WAITING FOR THE SHIP TO SAIL
Life at Lewispot Towers has been fairly uneventful this week, but it's an extraordinary and historic time for the Isle of Lewis. Earlier in the week, Calmac let it be known that they would be putting on the first ever Sunday ferry from today, to take Hebridean Celtic festival goers back to the mainland. It was expected that this sailing would just be a practice run for a more regular service in the near future. That news, although unwelcome by some, was not unexpected. What was a complete surprise though , was an announcement from Calmac a few days ago that they had decided to start permanent regular Sabbath sailings from this afternoon. From now on, there will be a ferry leaving Stornoway for Ullapool at 2:30pm every Sunday. I have heard people talk of little else this week and there are clearly polarised and heartfelt views about Sunday ferries on both sides of the debate.
A couple of hours ago, I decided to take a drive into Stornoway to watch the first Sabbath ferry leave. It is a wet and dreary day, but all of the ferry lanes were full with cars waiting to travel to the mainland. The ferry can accommodate 970 passengers and 123 cars and seemed to be fully booked. About an hour before the sailing, a small group of ten or twelve protestors against the Sunday ferries arrived with a single placard. They conducted themselves with dignity, initially in silence, but then sang Psalm 46, 'God is our refuge and our strength'. They were heavily outnumbered by several hundred supporters of Sunday ferries, who clapped and cheered as the ship slipped out of its moorings and left for Ullapool. There was no trouble on either side and most onlookers dispersed quickly and quietly as soon as the boat left the harbour. It will be interesting to see how the island is affected during the coming months. There are wild predictions of buses running and the opening of children's playparks, shops and the Sports Centre on the Sabbath. All that seems very unlikely, but who knows. As I watched the ferry leave, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad and emotional at the thought that a way of life that is unique in the UK has just departed with the boat.
Although most attention has been on the ferry issue this week, another event of social importance is about to happen here. Tomorrow, the first ever Lewis 'gay wedding' will take place at the registry office in Stornoway. Two men, who are long term residents on the island and have been named in the local press, have decided to have a civil ceremony here. Each local authority is required by law to make arrangements to conduct such ceremonies, but the Registrars here are said to have refused to participate on moral grounds. The Council say that they will not force the dissenters to conduct the ceremony, but have said they will comply with the law and if necessary, fly in a Registrar. Only in Lewis?
Mixed experiences at the hebceltfest concerts I went to this week. Fred Morrison, who was playing Uillean and small pipes, was incredibly energetic, entertaining and skilful and it's a long time since I've enjoyed myself so much.
Not so impressed with Karen Matheson though. She sang well and seemed to be having a good time herself, but I thought her performance was a bit pedestrian and her choice of songs dull. What do I know though? The concert was sold out, most of the audience obviously thought that she walks on water and there was a clamour for her to do an encore, which she did.