and Tarbert isn't upgraded now that the Skye Bridge is toll free. Perhaps the villagers in Skye don't want lorries trundling down their streets. Once the A82 is improved up Loch Lomond, there is no excuse not to redirect freight traffic through Harris, as the spinal route from Tarbert to Stornoway is now double track all the way.

Arnish Lighthouse from Stornoway

I'm sure the Argyll councillor was fighting for Oban to keep all its ferries, he is supposed to fight for his constituents, just as the Uist councillor fights for his. I suppose where the ferry sails to depends a bit on where you are going next. I suspect Oban Glasgow is easier than Oban Mallaig, even if you have a car. However (as usual) the problem isn't that simple. Coll/Tiree and Barra/Uist share ferries; 2 in the summer and one in the winter, with Colonsay getting a share as well. If one boat is based in Mallaig it isn't available for the Coll/Tiree run unless it does an empty sail down the coast. I don't think many people appreciate how hard the ferries (and crews) work and how complicated the timetabling is. Hopefully there will be room for some minor tweaking when the second linkspan is built at Oban as at the moment everything revolves around the Isle of Mull, which is so full so often it can't afford any delays at all. Regarding our air service, no-one has mentioned price but I'm sure it will be several times £12, there will only be 8 seats, and very few people want to fly to Connel.

Nic from Coll

The proposed air links to Coll and Colonsay are suplementary to the ferries.There are things you cannot do with an 8 seater plane. You cant cary coal or petrol or cars or stores for the shop. Also I don't think the inhabitants of Barra would be too enthusiastic at having to take a ferry to South Uist before the ferry to Mallaig and then facing a much longer drive or train journey from Mallaig.

ANDREW ON COLONSAY from Isle of Colonsay

I'm only a tourist/cyclist plotting some journeys through the highlands and islands, but the current routing seems crazy and probably the result of political and commercial pressures. In particular, it seems out of whack that you can't get mainland - island legs to end at the same place (e.g. in mallaig OR oban - you tend to finish up in one or the other), with a nightmare to get back to where you started.

Johnny B from England

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