|Location Map ( geo)|
|Caledonian MacBrayne, Bruce Watt Cruises|
In the past, when it was still steamships rather than ferries that plied between the mainland and the islands, Mallaig linked to Kyle to serve Harris, the Uists, The Small Isles and, of course, Skye. For many years Mallaig has been an important port for such ships, with a railway connection being an obvious benefit. At present, there are just four crossings in operation, two of which are full vehicle ferrys, with the recent reinstatement of the Lochboisdale, South Uist service.
The current services out of Mallaig are the Mallaig - Armadale Ferry connecting to Skye, the Small Isles Ferry, providing a mainland link to the isles of Eigg, Rum, Canna and Muck and the recently reinstated Lochboisdale Ferry service. Finally, there is the service operating to Inverie on Knoydart.
The Knoydart ferry has for many years been run by Bruce Watt Cruises and is strictly passengers only, There is no facility for taking vehicles. However, that doesn't mean that Knoydart is vehicle-free, with several private ferry boats being used. In addition, many residents have their own boats, and will regularly make the crossing to Mallaig, as easily as many people commute for half an hour or so to work.
However, from spring 2013 a new service operating out of Mallaig is providing competition to the established ferry. Operating three boats, the service, called the Knoydart Seabridge, is greatly increased with reduced journey times, albeit with smaller passenger capacities. One of the boats is a small landing craft - capable of carrying vehicles, although vehicles can only be taken to Knoydart with the correct permissions. With 4 return sevices on weekdays and two at weekends (increasing to 7 and 4 for the peak season), they will also provide out of hours sea-taxi services on demand, within reason.
The Western Isles
After two years of a trial winter service, which was cancelled almost as often as it sailed, Calmac resumed a 7-day a week service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale for Summer 2016. Communities at either end of the route had been campaigning for a number of years to get the route back, and with new ferries coming on stream elsewhere in the network, Calmac were able to put the Lord of The Isles on as a dedicated ship for the route, albeit also supplementing the Skye service during the day,.
Due to a major crankshaft failure on a ferry in Summer 2010, there were a few scheduled services between Mallaig and Castlebay on Barra. They were timetabled to coincide with Barra's annual festival and used the MV Loch Nevis. There is no plan for this to become a permanent fixture.
2013 Ferries Plan
Following the review of the 2012 draft ferries plan for the coming 10 years, the final plan has now been published. This had a number of proposals regarding the services currently operating out of Mallaig, and the proposed reintroduction of the Lochboisdale route, which has now been achieved, despite the comments as noted below.
The draft plan suggested that Knoydart's current service is way below the 'ideal' level. As a result, weekend sailings are proposed throughout the summer, and additional sailings in the winter, as well as more sailings on each day. The introduction of a ro-ro service is not mentioned, although as the current service is operated privately it may become necessary for Calmac to take on the Knoydart service and so the use of the Small Isles and/or Skye Ferries would become available. These boats already make occasional, chartered, sailings to Knoydart a few times a year, to transport abnormal freight / plant.
The final plan reinforces the view of the draft, with the possible medium-term solution of integrating the Knoydart crossing with the Small Isles Ferry Routes. However, it is unclear whether the final plan allowed for the start of the new Knoydart Seabridge service, or if this development has been independently implemented. It can be assumed that the success, or otherwise, of the new service will influence any future developments on the Knoydart Ferry Routes.
Unfortunately, the draft report suggested that the existing Uist services from Lochboisdale to Oban and Lochmaddy to Uig are already providing a sufficient service. The re-introduction of a Lochboisdale to Mallaig service is not seen as financially viable, despite campaigns in both ports for such a service to return. In the short term, there is no vessel to service the route, and in the longer term the improved services highlighted above may make Mallaig Port too busy for this service, however, both communities have vowed to fight on for this route.
The only glimmer of hope in the final plan is that should any future spare capacity in the network become available the reintroduction of this route will be high on the list of priorities. This is not likely to happen before 2016, however, and indeed in summer 2016 Lord of The Isles resumed the service.