Martin and Ian

Ian Fox

Martin Clarkson in conversation with
Ian Fox

Martin’s brother-in-law Ian works for Caledonian MacBrayne, operating 33 passenger and vehicle ferries between the mainland of Scotland and the west coast islands. Their main hub is Oban harbour on the north-west coast of Scotland, Ian’s home.

Note 1: March-May

It kicked off as we were en route to the airport. 

The government said we couldn’t go. Can’t even remember where we were going, everything else felt suddenly much more important.

By the time I got back to the harbour, the gateway to the Isles was already closing. Overnight our timetables became simply an emergency lifeline.

There was no traffic to board, no tourists to transport, no time to discuss further.

Harbour masters were retained, but their services severely diminished. Windswept and helmeted, they loyally waited with their ropes, to secure each arrival.

Only islanders may now travel. Ships with a 900 capacity now carry nine, mostly islanders and maybe a visiting dentist.

Freight is a barometer. Whisky distilleries still operate, as the world needs its therapy. They need more barley in Tobermory.

French and Spanish restaurants can’t take the shellfish, so there’s an abundance of scallop and lobster tonight, but only if you’re on Barra or Mull. Looking ahead, quaint waterfront homes on each of the islands need summer tourists to survive the winter. But it’s unlikely they’re coming.

Note 2: May-July

A lot has changed, but then again, has it changed a lot? 

That’s the lockdown conundrum. Ian sees, feels and shares this in many ways.

Sailings are no longer restricted to island residents, yet the stipulated social distancing now prohibits the ships from carrying more than 10% of their capacity. 

So it’s still as hauntingly quiet on those remote island piers.

Timetables are now slightly relaxed, but there’s still no catering on board, so only hardy explorers set out on the six hour marathon to Barra.

Plus a mask must now be worn throughout your time at sea.

And the missing tourists?  

Here’s a further lockdown conundrum

The Inner Isles may be starting to embrace them again …  but with limited health facilities, the Outer Isles have developed a fear of them returning. 

The Hebridean fisherman still mourn the loss of the European restaurant clientele, so fresh scallops are still abundant in all coastal take-aways …. but sadly for now, only with chips.

However, the distilleries are in full production, casking the perfect malts. Each will be ready to savour in five years.

Ian meanwhile is anticipating his first haircut since lockdown … an opportunity through Scottish law that will be ready to savour in five days.  

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