Is this the best value boat trip in Britain? A fantastic adventure to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides for only £18 return. We did it in rain, cloud and force 7 gales yet it was brilliant, so in good weather it must be absolutely awesome. For mountain fans it’s a must, this is our story 🙂
- Distance = 56 miles each way, total of 112 miles (180 km)
- Duration = 10.30am – 1.30pm & 2.25pm – 5.45pm
- Total Ascent = Only the stairs on the ferry
- Start/Finish = Ullapool
- Date = Saturday 6th July 2013
Saturday 6th July, the third and penultimate day of our Ullapool trip and still the storm force winds prevailed. After being blown over on Thursday up Cul Beag followed by a low walk to remote Sandwood Bay on Friday, we were desperate to keep the momentum going. This time however after a bright morning there was to be no escape from the mist, gales & rain due early afternoon. At the guesthouse we discussed the limited walking or driving options for the day over breakfast. I went up to get ready whilst mate Alan nipped out to sort his Dad’s lottery tickets. Back in the room the Stornoway ferry sailed majestically past the window, always a nice sight. It was 9.50am.
We had already discussed coming back to Ullapool next year and taking the ferry over to the Outer Isles. Just imagine how good that would be! The guest house lady had mentioned the ferry was actually nowhere near as expensive for foot passengers as we’d imagined. Alan soon arrived from lottery duties and had already called in at the ferry landing on the way back to check for the future. He confirmed it was only £17.90 for a return journey. Now that was almost worth doing now, we’d be back by 6pm but with just an hour in Stornoway which wasn’t ideal. Still what an amazing price when you consider;-
- Summer Queen – Ullapool to Summer Isles, 2hr cruise = £20, 4hr cruise = £30
- Stornoway Ferry – 6hr cruise to the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides & back = £17.90
Doing it now suddenly began to make more & more sense, the hills weren’t possible due to the severe gales and we were going to get soaked wherever we went. Of course it was probably too windy for a ferry trip and probably too late as it was due to leave in less than 15 minutes. Or maybe not. We didn’t need to say anything to each other, there was a sudden frenzied grabbing of cameras, binoculars & rain gear, then literally we were out the door running excitedly to the ferry landing. It was 10.06am.
What a laugh, from having nothing planned in the guest house to standing on the ferry deck within 15 minutes. Completely carried away I hurriedly tweeted we were off to the Shetland Islands:-) The change in viewpoint and added height of the ship gave a completely different view of Ullapool and the mountains beyond. We were very soon underway as these boats don’t mess about, we saw it arrive late one night then unload numerous lorries coaches, cars & people, before loading a fresh load and leave the port within 30 minutes!!
Sailing out of Ullapool was fascinating, we kept dashing from one side of the deck to the other as the view changed or different mountains appeared. Couple of seals around too.
Even with the weather starting to close in around us this was hugely enjoyable. All the other passengers had retreated down to the warm lounges, whereas we’d come prepared so stuck a few layers on until we sailed into an eerie empty world of misty greyness.
Away from the sheltered coast and exposed to the full force of the wind the ship was starting to move about a bit, so eventually we went below decks to explore. It was bigger and more featured than I expected. Most of the seats were taken and trying to walk around was comical, at one point we couldn’t get past an elderly couple as every time we tried to overtake they staggered sideways in front of us. This seemed to amuse those still awake in the lounge. We sat at the front waiting for the enchanting views of the Isle of Lewis majestically to open up before us. It was a long fruitless wait 🙂
There were occasional thumps as the ship plunged into the waves, apparently a Force 7 wind, we found it fun and most of the other passengers looked seasoned travellers with just a few lying on the floor looking less content. Sadly there were no enchanting views of the Outer Isles and we arrived to a grey wet Stornoway with only an hour to explore the town.
The possible delights Stornoway offers the curious traveller remained a mystery to us as we quickly walked around looking for some shelter, food & a drink. The weather was miserable and we hadn’t had time to plan anything or check Trip Advisor. Time was ticking so we ended up doing a rapid circle back to the harbour where I’d noticed somewhere looking busy. Hoping this might be an encouraging sign we went into the An Lanntair Gallery which features a cinema and cafe on the second floor decorated with film posters & pics. It was certainly a good choice, clean, roomy, efficient, very popular and with big windows overlooking the harbour, so we could keep an eye on the ferry.
There was only time for a soup and cuppa before we noticed the long queues of traffic had nearly all disappeared down the ferry’s open bow. Missing this crossing would mean staying the night so we paid then hurried off across the road and back into the welcoming sanctuary of the ship.
The journey back was through damp, grey mist where I saw nothing but the wind on the water, (quote from Excalibur). We spent most of the time below decks in the comfy lounge then were the first passengers up on deck for the arrival into Ullapool.
Ullapool briefly transforms itself into a well rehearsed frenzy as the ferry docks. Passengers appear out of nowhere, vehicles hidden in a parking area behind the large white building start queuing to embark. Meanwhile by-standers gather to watch it all in wonder. The whole operation is smoothly organised and we were quickly back on dry land walking along the seafront back to the guesthouse. Soon afterwards the ferry sailed off again due in Stornaway at 9pm. And so ended a definite day with a difference:-)
I can only imagine the incredible views at both ends on a clear day, we saw nothing of the Isle of Lewis and yet this trip was immense fun and excellent value. On calmer days wildlife spotting is an added possibility with dolphins, porpoises, various seabirds and even whales all being reported.
Ferry Details (from Calmac website)
- The ‘Isle of Lewis’ is the largest ship in the CalMac fleet (101m), built on the Clyde in 1995 and capable of carrying up to 970 passengers and 123 cars.
- Large rear deck complete with many seats giving really excellent views of Lewis at one end of the crossing and the North West Highlands at the other.
- Facilities, = Mariners Cafeteria, shop, newspapers, bar, TV Lounge, Observation lounge, Recliner Lounge, Baggage areas, outdoor seating, games arcade room, pet areas.
- Reviews of the Minch crossing on Trip Advisor
- Check timetables and prices here for foot passengers and cars
- Some summer days have 3 crossings giving a chance of 7 hours in Stornoway
- If spending 7hs in Stornoway without a car, plan well what to do beforehand 🙂
- In bad weather on the ferry deck stand by the funnels for warmth & shelter
- When driving off the ferry at Ullapool don’t turn left as it’s a dead end 🙂
- UPDATE October 2014, the Ferry is now £18.30, some times have been altered as Ullapool is extending the landing & terminal building. Also a brand new ferry coming soon, the Loch Seaforth, bigger & more stable allegedly.
Next day the weather finally improved however we were leaving Ullapool for 2 nights in Plockton. There was time for a Munro at last on the way, and what a Munro…(to follow)