Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stromeferry - Part 5

Part 1 here.

In Part 4, we'd got to 1897 when Stromeferry was superseded by Kyle of Lochalsh as terminus of the Skye railway.

As seen in the picture above, the pier was now redundant and deserted but the ferry across the loch was about to come into its own again with the advent of motor vehicles in the first decade of the 20th century.

I don't know exactly when a vehicle carrying ferry was first instituted across Loch Carron at Strome (the name, incidentally, is from the Gaelic word sruth meaning "stream" alluding to the flow of tide through the narrows: it's also encountered at Kylestrome in Sutherland) but it's likely to have been around 1819 when the road from Dingwall to Kyle Akin via Garve, Achnasheen and Lochcarron built by the Highland Roads and Bridges Commission was completed.

That said, Robert Southey, the poet laureate at the time, arrived at North Strome along the new road in 1819 expecting to find a ferry capable of carrying his horse and chaise (carriage) across the loch but was disappointed. Recording that his was the first carriage ever to have arrived at Strome, his plan of returning to Inverness via Kintail and Glen Moriston was thwarted and he had to content himself with crossing the ferry on foot for a walk half way to Auchtertyre before returning to Lochcarron.

22 years later, in September 1841, a Scottish judge, Lord Cockburn, fared a little better. Travelling with his family on holiday in his carriage, he recorded that his was only the third carriage that year to cross the Kylerhea ferry to Skye. That ferry he described as "though boasted as the best in Skye, is detestable, at least for carriages, and as ill-conducted as possible." The carriage was loaded onto the ferry by "dozens of ... Highlanders, all scolding in Erse [i.e. Gaelic], who almost lift it and throw it into the groaning boat."

Cockburn was not much more complimentary about the ferry from Skye back to the mainland at Kyleakin (pictured above) and on arrival at Strome he described the ferry there as:-

"... like the rest - picturesque - (and for this, the worse conducted, the better) and as well managed as mere hands, without proper boats, pier or any apparatus, can ever manage a ferry. When our ferrymen were loitering on the south side, it was curious to hear them excited to activity by the mail horn on the other." 

Loading a motor car onto a ferry like Strome in the early days must have been almost equally as hazardous an operation as loading a horse drawn carriage as the next photo shows: this is actually the ferry at Dornie in 1910 which existed until the first bridge was built in 1940:-

The earliest picture I have of the Strome Ferry is the next one and, again, it's a question of the vehicle being delicately loaded on planks athwart the boat - which was, of course, propelled by oars:-

Quite apart from the hassle and risk involved, taking a car across the Strome Ferry was also expensive, costing 10 shillings (50 pence) for a car in the 1900s. Hence why some early motorists took adavantage of an early form of "Motorail" whereby, for 7 shillings and 6 pence (37.5p) and subject to giving two days notice so that the necessary wagon could be arranged, the Highland Railway would carry a car from Strathcarron at the head of the loch to Stromeferry on the south side, thereby avoiding crossing the ferry.

In the next chapter, I'll tell you about the next generation of car ferry at Strome - the motorised turntable ferry.

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