How many times have you been told how lucky you are to live here. Mostly in the summer and by dewy eyed visitors who are not fighting horizontal rain. Fact is, visitor, I may say ghoulishly, Lismore is lucky to have me. And you are lucky to have met me and had the freedom to remind me how lucky I am. I could have been blown anywhere on the planet, but no I landed here.
Where you live, visitor, I may add still ghoulishly, are your plans stymied by a body of water or, do you pop out the door and go to the shops/New Zealand/ for a run/ to the hospital/ the dentist/ to get your hair cut. I stop there as they are already frightened and so glad they don’t live here. With me.
The sea controls our exits and our entrances. And that means the Firth of Lorne which we must cross to go elsewhere.
At the time of writing we have two ferries the MV Lismore at the north end and the MV Loch Striven at Achnacroish and the water they cross can stymy any plan. Ferries can be cancelled, unpleasantly rough, break down, fall victim to covid, or tides, Yes in certain tides they cannot land in Oban! .And the result is inconvenient, serious or life threatening. Air ambulances now call in emergencies, but in earlier days ferrymen and doctors were, and still are, often willing to brave weather if life is in danger. But living on an island carries a risk of being stuck. And making an unplanned exit.
Fortunately unplanned exits are rare but missing appointments is part of the idyll you envy visitor. Here we must get used to phoning the hairdresser, the dentist, the hospital, a lover , the optician, the physio, whoever it may be, while hoping they will rearrange before our teeth and/or hair fall out, and ill luck befalls the rest of us.
If you have been waiting months to have your bad hip seen in a Glasgow hospital, you may well go to the back of the queue again. It happens. Fulminating doesn’t always work. The wise always fulminate. If you are off on a holiday of a lifetime or just a normal jaunt and the weather looks dodgy, leave the day before. Expensive if you haven’t anywhere to stay, but better than missing a long haul flight or even a short haul train because your being stuck cuts no ice with anyone. Just a hidden extra expense, visitor.
We all bow to the power of the sea.
Ferries, as they matter so much, have always been contentious. First there are those mainlanders who resent their taxes paying for our 2 ferries and publicly denounce our ferry greed (In the Oban Times and beyond) And then, for many decades. there have been ferry meetings. Very well attended ferry meetings. Sometimes hilarious ferry meetings where some get dangerously aroused. You see long ago we were told we could get a car ferry at the north end. Ballots were held and every ballot showed a majority for this ‘contentious’ idea. It never happened. Where were carless folk going to go in Port Appin. That rarest of things, a bus, may or may not take them to Oban and Beeching made the trains disappear.
Then in 2015 Lismore finally got Road Equivalent Tariff which made taking the car to Oban from Achnacroish viable Previously it had been prohibitive. We were part of the final roll out! It was piloted in 2008 and started in 2012. Being last is our karma.
Suddenly in 2020 there was talk of the north end ferry going. We needed a new one as the MV Lismore no longer met maritime standards. Emergency meeting packed. Impassioned letters to MPs MSPs, papers, influencers. They were all bombarded by our cogent objections. The north end ferry was saved and, any minute we are to take possession of the new one. It’s ready but – at the time of writing, hasn’t yet set sailed from Wales. Storm bound.
The north end has hosted a few ferries since it was first crossed in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745, when Duart Castle on Mull served as a garrison for government soldiers and as a naval base. The Commissioners of Supply for Argyllshire were responsible for public roads and ferries and, in 1752, they met to fix the costs for the ferry from Fiart on Lismore to Mull, which was needed for troops coming by land from the north, reaching Duart Castle through the island. The North End ferry was not mentioned but it was part of this chain’ and those soldiers must have been a sight. You can read about the north end ferries’ shenanigans, the public house at Point and much more here
Before the MV Lismore the Point to Port Appin crossing was on The Highlander an open boat many thought the greatest but in rough weather was basically a shower. The Thompson family of Port Appin were the excellent and obliging ferrymen for many a decade, Jimmy on the Highlander and John, his son, the MV Lismore and The Highlander. Health and safety was in its infancy and many an animal or car was carried by these doughty souls as there was also a barge. . It was not until the fuel crisis of 2005 that things changed at the north end.
A fuel crisis. Islanders left in the lurch. Feb 2005 said the Oban Times Suddenly the petrol the ferrymen had carried to us for decades, and we had taken for granted I suppose, was no more.
It all started when the wash from the larger Glensanda boat, which no longer calls, washed a can from the slip into the sea and the then ferryman—a person no longer here—refused to rescue it and the Marine Coastguard Agency got to hear of what was said to be a fuel spillage. Or more accurately someone reported it and so our problems began. The MCA served a prohibition notice on the Lismore/Port Appin ferry route banning the carrying of fuel, all hand luggage over 50 kg (which must be stored in the designated area) and bicycles. Obviously this was ridiculous and hand luggage and bicycles were reprieved but the problem was never solved. full report
The job previously done by one ferryman was now to be done by two and no fuel was ever carried again leaving the island petrol less as it remains today, visitor. We met and met to solve the problem. We failed.
Although there were ferries at Achnacroish from 1880s – interrupted by WW1 – it was not until 1947 when the MV Lochnell was put on a twice daily (6 days to be accurate) service between Lismore and Oban. From 1965 the MV Lochbuie and MV Loch Toscaig brought the mail and in the early 70s the MV Bruernish, MV Morven or the MV Eigg. Today we have a Cal Mac ferry we don’t have to back onto and it runs on Sundays. For this we must be grateful.
FInally some very exciting news from the Oyster Croft at Port Ramsay where the late Johnny MacFadyen started an oyster farm over 30-years ago. As well as selling oysters far and wide, Johnnie also employed lots of Liosach teenagers at various times and they all loved him of course. Now his daughter Mairi and her husband Geoff are taking the business to a new level introducing native oysters, the great cleaners, to Lismore and hopefully further afield. You can read about this great project here.
During lockdown and after, we have had many delicious oyster feasts and at times the Lismore Cafe has offered a gourmet takeaway Seafood Platter with Lismore produced prawns from the Black Family business plus locally sourced items and all utterly delicious.
I know, on balance, you are right visitor. Even when we were locked down luxuries were still ours. For this and many reasons, I do know how lucky I am.
Blog 3 deals with Achnacroish and Port Ramsay and the school. Very complicated and potentially explosive themes.