Up with the Corncrake
We’re not generally ones to be up with the lark, or in the case of the Outer Hebrides the Corncrake, indeed, our bird names would more likely be night owls, so we optimistically hoped that our next ferry crossing would be at a reasonable hour, to allow for our normal gentle easement into a new day.
However, we discovered quite quickly on our island hopping adventure that the increasing popularity of the Outer Hebrides now means that if you’re travelling with a vehicle and particularly a motorhome, you need to book ahead.
The reality of this first hit when we went into the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry office in Castlebay to book our Barra to Eriskay ticket. After using their (novelty for us) flushing toilet and downloading all our emails using their free CalMac wifi, I innocently asked the man on the desk if it was a good idea to book for the next days’ ferry rather than just turning up and hopping on. He scanned his computer, looked up at the tide times on the wall beside him and with a sharp intake of breath across his teeth, told us that “the only boat with any space is in 3 days time at 7am, with a 6.45 AM check in.”
I’m not sure if the CalMac man behind the counter saw the undisguised look of horror on our faces at the suggestion that we might have to mobilise in (what we consider to be) the middle of the night. I thanked him for his suggestion and said we would be happy to travel a day later. “OK, lets just check that for you” he paused while he rattled the keyboard and scanned the screen for a moment, then looking pleased he looked up and said “7am, it’s the only one with any space. Would you like me to book that in?”
Although being stuck on Barra would be no bad thing, we realised that the only way off of Barradise, was going to have to start with a rude awakening by alarm clock, which in my opinion in surely the worst way to start any day. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely loved it on Barra and could have easily settled in chez Angus and just finished our exploration of the Outer Hebrides right there. However, the lure was strong of yet undiscovered places further up the line, so we bought our tickets and contemplated our unlikely future as early risers.
Low Cost CalMac Ferries
The good news is that these ferries are heavily subsidised by the Scottish Government with RTE – Road Tarif Equivalent fares. This means that it should not cost more to take a ferry than to drive by car between ports, not that you could actually drive over the water obviously, but that’s the logic behind it and it works fine for me. For our 6m motorhome and 2 adults, this fare was only £16.65. If anyone else knows where else you can take your motorhome for a cruise and still get change from a twenty pound note, please let me know.
It’s all in the Timing
Back at Scurrival campsite that evening we asked Angus, the lovely campsite owner, how long it would take to get to the little unmanned ferry slipway at Ardmhor. “Well now” he said in that lovely Hebridean (sounds to me like Irish) accent, “It should only take you half an hour to get there,” he scratched his head up under his well worn Harris tweed cloth cap, tilted his head, thought for moment more and added, “So, let me see now, if you leave here in the morning at 6:30, you should be there by 6:45!” We were non the wiser really, but had learnt that clearly Barra is in its very own time warp.
This is a place far removed from the lives of many of us on the mainland. The consumerism and busy rush that has become the norm in our media reliant lives is absent here. We were beginning to discover that the charm of this place is that the daily lives of the inhabitants of these islands are determined not by the clock, but by the tide times, the weather, the seasons and the hours of daylight.
We caught the early morning ferry and sailed across the calm waters of the Sound of Barra. It’s only a 40 minute journey, during which you can either stay in your vehicle or climb up the steel steps onto the upper deck in a bracing wind, we chose the latter. Once up on top we abandoned our hats in fear of losing them in the Sound of Barra, pulled up our hoods to shield our ears from the rush of the wind and looked back over to the steadily disappearing lovely Isle of Barra and then back ahead as we approached Eriskay, wondering what this next tiny island had in store for us.