Monday, November 6, 2017

The Inner Isles Mail Part 5 - Claymore to Car Ferries

Part 4 here 

The vessel which replaced the Lochearn on the Inner Isles Mail run from Oban to Tobermory, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay and Lochboisdale in 1955 was the Claymore (II); pictured below leaving Oban, she was the last "major unit" to be ordered by MacBrayne's which was not a car ferry.

Picture credit David Christie

Below is the timetable for the Inner Isles Mail in the Claymore's first year, 1955:-

On each call at Lochboisdale, the Claymore met the Outer Isles Mail steamer, the Lochmor, the 1930 sister ship of her predecessor on the Inner Isles Mail, the Lochearn. The pictures below of the two alongside at Lochboisdale emphasise the difference in size between the two generations of ship: the Lochmor looks like a toy next to the Claymore!

Photo credit The Kenneth Robertson Photography Archive

The Inner Isles Mail timetable remained more or less the same (out from Oban early morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, back in Oban late morning/lunchtime the following day) year round for the rest of the 1950s and early 60s. Then, in 1967, the Mallaig-Armadale car ferry, Clansman (II), began to make a peak season (June to mid-September) run from Mallaig to Lochboisdale on Friday evenings, arriving at Lochboisdale at 23.00. The Claymore therefore delayed her departure for Castlebay on summer Fridays to 23.30 so that passengers from Mallaig on the Clansman could continue on the Claymore to Barra. The Clansman then sailed back through the night to Mallaig, arriving there early on Saturday morning.

Loading vehicles onto the Claymore - photo credit a former member of the Ships of Calmac forum I knew only by his handle of "hebrides" and who gave me permission to use his pictures on this blog

Also in 1967, the Claymore began to give an extra run for the conveyance of cars (of which she could carry just 12 lifted aboard individually by crane) to Tiree from Oban every second Saturday afternoon in July and August after she had returned from the Inner Isles Mail run. (These runs also called at Tobermory but cars were not embarked or disembarked there). The following year (1968), Coll was included in these sailings due to it now having a pier the Claymore could get alongside for the first time and in 1969 and 1970 this schedule was increased to every Saturday in July and August.

The Claymore at Castlebay - photo credit Rosemary Doria

In summer 1971, the peak season car ferry sailings by the Clansman from Mallaig overnight to the Outer Isles were extended from May to September and increased to thrice weekly and with Castlebay being included for the first time in two of them. That being so, the Inner Isles Mail from Oban by the Claymore was reduced to once a week, on Wednesday, and instead she sailed to just Tobermory, Coll and Tiree on Monday, Tuesday, Friday & Saturday. (The Tuesday and Thursday sailings also stopped at Craignure.) In winter (October to April), the Mallaig sailings ceased and the Inner Isles Mail from Oban reverted to its traditional pattern of three departures a week including Castlebay & Lochboisdale on each.

The only picture I've ever seen of the Clansman at Castlebay or Lochboisdale is the one below of her at Lochboisdale in 1969 - if anyone knows of any others, do let me know.

Photo credit Kenneth Robertson Photography Archive

In May 1972, the Claymore was replaced on the Inner Isles Mail by the larger (16 cars in place of the Claymore's 12!), though older, mail steamer MV Loch Seaforth which, since 1947, had operated the Stornoway Mail service from Mallaig & Kyle: she had been replaced on that run by MacBrayne's first ever drive-through car ferry, MV Iona. From the beginning of 1973, the Loch Seaforth's duties also included sailing three times a week from Oban to Colonsay which had hitherto been served by the Islay ferry from West Loch Tarbert.

The Loch Seaforth and Claymore alongside at Oban - this photo was taken in February 1972 in the context of the Loch Seaforth  relieving the Claymore on the Inner Isles Mail for her regular winter overhaul rather than the LS taking over the service permanently in May that year - photo credit John Park

As it happened, the Loch Seaforth's tenure of the Inner Isles Mail was brief for, in darkness in the early hours of the morning of 22 March 1973 while inbound from Castlebay to Tiree, she struck a rock in the Gunna Sound between Coll & Tiree. The handful of passengers were got off safely in the lifeboats but it was determined that the Loch Seaforth was still afloat so she was able to limp slowly round to Gott Bay Pier with the assitance of a tug. The Claymore, which had been laid up at Greenock, had to return to service except that, in the meantime, the Loch Seaforth had sunk alongside the pier so, until she could be removed in May, Tiree became once again a ferry call. The Loch Seaforth was eventually towed away to Ardrossan and scrapped.

The Loch Seaforth sunk alongside Gott Bay Pier, Tiree in March 1973: photo credit Rob Beale

The Claymore set out from Oban for Lochboisdale on the Inner Isles Mail for the last time on Friday 26 April 1974. The following Monday, there commenced a new car ferry service from Oban direct to Castlebay and Lochboisdale departing Oban six days a week (but calling at Castlebay only on three days) operated by the Iona. That summer (1974), the Claymore sailed to just Coll & Tiree (stopping at Tobermory and also now twice a week at Lochaline) and also to Colonsay.

Separate schedules for Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale, summer 1974

The end of the 1974 summer season at the beginning of October marked the end of the Claymore's regular employment with Calmac (as MacBrayne's had become following their merger with the Caledonian Steam Packet Company at the beginning of 1973). She retired to lay up in Greenock and only performed a few relief sailings during 1975 before being sold in early 1976. She followed her predecessor on the Inner Isles Mail, the Lochearn, to the Aegean where, altered beyond recognition and renamed City of Hydra, she enjoyed a career almost as long as her Scottish one sailing on day cruises from Athens to local beauty spots such as Aegina, Poros & Hydra. She was withdrawn from service in 1993 and eventually scrapped in 2001.

Only the wheelhouse windows and vents on the front of the funnel reveal the former Inner Isles Mail steamer at Piraeus in 1988: photo credit Peter Fitzpatrick

The Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale services were combined for the last time in the winter of 1974/75 with the Iona departing Oban at 06.30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You could say this was the last ever season of the Inner Isles Mail except I find it hard to think of it as such because it was operated by a car ferry and, instead of returning to Oban through the night, the Iona delayed her departure from Lochboisdale until 06.30 because she didn't, at that time, have any passenger sleeping cabins.

To bring the story quickly down to date, in 1975 the Columba took on the Tobermory, Coll & Tiree run (and Colonsay) in summer while the Iona sailed to Castlebay & Lochboisdale. In winter, both services were maintained by the Iona but on separate sailings. The Iona was replaced by a new ferry named, appropriately enough, Claymore (III) in 1979. In 1989, another new ferry, Lord of the Isles, replaced both the Columba and the Iona and she served Coll & Tiree and "Barra 'Boisdale" year round on separate sailings. Then in 1998, the Lord of the Isles was replaced by a new Clansman (which marked the end of calls at Tobermory for the Coll & Tiree ferry) but in 2003 the LOTI returned to Oban to share the Clansman's duties. At this time too, the Coll & Tiree sailing was extended once a week in summer to Castlebay. The last major change to the schedules came in 2016 with the Castlebay and Lochboisdale services being split and Barra being served from Oban (by the former Stornoway ferry Isle of Lewis) and Lochboisdale from Mallaig (by the LOTI). Coll & Tiree (and Colonsay) continue to be served by the Clansman.

I'll finish with a timeline of the Inner Isles Mail service since its inception:-

1886, 21st July - inaugural sailing of Highland Fisheries Company Ltd's mail service to Tobermory, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay & Lochboisdale by screw steamer Trojan. Departures from Oban 07.30 on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays.

1887/8 - Trojan succeeded by Holly then Electric

1889, April - MacBrayne's take over the mail contract using Clydesdale (I)

1891 - mail services restructured: one route to Tobermory, Castlebay, Lochboisdale, Lochmaddy, Dunvegan, Pooltiel, Bracadale, Canna, Rum, Tobermory, Oban - six departures weekly, three clockwise, three anti-clockwise, using Flowerdale and Staffa (III); second route to Tobermory, Kilchoan, Coll, Tiree & Bunessan - three departures weekly using Fingal (II)

1903 - Staffa superseded by Lapwing (II) on Outer Isles route.

1904 - Flowerdale wrecked and superseded by Plover (III) on Outer Isles route.

1908 - Lapwing superseded by Lochiel (II) on Outer Isles route.

1909 - Fingal superseded by Dirk on Bunessan run (this service now based at Tobermory and running to Coll, Tiree and Bunessan three days a week and from Bunessan to Tobermory via Oban on the other three days of the week).

1913 - Gott Bay Pier at Tiree built.

1914-18, World War I - Lochiel (Outer Isles route) and Dirk (Bunessan route) lost; Plover attacked by German U-Boat on passage to Castlebay on 29 July 1918.

After WWI (don't know exact year but circa 1918-20) - routes restructured again: Bunessan run abandoned and Oban, Tobermory, Kilchoan, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay, Lochboisdale ("the Inner Isles Mail") commences. Three departures weekly (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, returning following days) using Cygnet (II)

Cygnet (II) - I can't remember where I found this picture so if you recognise it as yours, contact me for accreditation or removal if you prefer.

1930 - Cygnet replaced by Lochearn.

1948-June 1949 - Lochness on the Inner Isles Mail while Lochearn is re-engined and then relieves on the Outer Isles Mail while the Lochmor is re-engined.

The Lochness approaching Castlebay: photo credit - Calum I MacLean
1949 - Ferry call at Kilchoan dropped. Ardnamurchan gets its own dedicated ferry across to Tobermory where passengers can join steamers to Oban.

1955 - Lochearn replaced by Claymore (II)

1967 - Coll Pier opened and overnight car ferry sailings from Mallaig to Lochboisdale once a week (Friday) in summer begin with Clansman. Extra summer Saturday afternoon sailings from Oban to Tiree for cars (Claymore). Frequency of these sailings increased and include Coll in 1968-70.

The Claymore at Tiree

1971 - Summer car ferry sailings by Clansman from Mallaig increased to thrice weekly including two calls at Castlebay. Inner Isles Mail from Oban by Claymore reduced to once weekly and five sailings weekly to just Coll & Tiree. (In winter, Mallaig sailings cease and Inner Isles Mail reverts to traditional pattern of three sailings per week.)

1972, May - Claymore replaced by Loch Seaforth.

1973, March 22 - Loch Seaforth wrecked at Tiree; Claymore returns to service.

The Claymore at Oban: photo credit Douglas Campbell

1974, April 26 - Inner Isles Mail steamer (Claymore) sails for the last time for Lochboisdale from Oban. On 29 April, car ferry service (Iona) to Castlebay and Lochboisdale begins and Claymore sails exclusively to Coll & Tiree.

1974/75 Winter - Claymore withdrawn from service; Iona operates Oban, Tobermory, Coll, Tiree, Castlebay and Lochboisdale (thrice weekly, returning following day).

The Iona at Tiree: photo credit Peter MacLeod

1975 - From now on, Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale services are permanently separate year round. In summer, Columba operates Coll & Tiree and Iona Castlebay & Lochboisdale. CBY & LBL ferry (Iona) operates to COL & TIR (on separate sailing) in winter as well.

1976 - Claymore sold to the Aegean

1979 - Iona replaced by new Claymore (III)

The Claymore (III) at Castlebay

1989 - Lord of the Isles replaces Columba and Claymore and operates Coll & Tiree and Castlebay & Lochboisdale services on her own year round; Linkspan opened at Castlebay allowing ro-ro operation there.

1992 - Linkspans opened at Coll & Tiree.

1998 - New Clansman (III) replaces Lord of the Isles. Calls at Tobermory by Coll & Tiree ferry cease.

2003 - Lord of the Isles  returns to Oban to share the Clansman's duties.

2016 - Castlebay and Lochboisdale services separated with CBY being served from Oban (Isle of Lewis) and LBL from Mallaig (with some extra sailings to Oban - Lord of the Isles).

The Claymore at Tiree: photo credit Beaches via Ships Nostalgia


  1. I have a copy of the 1937 AA guide and it does show the Mallaig Armadale ferry I would be happy to scan and send you a copy along with one from about 1940 No Dornie ferry due to new bridge Also 1938? but no Car ferry service Mallaig Armadale

  2. I would love that, thanks Andrew. Can you find my email address somewhere here?

  3. Not that i can find. I've finished after a couple of hours work the 1038 Guide and will also do the 1938 ,1940 and 1958 versions for you. I will put them into a word doc. I ve put the Relevant page on my facebook so you should be able to see that when we become friends and also a picture of the Kessock ferry entry for 1938 showing an ex Saltash chain ferry or Floating bridge!

  4. Many thanks for your wonderful blog, discovered today. I read it with a smile as I remember traveling on the Claymore to my home on Barra.