Monday, December 4, 2017

Mallaig (again)

In quick succession from the last ones, another couple of stunning pictures of Mallaig I chanced across. This time, they're of Mallaig before Mallaig was built:-

These photos are both by James Valentine from the National Galleries of Scotland's website. The links to these two actual pictures are here and here and the rest of Valentine's photos are worth a browse here.

The village and harbour of Mallaig as we know them today didn't exist before the arrival of the railway from Fort William in 1901. Before then, Arisaig was the terminus of the Road to the Isles. It was established by the local landowner, Macdonald of Clanranald, in response to the completion of the road there from Fort William by the Highland Roads and Bridges Commission (see here) about 1810. The road and Arisaig were established for exactly the same reasons as the railway and Mallaig were with the new technology of steam a hundred years later, namely, exploitation of the west coast herring fishery. So Arisaig is really the old Mallaig except that Arisaig was less successful than Mallaig became due to the difficulties of navigating the reef strewn entrance to Loch nan Ceall that Arisaig sits at the head of (see here about that). In not continuing their "Loch na Gaul Road" to Mallaig, the HR&B Commission was probably guilty of spoiling the ship for a ha'ppence worth of tar.

Arisaig in 1858 as seen on the Admiralty Chart
Arisaig Inn c.1880 - photo credit National Libraries of Scotland

So what was there at Mallaig before the arrival of the railway? Well, not very much if the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map drawn in the 1870s is to be believed:-

National Libraries of Scotland Georeferenced Maps

Note that the settlement labelled as Mallaig on that map is what we now know as the small crofting township of Mallaigvaig round the corner on Loch Nevis. But on the shore of the Acarseid na Coille Moire ("Ach-car-sitch na Killy More" - anchorage of the big wood) a pier is marked. The Mallaig Harbour Authority's website tells us that this pier was built in 1846 by the local landowner, Lord Lovat, as a project to aid destitution caused by the potato famine. (I've written before - here - about Destitution Roads so Mallaig's is a Destitution Pier.) I believe this pier is at the root of what's now the fishery pier at Mallaig.

Mallaig in the 1880s by Erskine Beveridge - photo credit Canmore

The MHA website also tells us that a barrel and salt and salt store was built in connection with the herring fishery in 1883 and I think you can see that if you zoom right in on the second picture at the top of this blog:-

And are the house with the two dormer windows and the block at right angles to it with no roof (still under construction?) what's now the Tea Garden at the foot of Davies Brae in Mallaig today?

Google Streetview

So there was more going on at Mallaig before the arrival of the railway than I had imagined - one of the herring stations around Loch Nevis but without any claim to pre-eminency.

It's a fascinating place, encapsulating as it does in its history the transformation from rural subsistence, potato famine, through to the arrival of the industrial era in the form of the railway and the fishing industry, the contrast with Arisaig just down the road and all in a quintessentially scenic West Highland setting - there's usually interesting stories to tell when industry intrudes on rural areas and there's stacks of that at Mallaig but I'll conclude here with a couple of contrasting photos of very shortly after the railway came.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

New Glen Sannox - what's in a name?

Photo credit inverclydenow
Last week, Caledonian MacBrayne's latest ferry (strictly, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd's latest ferry which will be chartered to Calmac Ferries Ltd branded as Caledonian MacBrayne) was launched from Ferguson's yard at Port Glasgow. Destined for the Ardrossan to Brodick run, she was christened Glen Sannox and the name recalls three previous vessels serving Arran dating back to 1891.

Most shipping companies have themed names for their ships - think Cunard and its Queens and Roman provinces such as Aquitania, Mauretania etc. The White Star Line had its "-ic" names the most famous of which, of course, is Titanic but there were also her less well known sisters Olympic and Britannic. Recently, Calmac have taken to naming their "major units" after previous vessels in their fleet, notably the new (2015) Ullapool to Stornoway ferry Loch Seaforth named after the mail steamer of that name which ran from Mallaig and Kyle to Stornoway from 1947 to 1972.

Loch Seaforth (I) (1947-73) at Kyle of Lochalsh. Photo credit George Woods
Loch Seaforth (II) (2015) Photo credit Chris Murray

When I first encountered MacBrayne's ships in the early/mid 1970s, the ones I knew best were the steamers Loch Seaforth and Claymore and the car ferries Columba and Clansman. These were what I considered to be "proper" names for Western Isles ships and when new additions to the fleet came along in the mid 70s with names like Pioneer, Jupiter and Juno, I thought someone was just making up what they thought were snappy modern names for the sake of it and with no regard to the heritage. Little did I know how wrong I was and that there had been Pioneers, Jupiters and Junos serving the Clyde and Western Isles since Victorian times! So this post is about the various naming themes amongst the fleets which merged to form today's Calmac. And it's a good excuse to showcase some pictures of the ships involved!

Pioneer (III) (1974-2003) at Mallaig

I go into the corporate history of Calmac in exhaustively boring detail here but recall that it was formed in 1973 from the merger of David MacBrayne and British Railways' Clyde shipping subsidiary, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. The CSP had started out in 1889 as the Caledonian Railway Company's shipping arm and it absorbed the Clyde steamer fleet of the Glasgow & South Western Railway Company (GSWR) when these were merged into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923. There was also the Clyde steamer fleet of the North British Railway Company which was absorbed by the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923. So let's look at the ship naming themes of these companies - MacBrayne's, CSP, GSWR and NBR/LNER - and trace the continuities down to the present day.

Clansman (II) (1870-1909) Scan from Duckworth & Langmuir's "West Highland Steamers" attributed to McIsaac & Riddle

Start with the oldest, MacBrayne's. It began in 1851 with the formation of a firm called David Hutcheson & Co (DH&Co), a partnership between two brothers Hutcheson and David MacBrayne: the Hutchesons had retired by 1879 after which DMacB carried on the business under his own name. The eight ships (all paddle steamers) DH&Co started out with in 1851 were called Shandon, DolphinDuntroon Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Cygnet, Lapwing, Curlew and Pioneer. Already, there's that name I so reviled in the 70s but reflecting the ad hoc nature of how that fleet had been assembled by DH&Co's predecessors there's not much of a theme there except castles and birds. Except for an Inveraray Castle (1851-95), castles never gained traction as a naming theme but birds were better represented with subsequent Lapwings, Cygnets and also Plovers in the fleet (see my posts about the Inner and Outer Isles Mail services for them.)

Pioneer (II) at Port Askaig

The first ship DH&Co commissioned was called Mountaineer (1852-89) and thus was set the pattern for what became the dominant trend in DH&Co/MacBrayne names until the first quarter of the 20th century, the -eer/-ier names. As well as two subsequent Mountaineers, notable amongst these were some long lived ships such as the Grenadier (1885-1928 most closely associated with the Oban-Iona-Staffa cruise), Gondolier (1866-1939 - Caledonian Canal), Chevalier (1866-1927 - Crinan-Oban) and a second Pioneer (1905-45 - West Loch Tarbert-Islay). So that confirms the heritage of the name revived for the new Islay car ferry in 1974.

Grenadier (1885-1928) at Iona

There was also the Cavalier, Fusilier, Brigadier and Carabineer (have I forgotten any?) but this was not the only DH&Co/MacBrayne theme. For their prime Glasgow to Ardrishaig route, there were three Ionas (the last surviving on other routes until 1935) and then the biggest and grandest Clyde paddle steamer of them all, the Columba (1878-1935). Hence why these names were revived for car ferries in 1970 and 1964 respectively.

Columba (I) 1878-1936

Beyond the Clyde, another of MacBrayne's premier routes until the Second World War was the "all the way" run from Glasgow up the west coast and Inner Isles terminating at Stornoway for the carriage of cargo primarily but also passengers and marketed as cruises in summer. The ships most closely associated with this route were two called Clansman (1855-69 & 1870-1909) and the first Claymore (1881-1931) so there's the inspiration for another of the inaugural 1964 car ferries and 1955 mail steamer (see here for the latter). Also in this "clannish" theme was a relatively short lived ship called Chieftain (1907-19) although that name has never been repeated.

Claymore (I) at Gairloch

Another thin strand of Hutcheson/MacBrayne names in the late 19th century were the -dales including Clydesdale (1862-1905 and revived for another ship 1905-53), Flowerdale (1878-1904), Lovedale (1867-1904) and Glendale (1875-1905). These are worth mentioning for the fact that, along with Pioneer, Glendale was proposed as one of the names for the new Islay ferry in 2011 although these ended up being outvoted by Finlaggan.

Lovedale at Lochmaddy - scan from Duckworth & Langmuir's "West Highland Steamers" 2nd ed. credited to M J MacLean courtesy of R B McKim

MacBrayne's was taken over from the MacBrayne family in 1928 by a consortium between the LMS Railway Co and Coast Lines. This change of management brought in a new naming theme to go with it, the Loch names. There had been occasional Lochs before, usually the fresh waters upon which they served (Lochawe 1876-1924, Lochness (I) & (II) 1885-1912 & 1912-29). Lochinvar (1908-60) which served on the Sound of Mull was really a literary rather than a loch name, Young Lochinvar being a character in Walter Scott's poem Marmion. But the Loch theme really took off with the new acquistions and builds under LMS/Coast. The first was Lochdunvegan (cargo steamer, 1929-48 and repeated for another cargo ship 1950-73), followed by Lochness (1929-55, Stornoway Mail), Lochshiel (cargo ship 1929-52), Lochearn (1930-64, Inner Isles Mail), Lochmor (1930-64 Outer Isles Mail), Lochbroom (I) & (II) (cargo ships 1931-37 & 1947-71) Lochfyne (1931-70, Ardrishaig mail), Lochnevis (1934-70, Portree Mail). There were many other Lochs and it remained MacBrayne's dominant naming theme until the early 1960s after which newbuilds increasingly recalled earlier names from various strands (Columba, Clansman, Iona etc.) until the 1980s since when lochs have been the almost exclusive naming theme for car ferries for short crossings, thus Lochs Striven, Linnhe, Riddon, Ranza, Buie, Bhrusda, Alainn, Portain, Dunvegan, Fyne and Shira.

Lochfyne (1931-70) - Photo credit David Shire

*PEDANTRY ALERT* - not that the spelling of Loch ships until WW2 was all one word, thus Lochfyne not Loch Fyne. After the War, it became two words - e.g. Loch Seaforth (1947), Loch Carron (1951), Loch Ard (1955) and Loch Arkaig (1959) - unless a post-War ship was being named after a pre-War one when it continued to be one word e.g. Lochdunvegan (1950), Lochmor (1979) and Lochnevis (2000). (That said, this "rule" didn't apply to the 1991 Kyleakin ferries Loch Fyne and Loch Dunvegan.)

And while we're being pedantic, a word about Lochiel. There were four ships of this name in the Hutcheson/MacBrayne fleet, the last and best known being the Islay mail steamer from 1939 to 1970. Note first that the spelling is "i before e" which is the territorial designation of the chief of Clan Cameron whose estates lay on the north and east sides of Loch Eil ("e before i" and note also that the part of Loch Linnhe above the Corran narrows used to called Loch Eil as well). So Lochiel is not really a Loch name, IMO. It was another candidate (with Pioneer and Glendale) for the name of the 2011 Islay ferry which became Finlaggan and is surely a prime candidate for revival for a future Calmac ferry.

Lochiel (IV) (1939-70) at West Loch Tarbert

Finally, before we go south to the Clyde railway fleets, you're probably thinking I've forgotten about Hebrides. This was originally a ship built in 1898 belonging to John McCallum (merged with Martin Orme to become McCallum, Orme & Co in 1929) which also sailed "all the way" from Glasgow on cargo and passenger/cruise runs up the west coast and throughout the Inner and Outer Hebrides. McCO merged with MacBrayne's in 1948 and the Hebrides continued in their fleet till 1955. As Lochmaddy and Tarbert (Harris) had been among her regular ports of call, it was almost a no-brainer that this would be the name chosen for the 1964 car ferry destined to serve these ports from Uig on Skye. And the name was repeated again for the 2001 ferry which still serves the "Uig Triangle" today. (When I first encountered the 1964 Hebrides in the mid-70s, I remember thinking, in my ignorance and prejudice about MacBrayne names, it was an OK-ish name, superior to Pioneer et al, but wouldn't Loch Erisort or Chieftain have been better?)

Hebrides (I) at Lochboisdale - Photo credit Ballast Trust

The Clyde railway fleets
Let's begin with the Caledonian Railway Company's shipping subsidiary, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. Their earliest vessels' names didn't follow any particular theme although one is worth mentioning for having been in use almost continuously over three ships for nearly a hundred years: Caledonia. The first was a paddle steamer from 1889 to 1933, the next (1934-69) bears the distinction of being the second last Clyde paddler (the last being the Waverley, of course) and the third and last was a car ferry which served Brodick from Ardrossan 1970-75 and then Craignure from Oban 1976-88.

Caledonia (I) (1889-1933) - scan from 1949 CRSC publication
Caledonia (II) (1934-70) Photo credit Kenny Whyte via
Caledonia (III) (1970-88) in the Sound of Mull

In the 1890s, however, the dominant theme of CSP names became local female aristocrats, thus, to name just a few examples, Duchess of Rothesay (1895-1946), Duchess of Montrose (1902-17) and Marchioness of Lorne (1891-23). To compete with the CSP's Duchess of Hamilton (1890-1915) on the prime Ardrossan-Brodick run, the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company in 1892 commissioned a splendid paddler called Glen Sannox. She was replaced by a turbine steamer of the same name in 1925 which served Arran until 1954. It was therefore another "no-brainer" that, in 1957, the first car ferry for Brodick also be named Glen Sannox. She served Arran until 1970 (being replaced by the third Caledonia that year) and thereafter operated various routes in the CSP/Calmac network until sold in 1989. The choice of the same name for the latest Arran ferry, launched last week, is therefore easily explicable if not almost unavoidable.

Glen Sannox (I) (189-1922). Picture Credit
Glen Sannox (II) (1925-54). Picture credit Hugh Spicer
Glen sannox (III) (1957-89) at Port Askaig. Photo credit The Original Whisky Galore

The GSWR also had a Glen Rosa but otherwise their consistent naming theme was classical deities and characters from mythology, for example Neptune (1892-1917), Mercury (1892-1933), Jupiter (1896-1935), Juno (1898-1932) and Atalanta (1906-23).

PS Juno (I) (1898-1932). Picture credit Michael Brown via

After the merger of the Caledonian and G&SWR railways and their associated steamer fleets into the LMSR in 1923, as well as the succession of Caledonias and Glen Sannoxes already noted, the naming themes of peeresses and deities was continued with subsequent Duchesses of Montrose and Hamilton (1930-65 & 1932-70), a new Marchioness of Lorne (1935-55) and a Marchioness of Graham (1936-58). There were also a new Mercury (1934-40), Juno (1937-41) and Jupiter (1937-60).

Jupiter (II) (1937-60). Picture credit - Ballast Trust

Finally, the North British Railway, merged into the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923 and operating from their Clyde railhead at Craigendoran, had an uninterrupted naming theme of Sir Walter Scott works and characters, for example Diana Vernon (character in Rob Roy: 1885-1901), Lucy Ashton (Bride of Lammermoor: 1888-1949), Jeanie Deans (Heart of Midlothian: 1931-65), Talisman (novel title, 1935-67) and, of course, Waverley (original one, 1899-1940 lost at Dunkirk and the second one commissioned in 1947 and still with us today).

Lucy Ashton (1888-1949)

Upon railway nationalisation in 1947, the LMSR and LNER fleets were amalgamated with the joint operation being branded simply British Railways until 1957 and thereafter as the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. New naming patterns were adopted in the changed circumstances of the 1950s which led to new diesel powered passenger vessels (the Maids of Ashton, Cumbrae, Argyll and Skelmorlie the so-called "Maids") in 1953 and car ferries (Arran, Bute and Cowal - the so-called "ABC class") in 1954 although we've already seen how Glen Sannox and Caledonia was revived for ferries in 1957 and 1970)

Maid of Skelmorlie (1953) at Largs. Picture credit Paul Thallon
Scotland's first seagoing car ferry - Arran (1954-78)

Looking at the names of the fleet inherited by Calmac when it came into existence in 1973 and the ships it acquired during the rest of the 1970s, then, their names mostly all make perfect sense and are of excellent provenance given the history. They were, in alphabetical order (omitting some minor vessels):-

Arran, Bute, Caledonia, Clansman, Claymore (one sold 1976, new one acquired 1979), Columba, Cowal, Glen Sannox, Hebrides, Iona, Juno, Jupiter, King George V, Loch Arkaig, Loch Carron, Lochmor, Loch Seaforth, Maid of Cumbrae, Maid of Argyll, Pioneer, Queen Mary II, Saturn, Suilven, Waverley

As I type this, I realise that Saturn, while being a classical deity, obviously, was not a name previously used. Anyway, you'll immediately spot the exceptions to the rules in the list. King George V (1936-74, Iona and Staffa cruise) and Queen Mary II (1933-78, Clyde cruises) were acquired second hand in 1935 by MacBrayne's and the CSP respectively already named by their previous owners and it wasn't thought appropriate for whatever reason (deference to royalty?) to change their names. Which leaves the Suilven - named by Calmac, the 1974-95 Ullapool to Stornoway ferry is a true outlier in naming terms as mountains have never otherwise featured in the names of the various fleets under discussion.


To round off the 1970s, there were eight small car ferries commissioned by the CSP/Calmac between 1972 and 1976. Carrying 6 cars each for short crossings (e.g. Lochaline to Fishnish on Mull and Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig on Kintyre) or to small islands (Iona, Raasay & Gigha), these were known as the "Island class" even though not all were named after islands: Bruernish, Canna, Coll, Eigg, Kilbrannan, Morvern, Raasay, Rhum.

Kilbrannan (1972) - the first Island Class was actually a Sound! Seen here at Lochranza and note the CSP yellow funnel and house flag

1980s to date
Apart from the "Loch Class" of small car ferries we've already noted (these were really the next generation follow up to the "Island Class" for small islands and short crossings), in the 1980s and 90s Calmac departed from previous naming themes for their major units. Now they were either named after the island the ship was designed to serve (thus Isle of Arran (1984) for Brodick, Isle of Mull (1988) for Craignure and Isle of Lewis (1995) for Stornoway) or else had an Isles name such as Hebridean Isles (1985 - Uig Triangle), Lord of the Isles (1989 - routes from Oban and Mallaig) and Caledonian Isles (1993 - Ardrossan-Brodick). With the exception of LOTI, these are the most uninspiring, not to say artificial (just where are the "Caledonian Isles", exactly?), names ever devised, IMO.

Happily, Calmac reverted to more traditional names for their major units in the later 90s with a new Clansman (1998, routes from Oban), Lochnevis (2000, Small Isles) and Hebrides (2000, Uig Triangle). But there were new departures for "sheltered water" ferries in the noughties, namely Coruisk (2003, Mallaig-Armadale - Loch Coruisk would have been preferable, IMO) and Argyle and Bute (2007) for Rothesay although these last two arguably carry on the tradition of the "ABC" names of the very first sea going car ferries on the Clyde in the 1950s.

Coruisk (l) (2003) and Lochnevis (r) (2000) off Mallaig. Photo credit Stuart Mackillop

The first west coast major unit for 11 years, the new Islay ferry in 2011 named Finlaggan after the castle on Islay where the Lordship of the Isles had its headquarters, was also a new departure in naming terms. Although perhaps not too much because, if not seen as being of a piece with Clansman, Claymore, Iona, Columba etc., it could have marked the beginning of an explicit Lordship of the Isles theme.

Meanwhile, the third generation of small island/short crossings ferries' names have had a literary theme: Hallaig (Sorley MacLean poem); Lochinvar and Catriona (Robert Louis Stevenson novel).

Glen Sannox (IV). Picture credit CMAL

Calmac's next ship
The recently launched Glen Sannox has a sister still under construction and yet to be launched destined to serve the Uig Triangle - what will she be called?

The shortlist of four names the public will be invited to vote on hasn't been announced yet but if it were my job to choose them, they would (assuming these names are all available and not already taken by a currently registered ship) be Claymore, Lochmor, Lochiel and Columba. These all have excellent provenance but if we were to score them for suitability for a vessel to serve Lochmaddy and Tarbert, Lochmor must come out on top as the name of the steamer which ran the Outer Isles Mail from 1930 to 1964. So too did the first Lochiel from 1891 to 1907. The first Claymore is more closely associated with sailing to Stornoway than ports further south in the Outer Hebrides but the second Claymore sailed to Lochboisdale and Castlebay (see here) so why couldn't the name make a second migration to Harris and North Uist? A similar point applies to Columba, the first of which sailed only on the Clyde but the second of which was mostly based at Oban sailing to the Inner Hebrides. I just can't decide which of these names I'd vote for. Lochmor probably. No, Claymore ...

Lochmor (I) (1930-64) at Tarbert. Photo credit Kenny MacAskill

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mallaig - the Road to the Isles Ferry

I was dimly aware that in the past I've seen small grainy pictures of a rather primitive looking car ferry that operated between Mallaig and Armadale on Skye in the 1930s so tonight I was fascinated to find a series of excellent high quality pictures of it in 1938 posted on Flickr by Graham West (click all pictures to enlarge).

Loading at Armadale - picture credit Graham West

Loading at Mallaig - picture credit Graham West

In the picture above, the tanks on cartwheels on the pier on the left I believe are fuel bowsers to serve the fishing fleet. Note also the steamer at the end of the Railway Pier in the background. I'm struggling a bit to ID her - 1938 is too late for MacBrayne's Claymore (decommissioned 1931) or Lochbroom (ditto 1937). So I wonder if it could be MacCallum Orme's Hebrides or Dunara Castle although somehow I don't associate them with Mallaig as that was really MacBrayne territory. Anyway, here's another one of the ferry being hauled over to the Fishery Pier:- 

At Mallaig - picture credit Graham West

I assumed at first she must have been a barge towed across the Sound of Sleat by a motor boat but this article refers to her having a propellor. And is that a fuel tank and exhaust pipe on the foredeck (clearer on the first picture at Armadale)? So perhaps there was an engine forward causing her to be down at the bow when unloaded as seen above and counter-balanced by cars when loaded aft? Note the lifting rudder against the transom. I assume she can only have operated in the calmest of conditions (how on earth was that stern gate kept watertight?) and it's curious there's no mention of her in Duckworth & Langmuir to give technical data - she must be the only vessel ever to have operated on the west coast not mentioned in D&L! (EDIT - see comment by Roy below.)

That article also tells us this curious ferry was called - very appropriately and cleverly - Road to the Isles and she was designed and operated by a partnership between local boat builder John Henderson and engineer Angus MacIntyre. There are further details of the operation in its entry in the 1937 edition of AA's Guide to Ferries (I'd kill to see a full copy of that!) you can see on the Countrybus website here. There's a discrepancy between these two sources about dates with the article saying the service began in the 1920s and Countrybus saying it was 1932.

At Mallaig - picture credit Graham West

In these last two pictures, Road to the Isles appears to be being manoeuvred around Mallaig harbour by a combination of punting and warping rather than any engine of her own. Anyway, note the sign in the last photo pointing to the right suggesting the normal loading point was on the east side of the bay (roughly where the marina is today) as seen in the Countrybus link and the article rather than by the Fishery Pier as in the pictures above.

I assume Road to the Isles was not recommissioned after the War and it was not until 1964 that another drive on-drive off car ferry between Mallaig and Armadale was introduced by MacBrayne's with the Clansman. The other sign in the picture above, pointing left, is indicating a foot ferry to Armadale by a more traditional motor vessel called Ossianic operated by Alexander MacLennan (Mallaig) Ltd. She also operated the Knoydart and Loch Nevis mail service. I don't know what she looked like but she was replaced the year following these photos (i.e. in 1939) by a new vessel called Blaven seen in the foreground in the picture below with the Clansman in the background. (In between is the Small Isles and Portree steamer, MV Loch Arkaig.)

Picture credit David Taylor

At the risk of digressing further off topic, I'll leave you with two other of Graham's pictures taken at Mallaig on this occasion in 1938 of crossing the Sound of Sleat on the Road to the Isles in seriously driech weather and this time I'm surer of my ground on the steamer depicted - it's MacBrayne's SS Lochness, built 1929 and the last steam ship they ever commissioned, which until 1947 was the Stornoway mail steamer with calls at Glenelg, Kyle of Lochalsh and Applecross. I wonder why the gun was being loaded:-

SS Lochness at Mallaig - picture credit Graham West

SS Lochness at Mallaig - picture credit Graham West

Finding these smashing period pictures on Flickr quite made my day! If anyone can add any detail or corrections about the Road to the Isles ferry, then please leave a comment.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Inner Isles Mail Part 5 - Claymore to Car Ferries

Part 4 here 

The vessel which replaced the Lochearn on the Inner Isles Mail run from Oban to Tobermory, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay and Lochboisdale in 1955 was the Claymore (II); pictured below leaving Oban, she was the last "major unit" to be ordered by MacBrayne's which was not a car ferry.

Picture credit David Christie

Below is the timetable for the Inner Isles Mail in the Claymore's first year, 1955:-

On each call at Lochboisdale, the Claymore met the Outer Isles Mail steamer, the Lochmor, the 1930 sister ship of her predecessor on the Inner Isles Mail, the Lochearn. The pictures below of the two alongside at Lochboisdale emphasise the difference in size between the two generations of ship: the Lochmor looks like a toy next to the Claymore!

Photo credit The Kenneth Robertson Photography Archive

The Inner Isles Mail timetable remained more or less the same (out from Oban early morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, back in Oban late morning/lunchtime the following day) year round for the rest of the 1950s and early 60s. Then, in 1967, the Mallaig-Armadale car ferry, Clansman (II), began to make a peak season (June to mid-September) run from Mallaig to Lochboisdale on Friday evenings, arriving at Lochboisdale at 23.00. The Claymore therefore delayed her departure for Castlebay on summer Fridays to 23.30 so that passengers from Mallaig on the Clansman could continue on the Claymore to Barra. The Clansman then sailed back through the night to Mallaig, arriving there early on Saturday morning.

Loading vehicles onto the Claymore - photo credit a former member of the Ships of Calmac forum I knew only by his handle of "hebrides" and who gave me permission to use his pictures on this blog

Also in 1967, the Claymore began to give an extra run for the conveyance of cars (of which she could carry just 12 lifted aboard individually by crane) to Tiree from Oban every second Saturday afternoon in July and August after she had returned from the Inner Isles Mail run. (These runs also called at Tobermory but cars were not embarked or disembarked there). The following year (1968), Coll was included in these sailings due to it now having a pier the Claymore could get alongside for the first time and in 1969 and 1970 this schedule was increased to every Saturday in July and August.

The Claymore at Castlebay - photo credit Rosemary Doria

In summer 1971, the peak season car ferry sailings by the Clansman from Mallaig overnight to the Outer Isles were extended from May to September and increased to thrice weekly and with Castlebay being included for the first time in two of them. That being so, the Inner Isles Mail from Oban by the Claymore was reduced to once a week, on Wednesday, and instead she sailed to just Tobermory, Coll and Tiree on Monday, Tuesday, Friday & Saturday. (The Tuesday and Thursday sailings also stopped at Craignure.) In winter (October to April), the Mallaig sailings ceased and the Inner Isles Mail from Oban reverted to its traditional pattern of three departures a week including Castlebay & Lochboisdale on each.

The only picture I've ever seen of the Clansman at Castlebay or Lochboisdale is the one below of her at Lochboisdale in 1969 - if anyone knows of any others, do let me know.

Photo credit Kenneth Robertson Photography Archive

In May 1972, the Claymore was replaced on the Inner Isles Mail by the larger (16 cars in place of the Claymore's 12!), though older, mail steamer MV Loch Seaforth which, since 1947, had operated the Stornoway Mail service from Mallaig & Kyle: she had been replaced on that run by MacBrayne's first ever drive-through car ferry, MV Iona. From the beginning of 1973, the Loch Seaforth's duties also included sailing three times a week from Oban to Colonsay which had hitherto been served by the Islay ferry from West Loch Tarbert.

The Loch Seaforth and Claymore alongside at Oban - this photo was taken in February 1972 in the context of the Loch Seaforth  relieving the Claymore on the Inner Isles Mail for her regular winter overhaul rather than the LS taking over the service permanently in May that year - photo credit John Park

As it happened, the Loch Seaforth's tenure of the Inner Isles Mail was brief for, in darkness in the early hours of the morning of 22 March 1973 while inbound from Castlebay to Tiree, she struck a rock in the Gunna Sound between Coll & Tiree. The handful of passengers were got off safely in the lifeboats but it was determined that the Loch Seaforth was still afloat so she was able to limp slowly round to Gott Bay Pier with the assitance of a tug. The Claymore, which had been laid up at Greenock, had to return to service except that, in the meantime, the Loch Seaforth had sunk alongside the pier so, until she could be removed in May, Tiree became once again a ferry call. The Loch Seaforth was eventually towed away to Ardrossan and scrapped.

The Loch Seaforth sunk alongside Gott Bay Pier, Tiree in March 1973: photo credit Rob Beale

The Claymore set out from Oban for Lochboisdale on the Inner Isles Mail for the last time on Friday 26 April 1974. The following Monday, there commenced a new car ferry service from Oban direct to Castlebay and Lochboisdale departing Oban six days a week (but calling at Castlebay only on three days) operated by the Iona. That summer (1974), the Claymore sailed to just Coll & Tiree (stopping at Tobermory and also now twice a week at Lochaline) and also to Colonsay.

Separate schedules for Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale, summer 1974

The end of the 1974 summer season at the beginning of October marked the end of the Claymore's regular employment with Calmac (as MacBrayne's had become following their merger with the Caledonian Steam Packet Company at the beginning of 1973). She retired to lay up in Greenock and only performed a few relief sailings during 1975 before being sold in early 1976. She followed her predecessor on the Inner Isles Mail, the Lochearn, to the Aegean where, altered beyond recognition and renamed City of Hydra, she enjoyed a career almost as long as her Scottish one sailing on day cruises from Athens to local beauty spots such as Aegina, Poros & Hydra. She was withdrawn from service in 1993 and eventually scrapped in 2001.

Only the wheelhouse windows and vents on the front of the funnel reveal the former Inner Isles Mail steamer at Piraeus in 1988: photo credit Peter Fitzpatrick

The Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale services were combined for the last time in the winter of 1974/75 with the Iona departing Oban at 06.30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You could say this was the last ever season of the Inner Isles Mail except I find it hard to think of it as such because it was operated by a car ferry and, instead of returning to Oban through the night, the Iona delayed her departure from Lochboisdale until 06.30 because she didn't, at that time, have any passenger sleeping cabins.

To bring the story quickly down to date, in 1975 the Columba took on the Tobermory, Coll & Tiree run (and Colonsay) in summer while the Iona sailed to Castlebay & Lochboisdale. In winter, both services were maintained by the Iona but on separate sailings. The Iona was replaced by a new ferry named, appropriately enough, Claymore (III) in 1979. In 1989, another new ferry, Lord of the Isles, replaced both the Columba and the Iona and she served Coll & Tiree and "Barra 'Boisdale" year round on separate sailings. Then in 1998, the Lord of the Isles was replaced by a new Clansman (which marked the end of calls at Tobermory for the Coll & Tiree ferry) but in 2003 the LOTI returned to Oban to share the Clansman's duties. At this time too, the Coll & Tiree sailing was extended once a week in summer to Castlebay. The last major change to the schedules came in 2016 with the Castlebay and Lochboisdale services being split and Barra being served from Oban (by the former Stornoway ferry Isle of Lewis) and Lochboisdale from Mallaig (by the LOTI). Coll & Tiree (and Colonsay) continue to be served by the Clansman.

I'll finish with a timeline of the Inner Isles Mail service since its inception:-

1886, 21st July - inaugural sailing of Highland Fisheries Company Ltd's mail service to Tobermory, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay & Lochboisdale by screw steamer Trojan. Departures from Oban 07.30 on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays.

1887/8 - Trojan succeeded by Holly then Electric

1889, April - MacBrayne's take over the mail contract using Clydesdale (I)

1891 - mail services restructured: one route to Tobermory, Castlebay, Lochboisdale, Lochmaddy, Dunvegan, Pooltiel, Bracadale, Canna, Rum, Tobermory, Oban - six departures weekly, three clockwise, three anti-clockwise, using Flowerdale and Staffa (III); second route to Tobermory, Kilchoan, Coll, Tiree & Bunessan - three departures weekly using Fingal (II)

1903 - Staffa superseded by Lapwing (II) on Outer Isles route.

1904 - Flowerdale wrecked and superseded by Plover (III) on Outer Isles route.

1908 - Lapwing superseded by Lochiel (II) on Outer Isles route.

1909 - Fingal superseded by Dirk on Bunessan run (this service now based at Tobermory and running to Coll, Tiree and Bunessan three days a week and from Bunessan to Tobermory via Oban on the other three days of the week).

1913 - Gott Bay Pier at Tiree built.

1914-18, World War I - Lochiel (Outer Isles route) and Dirk (Bunessan route) lost; Plover attacked by German U-Boat on passage to Castlebay on 29 July 1918.

After WWI (don't know exact year but circa 1918-20) - routes restructured again: Bunessan run abandoned and Oban, Tobermory, Kilchoan, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay, Lochboisdale ("the Inner Isles Mail") commences. Three departures weekly (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, returning following days) using Cygnet (II)

Cygnet (II) - I can't remember where I found this picture so if you recognise it as yours, contact me for accreditation or removal if you prefer.

1930 - Cygnet replaced by Lochearn.

1948-June 1949 - Lochness on the Inner Isles Mail while Lochearn is re-engined and then relieves on the Outer Isles Mail while the Lochmor is re-engined.

The Lochness approaching Castlebay: photo credit - Calum I MacLean
1949 - Ferry call at Kilchoan dropped. Ardnamurchan gets its own dedicated ferry across to Tobermory where passengers can join steamers to Oban.

1955 - Lochearn replaced by Claymore (II)

1967 - Coll Pier opened and overnight car ferry sailings from Mallaig to Lochboisdale once a week (Friday) in summer begin with Clansman. Extra summer Saturday afternoon sailings from Oban to Tiree for cars (Claymore). Frequency of these sailings increased and include Coll in 1968-70.

The Claymore at Tiree

1971 - Summer car ferry sailings by Clansman from Mallaig increased to thrice weekly including two calls at Castlebay. Inner Isles Mail from Oban by Claymore reduced to once weekly and five sailings weekly to just Coll & Tiree. (In winter, Mallaig sailings cease and Inner Isles Mail reverts to traditional pattern of three sailings per week.)

1972, May - Claymore replaced by Loch Seaforth.

1973, March 22 - Loch Seaforth wrecked at Tiree; Claymore returns to service.

The Claymore at Oban: photo credit Douglas Campbell

1974, April 26 - Inner Isles Mail steamer (Claymore) sails for the last time for Lochboisdale from Oban. On 29 April, car ferry service (Iona) to Castlebay and Lochboisdale begins and Claymore sails exclusively to Coll & Tiree.

1974/75 Winter - Claymore withdrawn from service; Iona operates Oban, Tobermory, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay and Lochboisdale (thrice weekly, returning following day).

The Iona at Tiree: photo credit Peter MacLeod

1975 - From now on, Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale services are permanently separate year round. In summer, Columba operates Coll & Tiree and Iona Castlebay & Lochboisdale. CBY & LBL ferry (Iona) operates to COL & TIR (on separate sailing) in winter as well.

1976 - Claymore sold to the Aegean

1979 - Iona replaced by new Claymore (III)

The Claymore (III) at Castlebay

1989 - Lord of the Isles replaces Columba and Claymore and operates Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale services on her own year round; Linkspan opened at Castlebay allowing ro-ro operation there.

1992 - Linkspans opened at Coll & Tiree.

1998 - New Clansman (III) replaces Lord of the Isles. Calls at Tobermory by Coll & Tiree ferry cease.

2003 - Lord of the Isles  returns to Oban to share the Clansman's duties.

2016 - Castlebay and Lochboisdale services separated with CBY being served from Oban (Isle of Lewis) and LBL from Mallaig (with some extra sailings to Oban - Lord of the Isles).

The Claymore at Tiree: photo credit Beaches via Ships Nostalgia