Friday, September 26, 2014

Ballachulish Pier

Above is another postcard I spotted on eBay recently. It's of Ballachulish Pier on Loch Linnhe about a mile west of the Ballachulish Bridge. The pier is long since abandoned but its remains are still clearly visible:-

Ballachulish Pier today as seen in Google Streetview
The pier's function was not for crossing the loch before the bridge (1975 - that was from slipways directly under the bridge) but to disembark tourists from MacBrayne's steamers plying Loch Linnhe between Oban and Fort William so they could go for a sight seeing trip by horse drawn coach up Glen Coe.

Pictured above is an extract from MacBrayne's 1883 summer brochure. It shows three steamers a day calling at Ballachulish and advertising that coaches would be waiting at the pier: for a "small additional fare", the drive up Glen Coe was said to be "very grand"  

In 1883, MacBrayne's also offered a circular tour from Oban, beginning by going on the train a few miles east to Achnacloich Station on Loch Etive. From there, a steamer took you to the head of the loch, whence a coach conveyed you up Glen Etive, down Glen Coe and ultimately to Ballachulish Pier where the tourist boarded a steamer back to Oban.

Circular tour from Oban by rail, steamer & coach

But then I recalled that MacBrayne's steamers also used to call at Kentallen (where there used to be a railway station) another mile or so to the west. Surely they wouldn't call at two piers so close together? Perhaps I'd been guilty of an assumption and that Ballachulish Pier had had a rather more humble, workaday function of discharging cargo for the locality from puffers. I also had a notion there was a third pier somewhere around here as well.

So I formed a theory that the pier for passengers going to Glen Coe was Ballachulish Pier until it was moved to Kentallen after the railway from Connel Ferry up to Ballachulish opened in 1903. First, though, to deal with the third pier lying between Kentallen and Ballachulish.

The Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of 1897 (above) confirms this to have been just a wharf to service the adjacent quarries so that just leaves Ballachulish Pier in the postcard at the top of this blog and Kentallen in the ring as the drop off point for Glen Coe.

The building directly opposite Ballachulish Pier (above) has a bit of a look of a railway station about it. In other words it looks more like a waiting room for genteel Victorian tourists about to embark on a paddle steamer or a stage coach than a shed for dumping bags of coal off a puffer.

But the clincher for Ballachulish Pier being the one where the steamers called to set down tourists for Glen Coe is that the pier at Kentallen next to the railway station there (pictured above with MacBrayne's paddle steamer RMS Iona (1864-1935) alongside: the station buildings are now the Holly Tree Hotel) didn't exist before the railway as the same OS six inch map confirms:-

Kentallen Station and pier were at "An Currachd" near the top of the map above: Ardsheal Pier near the mouth of Kentallen Bay was just a wharf to serve the local Ardsheal Estate.

But then my elegantly constructed theory that Ballachulish Pier was usurped by Kentallen upon the opening of the railway in 1903 took a dent when I discovered that MacBrayne's 1911 summer brochure referred to their steamers still calling at Ballachulish rather than Kentallen. And after all, at a time before road transport had taken off and MacBrayne's were still as much about travel along the coast as opposed to out to islands, why would they abandon their investment in a pier (I'm guessing MacBrayne's built Ballachulish Pier and its attendant waiting room but don't know that for a fact) just to suit a railway company, an arch-rival for their coastwise trade? (When the first railway touched the west coast beyond the Clyde estuary, at Stromeferry in 1870, David Hutcheson & Co (MacBrayne's predecessor company) pointedly refused at first to divert their steamers passing through Kyle Akin for points north to the new station.)

On the other hand, railways brought people into the West Highlands to travel onwards from a railhead by steamer so they ought to be able to live symbiotically. But be all that as it may, my pier theory required revision. So I modified it become that Ballachulish Pier was abandoned in favour of Kentallen in 1928 when MacBrayne's was taken over by a joint venture between Coast Lines and the London Midland & Scottish Railway, the company which owned the line from Connel Ferry through Kentallen to Ballachulish.

Now, I don't have a complete series of MacBrayne's summer brochures to be able to prove this but I do have one (pictured above) which is undated but, from internal evidence, must be between the end of WWI and 1927: it mentions Ballachulish Pier as the drop off point for Glen Coe.

The next MacBrayne's brochure I have is 1934 pictured above. If you can drag yourself away from that splendidly homo-erotic clansman on the cover who appears to be walking away from Kilchurn Castle disappointed, it explicitly confirms that calls are at "Ballachulish (Kentallen Pier)" where by now "motor buses" await to convey the tourist to Glen Coe:-

So I think we can reasonably conclude that Ballachulish Pier was abandoned in the late 1920s or early 1930s and probably consequent upon MacBrayne's having been taken over by the LMS Railway Company.

Kentallen Station (now the Holly Tree Hotel) and pier today

It remains just to note that Kentallen Pier's tenure as a dropping off point for tourists visiting Glen Coe was much briefer as steamer calls there don't appear to have been resumed after the War. MacBrayne's 1947 summer timetable shows a much reduced number of sailings between Oban and Fort William calling only at Lismore and Appin:-

The vessel passing the Corran Narrows is MacBrayne's MV Lochfyne (1931-69) which plied between Fort William and Oban regularly in the 1930s

After the War, day trips to Glen Coe from Oban went by train to Achnacloich, by motor boat (not MacBrayne's) up Loch Etive, by bus up Glen Etive and down Glen Coe to Ballachulish (the village east of the present day bridge) and from there by rail back to Oban. And the other way round as I blogged about in more detail here.

The railway through Kentallen to Ballachulish closed in 1966 and MacBrayne's ceased sailing between Oban and Fort William altogether in 1974.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Back to Stromeferry ...

A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles about Stromeferry in Wester Ross and today I spotted on Ebay the postcard pictured above. Postmarked at Stromeferry on 14 September 1906, it shows what was at the time the Strome Hotel (now a private house) at the north terminus of the ferry.

The picture is not particularly special but the message on the back is outstanding and worth reproducing in full:-

 "This is the ferry hotel on the other side. A large flat-bottomed barge, almost as broad as long takes over cattle & sheep, gypsies and their carts, wedding parties and their piper, merchandise in general and motor cars. The landing on our side [i.e. at Stromeferry, the south side] is always picturesque and at times exciting especially when a particularly fine and large motor car has to be put ashore. The boat draws up to the side of the slip and the car is backed on to it. Slip is only 20ft wide & slippery oft. Car has to turn on it."

Photo credit Rob Beale
That's a car being loaded onto a ferry around the same time our postcard was sent. It's not actually the Strome Ferry but the Dornie Ferry (also known as the Aird Ferry, replaced by a bridge in 1940) about 20 miles south. And below is a car boarding the Ballachulish Ferry in 1926. The operation has become a bit slicker in the intervening 20 years but see if your heart leaps into your mouth at the same moment mine did!