Ardmhor - Eriskay
Barra - Eriskay
2003 - 2007: Loch Bhrusda
2007 - Present: Loch Alainn
Loch Linnhe / Loch Riddon / Loch Tarbert (relief duties ).
Ardmhor: Minimal facilities as with many other secondary routes. Slipway used for loading of both vehicles and passengers - no separate gangway. Vehicle waiting area and car park located at the top of the slipway. A new waiting room with basic facilities is located at the top of the slipway.
Eriskay: Again, simple facilities, single slipway used for loading. Pier extends out beyond the slipway and is of minimal construction. There is a recently completed breakwater forming a harbour with overnight berth. Waiting room and toilets djacent to the slipway
The history for this route goes back just a few short years. Opened in the spring of 2003, the Sound of Barra crossing, as it is known, had been in the planning stages for several years prior. Indeed as far back as the mid 1990s berthing trials were carried out on Barra by the Bruernish as part of an initial feasibility study into the possibility of a short link from Barra and South Uist, rather than relying on the 90 minute sail from Castlebay to Lochboisdale just a handful of times a week.
Eriskay was previously served by council-run ferries from South Uist. These were of similar design to the 'Island Class' ferries and carried a handful of cars but the route was tortuous and dependent on tidal conditions. Part of the new plan was to link Eriskay to South Uist by means of a causeway, as had already been done for Berneray and Benbecula to their respective neighbours. Once the causeway was complete then all that was left to be done was to have the new terminal facilities installed to allow the chosen vessel to berth. These were duly completed and one of the former Eriskay - Uist ferries was employed on the new link across the Sound of Barra, under the jurisdiction of the Western Isles Council.
CalMac took over the route with the commencement of the summer timetable in 2003 and initially the route was operated by the Loch Linnhe. This was not the long-term solution though as the 1986-built vessel was required back at Tobermory for her regular summer employment. Indeed she was only a stop-gap vessel until the larger Loch Bhrusda became available as part of a vessel cascade was able to take place. Once the Loch Portain was in service at Berneray, the 18-car Loch Bhrusda was brought down the chain of islands and took up residence on her second route and her arrival signalled the long-awaited completion of the Outer Isles transport link which meant that a person could now drive from the north end of Lewis down to Barra in one day. With a capacity for 18 cars on each sailing, the choice of vessel seemed appropriate and allowed for growth of traffic levels, just as she had generated to the north.
Loch Riddon awaiting traffic at Eriskay
Loch Linnhe at Ardmhor
Loch Linnhe at Eriskay
Loch Bhrusda at Eriskay
Loch Bhrusda arriving at Ardmhor
Relief ferry Loch Linnhe at Eriskay
Once the Loch Portain was in service at Berneray, the 18-car Loch Bhrusda was brought down the chain of islands and took up residence on her second route and her arrival signalled the long-awaited completion of the Outer Isles transport link which meant that a person could now drive from the north end of Lewis down to Barra in one day. With a capacity for 18 cars on each sailing, the choice of vessel seemed appropriate and allowed for growth of traffic levels, just as she had generated to the north.
The new service saw 5 return sailings each day during the summer timetable, with 4 during the winter timetable. Right from the outset this route was advertised as one where vehicle recommendations were strongly recommended. Indeed after just one year, it was all but essential to book on during the main summer season, such was the success of the new link.
Loch Linnhe approaching Barra
Loch Bhrusda sitting at Eriskay
Loch Bhrusda setting out across the Sound of Barra
Loch Bhrusda at Ardmhor
Loch Bhrusda leaving Eriskay
Loch Bhrusda at Eriskay
For the first few seasons the winters would see Loch Bhrusda return northwards for about 2 months to relieve the Loch Portain on the Sound of Harris route. During this time the Loch Linnhe or Loch Riddon would keep the Eriskay link open, however by the winter of 2006/7 she was deemed too small to cope and the Loch Tarbert became the new relief ship, thus keeping a minimum 18-car capacity the year round.
This seemed to echo developments around the whole network where other routes normally serviced by Loch Class ships required larger vessels. The main difference here though was that a larger ferry was needed altogether, as 18 cars and 115 passengers was increasingly inadequate for this relatively new route. With this in mind CalMac despatched the larger Loch Alainn from Largs in February 2007 for the purpose of undertaking trials on the Ardmhor - Eriskay crossing. With a new vessel due at Cumbrae in the spring of that year, this signalled only one thing; that the Loch Bhrusda's days on this run were numbered.
Loch Alainn sitting at Eriskay
Loch Alainn approaching Barra
Loch Alainn at Ardmhor
Loch Alainn leaving Eriskay
Loch Alainn leaving Eriskay
Loch Alainn arriving at Ardmhor
Sure enough, once the new Largs - Cumbrae ferry entered service, the Loch Alainn made the long journey from the Clyde to the Outer Hebrides via Craighouse and Craignure, eventually arriving at Barra on 4th July and entering service with the 1545 sailing to Eriskay that very afternoon. Loch Bhrusda left Barra immediately for the Clyde where she was to take up the role of spare vessel - an unusual move considering her being only 11 years old and having a capacity of 18 cars!
Loch Alainn continued in place throughout the year. Her place would continue to be taken by the Loch Bhrusda in times of breakdown or when Loch Alainn was sent to the Clyde to cover for overhauls. Since the shake-up of services to Barra and South Uist in 2016, the Barra – Eriskay route has become the only link across the Sound of Barra; the age-old service between Lochboisdale and Castlebay ceasing with the arrival of Isle of Lewis on the run from Barra to Oban. Whenever the Isle of Lewis or Lord of the Isles (serving Uist from Mallaig) were suffering technical problems, the Loch Alainn would often be called upon to provide additional early or late sailings to allow connections to the mainland – sailings as early as 0500 or as late as midnight have been known.