Otter Lodge Blog: In praise of the Calmac Ferry


When I first arrived in Scotland in the early 1990s you could only get to Skye by boat. Many discussions were had as to the best approach from the mainland: from Armadale, Kylerhea or Kyle of Lochalsh? All of these crossings involved ferries and, unless you were crossing the narrows at Kylerhea, the ferry was bound to be a Calmac. 


A lot of folk have a soft spot for the Calmac ferry, or Caledonian MacBrayne Hebridean and Clyde Ferries to give them their full title. They are to the west coast of Scotland what red double-decker buses are to London; a bit of an institution. If you have to travel on them regularly, as Martin did when he live on the island of Islay, then they really do feel like a lifeline service. No ferry means no supplies and a stockpile of whisky waiting to be shipped. They’re essential.

DSC05888I suspect it’s in part due to this that the staff at Calmac are some of the most friendly and helpful transport workers I’ve come across. They know they’re needed and consequently there is a can-do attitude that can verge on the adventurous. Sometimes it really is a case of: we’ll get you there, come hell or high water. On stormy seas, the Calmac staff will live up to their name and whistle a happy tune while passengers wedge themselves between the seats and attempt to eat chicken curry as the boat tips sideways.

Not only that, but these folk will do everything in their power to ensure everyone gets to where their going. No gangplank will be raised until the last passenger has sprinted on; no vehicle will be left at the shore if there is the tiniest amount of space still left on the car deck. Terrified European campervan drivers will be coaxed patiently aboard and placed nose-tail with fancy sports cars and stock trucks. Watching them do this is amazing.


So if you’re visiting Scotland, don’t overlook a trip on a Calmac ferry. It’s not just a way of getting from A to B; it’s a cruise, an entertainment and sometimes even a wildlife safari on wrapped up in one.

DSC05858Here are our top tips for ferry travel:

Bring binoculars – you might see porpoises or basking sharks (and you can spy on the rich people in their fancy waterside holiday homes)

Wear a woolly hat – even in summer it’s remarkable how chilly you can be on a boat. There are sweet spots where the engine pumps out heat onto the deck. Seek these out.

Always undo your seatbelt before driving up the ramp onto the boat. This bit of advice comes from Martin after a few slightly dodgy moments driving onto a wee ferry in bad weather.

Concentrate when they put on the prerecorded safety annoucements – you might eventually learn a few words of  Gaelic

When dining, always choose the chicken curry.