In the week when the Forth Rail Bridge has been nominated as a new World Heritage Site I thought I’d feature another of Scotland’s national treasures, the Glenelg – Skye Ferry.
There’s been a ferry crossing from Glenelg to Kylerhea in Skye for hundreds of years but the current, 40-year old ferry – the Glenachulish – is the very last manually-operated turntable ferry in the world. It was saved in 2007 after the previous owner retired and was bought by the local community with the aid of funding from the Big Lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is now owned and operated by a community interest company. You can read more on the ferry’s website and blog.
The ferry runs from Easter to mid-October and operates seven days, with the crossing itself taking about 10 minutes and taking up to six vehicles. It connects the communities of Glenelg (population 240) and Kylerhea (population 17) but is an economic lifeline in this part of the world, particularly as a boost for tourism. We took the crossing last July (although you wouldn’t know it from the pictures ..!). At the Glenelg side there’s a small shop in the former lighthouse. The ferry plies its way back and forth, taking an unusual snaking line across the strong currents of the Kylerhea narrows.
Here’s a video clip of the turntable being turned around – by hand.
And another, this time a time lapse video, which shows the turntable as well as the snaking route across the Kylerhea narrows.
The history of the ferry is interesting. The Glenelg to Kylerhea route is the shortest ferry route at 550 metres; you can also take a Calmac ferry from Mallaig to Armadale or the much newer bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh. But this was the route used by cattle drovers over hundreds of years en route to the cattle marts in the Lowlands. Just as the fast waters here means that the ferry needs to ‘snake’ across the Kylerhea narrows, some cattle used to get swept away on a fast ebbing tide only to finally make land around the headland on the beach at Glenelg !
This was also the route used by Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell in 1773 when they travelled using the comparatively new militay road past Glenelg (built 50 years earlier to connect the barracks at Bernera) and on to Skye.
There’s been a car ferry here since 1934 with the photos below showing the smaller, predecessor ferry to the Glenachulish. It appears that the turntable is a Scottish invention, allowing ferries to operate at any state of the tide and sparing the motorist the trouble of reversing.
Do you have any experiences of using the ferry ? I’d be interested to hear.