Western Isles tour guides are making sure that all hands are on deck ahead of the coming cruise and tourism season – knowing that they have a huge gap to fill in their crew.

The Western Isles Tour Guide Association (WITGA) are still reeling from the loss of their long-time co-ordinator and leader Joan Morrison, who was tragically killed in a road accident on New Year’s Eve (December 31st 2018).

But a new committee has been formed and plans are well in hand to be ready for the first cruise ship visit on Friday March 29th, when the Astoria is expected to bring the first 500 passengers of the season into Stornoway Harbour.

WITGA’s new chair is Liz Carmicheal of Newmarket, with Doro Rieder of South Lochs as co-ordinator.

Doro told welovestornoway.com today (Wednesday February 13th): “It is certainly a steep learning curve. Joan was the heart and soul of the organisation and we will really miss her, because she had over 20 years of experience.

“But we have a really dedicated team of 21 tour guides and everyone is taking responsibility for something, from arrangements with visiting holiday companies to website maintenance.”

Exactly 60 cruise ships are booked to call into Stornoway between March and September, with seven of these on their maiden visits. First-time visitors include the majestic Queen Victoria, bringing up to 2,000 visitors and almost 1,000 crew to the islands.

Typically, WITGA members are available to meet the ships and help to answer questions from disembarking passengers.

They may then lead or accompany tours to the islands’ celebrated landmarks, including the Harris beaches and the Callanish stones. Visiting coach parties also use WITGA guides and smaller groups may book one or other of the guides privately.

Doro will be at the pier to greet passengers from the Astoria on March 29th. The sudden change of circumstances was not something they could have planned for, but she feels WITGA are up to the challenge.

“We have to be ready, but we have a good basis and an idea of how to continue, so we don’t feel completely overwhelmed as we did when we first heard about Joan’s accident. We will be up and running in time for the season and visitors will get the warm welcome they always did.”