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Sunday ferries to Lewis celebrated and lamented on its 10th anniversary

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The 10th anniversary of the first Sunday ferries to the Sabbatarian bastion of the Isle of Lewis was both celebrated and lamented yesterday.

A church leader even suggested that in punishment Caledonian MacBrayne may have suffered the wrath of God with a catalogue of ship breakdowns.

In fact the Sabbath sailings have proved so popular that a second Sunday sailing between Stornoway and Ullapool on the mainland now operates for seven months of the year.

And yesterday there were three ferries taking thousands of people back to the mainland from the Hebridean Celtic Festival.

A single Sabbath ferry began operating on the main route to the Outer Hebrides in 2009, when the service was launched amid local Presbyterian protests.

Despite warnings from church leaders that they faced divine punishment, tens of thousands of passengers have since used the Stornoway to Ullapool Sabbath service.

But soon after introducing the service, Stornoway was hit by a tornado – which entered the town at the ferry terminal – and some worshippers saw it as a sign of God’s anger.

Rev Graeme Craig, of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) said: ”Sunday reminds us of our need of salvation in Jesus Christ.

“Sunday sailings are one of a variety of things that have had a detrimental spiritual impact on the island and its way of life.

“The sooner society goes back to honouring God and his commandments, the sooner we will know blessing and true happiness. Ignoring God is not the answer.

“It is interesting to note that CalMac has had breakdowns and numerous other problems with its fleet since starting Sunday sailings.

“What many people want is an accessible and reliable service six days-a-week and it would be good if CalMac provided that first and foremost.”

Pro Sunday sailing campaigners, however, say life has changed for the better since the service was introduced.

Islander Uisdean Macleod of the Campaign For 7 Days Sailings organisation said: “In the ten years since it started, the Sunday service has been hugely valued and people could not now imagine life without it.

“It is consistently one of the busiest, if not the busiest, services of the week.

“As a family we would have left the island if it had not happened – and so would others.

“It has been used by tens of thousands of people – including by many who first opposed it.

“Even the council now promotes it on their website as connecting the islands seven days a week. And they originally opposed the service, saying said it would not bring any benefit. Times have changed.”

The milestone comes as a renewed and possibly final bid is made by families to swim on Sundays.

Campaigners two years ago raised enough money to open Lewis’s public swimming pool and sports centre for a trial period on Sundays – only to be refused by the Western Isles Council (CNES).

Council-run leisure centres on Lewis and neighbouring Harris are closed, although similar sites elsewhere in the Western Isles are open on Sundays.

Families into Sport for Health (FiSH) – who want Sunday access to the Ionad Spors Leodhais (ISL) sports centre on a six-month trial basis – have again offered more than £11,400 raised to fund the pilot.

Councillors previously voted 19-9 against a year’s trial run to open the Stornoway facility for three hours each Sunday due to the costs and the lack of staff willing to work.

A spokesman for the council said there had been “no change” in the council’s position.

Sunday cinema, which drew church protests during its initial trial, resumed permanently at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway this year.

Sunday flights to and from Stornoway have operated since 2002.

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