Monday, April 2, 2012

Croggan Pier

I've been published! Well not quite but I do have my name in print in a book that's just been published, namely, Alistair Deayton's West Highland Piers

Top - MacBrayne's cruise steamer King George V (1936-74) at Fort William; bottom - the Corran Ferry
My contribution was two from my postcard collection, namely, the north terminus of Kylesku ferry (page 85):-

... and the north terminus of the old Bonawe Ferry across Loch Etive (page 92):-

I like piers. They're places where you can watch boats and sometimes even get on one which is always a good thing.  If not, then you're often surrounded by water on three sides and can pretend you're on a boat. You can also go fishing. When I was young, I remember being invited to go "beach fishing" and thinking, "What's that all about - surely you can only go fishing from a pier?" As a child (late 60s, early 70s), we were more likely to say "Can we go to the pier?" than to the beach.

Armadale on Skye - a pier which ticks a lot of boxes
In the introduction to his book, Alistair makes the point that piers used to be a vital part of the transport infrastructure because, before the advent of the internal combustion engine and decent roads in the first few decades of the 20th century, many remote areas, even on the mainland, depended on delivery of goods by sea. This was summed up by an article I once read in the online archive of "the Scotsman" about transport problems to Gairloch in Wester Ross in (I think) the 1930s. The locals were campaigning, not for improvements to the road from Inverness, as you'd expect nowadays, but for improvements to the pier so that cargo steamers would not be prevented so often from calling due to low tide.

MacBrayne's cargo steamer SS Claymore (1881-1931) at Gairloch Pier
But unless they happened to coincide with a railhead, a fishing port (as at Gairloch) or a modern car ferry terminal (e.g. Uig on Skye), the majority of these piers were abandoned in the mid 20th century as the transport of goods was moved to the roads. Only a few of the rest have survived, often on islands now served by car ferries operating to slipways (e.g. Jura, Lismore & Gigha) where the old style pier has been retained in case of a load which can't come on the back of a vehicle. This load of electricity poles to replace ones felled in the December storms of 2011 was touch and go for getting to Lismore on the back of truck via a slipway:-

Anyway, one of my favourite abandoned "local piers" (although it's not in Alistair's book because I'm guessing there's a sequel to come called "Western Isles Piers") is the one at Croggan on the south shore of Loch Spelve in Mull.


 In such a very remote location, the pier seems incongruously imposing. There are just a handful of crofts at Croggan (now, of course, mostly holiday houses) although it was no doubt designed also to serve the needs of the village of Lochbuie a mile or two to the west which is too exposed to the prevailing south westerly winds to allow reliably regular calls by steamers.

Photo credit ceeyefaitch
Croggan - picture credit Graham Maxwell
I don't know anything about the history of the pier at Croggan, when or in what circumstances it was built. But with both having a little stone building at the pier head and concrete supports for the bridge out to the berthing head, Croggan looks very similar to the abandoned pier at Black Mill Bay on the island of Luing just across the Firth of Lorne from Mull. I'd guess they were both built around the same time as part of an early 20th century programme of providing remote communities in this part of Argyll with piers.

Black Mill Bay, Luing

The ship in the postcard view of Black Mill Bay pier above is MacBrayne's cargo steamer, SS Handa. She was sold out the fleet in 1917 which I think helps date Croggan Pier to before that year.

EDIT - also just noticed that the pier is marked on the 1897 edition of the Ordnance 6 inch map.

Anyway, this is all by way of a very long introduction to a series of photos of Croggan Pier in use which I was fasconated to see on the Ships of Calmac forum. They were taken by forum member Craig McDowall's grandfather who grew up in Croggan (his grandmother from Lochbuie although they all now live in the north of Mull) and with Craig's permission I reproduce them here and let them speak for themselves:-



In the first three pictures above, the ship is MacBrayne's MV Lochshiel. Built in 1929, she carried cargo from Glasgow, round the Mull of Kintyre (significant because previous ships on the route went through the Crinan Canal) to points on the Sound of Jura, Firth of Lorne, Loch Linnhe, Sound of Mull and as far north as Loch Sunart (including Glencripesdale). The Lochshiel was sold for scrap in 1952 when she was replaced by a later, post WW2 generation of cargo boats. It's one of these at the pier in the fourth photo above, I think the Loch Carron (1951).

I don't know exactly when Croggan Pier closed for business, but in Duckworth & Langmuir's "West Highland Steamers", I read that, from July 1953, "further road transport and cargo trans-shipment  was introduced so that Glasgow goods for Luing, Lismore and Croggan were conveyed via Oban." I don't know how that would have worked in practice, though - were goods for Croggan off-loaded at Oban, transferred there to the Mull mail steamer, then off-loaded again at Salen (the first pier on Mull up the Sound of Mull before Craignure Pier was built in 1963) and eventually taken by lorry to Croggan and Lochbuie? If so, I'm not sure how that fits with the fact that D&L tell us in the next sentence that goods for Bunessan and Fionnphort, further west on Mull, were to be conveyed by road from the cargo steamer at Tobermory. Anyway, I'm guessing the changes in 1953 spelt the end for Croggan Pier (and Black Mill Bay on Luing). Cargo services to the Western Isles finally ended in 1976 with all the islands by then being linked by ro-ro ferries.

Picture credit tobers


  1. Most interesting and enjoyable. And some of this pix/cards are simply wonderful. Most evocative. I, too, love piers, they're irresistible for a wander and nose around on, often cluttered with interesting machinery and bits and bobs from local industry.

  2. Croggan pier was twice mentioned in the House of Commons! In 1893 it was announced that piers were to be built at Croggan, Luing and Portnahaven. In 1928 a question was asked about the proposed closure of Croggan - but whether or not it closed at that time I haven't discovered.

    Argyll County Council issued tenders for the construction of Croggan in July 1894 and held a site meeting there on 1 August (special steamer from Oban at 9.30). The pier was opened early in May 1896, at the same time as Mingary, and both were leased to the former
    ferrymen at the two places. A livestock sale was held at Croggan on 15 May 1896 - the Handa sailed specially from Oban at 9.00.

    Blackmill Bay pier opened at about the same time but two years later was the subject of a legal dispute between the County Council and the contractor, who claimed (unsuccessfully) that he had not been paid in full.

  3. Very interesting comment Iain - thanks for adding it.

  4. There is indeed a 'sequel' to the West Highland Piers book and it appeared at more or less the same time- 'Piers of the Hebrides and Western Isles'.
    Croggan is featured in it with 'Lochfyne', no less, un/loading sheep there in the 50s.It offers the interesting info that "the pier and 7 miles of road serving it were built as part of an overland route to Iona thta never got off the ground" which is interesting if a little strange, as the pier was built well before road transport was an easier alternative to the sea.

  5. My website,, attempts to list all ports, harbours, jetties and piers around the UK coast. Needless to say, there are more in Scotland than the rest of the UK put together.

    I visited Croggan last year as part of my round-Britain cycle ride (see, which took in 634 'harbours'. Sad to see the pier fenced off, although it still appears to be in a reasonable condition.

  6. Hi Neil - what an interesting site. I am doing family history of McLeans of Coll - went to NSW where they were boatbuilders, heavily into rowing, built their own rowing skiffs, rowing champions etc. Curious about boats and boat building in the western isles - they must have been pretty sea-faring folk. What sort of boats in the 17 and 1800s, and where did they source the timber (no trees!). Interested in any comments you might have or source you can point me too. Cheers. Alec McLean (NZ)