It’s odd how sometimes something just becomes “a thing”. If you think about activities, hobbies, interests or things you do it’s hard to recall how you started doing them or what the catalyst was.
This year on our Mull trip we suddenly realised we had a bit of “a thing” for CalMac ferries.
If you go anywhere with a port or a view of the sea or islands from Scotland’s West Coast chances are, if you haven’t been on one, you will at least probably have seen one of the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet ploughing their way across and between the mainland and the numerous isles that make up one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
Up to August 17th this year we had never been on one but had thought about doing a bit of island hopping for a number of years – finally exploring some of the parts of Scotland we had never been to. We’d known and heard about Cal Mac for a number of years but it was in 2017 when we went to Ullapool that our interest was well and truly sparked.
Twice a day every day the ferry for Stornaway arrived and departed at the Ullapool terminal and it quickly became a part of our holiday up there taking photos of the ferry – “Loch Seaforth” - either on its journey or in port as we marvelled at the way that the vehicles were marshalled and loaded on board and wondered what awaited the passengers on the other side?
The hustle and bustle of Ullapool with a ferry in was a sharp contrast to its usual benign state. Plus the views of the evening sailing with the ship literally sailing into the sunset on its way to the Outer Hebrides really got the imagination going.
So this year we decided enough was enough and booked a week on Mull meaning at last we’d be able to set foot on one of the Cal Mac fleet.
Rather like long distance travel on a train there is something still a bit nostalgic and mysterious about sea travel in such beautiful surroundings as those on the Scottish West Coast.
Our first trip on a ferry was probably more eventful for what you couldn’t see rather than the anticipated glorious surroundings - as the sea mist rolled in, the waves got a bit choppy and the rain came down - if you want to see this for yourself see "Ferry in your Jersey".
Undeterred though during the week we used the fantastic ferry to Iona from Mull and also looked out for the various services that sailed through the Sound of Mull past the island.
We travelled back to the mainland via the Fishnish – Lochaline service and we headed up to Mallaig for our Saturday night stopover purely and simply as we’d never been! Mallaig is a transport dream as it is not only a port for Cal Mac services to Skye and the smaller islands – the delightfully named Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna – but is also a terminus for the twice daily Jacobite steam trains from Fort William that go over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (more about that some other time!).
By this stage taking photos of ferries had become an integral part of our range of subjects – especially in dramatic settings or something different than a straightforward shot of the vessel itself. So imagine our delight when we found out on our evening walk that vessels are moored at Mallaig overnight - cue some sunset pictures of the ferries at rest.
We’re not sure that Cal Mac spotting is a thing, if it isn’t then it should be – it is for us! There’s a lot more to it than just “spotting” the ferries though (for the record we saw 11 of the 31 strong fleet on our travels – travelling on 3 of them). For us it’s trying to get photos of them in their “natural” surroundings – the sea lochs and ports in the west coast wilds.
But they are also much more than a tourist attraction - they are the lifeblood for and the only way that many communities can get access to the mainland or receive vital supplies, hence the ownership of the service by the Scottish Government.
Our appetites have been whetted and maybe some more adventurous routes will be travelled over the next few years - there’s more than enough options to keep us going. But whatever happens that sense of yearning for travel and adventure we got by watching the comings and goings of a Scottish port, marvelling at the ferries themselves and recognising the skill and hardwork of those that work on them has been well and truly ignited and not even a damp first ever crossing in howling wind and rain has put it out.
Full details and information on Caledonian MacBrayne can be found here.
Life and other