THERE are some island traditions which are liked better than others.

The one where you pop round to the neighbours on Halloween in a costume and full mask and then sit silently steaming by the fire as they try to guess your identity is a good one. Unless you get the local oddball in the house for hours, refusing to move … Or the tradition of leaving the pub on Hogmanay to celebrate the bells at home, but hurrying back to pick up the pint where you left off.

The annual guessing game of whether or not you will reach your desired location for Christmas is less beloved but nonetheless traditional. Whilst the other traditions are at risk of fading away, this one is here to stay, and if the current climate situation is not arrested, then it will probably become even more challenging.

The prospect of Scottish Island ­Christmas Chaos™ began to creep towards us just ­under a fortnight ago when the bad ­weather we had all been tracking on a ­variety of forecasting apps showed no signs of ­fading away.

A week ago, I took one look at the red squares on my own app of choice and tapped out. It was a sign to take my ­frazzled self to the sofa and chill for the duration of the festering season. It’s easy for me, though. I live alone and am not a fan of festivities. Not going anywhere for Christmas doesn’t put me up, nor down. I can catch up with the people I want to see in the New Year.

The National: Residents of Tiree know to prepare themselves for Christmas chaos - but it shouldn't be this wayResidents of Tiree know to prepare themselves for Christmas chaos - but it shouldn't be this way

Once upon a time, few islanders would have been venturing away at this time of year – their families would mainly have been in the same locality. Now, it’s a very different story. Families are mostly split between islands and the mainland. They want to celebrate together, and ­between them lies the weather, and the deep blue sea.

Tuesday the 19th arrived in Tiree. The morning plane landed with only one ­working engine (not ideal), and the ­weather forecast refused to change. ­People stranded at the airport sprinted to the pier, where the mighty Clansman docked successfully. The next sailings would be Thursday, Saturday and ­Christmas Eve. Looking at the weather for those dates, it was distinctly possible that this was the last boat before Christmas Eve. It might even be Boxing Day before we saw the Clansman again.

That meant that the lorry making its way down the road might be the last ­Co-op delivery before Christmas … And then the gravity of the situation hit. WhatsApp groups were pinging away as we all tried to determine the best time to descend on the shop. Too early, and the delivery won’t be out on the shelves, too late and you will have been beaten to the best of the sprouts. The potential for all-out war in the aisles was high.

Bad weather at this time of year isn’t unheard of. In fact, most of us expect and plan for it. (See: Big Freezers.) ­Mitigating transport challenges mainly comes in the form of goodwill. Friends and ­neighbours escort other people’s relatives onto flights and ferries at short notice. Parcels and people are squeezed into cars going in the right direction and everyone mucks in looking after pets and plants.

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For all the criticism of CalMac, one thing has always held true – the staff on the ground and on the boats are ­incredible. And in this case, the ­management came through as well. Unscheduled Coll and Tiree sailings were arranged for ­Wednesday – and then for Friday.

In a Christmas miracle, both ­Wednesday morning’s plane and the extra boat made it in and back out successfully. Teachers who needed to travel away were given special dispensation to go early, and ­Friday’s additional boat docked, with bread aboard. The Great Tiree Christmas Crisis was averted. In fact, CalMac had become the “Ferry Godmother”, as one of my friends put it!

Early in the week, I had made the ­mistake of tweeting in a slightly ­hyperbolic ­fashion about the impending crisis. It brought all the journalists to my inbox and a fair number of folks to my mentions. Many were sympathetic. Some sent us thoughts and prayers, no doubt ­under the impression that we might starve. (There’s no fear of that – every house has a Big Freezer. It’s the law.) More than one took the chance to directly blame the SNP.

I’ll happily criticise where criticism is due, but I really don’t think that the ­Scottish Government can be held directly responsible for the weather. We could have the best boats, built in record time, and they still would not be sailing in these types of storms. That said, there is much within the control of the Government and other bodies which would mitigate some of the weather-related challenges.

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THE age of our ferries is well-documented. Our beloved Clansman was recently unable to sail in darkness due to a radar issue. That makes ad hoc sailings at this time of year a little … erm, tricky. The lack of any spare boat in the network means that when one island shouts loud enough to be heard, others suffer. (See: South Uist.)

Our extra boats probably inconvenienced Colonsay.

We hear a lot about ferries, but not so much about flights. Barra, Tiree and Campbeltown are all served by one of three Twin Otters. At the moment, one is not in service – presumably being ­overhauled – one remains stuck in Tiree and only one is flying. Not ideal when bad weather needs flexibility in the ­system and landing in Barra is at the mercy of ­famously inflexible tides.

Loganair just last week announced the retirement of the last SAAB aircraft in the fleet. It’s the next size up from the Twin Otter and landed in Tiree when there were passenger backlogs or large events.

Back in 2020, Tiree ­Community ­Council flagged concerns about the ­replacement ATR series being unable to land due to its weight. As far as we know, that remains the case. A larger plane is therefore no longer an option for Tiree – it’s the Twin Otter or bust – assuming you can afford to get on it

Prices on the publicly subsidised ­service have recently been raised to the extent that a discount card is being issued to residents. Some second homeowners may think nothing of brandishing a few utility bills to get access to the residents’ fare card, but our friends and family

who are not residents and have a ­conscience will struggle to afford flights – especially at the last minute when the weather turns.

Addressing the lack of redundancy in our rural transport network won’t fix the weather – neither will working out kinks in a pricing policy – but they might reduce the pain caused by the knock-on effects of storms.

That domino effect ­carries its own costs, be they financial – extra car hire and accommodation; ­personal – missing work and special events; or ­environmental – for example, food-wasting in lorries or increased carbon footprints through ­unnecessary travel.

Individuals are generally good at ­contingency planning. Public bodies, in my experience, are less so. As the ­weather gets more unpredictable and our ­transport systems get more fragile, those public bodies would do well to take a leaf out of some island books and implement an infrastructure equivalent of the “Big Freezer”.

Spares might not be needed all the time, but when you are glad of them, you are very very glad of them.