Sunday, February 01 2015
The recent spate of storms battering Islay's coasts and the subsequent disruption or cancellation of our ferry services, was perhaps a timely reminder of just how fragile an existence is experienced by the islands off Scotland's west coast. This relative isolation from the mainland (daily air service notwithstanding) can be considered either a plus or a negative depending on your point of view. Several days without ferries often means a lack of essentials such as bread, milk, newspapers (apparently) and no letters on the doormat. To an extent this underlines CalMac's definition as a lifeline service, even though the advent of Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) for visitors as well as residents may be seen as a slight undermining of that status.
But the islands and coastal ports of the Clyde are also served by this Scottish national ferry service, ultimately an amalgamation of several competing ferry groups over the past hundred or so years. One of these component parts is the Caledonian Steam Packet Company (CSPC), founded in 1889 and subsequently merged with the David MacBrayne fleet in 1973. This itself was an outgrowth of Caledonian Railways, a company keen to provide steamers to complement the trains serving its new terminal at Gourock and from Wemyss Bay.
The growth of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company eventually encompassed many Clyde ports that some may have nostalgic memories of visiting. Rothesay, Ayr, Ardrossan, Ardrishaig and Arrochar were all visited by a fleet of paddle steamers that had no need of 'fitting the pier' in the manner that MV Finlaggan didn't. For in those days, any cargo that might have been carried, including motor vehicles, were lifted aboard by crane or driven across two strategically placed planks of wood. Presumably devices such as 'linkspans' were either not thought of or unwarranted in those halcyon days of yore, when large crowds of passengers and would-be passengers could be seen thronging decks and piers. Continue reading....