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Corran Ferry

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Corran Ferry
Aiseaig a'Chorrain
Location Map ( geo)
Cameraicon.png View gallery (14)
From:  Inchree
To:  Ardgour
Distance:  0.5 km (0.3 miles)
County
Argyll • Inverness-shire
Current Operator
Highland Council
Toll
£10 (Cars, as of 06/04/2024)
On road(s)
 • A861
MV Corran on the crossing

The Corran Ferry plies its way back and forth across the Corran Narrows of Loch Linnhe, connecting Ardgour and the Ardnamurchan peninsula to the A82 at Inchree. It runs every 20–30 minutes from either side, depending on the time of year and day of the week, and takes about four minutes to make the crossing. It is seen as a vital lifeline for the remote communities it serves, and as such maintains a service from early morning until mid evening. There are two ferries used on the route, the larger one, MV Corran, being the main ferry, with the smaller (older) one, MV Maid of Glencoul, serving as a relief vessel for emergencies and to cover maintenance. They can carry approximately 24-30 and 14-18 cars respectively. The smaller one is normally moored in the water near Ardgour.

MV Corran at the Nether Lochaber slipway

The crossing is perhaps unique nowadays in the way the ferries land on the slipways. Normal landing craft type ferries tie off against a wall or stanchions alongside the slipway, and so land square on to the slip. However, there is no such facility at Corran, and instead the two ferries have 'quarter ramps', which allow the vessels to come alongside the slipways at any state of the tide, vehicles embarking and disembarking with an 'S' shape manoeuvre. This is clearly not so easy for larger vehicles, and it has been known for Articulated vehicles to become stuck, and even for coaches with long rear overhangs to become grounded, as the drive axle is lifted clear. It is also almost impossible for heavy recovery vehicles to tow casualty vehicles on or off the ferry, which combined with the low bridges on the A861 and A830 makes it very difficult to recover some vehicles. This means of loading is a result of the turntable ferries which operated in the past, and the current vessels designed to replicate their flexibility. The other reason is that the slipways, being positioned to give a short crossing, have strong tidal currents passing them, so the boats need the protection of being alonside the slipways rather than end-on when loading and unloading. The arrangement also allows for quicker turnarounds, without needing to tie the ferries off, although movement in heavy swells is not unknown, and sometimes traffic has to wait on the slip or boat until the ferry stops moving before embarking or disembarking.

History

This crossing is one of the oldest on the west coast, being mentioned in RL Stevenson's novel Kidnapped. The first car service was probably provided in a similar manner to that used at nearby Ballachulish in the 1900s, by laying planks across a rowing boat, getting the car balanced, and rowing across. This seems to have been a rather haphazard provision, however, which may well have needed booking in advance. There are even suggestions that Ballachulish boats were sent up specifically to carry cars. In later years, a number of ex-Ballachulish Turntable ferries were used at Corran, whether as the main vessel or simply as relief ferries. The first Turntable Ferry, and the first to carry two cars at a time, started service in 1946, from when a regular car service commenced. In 1963 a ferry capable of carrying 4-6 cars took 6 minutes to cross. It ran from 8.15am (10.30am on Sundays) to 7.45/8.45pm or dusk and cost 6s for a car.

The service had always been run under contract to Argyll County Council, but following the reorganisation of Scottish Councils in 1975, Highland Council took it in house, and soon vessels from other council services at Kessock and Kylesku were seen on the route. The Rosehaugh arrived in 1982 after the opening of the Kessock Bridge, but was soon displaced as the main ferry by the Maid of Glencoul after the opening of the Kylesku Bridge. By this time, the Corran Narrows should also have been bridged, as the plan was to build a second Ballachulish Bridge across the narrows as a follow-on project. The oil crisis of the early 1970s, however, led to a re-evaluation of the costs, and the steelwork was eventually repurposed to cross the Tyne as the Queen Elizabeth rail bridge. The purpose designed MV Corran arrived in 2001, causing the 45 year old Rosehaugh to be retired, while the 26 year old Maid became the relief vessel.

The temporary pier

In autumn 2010, the slipway at Nether Lochaber (Inchree) was substantially reconstructed. Whilst it was initially intended to be carried out with a lengthy closure of the ferry service, public opinion forced the council to introduce a floating linkspan and so maintain a service for light vehicles during daylight hours. This compromise was accepted, and despite being the first time such a system was used in the UK, it proved to be a success, allowing the main slipway to be reconstructed without seriously inconveniencing too many people.

Service suspension in 2023

The main vessel, MV Corran left for her normal annual overhaul in November 2022, but due to a variety of faults being identified, was unable to return to service as expected before Christmas. It was alleged that some of these faults were a result of incorrect procedures being followed during the overhaul, although it is not clear if this is correct, and if so, who was at fault. This left the smaller and much older MV Maid of Glencoul to maintain the service through the winter months and into the spring. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Maid also developed faults, a few days before Easter in April 2023 and had to be towed to dry dock for repairs. This left the residents of the remote communities of Ardgour, Morvern, Sunart, Ardnamurchan and Moidart with lengthy diversions via the A861 and A830 to Fort William, or perhaps across the Mull Ferries to reach Oban.

As a temporary stopgap, the council chartered a passenger vessel to provide a commuter service from the Ardgour slipway direct into Fort William, while another boat was chartered to provide a passenger service from Ardgour to Nether Lochaber. The queueing area on the Nether Lochaber side was effectively turned into a car park so that people could leave their cars on the A82 side and cross as passengers, with a bus service improvement on the far side. The single track A861 around the shores of Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil also saw numerous localised improvements, although with an increase in traffic on the road, these were obviously somewhat restricted, and certainly did not amount to a serious attempt to widen the route for two-way traffic. Consideration was also given to the possibility of opening up the timber haul route between Polloch and Glenfinnan on the shore of Loch Shiel. However, the tortuous nature of the public road between Strontian and Polloch meant this was not pursued.

The MV Maid of Glencoul was repaired and back in service before the MV Corran, but then suffered further breakdowns, meaning that the passenger services had to be reinstated. Due to the nature of the vessels operating at Corran, there are not normally bollards or rings on either slipway for mooring boats. These had been installed after Easter, then removed, and so had to be reinstalled a second time to allow the passenger service to resume. The MV Corran finally returned to service in late October 2023, almost a year after she had gone to dry dock. The Maid was still out of action in December 2023. Due to the design of the slipways, there are very few vessels globally that could safely operate on the crossing, as standard ferries require to tie off against a wall or stanchions, which are not provided on either slipway at Corran. As a result, neither Calmac, local shipping companies, nor the military could provide a suitable replacement ferry / landing craft.

The result of this long period of disruption was that a number of businesses in the communities to the west lost a lot of their important summer trade, forcing some to close and others downsize. Claims for compensation were initially rejected by the council, although this was later put under review. The whole service has been put under review, and there are rumours that berthing walls will be installed and the service handed over to Calmac to allow intergration with their other routes and therefore guarantee the availability of replacement vessels, of a standard design, in the future.

Future

For over 30 years now, there have been long-term plans to replace the ferry with a bridge, and these plans remain in the local plan, with land on either side allocated for the access roads and structural piers. However, financing such a project in the aftermath of the Skye Bridge Toll Wars, looks increasingly unlikely!

Replacement Vessels

In 2022 it was announced that the Highland Council were seeking funding for two or three replacement vessels to operate the Corran service. The proposal was to have new Electric or hybrid vessels built to the same design, and perhaps slightly smaller than the MV Corran. The service would then see two vessels shuttling back and forth at peak times, while always having a spare vessel. The calamities of summer 2023 have, however, caused a radical rethink, and it is rumoured that the Scottish Government are pushing the Highland Council into handing the service over to Calmac. This would provide better resilience, with a large number of vessels potentially available from the Calmac Fleet, although changes to both slipways would be required.

2012 Draft Ferries Plan

In late 2011 the Scottish Government released the draft ferries plan for the coming 10 years. Whilst the Corran Ferry is described as providing a 'model service', the draft plan does make provision for the crossing to be transferred from Highland Council to Calmac. As this is the last ferry directly operated by the council, this may well be carried forward. The passenger ferry at Camusnagaul is operated on behalf of the council, but is also listed under the same provison.

Ferries

Name IMO Operator Dates Notes
Corran 9225990 Highland Council 2001-date 30 cars
Maid of Glencoul 7521613 Highland Council 1984-date (relief only since 2001) 18 cars
Rosehaugh 6702363 Highland Council 1982-2001 (relief only from 1984) 14 cars
Lochaber MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC); Highland Council 1973-85 9 cars
Gleann Mhor MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC); Highland Council 1964-82 6-9 cars
Ben Keil MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1959-73 6 cars
Garven MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1949-64 4 cars
Maid of Glengour MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1946-52 2 cars
North Argyll MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1937-46 1 car
The Grey Boat MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1936-37 1 car
The White Boat MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1935-36 1 car
Un-named MacKintosh Family (for Argyll CC) 1934-35 1 car


Links



Corran Ferry
Related Pictures
View gallery (14)
Corran-ferry.jpgGlencoul.jpgCorran-works2.jpgCorran-works8.jpgCorran Narrows (C) Ian Taylor - Geograph - 3049123.jpg
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