We awoke to blue skies this morning! As predicted, the weather has improved dramatically and a lovely sunny day is expected. First of all, a commendation for the Oban Camping and Caravanning site’s facilities. They have what looks like a new facility block with very civilised shower/dressing cubicles – roomy with press button showers that are the perfect temperature. The staff are also friendly and cheerful – an extremely well run site altogether. I’m not sure what trees these are but there are lots of them in this Victorian walled garden and they all sport a strange (to me anyway) pale green lichen which hangs pendulously from the branches. I will await suggestions!
The short journey to Oban was uneventful and how great is was to see turquoise blue water in the lochs with various small craft bobbing about on them.
As you approach the crest of the hill into Oban, suddenly the town is laid out before you like a map and then the steep descent begins.
Thanks to our recce of the day before, we knew exactly where to go to get to the CalMac terminal and we were smartly ushered into lane 5 for Barra. 1,2 and 3 were for Mull and 4 for Uist (Lochboisdale). What we hadn’t realised, when we booked, was that we were actually going to Lochboisdale first to drop passengers off there before returning to Castlebay. No wonder the crossing was going to take seven hours!
Loading was efficiently executed and we went straight on to the upper deck. A mixed bunch of people – a couple of leather-clad motorcyclists, a lady who we’d seen in a Landrover full of provisions with her sheepdog, some obvious tourists in sensible cagoules and a bunch of elderly Americans in baseball caps and many layers of clothing. One man had on at least two shirts, two jumpers plus an anorak! Well, it turned out he was from Florida and I guess the Scottish weather was a bit of a shock – even though the sun was shining. They were accompanied by a Scottish chap and all were clutching cameras with long lenses and binoculars. Their mission became clear as they spent much of the voyage dashing from one side of the deck to the other, raking the sky with their binoculars, one meticulously entering information into a little notebook. They were birders of course.
There was a lot to see at the beginning of the voyage as we passed land on our starboard side, including the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum.
Excitement mounted as we approached Mull on the port side. I had no idea it was such a long island and it seemed an age before I spotted the gaily painted houses of Tobermory (known to many small children as Balamory from CBeebies). It was just a brief glimpse as an offshore island hid them from view within minutes. (See featured image above.) We spotted what looked like a cruise ship entering the harbour – not something we expect to encounter where we’re heading.
With Tobermory behind us it was time to go below and get something to eat. The ship had begun to roll more now that we were into the Minch proper and the smell of chips was getting irresistible! We had Barra cod in a butter sauce with chips (much to the chef’s amazement as it was supposed to come with a selection of vegetables) and it was delicious. We followed this with pear strudel and ice cream – not bad at £8.99 for a two-course meal.
Back on deck the Americans were still photographing and listing and the weather was getting decidedly more chilly. Excitement came when an announcement from the bridge sent people scurrying to the port side where apparently a porpoise could be seen. We missed it unfortunately. There were plenty of gannets though, which the birders photographed excitedly. They are huge birds with black wing tips and yellow heads.
It was pretty cold by the time we reached Lochboisdale and probably about 80% of the passengers and their vehicles disembarked.
We decided to hunker down in the lounge until we neared Castlebay. A good hour and a half later we neared Barra and we noticed plumes of smoke on the coast. Zooming in on the camera and it was obvious that a house was on fire. Not good.
We went up on deck to get the first photograph of Kismul Castle, the ancestral home of the McNeils, sitting like a brooding jewel in the harbour at Castlebay. By this time it was about 8.40pm and the light was beginning to fade.
We decided to take the eastern route as our destination, Croft No.2, was at the north-eastern tip of the island, beyond the airport where the planes land on the beach and where we had arrived 42 years ago in 1971 when Sally was just two years old. Odd to think that today is Sally’s son Guy’s fourteenth birthday.
The first thing we couldn’t help but notice was the massive change in population that had obviously taken place in those 42 years. We passed new houses galore on our journey up the east coast although we were aware that, car-less in 1971 (we hired bicycles in those more energetic days) we may not have seen much of the eastern side. We also saw in the distance the gutted house that we had seen on fire from the ship, a fire engine nearby.
It seemed an age driving the eight miles up the length of the island, before we reached our campsite. We were being followed by another motorhome and a smaller campervan. The motorhome stopped at another campsite, Scurrival, which looked a little makeshift, but the campervan was heading for Croft No.2 like us (in fact they left pretty quickly not having realised that the campsite had no toilet facilities). Mary greeted us warmly and said straightaway that we must have noticed the difference in the island since our last visit. There had been a huge influx of people from the mainland over the years apparently. This has got to be good news for the island; the schools are full and the nursery where she works has got a waiting list. But it does certainly look different. She mentioned the BBC programme, ‘An Island Parish’ that was filmed a few years ago on the island. Her husband, a fisherman, featured in the programme.
There is a caravan near us which apparently is leaving although Mary does expect three more campers tomorrow. The bad news is that their wi-fi is not working at the moment so it means that we won’t be able to skype Guy on his birthday – a big disappointment as it will be the first birthday in his fourteen-year-old life that we haven’t been able to speak to him. There is absolutely no signal on our phone either. Tomorrow we will investigate the hotel on the west coast to see if we can’t latch on to their wi-fi.
Meanwhile, the sun has gone down on the majestic sweep of ocean in front of us and we look forward to seeing more of it tomorrow. The forecast is not encouraging, however, although the week ahead looks more promising. We will have to see…
Great to finally see a new post! I bet you’re finding it hard without good communications access.
Try I-spot for identifying the trees/lichen.
Hope the weather is improving for you and looking forward to updates to your adventures.
Hi Valerie & Peter,
Many memories of our visits to Scotland, a wee bit envious, we really enjoyed our caravanning days.
Was there a ‘pet’ seal in the harbour at Oban? Was quite a tourist attraction when we caught the ferry over to Mull.
Sorry for the delayed reply Michael – wi-fi problems as you can imagine! No didn’t see the seal there but have seen some since!
I don’t remember a thing about Barra 42 years ago even though I was there! It’s good to see that you’ve managed to get a connection at last to publish the blog.
That is two mentions for me, I might as well just be out with you!