Main Crossings Oban - Castlebay - Lochboisdale
Oban - Castlebay - Lochboisdale
Mainland - Barra - South Uist
Crossing Time:
c5 Hours
Regular Ships:
Clansman / Lord of the Isles


Pre 1974: Claymore / Loch Seaforth
1974 - 1978: Iona
1979 - 1988: Claymore
1989 - 1997: Lord of the Isles
1998: Lord of the Isles / Clansman
1999 - 2002: Clansman
2003 - Present: Clansman / Lord of the Isles
Additional Ships:
Pioneer / Isle of Arran / Isle of Mull (Reliefs).

 Terminal Facilities:
Oban: 3 storey terminal building with ticket office, waiting area and toilets. Two linkspans, one of which is undergoing redevelopment. Raised walkways under construction to replace the older passenger loading gangway. Large vehicle marshalling area.

Castlebay: Vehicle waiting area located adjacent to terminal office. Linkspan installed in 1989 so that ferry lies along the face of the pier as it always did. Terminal office houses a passenger waiting area, ticket office etc.

Lochboisdale: Single linkspan and ferry berth, vehicle marshalling area and terminal office with passenger waiting facilities. There is also a stretch of pier lined with steel plating to allow for hoist loading to take place if necessary.
 Route History:
The southern islands of the Outer Hebrides, namely Barra and South Uist did not receive a true car ferry service until 1974. Before this time the islands were served by traditional cargo vessels based in Oban, which reached Castlebay and Lochboisdale via Coll and Tiree. The main vessel for a long time was the Claymore of 1955, although she was temporarily replaced in the early 1970s by the Loch Seaforth. Sadly this vessel was not to last as she struck a rock while off Tiree and subsequently sank at the pier the following morning.

In 1974 a new fast direct ferry service was introduced from Oban using the Iona. New drive through facilities had been installed at Oban and these were soon replicated at Lochboisdale on South Uist.
The Iona provided a regular fast service for five years, although she was not popular to start with because of her lack of sleeping accommodation coupled with her very early starts. This was soon rectified and she became the dedicated ferry until the start of 1979 when she was replaced by a purpose-built ferry; the new Claymore - a vessel built by Robb Caledon's yard and bore a more than passing resemblance to their other ship; Pioneer.

The new ferry had a stern ramp and vehicle hoist but no visor so reversig on and off was the order of the day. Nevertheless this ferry, capable of carrying 50 cars, settled in well and offered new levels of comfort. During the summer months her duties were restricted to the Outer Isles, but in winter she was also called on to cover the Coll and Tiree run in lieu of the Columba.

Claymore making for Barra

Picture: SoC Crew
Lord of the Isles
at Castlebay

Picture: SoC Crew
Lord of the Isles approaching Lochboisdale

The Claymore remained on the long haul for ten years before, like the Columba, she was superseded by the new Lord of the Isles in 1989. The new ferry was of drive through design but also incorporated a hoist for added versatility. Upon completion of the linkspan at Castlebay the route became totally drive-through and the timetable could be accelerated as a result. Again, the new ferry meant new levels of passenger comfort and this was appreciated by her regular passengers.

Lord of the Isles herself was to remain on the route for nearly a decade, until being replaced by the new Clansman in 1998. This new ship was far larger than her predecessor; a feature that was to play an important part in further developing the route to the Outer Isles. She operated at roughly the same speed as the previous ship but her capacity meant more commercial traffic could be carried on each sailing.

Picture: SoC Crew
leaving Castlebay bound for Oban

The Clansman settled into her routine and proved to be a reliable unit. However, she was not to remain alone in Oban.

Lord of the Isles was back on the scene in 2003 however when she was reintroduced on the routes out of Oban in a bid to enhance services to the islands. Barra and South Uist were now served by two ferries and enjoyed more regular services. This is still the case today and the two ship service has led to the reintroduction of the Tiree call on the crossing to Barra once a week during the summer months.

Today, Clansman, Lord of the Isles and occasionally when passenger numbers warrant it, Isle of Mull between them provide the lifeline services to a high standard of reliability.

Images from Ships of CalMac Collection

All material on this site Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
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