Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebridean and Clyde Ferries
The Calmac ferry system connects Scotland’s western isles to each other and to the mainland. It’s a vast network that has been perfected over the years and we were very impressed.
In most of Scotland you are never far from water—be it the sea, a strait, a loch, a firth—and that’s especially true around the western isles and west coast, where it’s often difficult to know what’s island, what’s peninsula, what’s mainland.
As a result, over the centuries the Scots became very adept at living with the waters, and at using them as means of communication rather than as obstacles and barriers and until fairly recently many places could only be reached by water.
The Calmac company owns and operates ferry boats of all shapes and sizes to suit all the different needs and routes. The company was founded in 1851 as David Hutcheson & Co, and was renamed David MacBrayne in 1879 when David MacBrayne (a partner and nephew) gained full ownership. It stayed in the hands of the MacBrayne family until 1928. Then MacBrayne and the Caledonian Steam Packet Co were jointly involved and in 1973 the name changed to Caledonian MacBrayne.
Traveling on a ferry is almost inevitable if you visit this part of Scotland, whether as a foot passenger or a car driver. We did both, and it’s a fun way to observe this part of Scottish life. We drove a car onto the ferry from Oban on the mainland to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, and we were foot passengers on the smaller ferry that goes from Fionnphort on Mull to the sacred Isle of Iona.
It’s fun to watch how the ferry workers direct all the vehicles on and off and often seem to manage to squeeze something else on (the whole process reminded us of the ferries in Greece). We were amazed at all the types of vehicles that get on and off the big ferries, but it’s totally logical as this is the only way to get certain things onto the islands. We saw many camper vans, the British Royal Mail vans, huge tourist buses, delivery trucks, fire engines, and fuel tankers for example.
If you are driving a car in the summer (high) season, it’s probably best to try and make a ferry reservation if you can, as if you just rock up you might not get on.
The bigger ferries have a lounge and cafes.