The railway to Stromeferry had been built in the 1860s entirely with private money and not a penny of assistance from the state: none had been asked. But 25 years later the prospects of any further railways in the far north west of Scotland being funded entirely by the private sector were zero: however socially valuable, experience had shown they were not profitable enough.
On the other hand, there was now the prospect of state subsidy. In the 1890s the government let it be known that it was willing assist a limited number of railway developments to assist the fishing industry which was seen at the time as the panacea to the Highlands and Islands’ economic problems. It was the equivalent of a government today offering to assist a high voltage electricity cable to help unlock the renewable energy potential of the islands - but which would deliver the best value: a cable across the Minch or to the Northern Isles?
In 1890s, there was no shortage of railway schemes to choose from with routes to Lochinver, Ullapool and Aultbea all being proposed. But nothing came of these because in the end the government chose to subsidise the line from Fort William to Mallaig and an extension of the Stromeferry line to Kyle of Lochalsh.
Work began on the Kyle Extension in September 1893 and it opened in November 1897. Needless to say the MacBrayne’s steamers to Portree and Stornoway immediately moved their mainland terminus to Kyle. Overnight, Stromeferry became a backwater: the steamer pier was now totally redundant and eventually demolished in the early 1930s. One wonders what trade at the Station Hotel must have been like around the turn of the 20th century?
But a reprieve was soon to come via the route – almost literally - that had originally put Stromeferry on the map. This was the road from Contin to Auchtertyre built by the Highland Roads & Bridges Commission and completed in 1819. It ran down the west shore of Loch Carron and crossed the loch by a ferry at Stromeferry. The arrival of the railway in 1870 had put the road and the ferry out of business for anything but purely local traffic - in the railway era, traffic for Lochcarron (the second biggest settlement in Wester Ross after Ullapool in the mid 19th centuray), Applecross and Shieldaig went via Strathcarron Station at the head of the loch. But that began to change again in the early 20th century with the advent of the motor car – once again Stromeferry lived up to its name to become a place where travellers dismounted a wheeled conveyance (train, car) to get on a boat!
In the next episode, I’ll tell you about the car ferry across Loch Carron.