Hard to believe it’s six years since the media caught on to the story of the Skye farmer who was still swimming his cattle between two islands for grazing, but his retiral has brought it to their attention again.
That was 2011, but he was back in the news a year later:
Mr Iain MacDonald, 85, had moved his heifers across a short sea crossing from Staffin to winter pasture on Stenscholl Island every winter since 1959, but finally decided to sell his remaining 20 cows, 13 calves and a bull after a knee operation ‘slowed him down’, but said he would continue to keep sheep on his land. Sad to say, he was not too pleased with the price he got for his herd.
Still, not bad for 85.
St Kilda isn’t the easiest archipelago to get to – you can read some of the items we’ve come across here: Secret Scotland – St Kilda
The distance (about 40 miles) means the journey takes some four hours, assuming the weather doesn’t delay you, and even if you set out in good weather, there’s a chance that things won’t be so good when you get there, and you might have to turn back with your goal in sight. Cancellation is a real possibility.
So, the arrival of a second regular service sailing there has to be good news.
Sailing from Uig on the Isle of Skye, the new service will compete with existing services operating from Harris.
Although described as a “new” service, it seems that the route is a historic one that operated many years ago.
The service allows for day trips:
At the time of writing, these are on offer during May, June, July, August, and September, and other dates by arrangement. The cost is given as £230.
Departure at 7:30am, and return time 8-9pm, allowing approximately 4 hours on Hirta, main Island of the St Kilda archipelago.
World Heritage Site
St Kilda is a World Heritage Site (dual, both natural and cultural), managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), and the potential increase in visitor numbers may be a cause for concern.
Paul Sharman, a ranger with NTS, said: “I think it is a good thing that people are coming to experience this unique world heritage site.
“But most people stay in the village area, which does cause some wear and tear.”
Further details of the service and other trips can be found here:
The Good Old Days
I had a look for some recent pics of trips to Hirta, but I chose the pic below (from 1965) as a better example of ‘Compare and Contrast’ between then and now.
The owner’s original caption probably sums things up far better than anything I might add:
We had had an uncomfortable 17 hour journey from Mallaig in the fishing boat with only a National Trust for Scotland tea-towel displaying a map of Scotland and the NTS Properties for finding the route. It was good to be on the land although it seemed to be rocking and rolling for half a day.
The story of the crofter who regularly swims his cattle from Skye for grazing each year caught my eye a while ago, and the story seemed to spread quite quickly as interest grew.
He’s no youngster, and his work is impressive, and a report from STV tells us he has just made the trip again, and wisely stays out of the Scottish water. Like the mountains, it’s cold, and would come as a freezing shock to the unwary – as a number of visitors have found out, sometimes with tragic consequences if they badly underestimate Scotland’s weather extremes.
His 19 cows took around 15 minutes to swim approximately 100 metres from Skye to nearby Staffin island, where they will graze for three months.
Mr Macdonald, 80, first swam the cows over to the island in 1950, and used to swim with them himself.
However the crofter, who lives on Skye, now accompanies them by boat.
There’s now a slide-show of pics taken showing the farmer and cattle making the crossing:
It looks as if the suggestion that the wee ferry to Bute might see a late extension to its running – Bute’s wee ferry crossing could be extended to midnight – won’t even go as far a trial.
The local paper (The Buteman) reports that the local community council has received no support, and goes on to quote the Bute Community Council chair as saying:
BCC chair Grace Strong told the meeting: “Everyone I’ve been speaking to about a midnight ferry says, without exception, ‘what a daft idea’.”
I see the point, but it also seems to mark a pattern of similar suggestions over the years, with various changes to the schedules having been tried, and rejected.
I often refer to the ‘CalMac’ bashers, and wonder if they are behind these suggestions, and have no real interest in improving the island’s ferry service, but merely keep up a stream of (daft) suggestions intended to provide them with an easy means of later criticising the sole ferry operator.
Whatever the reasons, there is now a possibly more balanced proposal from the community council, and that is of a year-round extension of the wee ferry’s schedule to 9 pm.
At the moment, the wee ferry only runs this late during the summer timetable, and to 8 pm in the winter timetable.
They also suggest later sailings by the big ferry (Rothesay to Wemyss Bay) on Fridays and Saturdays.
(Local memories tell that the latter has been tried with the Rothesay ferry before – despite noisy demands for this extension at the time, nobody used it, and it was dropped.)
An intriguing variation on the various ways that the Isle of Bute’s ferry service could be extended appeared in the news.
While I’m sure some group or other will probably appear dedicated to rubbishing the proposal, it has the advantage of being workable and economic, if not ideal for those who want to play at living on an island.
I’m told by long-term residents that calls for extensions to the big ferry have been made by a vocal few in the past, and when this extended service was tried – next to nobody turned up to use it. It doesn’t take the greatest imagination in the world to work how expensive it is to sail the MVs Bute and Argyll between Wemyss Bay and Rothesay – empty. Once, let alone on a number of late night sailings.
THE Rhubodach-Colintraive ferry timetable could be extended through to midnight each day, the Scottish Government has suggested.
A draft plan for the future of the country’s ferry services suggests that extending the timetable of the Kyles crossing “could bring substantial benefit to the local economy”, while at the same time being the most cost-effective way of bridging the gap between Bute’s current service and a ‘needs based assessment’ which recommends an operating day from 6am until midnight.
Such a proposal would certainly suit an occasional touring visitor like me, and reflects my normal journey to and from the island.
Being an owl rather than a lark, I amble down to Wemyss Bay in the morning (deliberately avoiding the busiest early sailings) and buy a Hopscotch ticket, allowing me to travel over on the big ferry, and return by the wee ferry when it suit me.
The wee ferry effectively runs run during daylight hours, so the last sailing off the island during summer is between 21:00 and 22:00 (depending when I am there), but more importantly for me, it runs later than the big ferry – a difference I have often depended on.
Unlike the failed and wasteful extensions tried on the big ferry (not my assessment, but that of islanders I knew at the time), I hope this one at least gets a trial run for a while, and is not dismissed out of hand by the ‘vocal few’.
A little different from the usual view on the water, one of the wee ferries (which would be MV Loch Dunvegan if the name was in view, and RoRo sister MV Loch Alain behind) caught recently by Zak as it prepares for its next trip across the waters, which sees it risk itself daily (I’m funning!) to bridge the gap of almost 300 metres between the mainland and the island at the Kyles of Bute:
It must be seven years, or more, since I was mulling over the cost of moving to a Scottish island in order to get away from everything, but one of the things that put me off was a reality check, and the realisation that one had to be able to afford it.
As nice as the isolation is – and I have enjoyed it for short periods as there is little to beat the feeling that no-one get to you once the ferry departs – it comes at a cost that you have to be able to maintain. And I might add that the isolation is real, because I am not a slave to the phone, either fixed or mobile.
One of the cost identified was purchasing things from the mainland, and not only items delivered by carrier, but those collected in person, as this involves a round trip by car on the ferry, and at the time, that amounted to £30 a time.
In those days, I had quite a few contacts on the island, and one of the things we had started up was a forum discussion on business opportunities, and one of those opportunities related to parcel delivery.
Without getting stuck in the detail, we ended up with an imaginary service that used a number of resources to arrive at a potentially workable service, and part of the idea built on the idea of not getting hung up on the delivery hangups of the supplier, with their weird charges for remote or island locations, or even lack of delivery, although none that we were looking at then actually refused to deliver outright, but did charge a premium.
We certainly weren’t considering a national service, just something to suit one island which depended on ferries for any deliveries.
Rightly or wrongly, it was our perception that every single delivery was surcharged to pay for the cost of the ferry, and this was because there was no way to know when there might one, or one hundred, parcels to go over on any given day.
And we reckoned that like it or not, that was reasonable for a large carrier, which could not micro-manage its carryings as they varied from day to day.
Our ‘self-help’ solution was to arrange for a convenient mainland address where we could take delivery and avoid the island surcharge. From there, we would arrange the ferry crossing using a small vehicle to avoid paying for a big empty van or lorry, and make the trip only on one or two days per week. Clearly, we were not interested in emergencies, or large parcels.
Of course, the imaginary idea was never converted into reality, so can’t have been proven to be workable or viable in the real world, but was at least thought to have been workable with a bit of co-operation and help by one or two interested local, and might have been expandable.
It was hard to be definitive too, as one side of the argument had no sympathy for anyone subject to these charges (they had chosen to move to and live on the island, and considered to be ‘incomers’ – and usually fairly well-off), while the converse was that residents were often trapped, not wealthy as local employment is generally low-income, and they simply cannot afford to move, or pay inflated delivery charges. And the latter was probably the group that motivate our ideas, seeking a way to reduce costs for the individual by spreading or minimising them.
However, and this is the part that made me look twice at this story:
Thousands of people living in rural parts of Scotland feel ripped off by delivery prices for goods they buy online.
Research by Citizens Advice Scotland show that rural Scots are often refused delivery altogether because of their “remote” location.
When packages will be delivered, charges are often so high that it forces people to abandon their shopping at the online checkout.
Rural residents ‘ripped off’ by delivery charges for online goods
The survey of 900 people revealed that 84% had been refused delivery because of their location and 85% warned friends and family against using certain companies because of their high charges.
Angela Murphy, campaign co-ordinator, said: “We’ve been taken aback by the scale of the response, and the level of anger expressed by Scottish consumers. It’s without doubt the biggest response we’ve ever had to a survey of this kind.
“The comments reveal huge levels of anger, and some of the examples reported are really shocking. With families watching every penny at the moment these excessive costs are a major burden for many people.
“But it’s not just about the money. This survey reveals that rural people feel exploited, and frankly discriminated against. They are very angry and want something done about it. And so do we.
“We will be reporting this evidence to the Office of Fair Trading, and to Trading Standards, as well as to both the UK and Scottish governments.
The reason for looking twice comes about because when we were ‘inventing’ our imaginary parcel carrier, a number of existing islanders chipped in with comments to the effect that we were a few years too late with our ideas, as most of the companies they were dealing with had become much more co-operative with regard to reasonable delivery charges, and that they had found that all they had to do was threaten to take their business elsewhere – even just ask nicely – and the prevailing business depression was such that most businesses were willing to drop extra delivery charges in order to retain the business.
Perhaps the increase in online sales has led to more suppliers being accessible online, and also making them more remote from some customers, lacking in understanding of where they are, the effect that ill-considered or inconsiderate charges for delivery, and means in their ignorance (a reason, not an excuse) they don’t consider the adverse effects.
It’s hard to tell, as one would assume that any sales are welcome in these days of recession.
We were only playing, but with real data and people nevertheless.
Hopefully, if there is any action, change, or response from the companies and carriers concerned – or the Government responds with some ruling (which would presumably be a long way off) – hopefully this will see the same high profile in the media (so that we notice it)
RET scheme extended
I’ve long since given up the dangerous pastime of commenting on ferries. There are far too many people with their own agendas and objectives for these services, and some seem to think the whole service should be geared around their personal needs. These types have been pretty nasty to me in the past, and I reckon they’re a subset of the folk who can afford to live on an island, and commute daily to the mainland for work, and if the timetable doesn’t suit their daily travel plan, they appear to think it should be altered to given them extra time in bed in the morning, and get them home for dinner every night – even if the seas are crashing with 50-foot waves.
RET, or Road Equivalent Tariff, was introduced to some ferry routes as an experiment a few years ago.
This had been campaigned for some years in the past, without appearing to gain any favour with those in power, but now that the trial years have passed, it seems that it is to remain in place, and even be extended to other routes:
In the past, the announcement of RET for the routes which were to be trialled brought howls of pain and anguish from representatives of those islands not included, where the attitude was one of “We will lose out to those with RET, so if we’re not getting it, no-one will and we’re going to challenge its legality”.
As I said – ferries can be a nasty business that brings out the worst in some, so I’m just noting this, and not expressing an opinion.
I’d also have to say that I am mildly surprised that this has come about so quickly, as I am more used to watching such things drag on for years and years, as arguments bounce back and forth, and if asked, I would have expected more years of trial, and more complaints.
Fuel discount for islanders
Although the matter has been allowed to drag on for so long that the discount is trivial, and has been eaten up by the excessive tax increases that have taken place during that time, islanders will be able to benefit from a reduction in fuel duty from March 2012, when they will be given a 5 pence per litre discount for fuel consumed on the islands.
The scheme will cover the Inner and Outer Hebrides, islands in the Clyde, the Northern Isles and the isles of Scilly.
The Government has stated that fuel retailers will be required to pass on the full saving of the rebate on petrol and diesel to customers. Retailers will be able to claim the rebate from HM Revenue and Customs on fuel purchased from January 1, so they do not suffer cashflow problems in passing on the discount in March.
Almost as soon as the news was released, it was followed by claims that this island-based discount does nothing to help those living in remote rural mainland areas, where fuel prices are said to be just as high.
After years of wrangling, argument, claim, counter-claim, and accusations best not repeated, confirmation of the cessation of the car ferry service connection Dunoon and Gourock was announced today.
The service has been operated by CalMac for years, and the State-owned company has been forced to operate a strangled service with limited numbers of sailing, in order to avoid direct competition with the nearby Western Ferries service, which operated without restriction between Hunter’s Quay (near Dunoon) and McInroy’s Point (near Gourock).
The CalMac service was limited to one sailing per hour, while Western sails up to four time per hour at peak periods. (I hope my recollection of reading the rules a few years ago is correct – I’m sure some reader will let me know if I am mistaken).
The CalMac car ferry will now be replaced by a passenger only service operated by Argyll Ferries, part of the Caledonian MacBrayne group David MacBrayne Ltd.
Two passenger ferries will be available to the new passenger only service, a larger vessel with a capacity for 244 passengers, and smaller alternate. The new service will operate a half-hourly service.
EU rules only allow a subsidy to be applied to passenger services on this route, and the State owned carrier is obliged to operate within EU rules.
Despite claims to the contrary – Ferry subsides ruled fair by EC – with private individuals claiming the EU requirements were being wrongly interpreted, and community support for the car ferry to be retained, it seems that the claims did not carry any weight, and in reality, it was not possible to maintain a subsidised operation on the car ferry.
It will be interesting to see if the battle of who was right or wrong, or who was lying, continues now that the final ruling has been made and the tender awarded. I suspect the appearance of recriminations and claims of ‘foul’ are yet to come, and there may still be considerable reading to come in the wake of this change.
The car ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon town centres is to come to an end.
CalMac currently operates a car ferry crossing on the route in competition with private company Western Ferries.
The new tender, for a passenger only service, has been awarded to CalMac’s Argyll Ferries and starts on June 30, 2011 .
Both Argyll and Bute and Inverclyde councils had hoped it would be possible to find another way of keeping a car service going.
Dunoon ferry memories
Although the CalMac car ferry was one I often sat and watched from both sides of the Firth of Clyde, it was not one I ever had any need to sail on. Although I’ve made more journeys between Glasgow and Dunoon that I’d like to admit (and with the price of fuel, might not make again), it was always at holiday time, so part of the day was the drive, which is a great way to spend a couple of hours, and there is so much gorgeous scenery to take in along the way.
Been on Western Ferries though – and had no idea if I was coming or going after a while.
Not as a passenger though, but repairing the battery system. Locked below decks, in the dark, and having to work on the system while the ferry sailed all day (they could not afford to take it out of service as long it could be made to sail), after an hour or two you lose count of the sailing, and have no idea whether you are coming or going, or at Hunter’s Point or McInroy’s Point. At least they always remembered to moor at the mainland end… where y car was lying.
In the days before ferry boats, bridges, (and lorries), farmers and crofters from the islands still had to get their livestock to and from markets on the mainland, where the best prices were to be had.
If they were lucky, then at low tide, the water level would have fallen to the extent that the beasts could wade across between the island and mainland, but the crossing would generally be a rather more hazardous, and they would have to swim. At best, the low tide would reduce the distance slightly, and provide a brief respite in the current, which could sweep away any unwary animals, or those that chose not to follow the herd or pack. While those that had previously made the crossing were used it, and knew where they were going, there was always the danger that first-timers could head off in the wrong direction – and the other might follow. This meant it was essential for the owner to keep the animals on the correct line for the opposite shore, and catch any strays before the wandered too far.
Described by the BBC as ‘The last crofter in Scotland to swim his cattle between winter grazings’, Iain MacDonald is a 79-year-old crofter who grazes his cattle on a small island off Skye, and is believed to be the last person to still move his animals this way, having done so for 61 years – without losing a single animal.
In the early days, he swam with the animals, but now uses a rowing boat, and has no intention of giving up this method of ferrying his animals.
He is not alone in maintaining traditional methods of farming, and on the Western Isles, sea shepherds tend flocks of sheep on pastures of the Shiant Islands off the coast of Lewis, and Pabbay off Harris.
Over the past few years, poor old Rothesay pier, and the start of the tourist season on Bute (taken to be Easter) seems to have had more than its fair share of disruption.
I don’t know how far back one would have to look at past projects to see when things started to slip, but it would seem that all the well-meaning projects that have taken place recently have contrived to thwart a smooth start to the season. My own recollection goes back to 2005-ish, notable for the completion of the new sea wall, and the arrival of the first of the two new ferries to replace the old Streakers. Both had started in earlier years, and both had the potential to cause problems in the harbour area. The sea wall started in 2003, ran through 2004 (so it was getting in the way of things that year) but was completed before the 2005 season arrived. This was just as well, since the first of the new ferries was due to start sailing from the pier in 2005, and MV Bute duly arrived and did so. Granted, there were some teething problems, but only the most cold-hearted would slate a brand new ferry for having problems when it first entered service.
Since then, the harbour and marina have been extensively re-worked, another ferry has arrived, MV Argyle, and even though it was not directly their fault, they led to more problems on the pier, as the plan to access them via a fancy, powered, covered gangway stumbled and fell, as the mechanism that raised and lowered seemed to have a passion for breaking down, and eating spare-parts.
They even managed to do away with the old side-loading ramps that served the Streakers, and install a new end-loading linkspan, so the new ferries can operate in proper RoRo (roll on, roll off) style.
This year, the building that serves as the ferry terminal on the pier was scheduled for a fairly extensive refurbishment, due to be completed just before Easter, and the start of tourist business for the year. The phrase “Best laid plans…” came to mind when this was announced.
Things were looking reasonably good, until… the company, or at least part of the company carrying out the refurbishment, went into liquidation – with the project 80% complete.
The full story can be found in The Buteman: Pier work stopped by contractor’s financial woes
Those responsible will have to make alternative arrangements for completion, but it looks as if the various links in the chain of supply, and legal implications that need to be addressed, will mean that work on the pier will not be ‘done and dusted’ as the first arrivals of the new season disembark, and rather than a new terminal, will be faced by the temporary buildings that have been serving in its place over the past weeks.
Maybe the contractors involved in the sea wall were the wisest to have worked in the area, as they refused to entertain any deadline for the project, or agree to the inclusion of any late completion clauses – it seems to be a wise precaution if you work near the pier.
Hopefully, they (whoever ‘they’ are) will run out of ideas for project in the vicinity of the pier, even if born out of the best of intentions (for a little while at least) and the tourists will get a clear run at the start of the season.
We first mentioned the Renfrew-Yoker ferry back in October 2008, when it was given a stay of execution while operator Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) considered alternatives. The ageing ferries were approaching the end of their life, with maintenance and running cost beginning to escalate – on a service that was already eating a subsidy of £2.77 per head on annual passenger carrying of 150,000 – some £400,000.
Then, we learned that a review of the service in January of 2010 had been followed by an announcement that the service was to close in March 2010 – followed by further news that alternatives were to be sought and trialled, and we featured tests of an amphibious coach which was being considered as a possible replacement.
The eventual solution has proven to be much simpler, and a small ferry, operated by Silvers Marine (UK) Ltd (based in Argyll) will take over the route, and operate from the existing SPT slipways. Their vessel can carry 12 passengers, and will replace the two larger, older vessels (which could each carry up to 50 passengers, but were said to carry as few as four per trip) later this month, when they are withdrawn from service. The new contract will bear no public subsidy, and fares have been announced at £1.50 for a single journey and £3 for a return.
The service may be subject to extension, as the new operator has indicated that customer demand will be considered in future.
Pictured above are Mark Aikman, MD of Silvers Marine (left) and Jonathan Findlay, Chair of SPT with one of the new vessels to be used on the Renfrew-Yoker service.