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Uist hotel comes to the rescue of tour bus passengers stranded during Storm Babet

The islands faced disruption despite avoiding the worst of the weather conditions.

A split image of a man and a hotel.
The Benbecula House Hotel briefly reopened on Wednesday night to make sure Peter Angus and his 26 fellow passengers had a place to sleep. Photo: Peter Angus/Google

An island hotel which had shut for the season re-opened its doors to prevent a coach tour party becoming stranded in bad weather.

One of the passengers has praised the “absolutely amazing” generosity shown by the staff at Uist’s Dark Island Hotel.

Ex-RNLI volunteer helmsman Peter Angus and his wife Melanie were supposed to start the journey back from Uist to Northumberland on Wednesday.

But their holiday with coach tour company Travelsure hit an early problem with the ferry crossing.

Because of sea swells caused by strong winds, the large coach was unable to safely board the MV Loch Bhrusda from Berneray to Leverburgh.

“Our experienced crew will make every effort to ensure customers have a smooth a journey as possible, but occasionally have to make difficult decisions on safety grounds,” a CalMac spokesperson said.

‘A night sat on the coach would have been horrific’

The conditions left the 27 passengers and the driver of the bus stranded.

“All the hotels were fully booked,” says Peter, who detailed the experience in a post on Facebook. It seemed likely that they might have to spend a night on the bus.

“Some of the passengers on the bus were in their 70s or older and a night sat on a coach waiting for a ferry would have been horrific,” Peter says.

But the staff at the Dark Island Hotel came to the rescue, opening their closed sister hotel so the travellers could have a bed for the night.

A night sat on a coach waiting for a ferry would have been horrific

Peter Angus

The Benbecula House Hotel officially shut for the season earlier this month.

Hotel staff “sorted out all the rooms, opened the bar and put on a fabulous buffet dinner, all in three hours,” Peter says.

And, he says, they did it all while “being understaffed and very busy at the main hotel with another coach trip”.

Manager Sandra Campbell was “absolutely amazing”, he added.

‘There are still good people in the world’

“I was really moved by the whole experience,” Peter says. “It’s heartening to know that there are still good people in the world.”

With Storm Babet hitting Scotland hard, Peter and Melanie’s journey isn’t over yet.

The strong winds have held them up for another day in Stornoway.

But, with a hotel more readily available, Peter says he’s in no rush to say goodbye to the Western Isles.

“I love it over here,” he says. “We can’t wait to come back.”

NorthLink Ferries service.
NorthLink Ferries’ services have been hit by the weather

Meanwhile, islanders have raised concerns about fresh food supplies to Orkney and Shetland due to ongoing ferry disruptions.

While Storm Babet is causing most damage in red-warning areas on the east coast, areas like the Northern Isles are still facing weather-related problems.

Passenger and freight ferries, including those to and from Aberdeen, have been cancelled due to poor conditions.

It has led to fears of some shops and supermarkets running low on goods.

NorthLink Ferries cancelled services to and from Shetland for the second day in a row today and other services face weather-related delays.

Sailings tomorrow are also under review as strong winds continue.

Saturday sailings under review due to bad weather caused by Storm Babet

The MV Hamnavoe passenger ferry from Stromness to Scrabster at 4.45pm tonight was due to sail.

All Saturday sailings are expected to operate to schedule but may be subject to weather related delays

However, sailings by other vessels between Aberdeen and the Northern Isles were off.

Updates will be given on tomorrow’s services which are being kept under review.

The freight vessels MV Helliar and MV Hildasay services from Lerwick sailing to Aberdeen and from Aberdeen to Kirkwall and Lerwick tonight were cancelled.

Saturday services are also under review.

Sarah Crowe, 44, from Stromness, said the islands are seeing disruptions to services normally associated with January and February.

Empty shelves are becoming more noticeable.

Sarah Crowe

She told the BBC: “We are used to the wind causing the odd day of ferry cancellations, but this is the second weekend in a row ferries have been cancelled for consecutive days, including the freight vessel from Aberdeen.

“It’s causing increasing issues with fresh food and milk supplies and empty shelves are becoming more noticeable.

“With Storm Babet we are looking at potentially three-and-a-half days of ferry cancellations as the weather here is not set to improve until at least midday Sunday.”

Lee Paterson, manager at the Brig Larder in Kirkwall, said they have been lucky as their food is supplied locally.

“Our butcher meat the veg is all local and we got our fish before the wind came so we’ve been very lucky.

“But I wouldn’t welcome too many days like this.”

Lifeboat called out

The Churchill Barriers in Orkney, which had been closed, were open but drivers were urged to take care.

Meanwhile, Lerwick lifeboat returned to port towing a Danish fishing boat in an 18-hour mission.

The lifeboat launched at lunchtime on Thursday to assist the Westbank which broke  down 60 miles east of Shetland and was taking in water in stormy conditions.

Lifeboat coxswain Steven Manson said the six-hour journey to reach the Danish vessel was “very, very rough”.

The vessels arrived in Lerwick at around 7am, when the harbour tug Knab took over the tow.

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