IT is an Aberdonian's dream holiday - a cheap ferry trip which is discounted only if you take along a sheep.

However, for once the citizens who are parodied for their arms not reaching their pockets and a love of woolly comfort blankets, have been slow to take advantage of a baa, baa, baargain.

Instead, it has been island crofters - sheep in black sheeps' clothing - who have discovered furryboots to fund cheap ferry trips to the mainland by taking their animals with them.

Staff at ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne have uncovered the racket, which involves the firm's discount scheme designed to aid hard-up islanders get livestock to market on the mainland.

A CalMac spokesman said: ''There has been some abuse. Certain drivers have been taking one or two sheep in their cars on ferries so they can benefit from what is a very generous discount scheme. We now know some were just going on holiday or on other business.''

The racket has forced the ferry company to put the entire discount scheme under review. The company brought in the scheme, charging just #2.35 an animal and no charge for the vehicle, as long as the crofter - and at least one animal - was just going to market.

The low ''headage'' charge was hailed as a boon to crofters in islands such as Uist, Barra, Mull and Colonsay, allowing them to get livestock to the auction mart in Oban very cheaply. However, it seems that it is crofters on these very islands who have succumbed to temptation and claimed the discount for all kinds of trips.

There have been tales of crofters from Uist taking a sheep across to Oban and leaving it with friends while they go on shopping

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trips and holidays in Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

''They then come back with the sheep in the car and say the price was too low and they did not sell. They've actually just had a holiday, and so has the sheep. There was no intention to sell at all,'' said one Barra crofter.

Mr Stewart Riddell, CalMac spokesman, said yesterday: ''The discount scheme was meant to be just pier-to-pier. To qualify, the crofters should actually return on the next ferry after selling their animals.

''Because of what would appear to be abuse by a very small number of people in these islands, the company is going to have to look again at how it works.''

Gourock-based CalMac has been suspicious for months about crofters taking low numbers of sheep away in cars and vans.

It has been making discreet inquiries to prove that the crofters were not actually at the sheep sales as they had claimed when getting the cheap tickets.

Mr Ken Duerden, CalMac's commercial director, informally raised his suspicions after ferry staff said they were seeing a lot of holidaying sheep.

The savings on offer through the discount scheme on some of the ferry journeys were significant. For example, said a CalMac spokesman, the standard return fare for a family car from Castlebay to Oban - a route where ''some suspect discounted trips with livestock'' were undertaken - was #104 return. There is an additional charge of #29 per person.