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Arran, Scotland In Miniature Is Enhanced by Kintyre Service

17th July 2016
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The imposing mountainous Isle of Arran and highest peak of Goat Fell (874m/2,866ft) dominates the skyline as CalMac ferry, Caledonian Isles (Eileanan Chaledonia) heads for Brodick, the main town of the island on the Forth of Clyde, south-west Scotland.  The imposing mountainous Isle of Arran and highest peak of Goat Fell (874m/2,866ft) dominates the skyline as CalMac ferry, Caledonian Isles (Eileanan Chaledonia) heads for Brodick, the main town of the island on the Forth of Clyde, south-west Scotland. Photo: Jehan Ashmore

#ScottishIsles – Caledonian MacBrayne’s (CalMac) ferry route to the Isle of Arran, dubbed Scotland in miniature, and to the Mull of Kintyre, provides a ‘gateway’ particularly for Irish visitors, given the proximity of the south-west region, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Among the Forth of Clyde services is the popular Ardrossan-Brodick (Arran) route and the added option of continued exploration further west with the Ardrossan-Campbeltown (Mull of Kintyre) service. Either route, presents an introduction to the wonders and wilderness of these areas and more of the Western Isles. CalMac have an extensive car ferry route network and multiple-destination tickets ideal for island-hopping.

Travel as a motorist or as a foot-passenger by beginning at Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast which is easily accessible by road or bus (via Ayr) having taken sailings from either North Channel ports to those on Loch Ryan, Scotland. There’s a choice between Belfast-Cairnryan, Loch Ryan Port (Stena Line) and Larne-Cairnryan (P&O Ferries) services.

Arran offers a wondrous mix of mountains, forests, lochs, sandy beaches and a whisky distillery. All of this can be reached by taking the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry of only 55 minutes duration. The year-round route’s mainstay, Caledonian Isles (1993/5,221grt) in the high-season is supported by additional capacity from Isle of Arran (1984/3,296grt). In addition the first drive through roll-on roll-off ferry built for CalMac, sails the seasonal Mull of Kintyre route that runs up to late September.

Alternatively, the short cut from Arran back to the mainland, albeit missing out on the Kintyre Peninsula, is by taking from the north of the island the short-hop on board Loch Tarbert (1992/211gt).This smaller ferry plies between Lochranza and Claonaig, that lies south of Tarbert. This option, also requires a drive northwards before heading south to Glasgow and returning to ferryports on Loch Ryan.

Facilities on board the Ardrossan serving ferries include a ‘Mariners’ restaurant with an emphasis on locally produced food, a giftshop, bar and lounges with forward facing views. On that note, the open deck spaces to soak up these views, unlike the cross-channel ferries, was a most welcomed feature.

The short passage from Ardrossan to Brodick, Arran across the Forth of Clyde presents views of both mainland and that of the looming dominance of the island’s mountain, Goat Fell. The peak of 874m / 2,866ft towers above Brodick Bay.

The Fair Trade island's main town Brodick, has hotels, cafe and gift shops lining the waterfront and nearby sandy beach. On a recent visit, offshore, day-tripper yachts were moored and were joined by an evening arrival of an impressive private three-masted schooner. The yacht took advantage of the sheltered anchorage to overnight in the bay. In the distance thick forests surround Brodick Castle & Gardens, an 800 year-old highland estate, the UK’s only island country park which is open to the public.

The Mull of Kintyre route, Ardrossan-Campbetown, takes only 2 hours and 30 minutes and on this connection (saving on distance, time and fuel) affords further views off the south coast of Arran. Noting on Saturdays only and in the reverse direction, the ferry departs from Campbeltown to firstly make an en route call to Brodick, Arran before continuing the crossing to Ardrossan.

The approaches to Campbeltown begins with another imposing feature, the steep sided Davaar Island at the entrance to an inlet leading to the port. The harbour is home to a mix of fishing fleet and leisure boats at the marina located conveniently in the centre of the town.

Berthed at the marina, was a ‘passenger-only’ RIB ferry of operator Kintyre Express, which offers an alternative direct service to and from Northern Ireland, on the route out of Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.

It was from the Kintyre coastline could be seen south the ‘North’. In the other direction while taking the Glasgow bound bus were more isles: Gigha, Islay and Jura. An en route stop was made at the stunningly spectacular inland coastal location of Inveraray, on Lough Fyne in which Afloat.ie will have a further report.

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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