Friday, July 16, 2010

Kyle of Lochalsh

Here's an interesting cutting from the Glasgow Herald of 2 June 1950 - a plan for the proposed development of Kyle of Lochalsh:-

The core of the development plan is the building of a new fishery pier with related infrastructure to the east of the Railway Pier on land which had been occupied by the Admiralty during the War and then in the late 1940s by the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board in connection with the nearby Nostie Hydro Electric Scheme. 

As well as the pier, facilities mentioned in the accompanying article (see page 6) included two or three kippering kilns (to smoke herring into kippers), huts for the accommodation of fisher girls (to gut the fish landed), a quick freeze plant, a canning factory and an engine shop. Space for all this was going to be at a premium and there was talk of blasting away the hillside to create enough level space.

As ever with ambitious plans such as these, not all of it came to fruition. The fishery pier was duly built in the planned location and Kyle was - and remains - the site of a modest fish processing industry albeit prawns etc. nowadays rather than fish, I suspect. But I don't think any kippering kilns or canning factories were ever built. The early 1960s postcard view below of Kyle from the east seems to show the site a bit less developed than envisaged in 1950:-

The blue boat in that picture is MacBrayne's MV Lochbuie (1949-68) which served the route from Tobermory to Mingary (Ardmurchan). She was probably at Kyle for maintenance at the boat yard just out of sight to the right.

Note also that the 1950 plan includes a "Proposed New Road" running east along the coast of Loch Alsh towards Balmacara. This is what is now the main road out of Kyle heading east, the A87, but this part of the plan did not materialise for almost 20 years with this stretch of road not being built until the late 60s or early 70s. Before then, the A87 to Balmacara ran north (what's now the Plockton road) before turning inland and east to Balmacara at Erbusaig. (This road is also identified for straightening on the 1950 plan but this never happened.)

What was not anticipated in 1950 was the return of the Ministry of Defence in the shape of the establishment in the early 70s of the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC). Basically this involves testing submarines and torpedoes and whatnot in the Inner Sound immediately north west of Kyle. The shore base and pier for this was established to the east of the fishery pier, not on a level site blasted out the hillside as envisaged in 1950, but on land reclaimed from the sea over the tidal rocks in the foreground of the postcard view above.

Picture credit RCAHMS

The BUTEC buildings and pier are at bottom right of the picture above. It's now privatised and run by Qinetiq (I believe it's pronounced "kinetic") on behalf of the MoD.

Finally, another aspect of the 1950 plan which came to pass by land reclamation was the establishment of the playing field you can see at about 11 o' clock in the picture above over the tidal creek called the Pladaig. The 1950 article in the Herald reports that the villagers were undertaking this themselves without the benefit of any government assistance but £1,400 raised by a local entertainment committee.

I leave you with this photo of Kyle from the east. The fishery development site is broadly the buildings (mostly a small industrial estate now) in the foreground to the left of the main road (the A87 to Balmacara). At bottom left can be seen the road to the fishery pier and the BUTEC buildings are out of sight to the left.

Picture credit Daniel Blok

I wonder if they imagined a bridge to Skye in 1950?

If anyone can add to any of this or correct any mistakes, please do leave a comment.


  1. A very interesting read, thanks for posting Neil.

    I've heard that there were plans to redevelop Kyleakin into something more grand with larger houses and renamed 'New Liverpool'. Just imagine how different that area would be if both schemes had gone ahead!

  2. Thanks Neil for another fascinating article.

    Some additional information on the reclamation of Pladaig Bay, selectively quoted from Duncan MacPherson's 1964 book "Where I belong."

    "Pladaig Bay lies on the north-west side of the village. At Spring tides, when the water rises to its highest level, this bay presented a beautiful picture, particularly at sunset. [See MacPherson's photograph on Am Baile at]. But, alas, when the tide was low there was only a bare, unsightly foreshore. Something had to be done."

    "General Sir Torquhil Matheson, KCB, CMG, Baronet of Lochalsh and a former County Councillor, had always been interested in National Fitness and the need for adequate playing fields. Nothing could be done during the years of war; then, when peace came, even the limited piece of ground which had been in use for cricket or football was no longer available. [Photograph] Disused army huts encumbered the ground, and even when some of these were removed there remained many intractable foundations."

    "The reclamation of Pladaig Bay appeared to be the solution. What Holland could do, surely the Highlands of Scotland could do even better. So, a Playing Fields Association was formed.

    Very soon several thousands of pounds were collected. But six years’ hard work were to follow. Many gave voluntary service."

    "Each evening a company of enthusiastic workers laboured on the foreshore. Rocks were blasted. A new housing scheme at the Plock of Kyle provided much material. Gradually several acres of land were reclaimed. The ground was fenced. A pavilion built, ornamental gates erected, grass sown and the while scene transformed. [See photograph]"

    "Seen from the public highway, the playing-fields now present a pleasing appearance."

    On the new pier that is at the centre of the 1950 plans he writes;

    "For sixty years the fisherman had landed their catches at the railway pier where it was a simple matter to transfer the fish to the nearby railway wagons for transport to the south."

    "Yet a kind-hearted Government department decided to build a new pier for our fishermen. True, fewer fish were being landed at Kyle than in past years. Perhaps the new pier would provide an incentive for the fish to come inshore. Anyhow a grand pier was built. It is a fine pier, a clean fresh-smelling pier. There is no fishy odour which one associates with such a structure. There is not even the faintest trace of smoke, for it is not connected to the railway."

    "It may be that our fishermen feel that they would have to dress in their Sunday best before they approach such a beautiful erection. Anyhow these shy, modest men are content to land their fish where their fathers and grandfathers landed theirs – at the railway pier. In the quaint phraseology of the present day, the new pier is redundant."

    I recommend all three of Duncan MacPherson's books for an entertaining insight in to life in the Lochalsh area between the 1900s and 1960s. See my own website at for more information on the man and his work.

    Finally there were calls a couple of years ago to tidy up the industrial area occupying the site of the army base, particular the eyesore that is the electricity substation and storage yard, virtually the first building a visitor encounters when arriving at Kyle on the "new road". Nothing happened.

    On the other side of the road from the substation, there are two wooden buildings that I believe are survivors of the World War II camp. One building houses the "Old Sick Bay Dental Practice."