Brian Ferguson: Hebridean festivals showcase Scotland

The islands of Lewis, Eigg and Tiree can now return to normal after the mass invasion of festival-goers. Picture: Donald MacLeod
The islands of Lewis, Eigg and Tiree can now return to normal after the mass invasion of festival-goers. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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CALEDONIAN MacBrayne will be carrying a weary load on many of its west coast services today. The slow, bleary-eyed retreat from three of Scotland’s biggest island music festivals marks the end of one of the west coast ferry operator’s busiest weekends.

The islands of Lewis, Eigg and Tiree can now gradually return to normal after the mass invasion of festival-goers over the last four or five days.

If not for a diary clash, I would have almost certainly been at both the Tiree Music Festival and Eigg’s Howlin’ Fling event, as well as the Hebridean Celtic Festival, in Lewis’s capital Stornoway, which ended on Saturday night.

The latter event has gone into my diary for more years than I care to remember but the line-ups and venues for Eigg and Tiree – relatively new events with hugely different demographics – were just as packed and mouth-watering.

A world away from the hype and hoopla of the Commonwealth Games countdown and the run-up to Edinburgh’s annual festivals bonanza, they are also about as far removed from the vast machine of T in the Park as it is possible to imagine.

For the majority of first-time attendees at these festivals, the trip is also very likely to be their first experience of these islands – ensuring a great shop window for their renowned scenic beauty.

The spectacular landscapes to be found just a few hours away from the central belt are still curiously unheralded in Scotland – but I imagine many of those who packed their tents yesterday will soon be plotting a return.

Glasgow and Edinburgh may still dominate the country’s cultural scene, but can they offer anything to compete with the experience of a life-enhancing get-away-from-it-all weekend?

For a musician, I imagine an invitation to perform at one of the above events is pretty much a dream ticket – despite the logistical headaches that can crop up when ferries and flights are involved.

It is a chance to hang out with dozens of fellow like-minded musicians, meet droves of their diehard fans, win over a whole new set of followers and secure crucial media exposure – collective opportunities that won’t come around more than a few times a year.

For the music fan, there is the chance to catch their favourites in intimate and unconventional venues.

While the final ferry fares tally will undoubtedly keep the holders of Calmac’s purse strings happy, these festivals are, of course, of much more importance to the small communities that host them. Every hotel and B&B bed in Stornoway was snapped up months in advance for this weekend’s festival.

While the cost of getting to Scotland in the first place is not cheap, and the public transport required to get around often labyrinth-like in its complexity, the experiences on offer strike me as priceless. No diary clashes next year.