Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another trawl through Flickr: The Outer Isles Mail

I've uncovered another absolute cracker of a photo in the course of another of my periodic sessions on Flickr

 That picture by Sandy Stevenson shows a car being craned off MacBrayne's MV Lochmor (1930) at Tarbert, Harris. It's interesting to contrast it with vehicles coming off a Calmac ship at a Hebridean port in the 21st century:-

MV Clansman at Castlebay by Michael McIntyre
I uploaded a picture to my own Flickr photostream the other night of a scan of a 1955 MacBrayne's brochure. What caught my eye was that it said - almost as an afterthought - "MOTOR CARS. These can be conveyed by prior arrangement on most steamer routes." How times have changed!

Going back to the picture of the Lochmor at Tarbert at the top, there's a detail in it that allows the photo to be dated quite closely. Note how the hull of the ship (the bit round the three round portholes at bottom left) is grey rather than the usual MacBrayne's black. That tells us the photo was taken in 1930 or 1931 when the Lochmor was brand new.

The reason is that the 1920s had seen MacBrayne's in financial difficulties culminating in their withdrawing their tender for the vital mail contract to the Western Isles in 1928. As nobody else had tendered either, that would be the equivalent today of nobody - not even Calmac - bidding for the subsidy to run the car ferry services to the islands. The government therefore brokered a solution whereby MacBrayne's was taken over from the MacBrayne family by a consortium between Coast Lines (a shipping company specialising in trade around the Irish Sea; it was eventually taken over by P&O in the early 70s) and the London Midland & Scottish Railway. This new management attempted a rebranding exercise (as we would call it today) of re-painting the fleet's hulls light grey but it didn't catch on and they reverted to the traditional black in 1931.

A grey hulled Lochmor at Kyle of Lochalsh in the early 30s
The Lochmor also called at Lochmaddy but sailed from Mallaig and Kyle of Lochalsh rather than Uig on a 24 hour circuit round Skye (clockwise and anti-clockwise on alternate days) known as "the Outer Isles Mail". It also included calls at Scalpay, Stockinish (Harris), Rodel (these last two being ferry calls), Lochboisdale, Canna, Rum and Eigg.

The Outer Isles Mail timetable in 1934 (click to enlarge)

The route of the Outer Isles Mail service

The Lochmor with traditional black hull at Lochmaddy

The Outer Isles Mail service ceased in 1964 when it was replaced by the new car ferry service running from Uig to just Tarbert and Lochmaddy. Scalpay and the Small Isles (Eigg, Rum & Canna) got their own dedicated services. The Lochmor was sold for further service in the Aegean. Her replacement on the new "Uig Triangle" service was the Hebrides (II) which served the route until 1985 and, as we're in a "then and now" mood, I'll finish with a picture of her followed by one of the current ferry to Tarbert and Lochmaddy, the Hebrides (III) both in the same position canting (turning) to approach the pier at Uig.

MV Hebrides (II) (1964) approaching Uig pier

MV Hebrides (III) (2001) at Uig - picture credit Alpha Deux Cents

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