Glenelg Skye Ferry

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.

The former lighthouse on the Glenelg side

The former lighthouse on the Glenelg side


The ferry deck turned at an angle to allow vehicles to drive on

The ferry deck turned at an angle to allow vehicles to drive on

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.

On board the ferry

On board the ferry


Beware !

Beware !

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.


9 Comments on “The Glenelg – Skye Ferry

  1. I enjoyed reading that. I’ve been across the Glenelg ferry twice, the first time in 1980 when an industrial dispute closed the Kyle of Lochalsh ferry, then in about 2004-ish just to remind me what it was like. Interesting to read it’s still the same old vessel.
    The historical background is fascinating. Those cattle drovers had a hell of a job.
    Cheers, Alen

    • Hi Alen,

      Yes, the cattle drovers didn’t really have any easy options !

      In fact, the ‘Glenachulish’ ferry has been around Scotland quite a bit. She was built in 1969 and used to operate at Ballachulish before the bridge was built. She then came to Glenelg but also doubled as the relief ferry at Corran, Kessock and Kylesku and in 2012, also Strome Ferry (the Kessock and Kylesku waters have since had bridges built too). So in 55 years, she’s become quite an important part of Scotland’s infrastructure.

      • Thanks for that information. The Strome ferry has gone down in our family history. My father took us all camping in the North-West in the summer of 1966. There was such a queue of cars to get across the loch that the ferries worked well into the night. It was pitch dark when we finally got across so we all slept in the car – two adults, two children and a load of gear all crammed into an Anglia Estate. The next day, going over the tops to Applecross, the trailer ripped the back end off the Anglia. Ahhh, the good old days.

  2. we used the ferry 2 years ago,what an experience watching the seals and the drive up the other side.phew! what a drive,but the ferry and the cup of tea in the wee lighthouse was brilliant,

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