Once upon a time there were three ferry routes to Skye. The ferry from Kyle of Lochalsh, which has now been superseded by the Skye Bridge, and the longer ferry route from Mallaig exist largely thanks to the railways – the ferry route from Glenelg is a bit different – and much, much older.
Glenelg sits across a stretch of water called the Kyle Rhea narrows, the narrowest stretch of sea between Skye and the mainland, historically it was the point where routinely cattle raised on the island were made to swim across to be herded to market, it is also from here that Dr Samuel Johnson made his crossing in 1773. This was once the main route to the island. Now on both sides of the narrows the approach is via minor roads, much of it single track with passing places, and with the proximity of the bridge and the main A87 road why would anyone want to take the diversion over the Bealach pass to catch the ferry any more?
Now I have to say that the A87 is a great road, whilst you do get the odd speed freak and plenty of caravans, the road is wide enough and with enough clear stretches to make passing the caravans straightforward and give the speed freaks the chance to pass without too much tailgating. It’s certainly got some spectacular scenery along the stretch you’d miss taking the ferry, and the bridge is quite a spectacular engineering feat in itself, but it certainly isn’t quite the same experience as taking the ferry. If you’ve got the time to spend, I can recommend taking a ride on the now community owned Glenelg ferry.
Unlike the bigger ships running the route from Mallaig, the community are running the route from Glenelg with the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland, now forty years old. The service runs as required, and amazingly is operated by only two people, even turning the turntable itself with up to six cars on board. The crossing takes barely five minutes, but especially if you’ve just driven the long drive up from the lowlands there is a chance to pause and take in the quiet and stunning scenery before boarding.
On our last trip up to Skye I took the opportunity to film our whole crossing – watch out for a curious seal who pops out of the water as the ferry nears it’s destination.
So there you have it, it certainly isn’t the fastest way to Skye, but it is a much more memorable way to start your time on Skye and along with that you’ll be helping to keep a little bit of the history of the area alive.