One of my favourite films and books from childhood is the Railway Children. I love it for a whole host of reasons perhaps principally as it reminds me of watching it with my Dad usually in a re -run over the Christmas Holidays. I also liked the fact that the children used to know the times of the trains and wave at the passengers. I was reminded of this during our holiday in Harris. Our self-catering cottage was situated on a small hill above Tarbet looking down to the ferry terminal. We had a full view of the ferry sailing into Tarbet. Unloading and reloading and then sailing out again. Sometimes as we grow up we forget things we used to love or we don’t even realise that they mean so much to us so it was for me with the sight of the Cal Mac ferry coming into Tarbet.
Cal Mac ferries have figured in some of the best times of my life and have done so since I was a small girl. My first experience of a Cal Mac ferry was the ferry to Rothesay. We initially went doon the water for Easter to help my dad get over the recent death of his mum. We all loved it so much it became our Easter ritual for many years. I used to love going to buy the papers from the post office and watching the ferry leave. We also soon found the Rhubodach to Colintraive ferry and a new ritual was born of either staying and or eating at the Creggans Inn either on the way to Bute or the way back. Later close friends of my parents who I knew well and regarded as an Aunt and Uncle moved home to Bute and my sister and I were allowed to take the ferry over to Bute ourselves. I remember great adventures cycling round Bute and days at Ettrick Bay followed by the obligatory meringues at the café there.
Taking the ferry to Cumbrae and Millport was also an important childhood day trip. Hiring bikes and cycling round the island before taking the ferry back to Largs and ice cream at Nardinis or if we were really lucky tea out there. I’ve not returned to Cumbrae as an adult and have always wanted to do so. It is an off forgotten Island but very special.
The island that touched me most as a child and then teenager was the Island of Arran. We went first for a two-week holiday and arrived at night. If I’m honest you couldn’t see much as we sailed into Brodick but I remember my dad telling me we had come to somewhere special and when I woke up the next morning I knew we had. We just had the one summer holiday on Arran but I’ve never forgotten it. It was one of the last holidays my Papa had with us and it was also the holiday that I learnt to swim at the Kinloch Hotel at Blackwaterfoot. We didn’t forget Arran though it became our destination for our October holidays first at the Corrie Hotel and then at a guesthouse in Lochranza. It was at a time I was growing up wanting to spread my wings and Arran was a place I did lots of my thinking and walking as I explored the villages of Corrie, Sannox and then Lochranza with Snoopy our cocker spaniel who was my constant companion on my many walks. Arran was the island that took me from childhood to teenager to adult. It was one of the reasons that my husband and I first connected as we both loved the Island. It was to be where we holiday often and it was where Andy proposed to me on the shore between Brodick and Corrie where the ferry sails and where I first saw the Island. If I am ever asked to take myself to a relaxing place I am on a Cal Mac ferry sailing into Brodick.
Our honeymoon was on the islands of Tiree and Coll. Our first introduction to the inner Hebrides and islands we would love to return to. I love Oban and its special sailing out of there especially on honeymoon. It’s a gutsy fishing town with a big heart.
One of the worries I used to have about our children was that they were growing up with no holiday memories of Scotland most of their early holidays were in Spain. Though that said we did take both children to Tobermoray at the height of the Balamory craze and there is a photo that still makes me smile today of my daughter and I on the ferry on our first of two trips. I am huge heavily pregnant with my son. And my daughters first two holidays were on Islay which we loved and also the sister Island of Jura. My daughter was never still on the ferry ride over and it was the first time she tasted seafood which she still loves to this day.
For some years that was it we didn’t see a Cal Mac ferry. Then we went on holiday to Kintyre and as we gazed over to Arran we knew we had to return. So we took the ferry over from Claonaig to Lochranza and spent the day showing the children the Island of our youth. The next week we were again on a Cal Mac ferry as we all explored Gigha for the day. I remember sitting on top of the ferry on the way back to Kintyre and realised I was totally relaxed and at one with myself.
Our Kintyre holiday made both of us remember how we loved Islands so we booked a two-week holiday to Lewis for 2012 and fell in love with the Hebrides. We both love Lewis it is an island of stories and it stirred creativity in us that had long lain dormant. We discovered the wonderful island of Great Bernea and Bosta beach which is perhaps the most beautiful beach we’ve ever been to and we visited Harris for the day and knew one day was not enough.
So this year found us at our cottage above Tarbet. We explored as much of the island as we could and also made a trip to the Uists taking in five islands in one day. Bernera, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist before arriving at Eriskay. One of my favourite authors of recent years is Peter May whose Lewis trilogy has captured my imagination at the same time as the Hebrides have captured my heart. The second book and I think my favourite features Eriskay and my husband and I were keen to see the church where the altar was made from a boat and Prince Charlie’s beach. As an ex history graduate I should have been more excited about the historical significance being where Prince Charles Stuart arrived from France but for me it was to see a key scene from Lewis Man. We were not on Eriskay long but I loved it such a beautiful small island and it was the first time I had smelt the machair worth visiting for alone. To get to these islands we of course had to travel by ferry from Leverburgh over to Berera and it was a key part of the trip.
Each and every time with very few exceptions the ferry came into Tarbet I was there either watching from outside or from the living room when it sailed in and then on to the kitchen to see it unloading. Just like the Railway Children did I waved at the passengers. It stilled me. Balanced me. Why? It is after all just a very large steel vehicle. But not for me it isn’t. For the islanders it is a life line to the outside world and for those of us who visit these islands it’s a key part of the holiday. It takes us there. We love to see it come and go as we temporarily feel like islanders and it takes us home. Its a lifetime of memories for me of a love affair with the Scottish Islands that keeps on growing.