Sunday service upsets pious

London, England - The long tradition of strict sabbath observance on Scotland's remote Western Isles came a step closer to abeyance when the first Sunday ferry arrived on the island of Harris.

To the fury of many islanders, the ferry made the one-hour journey from Berneray on North Uist across the sound to Leverburgh, ending Harris island's Sunday isolation.

Although the days are long gone when Free Presbyterian ministers tied up children's swings on Sundays, the sabbath is still strictly observed in many parts of the isles, and Harris islanders are considering taking legal action.

There were no protesters there to meet the first passengers (to protest on a Sunday would be to break the sabbath) but a poster saying "Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy" was displayed at the ferry terminal in Berneray, and yellow "Keep out" tape had been pinned across the dock at Leverburgh.

The Western Isles remain the last bastion of fundamentalist Calvinism in Britain, and the Free Church of Scotland, known as the Wee Frees, and the more hardline Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland - nicknamed the Wee Wee Frees - are the focus of religious worship.

About 700 people on Harris signed the protest. But the Uist islands to the south have a much larger Catholic population, which does not observe the sabbath so strictly, and islanders on North Uist had been keen for the ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne to increase the frequency of the sailings from six days a week to seven.

But Morag Munro, the councillor for Harris West, said most locals were against the sailing. "We are investigating whether there is a legal option to protect us from this imposition," he said. "It is not just church people who are opposed but also those who have come to appreciate a day of relaxation with their families for one day."

Strict Presbyterianism has been the dominant way of worship on Harris for generations. There is no music in church services, and Wee Wee Frees women do not wear trousers. Even so, sabbath observance is on the wane in the Western Isles. Some pubs even now open on a Sunday.

But for some islanders Sunday's sailing was a journey too far. Donald MacDonald, a local councillor, was so enraged by the ferry crossing that he left the island for a week. His wife said he was "disillusioned and extremely disappointed".