Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stromeferry - Part 3

Picking up the story from Part 2, many and vocal had been the pledges in support of the proposed railway from Dingwall to the west coast at Kyle of Lochalsh but when it came to calling in these pledges in 1865, the actual cash was a bit slower being forthcoming. Also, one of the landowners along the route, Sir William MacKenzie of Coul (near Contin), refused to allow the railway to pass through his estate necessitating expensive deviations from the planned route.

On way or another, the directors had to cut their cloth somewhat and soon realised they couldn't afford to build the railway all the way to Kyle. Instead the terminus would have to be at Attadale near the head of Loch Carron. Although Attadale was the nearest point on the west coast, it was about 16 miles from the shipping lanes to the south from Portree on Skye and Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides: it was this trade (especially cargo - fish and livestock from the islands) which the railway was banking on intercepting and Kyle would have been a much better place to siphon it off at than Attadale.

Despite this disappointment, work on the railway began in September 1868 but as a result of persuasion by director Sir John Fowler - the railway engineer who would later become responsible for the Forth Bridge - it was soon decided to extend it further down Loch Carron to Stromeferry. The railway was opened to passengers on 19th August 1870. The picture below shows the terminus at Stromeferry viewed from the north side of Loch Carron. From left to right on the far side of the loch are the engine shed, station and pier (wuith steamer alongside), the stationmaster's house, railwaymen's cottages and the hotel. The white building in the foreground is the inn at North Strome on the north side of the ferry across the loch.

The Dingwall & Skye Railway Company (DSR) which had built the line would not operate the trains over it, however. These would be run by the Highland Railway Company (HR) which owned most of the other lines radiating from Inverness under a deal whereby the HR paid the DSR 2 shillings (10p) per train-mile over the line to Stromeferry for up to two runs each way per day and 1 shilling and 10 pence (about 9p) per train-mile for additional runs.  From this would be deducted £200 per year for the DSR's use of the HR's station at Dingwall.

 The building on the right above is the hotel

Another concern to the DSR was steamer connections. The whole point of the line, really, was to capture traffic to the islands of Skye and the Outer Hebrides beyond the terminus of the railway but, perhaps not surprisingly, the principal shipping company in the north west, David Hutcheson & Co (the forerunner to MacBrayne's), declined to divert their steamers to Stromeferry. Hence the DSR was obliged to buy two steamers of their own, the Oscar and the Jura, to sail respectively to Portree (daily ex. Sunday) and Stornoway (twice a week).

The pier with the station on the left. The inn at North Strome visible on the right

The initial timetable was two return trains a day between Inverness and Stromeferry. The down trains (from Inverness) departed at 9.15am and 3.10pm and arrived at Stromeferry at 1.15pm and 7.15pm respectively. The steamers sailed in connection with the morning train arriving at Portree (via Kyleakin and Broadford) at 8.00pm and Stornoway at 10.00pm. The single fare between Inverness and Stromeferry was 4 shillings and 5 pence (22p) or 8 shillings and 10 pence (44p) First Class. This was considerably cheaper than the 6 shilling fare on the mail coach as well as being infinitely quicker and more comfortable.

The station viewed from the branch line to the pier

In the years following the opening of the line in 1870, the steamer services were scaled back with sailings to Stornoway being abandoned: instead passengers would connect at Portree with Hutchesons' steamers to Stornoway. In 1877, the Highland Railway Co. took over the steamer operations but in 1880 Hutchesons' - now trading as MacBrayne's following the retirement of the Hutcheson brothers leaving their junior partner David MacBrayne to carry on alone - relented and agreed to take over the run from Stromeferry to Portree with calls at Plockton, Broadford and Raasay. Also in 1880, the HR merged with the DSR meaning in practice that the former company now owned the railway itself as well running the trains over it.

The following year, 1881, MacBrayne's took over the mail run from Stornoway to Ullapool (which involved passengers making a 5 hour coach journey to connect with the evening train to Inverness at Garve) but in 1885 the mainland terminus of that service moved to Stromeferry as well. 

Stromeferry from the east with a steamer at the pier

The late 1880s, then, were the high water mark of Stromeferry's fortunes as a railway terminus, the only one on the west coast of Scotland north of Oban (to where a railway had opened in 1880). By now, there were three trains a day and daily steamers to Portree and Stornoway connecting with the noon train from Inverness. But it would be all change for Stromeferry in the 1890s as proposals for more railways to the north west were tabled.
                            MacBrayne's Stromeferry to Stornoway steamer SS Lovedale seen here at Lochmaddy

To be continued ...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tom Gilfillan

My previous post featured a travel poster with artwork by Tom Gilfillan. I'm a huge fan of these 1930s railway travel posters and if I had the money and the wall space, my walls would be covered with them.

I've already got two up (both originals which I bought off eBay) - one advertising the Ardrishaig Mail with artwork by Norman Wilkinson and the other the Fast Route to Skye via Armadale by Alasdair Macfarlane. Neither of these are railway posters, strictly speaking, but they recall an era when the railway was the mode of travel par excellence and other modes of public transport such as steamers and buses were designed to dovetail in round the railway.

Sorry about the poor photography catching the reflections in the glass but the ship on the left is MacBrayne's SS Saint Columba which served the Ardrishaig Mail service from Gourock to Ardrishaig from 1936 to 1958 while the ship on the right is MV Loch Seaforth which was the Stornoway mail steamer from Mallaig and Kyle from 1947 to 1972.

I've also got two Tom Gilfillan postcards in clip frames by my desk:-

Now I'm not much of an art connoisseur but these are my sort of art - to me, the puffy white clouds convey limpid, languid long hot summer's days.

The first picture is Iona and the second is Staffa. The ship in both cases is MacBrayne's MV Lochfyne of 1931. From 1931 to 1935, she took the cruise from Oban round Mull via Tobermory to Iona and Staffa, the route which would later become more closely associated with the SS King George V.

Note that in the second picture the Lochfyne has a grey hull. This is because, in 1928, MacBrayne's was bought from the MacBrayne family by Coast Lines - the company which dominated coastal shipping on the Irish Sea at the time - with a 50% investment from the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company. The new management attempted what would now be called a "re-branding" exercise painting the ships' hulls grey but it didn't last and they were soon back to their traditional black after a few years.

For those interested in minutiae, note how the poster in the last post (which also shows the Lochfyne with a grey hull) gives the company as "David MacBrayne (1928) Ltd". This was the name of the new company incorporated by Coast Lines and the LMSR after the takeover. The "(1928)" was dropped after a few years once the old company owned by the MacBrayne family had been formally wound up.

I'll get back to Stromeferry in the next post (unless something else catches my eye meantime!).

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I'm feeling very chuffed to have been nominated for the Scotblogs Awards 2010. Whoever it was who nominated me (and, although it's allowed, it wasn't me), thanks very much. As there are 142 nominations, I don't suppose I'm likely to win but the very fact of being nominated is inspiration to keep writing new entries - I've been a bit remiss lately due to having been away from home over the Christmas and New Year period.

Unfortunately, my favourite Scottish blog - Life at the End of the Road by Paul Camilli who writes about his life working as a ferryman and crofter on the island of Raasay hasn't been nominated (mysteriously, as I gather Paul has a huge following, and I only discovered the awards after nominations had closed or else I would have nominated him) so instead my vote has gone to ClydeSights by John Newth. John also works on a car ferry, this time the Western Ferries between Gourock and Hunter's Quay, and takes his camera to work with him and writes about the various ships which pass his ferry on their way up and down the Clyde.

And apropos of nothing but purely to get a gratuitous picture into this post, here's an image of an early 30s MacBrayne's poster with artwork by Tom Gilfillan which I saw advertised on eBay the other day:-