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The West Coast is both cursed and blessed by its transport, but a quick look over the past century reveals just how much it has improved.
A giant photograph printed on April 1, 1939, recorded a vanishing scene on Benbecula: ‘A group of islanders waiting at Creagorry for the ferry boat to take them and their goods across the ford to South Uist. Work has now begun on a project to span the ford with a road bridge costing over £30,000.
‘When completed, it will greatly improve communication between the two islands and allow Benbecula easier access to the port of Lochboisdale in South Uist.’
Before the new bridge, islanders crossed to Benbecula via the south ford linking it with South Uist, and the north ford to North Uist. One English visitor noted in the 1880s that the state of the fords replaced the weather as the main topic of conversation on Benbecula.
The first improvement came at the south ford in 1942, with the completion of the 800m, eight span, concrete, single-
lane bridge crossing from Benbecula across Creagorry Island to South Uist.
After it began to deteriorate in the 1970s, the bridge was replaced by the south ford causeway, which was opened in a severe gale in 1982.
The problems at the north ford persisted, because during significant parts of the tide cycle, it was too wet to ford, but not wet enough to cross by ferry.
Finally, in 1960, came the causeway, a five-mile arc of single-track road linking North Uist and Benbecula via the island of Grimsay. At last motorists from Lochmaddy could reach Lochboisdale within a day – a feat unheard of until then.
The Oban Times announced the launch of the motorship MV Locheil on April 15, 1939, a new mail boat operated by David MacBrayne Ltd, replacing the MV Pioneer on the West Loch Tarbert to Islay service. She came equipped with a strengthened deck to carry cattle, automobiles and a four-inch gun, as well as dining and smoking rooms.
MV Lochiel started her career running between Oban and Fort William, until the West Loch Tarbert pier was modified for her length and draught, and she tripped between Port Askaig, Port Ellen, Craighouse on Jura, Gigha and, latterly, Colonsay.
MV Locheil hit submerged rocks in West Loch Tarbert on October 8, 1960, and sank, but she was refloated and repaired, becoming MacBrayne’s last surviving mail boat, retiring in 1970. Her last years were spent, ignominiously, as a floating bar in Bristol called Old Locheil, where she remained until she was sold for scrap and broken up in December 1995.
A memorial garden for MV Locheil was planted for her in Port Ellen, Islay.
‘By Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go…’ is a familiar line in the traditional Scottish song, The Road to the Isles.
The A830 is surely one of Scotland’s finest drives, stretching 46 miles from Fort William to Mallaig through Bonnie Prince Charlie country, passing Corpach, Glenfinnan, Morar and Arisaig, following the shoreline of Loch Eil and Loch Eilt, and ending at Mallaig harbour and the ferries to the isles of Skye, Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna, and the Knoydart village of Inverie.
Originally, it was an ancient cattle droving road, leaving General Wade’s military road from Stirling to Inverness at Tummel Bridge, and linking island grazings to the southern burghs and markets of Stirling and Falkirk.
The engineer Thomas Telford opened up the district of Morar, Arisaig and Moydart further when he directed the government to build the ‘Parliamentary Road’, or the ‘Loch na Gaul’ road, between Banavie and Arisaig in 1803.
On April 18, 1959, The Oban Times reported: ‘Work began on the reconstruction of the Fort William-Mallaig road. The picture, taken at the Stage Inn, Glenfinnan, showed a car crossing a temporary Bailey Bridge spanning the burn by the side of the hotel.’
The once twisting and tortuous road is now a double track, but until 2009 the section between Arisaig and Lochailort was the UK’s only single-track trunk road, apart from a small section of the A887 near Invermoriston.
A satirical song, The 8-3-0, written by Ian McCalman, lampooned its single-track status.