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Arran said a huge ‘ceud mile failte’ as visitors were given a hundred thousand welcomes back to the island this week with the Gaelic repost.
Hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, bars and shops, as well as self-catering accommodation, all opened their doors with the lifting of some Covid-19 restrictions – but there is still some way to go before there will be a full reopening, with May 17 the next significant date for change.
And this week has seen a steady stream of visitors arriving on the island rather than a mad rush, which may be seen for the first time this May Day bank holiday weekend. Many businesses are reporting a ‘slow steady start’, with the weather, this week, not helping outdoor dining and other activities.
Other attractions on the island are also opening their doors, including Brodick Castle, the Arran Heritage Museum and facilities at the island’s golf courses.
But there is also the huge disappointment that the island will remain without its second summer ferry, the MV Isle of Arran, for more than two weeks, leading some visitors to have their ferry bookings disrupted.
Monday May 17 is the earliest the MV Isle of Arran will now start service on the Ardrossan to Brodick route as she has been redeployed to operate the freight service on Stornoway to Ullapool route, as reported in last week’s Banner.
The move was required as the MV Loch Seaforth, which services the route, is currently undergoing engine repairs at the James Watt Dock in Greenock. Specialist engineers have advised that they expect her to back in service by May 17 at the earliest. However, CalMac say this date is subject to change, but have pledged to keep customers informed throughout.
CalMac say its staff are working extremely hard to ensure all customer demands are being accommodated across the network. However, passenger bookings will have to be carefully managed until the MV Loch Seaforth is back in service and the summer timetable resumes.
While Ardrossan-Brodick will remain as a one-vessel route with capacity restrictions for the time being, sailings on the Lochranza-Claonaig route have been doubled, offering an alternative to accessing Arran or the mainland. Drivers can also reclaim mileage if diverted on to this route.
CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond said: ‘Clearly, the loss of the MV Loch Seaforth and how this has affected other services has caused a lot of disruption to customers, and we are so sorry about this. We are working closely with local businesses to make sure that all demand for travel is being met, and I am most grateful to them for their support, patience and understanding as we deal with this situation.
‘We are confident that the MV Loch Seaforth will be back in service in a matter of weeks and the normal summer timetable will be back up and running as planned.’
Meanwhile, concern among islanders that CalMac was not making capacity available for residents who had medical appointments on the mainland, was taken up by Cunninghame North SNP candidate Kenneth Gibson this week.
However, area operations manager (Clyde) Tommy Gore told him: ‘What we will suggest to Arran residents if they find themselves unable to book onto the ferry for medical appointments over the next few weeks, is that they should book themselves as foot passengers, arrange for a taxi from Ardrossan to whichever hospital it is that they have an appointment at and claim the cost of the taxi back, which we will reimburse.’
Mr Gibson said: ‘While this situation is not ideal, it does mean that transport to medical appointments will be honoured at no additional cost to islanders.’