Monday, January 16, 2012

Stromeferry (again)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of articles about the Wester Ross village of Stromeferry - how it had enjoyed a brief heyday from 1875 as the only railhead on the west coast of Scotland outside the Firth of Clyde until it was eclipsed in 1897 by the railway being extended to Kyle of Lochalsh; how it had come back to life somewhat in the early 20th century when the motor era gave new trade to the ferry across Loch Carron; and how Stromeferry was plunged back into obscurity for a second time in 1970 when the ferry was replaced by a road round the loch which by-passed the village itself and left it noted only for its famous road sign (which most people drive past).

Photo credit Micheal Macintyre
I find myself revisiting this subject to report that - incredibly! - the sign has been rendered temporarily inaccurate and the Strome Ferry has re-opened! This is because the road round the south shore of Loch Carron which replaced the ferry in 1970 (the A890) has been closed by a rockfall.

This happens periodically and usually the road can be re-opened in a day or two but this time it's been closed virtually continuously since 22 December 2011. Highland Council have been advised that the danger of further landslides is so great that the road will have to remain closed until some some radical surgery to the rockface is undertaken which could take weeks if not months.

Road closed at point "X"
What gives this particular urgency is the fact that children from the village of Lochcarron on the north side of the loch go to school at Plockton on the south side. Absent the road round Loch Carron, the only alternative is a 140 mile detour via Inverness. Hence why the Council have been forced to re-open the Strome Ferry across the loch with effect from Monday 16 January 2012.

Two vessels are being used - the first is the Sula Mhor, a boat which normally operates summer seal and dolphin spotting cruises out of Plockton (see Calum's Plockton Seal Trips):-

Picture credit
The Sula Mhor will carry passengers on just a couple of runs morning and afternoon on a schedule designed round the school run - full timetable downloadable here.

The other vessel will be the car ferry Glenachulish. She is the six car turntable ferry which normally operates the summer only Kylerhea ferry to Skye and is laid up in winter at the former oil rig construction site in nearby Loch Kishorn. She was originally built for the Ballachulish Ferry in 1969 but superseded by the Ballachulish Bridge in 1975. The Glenachulish will shuttle across the Strome Ferry between 9am and 5pm. See this link for the Council's arrangements for marshalling vehicles at the Golf Course on the north side and "at the cattle grid" on the south side. I must say, I can't quite visualise how this is going to work - and I'm not sure the Council can either. In the old days, you just drove up and joined the queue. There was no "marshalling" involved! I bet calling 40 year old infrastructure back in to use at short notice is causing a few Health & Safety grey hairs!

 Below is the only photo or Youtube I've been able to discover online so far. I believe it shows the Glenachulish conducting a berthing trial at North Strome last week rather than on actual service this week:-

The only remaining turntable ferry, the Glenachulish is of exactly the same configuration as the last ferries to operate at Strome Ferry in 1970:-

That is the Pride of Strome whose remains are still visible beached a short distance up the loch:-

So, to me, seeing a turntable ferry draw up to the slipway at Strome again is like travelling back in time. If anyone's got any photos or videos of the ferry in action, then do leave a comment linking to them.

EDIT - a nice series of the Glenachulish's first day in operation by Donald Morrison here

Picture credit - Donald Morrison