Main Crossings Mallaig - Armadale
Mallaig - Armadale
Mainland - Skye
Crossing Time:
30 Minutes
Regular Ship:
Coruisk (summer) / Lochnevis (winter)


1964 - 1972: Clansman
1973 - 1974: Columba
1975 - 1978: Bute
1979: Bute / Pioneer
1980 - 1988: Pioneer
1989 - 1997: Iona
1998: Pioneer / Lord of the Isles
1999 - 2002: Lord of the Isles
2003: Pioneer / Coruisk
2004 - Present: Coruisk (summer) / Lochnevis (winter)
Additional Ships:
Claymore (Winter service or relief duties).

 Terminal Facilities:
Mallaig: Linkspan fitted in 1994 at main ferry berth. Train station located close by. Vehicle marshalling area and office facilities located adjacent to the town centre.

Armadale: Linkspan - like Mallaig - fitted in 1994. Vehicle marshalling area and terminal office facilities situated at the pier. Hoistable passenger gangway installed on the pier for use with the latest vessel. There is also a car park and small local shops located at the terminal.
 Route History:
In 1964, the second of a batch of 3 ferries built for David MacBrayne was put into service on the Mallaig – Armadale crossing. The Clansman used her hoist at both ports as linkspans had not yet been introduced on the west coast of Scotland. The new vessel was relatively under-utilised on the route, however she was only there for a few years before being moved to pastures new, being replaced by her sister Columba in 1973.

The ex Clyde ferry Bute took over the Sound of Sleat crossing in 1975 after having her hoist extended so as to cope with the tidal range that is found at Mallaig – certainly far greater than she was used to on the Clyde. The new ferry was on the seasonal crossing for four years. It is perhaps down to the route being only seasonal, and the state of the road from Fort William for a long time that ferries with a relatively small car capacity were able to manage all the traffic. Indeed, in 1979 when Bute was replaced, it was by a ferry with roughly the same car capacity. The Pioneer had previously served Islay which was a stern loading route, using primitive access ramps. For her new occupation she was fitted with a vehicle hoist and side ramps.

Bute and Loch Arkaig at Mallaig July 1977*

Pioneer was to spend from 1979 until 1989 on the seasonal Skye service. She also relieved the little Lochmor on the Small Isles run during the winter months, when the regular ferry was away at Stornoway for overhaul.
1989 saw another ferry placed on the Armadale crossing; the 1970 built Iona. Again, hoist loading was the order of the day, and this remained the case until 1994 when linkspans were finally installed at Mallaig and Armadale – at last upgrading the route and all but banishing hoist loading to the history books. As with every other drive through service, the timetable was increased to offer more sailings per day. 1997 turned out to be the Iona’s last season in Calmac service for technical and regulatory reasons. 1998 saw the route being placed in the care of the mighty Lord of the Isles. Formerly an Oban-based fleet member, the ship now had a much quieter life plying backwards and forwards between Skye and the mainland in addition to sailings to the Outer Isles. She was on this particular route until 2003 when she returned to Oban to enhance timetables there.

Picture: SoC Crew
Iona bow-in at Mallaig pier

Loch Fyne relieving at Armadale in September 2004

Picture: SoC Crew
Lochnevis pulling away from Armadale

Picture: SoC Crew
Coruisk at Mallaig linkspan

The Pioneer once again returned to Mallaig for the 2003 season as a temporary ferry until the new, purpose-built Coruisk was introduced in late August. The new ferry did not have a promising start to her career, with technical problems dogging her in trials on the Clyde and then in service at Skye, but the most spectacular incident being as she entered Mallaig harbour one summer evening when she lost power and steering and collided with a rock at the entrance to the harbour and lost one of her propulsion units (which was there for all to see – perched on the offending rock after the tide dropped!) The Loch Fyne was sent up from the Sound of Mull as emergency cover, (despite not being designed to use linkspans) until the Pioneer arrived once again and saw out the summer timetable.

Coruisk returned in spring 2004 after a winter of relief's on the Clyde and appears to have settled into her routine, although a further spell on the Clyde was necessitated in September 2004 for fitting of a new drive unit. Loch Fyne was again sent up to cover. When Coruisk returned this time it was for good. She had finally settled into her summer routine of 7 or 8 daily return crossings to Armadale. In the winter months the Coruisk was not to be found in the Sound of Sleat. Instead she was assigned relief duties on the Upper Clyde. During these periods the timetable for Skye was slashed to just two return sailings, one in the early morning and one in the evening. The vessel used for these was the Lochnevis, sailing before and after her Small Isles jaunts.

Images from Ships of CalMac Collection & Tom Carreyette*

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