Drochaid an Baile a'Chaolais
|Location Map ( geo)|
|Argyll • Inverness-shire|
For centuries, ferries had plied the narrows of Loch Leven between North and South Ballachulish. The existence of the Loch Leven and Ballachulish Hotels is evidence enough for this, but on top of that we have the slipways, queuing space and Old Ferry Road on the northern shore.
Until c1914, there was no other way to cross the loch, except the ancient and decrepit Old Military Road from Kingshouse on Rannoch Moor to Fort William, but before and during the First World War, the new road round Loch Leven (now B863) was built. This, in later years, offered motorists an alternative to the lengthy summer queues for the ferries.
The first vehicle ferries started in 1906 and were simple rowing boats, with two planks balanced across the middle. The car was driven onto these planks from the slipway, with the boat side onto the slip, and carefully balanced before the boat was rowed across to the opposite shore. This must have been particularly difficult with the tides, as heading north an outgoing tide would push them away from the slip, and heading south the incoming tide would cause the same problem.
In 1912 a motorised single vehicle turntable ferry was introduced, with a second perhaps starting the following year. In the mid 1920s the ferries grew larger, being able to carry two cars at a time. They were still, however, little more than converted rowing boats. In 1951 the first four car ferry was introduced, and by the end of the decade there were 3 such ferries operating. Then, in 1959 came the first of the six-car ferries, but still they were overstretched in the summer season, and boards marking queuing times had been established on either shore. Generally speaking, if the queue stretched back past the 'half hour' board, it was quicker to drive round.
The Glenachulish was the last new ferry to be launched, and arrived in 1969. There were now 3 6-car ferries on the crossing, and whilst one served as a relief vessel in the quieter months, all three worked hard through the summer. As well as the Glenachulish (now serving on Glenelg - Kylerhea Ferry) there was the Glen Duror and the Glen Loy, the last was the eldest, so it was probably the relief vessel. They were All turntable ferries, where the vehicles loaded nose in, then the deck was spun around, apparently simply by a couple of blokes giving it a good shove, before the ferry sailed. This way the cars were nose-out upon arrival. There was, of course, a brake to prevent the deck spinning during the crossing!
In 1937 the ferry charged from 2/6 to 5s for a car (based on horsepower). In 1963 this had changed to 4-6s based on length, rising to 30-45p by the end in 1975. Livestock were still listed on the scale of charges in 1975; Sheep were 2p each and cattle 10p! The service operated daily from 8/9am to 9.30pm, took about 5 minutes and each ferry could carry just 6 cars.
All of the following vessels were of the turntable type.
|Glenachulish||Ballachulish Ferry Company, Highland Council||1969-75||6 cars; still operation on Glenelg - Kylerhea Ferry|
|Glen Loy||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1964-75||6 cars|
|Glen Duror||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1961-75||6 cars|
|Glen Mallie||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1959-69||6 cars|
|Maid of Glencoe||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1957-65||4 cars|
|Appin Chief||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1955-61||4 cars|
|Mamore||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1951-59||4 cars|
|Queen of Glenalbyn||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1936-59||2 cars|
|Maid of Glencoe||Ballachulish Ferry Company||1935-55||2 cars|
|Glencoe II||Ballachulish Hotel||1926-36||1 car|
|Glencoe||Ballachulish Hotel||1912-35||1 car|
The Bridge is in many ways a modern twist on the design of the much older Connel Bridge seen further down the coast. Construction appears to have started late in 1972, or early 1973 and took nearly 3 years. It was finally opened on 23rd December 1975 after a number of delays, along with massive improvement works to the A82 and A828 on the southern shore of Loch Leven, to connect the new bridge and the old road. Further improvements continued for the next 9 years until the whole road back to Glencoe Village had been rebuilt, the last section being the Ballachulish Bypass which opened in 1984.
On the northern side, the road ramps up to meet the bridge deck, still climbing until it reaches the middle of the bridge. It then starts to dip, but reaches land much higher up on the south side, above a low cliff next to the A828, which passes underneath.
The structure is a large steel box truss, standing high over the road, with peaks above either pier. In some ways it looks over engineered, but as it reaches its 50th birthday, it has received a surprisingly small amount of unplanned maintenance work, and looks good for many years to come. The bridge cost approximately £2¼ million to build, used 2700 tonnes of steel and has a load capacity of 2500 tonnes. In contrast, the same basic bridge design was used for the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge to carry the Metro across the Tyne, and with work starting early in 1976, the bridge took 4 years to build at a cost of £4½ million.
Delays & Opening
The last road plate was installed on the bridge a couple of weeks later than scheduled, in early May 1975, the hold up being due to a very poor winter. However an even bigger delay started in July when one of the bearings on the pier failed. Apparently the noise could be heard in Kinlochleven 8 or 9 miles to the east! Unfortunately, the ferry company had already started the process of winding up the company and service with the planned opening date of 1st October. The ferries had all been sold, and the men given their notice by the time that the length of the delay was realised. Ballachulish Ferry Company therefore terminated their service on 4th October 1975, but by some good fortune, the newest of the ferries, the Glenachulish, had been sold to the new Highland Regional Council for use as a back up vessel at Corran, Kessock and Kylesku. So, on the 5th October the HRC started running a single vessel service using 2 men (as opposed to the 18 employees of the old company) borrowed from Corran. This service was maintained through until the last crossing at 12:01pm on 23/12/75, a minute after the bridge had been officially opened.