Today has been mostly a Hebridean cruise rather than drive. Nearly five hours on the ferry from Castlebay to Oban, running first across the Hebridean Sea, then through the Sound of Mull and finally crossing the Firth of Lorne. Kind of poetic names don’t you think?
The day started prosaically enough with an early breakfast in the hotel, just managing to beat the coach party to the gun and bag the best service. A 3-mile drive down to Castlebay, 50 mins before sailing, only to find a couple German-registered motorhomes already there. I don’t like national stereotypes, but come on… There was already a large ship in harbour so we were wondering why the ferry was so early, but a peep through the binoculars made it out to be the “Caledonian Sky”, a cruise ship. It started to disgorge passengers into rigid inflatable boats and ferry them to shore even as we watched. That’s something they could do with in Castlebay – a decent jetty to allow cruise liners to dock instead of having to ferry them ashore 8 at a time. As the prophet once said, build it and they will come.
Shortly after our ferry, “Clansman” hammered into the bay like a speedboat and executed a 3-point turn to go astern to dock with the ferry ramp. It always impresses me how fast these big ferries go, right up until the last minute. I suppose with bow thrusters and all that gubbins they can easily turn in their own length. “Clansman” had come from Lochboisdale in South Uist, so there was no-one to disembark. I suppose it’s cheaper and quicker to take the little ferry across the Sound of Barra like we did on Saturday. Anyway, they made very short work of loading us and we were underway almost before I was sat down upstairs.
It was quite exciting leaving Castlebay, sailing past Kisimul Castle and out into the Hebridean Sea. Unlike the previous crossing this time the sea was like a millpond, a totally smooth crossing. After leaving Castlebay it was a bit same-y for the next hour, then we closed in on the Sound of Mull. This is a narrow channel with the Isle of Mull on our right and the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the left. Mainland Scotland in sight for the first time in a week! Or ‘the big island’ as Outer Hebrideans call it. In wasn’t long before we were passing within spitting distance of the town of Balamory, or Tobermory as it’s known outside of television. It’s a shame we don’t call as we pass so close by. I suppose it leaves me another island and town to visit another year though.
There’s hills and mountains all around now and very quickly we seem to come within sight of Oban across the Firth of Lorne. It looks massive compared to the towns we’ve seen this week. Even Stornoway appears tiny by comparison. Once again we belt into the harbour and then I fail to see if we crash in to the jetty or stop in time because it’s back to the car to wait for the signal to leave. I am guessing we didn’t crash though because the there was only a gentle bump to signal arrival.
You hear stories about people from little islands overcome by the hustle and bustle of big towns when they visit? They’re not joking. One week away and Oban feels like London to the disembarking driver. There’s traffic lights many pedestrians and roads with two (or even more!) lanes. Of course it’s a Bank Hol Monday and it’s fine weather in early summer. Oban is packed with folks! We had fun with this new-fangled thing called finding somewhere to park, but eventually managed it and a look round the town. It seems much busier and more prosperous since the last time I visited – albeit a cold April day some years ago.
From Oban a straight run to Crianlarich (I put the satnav on. It said: your destination 42 miles. Turn right in 39 miles). Nice views over Loch Awe flew by at the breathtaking speeds of 50 and 60 mph. We were here in no time and checked in for the final stop of the night. Just 293 miles left to run tomorrow and the weather forecast for the very first time is wet. A fitting epitaph for a magical journey to the isles.