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


  1. Thanks for this and previous blog posts on the ferry - born in April 1966, I must be among the youngest alive to remember the old Strome ferry: my uncle, Rev. Calum MacLean, was Free Church minister of Lochcarron from 1965 to 1973.

    There are two fine photos of car-ferry trials by MV GLENACHULISH at the North Strome slip here -

  2. Having had a long-standing interest in these ferries, I made a special trip by train last Friday to see the reinstated Strome crossing. I couldn't have a had a better day for it. On arrival I stepped through a time portal to 1965! Watching and travelling upon the Glenachulish as she shuttled across the loch was something I never dreamed I would experience. The day had a powerful and quite unexpected effect on me.

  3. Great article and great photos - really takes me back to the days when, as a kid, I crossed the Ballachulish ferry in Dad's car. Anyone know what happened to the other Ballachulish ferries? There were usually two operating at any given time and I think there was also a reserve.

  4. Yes, from the mid1950s there were two in full-time summer operation with a third as back-up; in winter, normally only one vessel ran at a time. By 1975 the three vessels were GLENACHULISH (1969), GLEN LOY (1964) and - as spare/back-up - the GLEN DUROR (1961) and by October 1975 - when the bridge was scheduled to open - all had been sold, the Ballacxhulish Ferry Co. Ltd being wound up. The GLENACHULISH (the newest,and the only steel-hulled member of the trio)was acquired by Highland Regional Council for £15,000 and - as the road-bridge opening had been delayed by a snapped bolt - they continued to run the Ballachulish ferry with her until the bridge was opened to traffic on 23rd December.

    The GLEN LOY was bought by UEG Trials Ltd for £4,500 and for use, presumably, as a training barge or pontoon at their Fort William diving school; by July 1977 she was off the Mercantile Register and lying at Trislaig in a stripped, derelict condition. The GLEN DUROR was sold for £3,000 to a local contractor and was used on the Caledonian Canal in connection with major reconstruction works through 1976 and 1977. She was then beached on the western shore of Loch Lochy, a few hundred yards north of Gairlochy, where the hulk can still be seen. (You can find a picture on Google - 'derelict Ballachulish ferry Loch Lochy' or similar.)

    The GLENACHULISH enjoyed seven years in Highland Regional Council ownership, for relief at their Corran and Kylesku services, but generally lay at Tomnahurich as back-up for Kessock. With the opening of the Kessock bridge in July 1982 she was redundant, and was acquired by Murdo MacKenzie for his Glenelg-Kylerhea service, taking it up in May 1983. She has been there ever since and, since the disposal of the last turntable ferry (the 1974 LOCHABER) at Corran, in 1985, she has been the last of her kind in the land.

    1. The Glenachulish replaced the Glen Mallie another Ex Ballachulish boat which was on the Glenelg Kylerhea service, between 1970 and 1978/79
      The Glen Mallie also provided relief at Scalpay Harris, and at Cuan.
      Unfortunately she is now reported to be a hulk on Eriskay.
      The other Ferry that was at Glenelg prior to that was yet another Balachulish bot the "Appin Chief" which ended her days in Glenelg. Both the GlenMallie and Appin Chief were engined with Glenniffer DB6 and DB4 engines. MJM

    2. The Glen Loy was principally used by UEG Trials to assist MV Nunki in towing the Underwater Centre's diving barge up and down Loch Linnhe for which it was poorly suited. Glen Loy was moored in Loch Linnhe and during a storm the stem post started to pull out of the ferry. Although filling with water it was just possible to start the engine and beach it by the old fort where it was sold for scrap.

  5. Thanks for all that info John. I'm glad my blog has stimulated a repository of information which though perhaps of limited interest is immensely valuable to those of us who are interested in the subject. Thanks for taking the time to type all that out - greatly appreciated by me!

  6. John's mention of MV Lochaber at Corran is interesting, as it was a crossing on that vessel for a family holiday in 1974 that initiated my fascination with turntable ferries. The boat looked antiquated to my ten year old eyes - I had no idea it was actually brand-new - and upon my return home to Dundee I promptly built a Lego model, complete with rotating car deck!

  7. My Grandfather Henry Bolton Young Smith(Baikies Hen) was the last Ferrymaster on the Ballachulish ferry. He came from a large fishing family in Arbroath.

  8. Is this the remains of the Glen Duror?

    I remember in the early 70s crossing by ferry at Ballachulish; that year we also crossed to Skye and back by the then-new Kyleakin and the Lochalsh (both now renamed and moved to Cork). I hope to travel on the Glenachulish this year - who knows, maybe it was the ferry that took me over the narrows of Loch Leven, some 40-odd years ago.

  9. The Glen Duror didn't end up in Loch Lochy, it broke it's moorings near Ulva on Mull & landed on our land near Ulva Ferry around 1979/80 & was still there in 1986.