Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stornoway ferry

As mentioned before, I periodically go to Flickr and enter search terms such as "Mallaig", "Kyle of Lochalsh" and "MacBrayne" in the hope of uncovering some transport gem. The other day, I was rewarded with a couple of absolute crackers which between them tell a little bit of transport history in the Kyles and Western Isles.

That picture by Robert Chappell shows a car being hoisted off MacBrayne's MV Loch Seaforth. From 1947 to 1972, she was the ferry (as we would say nowadays; at the time they would have said "steamer" even though the Loch Seaforth wasn't a steamship) which served Stornoway, sailing daily from the railheads of Mallaig and Kyle of Lochalsh. Her sailings were designed around passengers joining her off trains from Glasgow and Inverness. Passengers driving from Glasgow to Lewis (a tiny minority in the 1950s) had to have their cars craned on and off as seen above. (Robert's picture is actually taken at Armadale on Skye: between her Stornoway sailings in the late 50s, the Loch Seaforth crossed from Mallaig for the conveyance of cars as an alternative to the car ferries to Skye at Kyle of Lochalsh. Exactly as today's Mallaig-Armadale ferry continues to provide an alternative to the bridge to Skye at Kyle.)

The second picture I found shows the next development - the first car ferry on the Stornoway run. George Woods' picture above shows the Loch Seaforth's successor from May 1972, the MV Iona, at Kyle of Lochalsh.

What makes George's picture so interesting is that the Iona sailing from Mallaig and Kyle was just a short term stopgap measure. The long term plan was to move the Stornoway sailings to Ullapool and this duly commenced in March 1973. It was one of the outermost ripples of the move from rail to road based transport which swept through Britain in the 1960s. There's no railway to Ullapool but it's much the most convenient port to Stornoway for the motorist.

To bring this story down to date, a contract has just been placed for the latest ferry to operate the Ullapool-Stornoway route:-

 An ugly looking brute (although I remember saying exactly the same when I saw the Iona for the first time in the 1970s). More details about the new Stornoway ferry on CMAL's website. It is not uncontroversial. As I understand it, much the better option to replace the aging (1995) existing vessel would have been to commission two smaller ships to shuttle back and forward giving greater frequency of service. But "two small" is more expensive than "one big" (particularly paying two crews) so considerations of affordability have prevailed over the preferred option.

I've digressed a bit from the original subject of discoveries on Flickr so to get us back on topic, I'll finish with another beauty from that source:-

The Loch Seaforth at Kyle by Colin Duncan


  1. Well up to your usual, brilliant, standard. Thanks Neil!

  2. Hello, I have photos taken on my Brownie 127 on a holiday to Lismore when I was 9 - 1959. The car ferry 'mail boat' is in one looking like a sister vessel to the Loch Seaforth, and the daily foot passenger vessel - possibly a converted RAF S/R launch - and the crew photos are pretty good considering the camera and my age. Would you like scans? -
    on blogger - theopensky
    picasa -
    best wishes- D

  3. Where is Carscaway Castle ?
    I don't find it.
    Thank you.