Crossing Time: 3 hours 30 minutes - 6 hours
Regular Ship: Lord of the Isles
Mallaig - Castlebay - Lochboisdale
Mainland - Barra - South Uist
1967 - 1973: Clansman
1973 - 1974: Columba
1974 - 1987: Non-Operational
1988 - 1990: Iona
1991 - 1993: Non-Operational
1994 - 1998: Iona
1998 - 2001: Lord of the Isles
2002 - 2012: Non-Operational
2013 - Present: Lord of the Isles
Mallaig: Linkspan fitted in 1994 at main ferry berth. Train station located close by. Vehicle marshalling area and office facilities.
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.
The crossing from Mallaig to Lochboisdale in its current form can trace its origins back as far as 1967. In the half century that has passed since that first sailing by the 1964 Clansman, the route has suffered a very disjointed and chequered history.
In 1967 it was now possible for one of the new trio of Hebridean car ferries to use Lochboisdale pier as it had been extended for there specific use. It was the new Clansman's job on a Friday evening to sail from Mallaig to the Outer Isles at 1845 retuning in the early hours of the next day. She was dispatched in 1971 to sail on three evenings per week, to Castlebay (Barra), as well as Lochboisdale. The sailings arrived in the Outer Isles ports at quite uncivilised times so in the following season her departure time from Mallaig was brought forward by two hours allowing better timings to come into effect. A side effect to that however was that the number of her Armadale (Skye) crossings were cut from Mallaig.
Changes were happening in Oban in 1974 that were to jeopardise the route's continuation. The Iona introduced a new Outer Isles service from Oban to Lochboisdale, making use of the linkspans that had been installed there. This made the long crossing from Mallaig obsolete and so in that year the pilgrimage of the Columba (the new Skye ferry) in the evenings was withdrawn. A gap of 14 years then followed before the link was re-established.
In 1988 it was the turn of the then incumbent Armadale ferry turn to chip in on the route. The Pioneer had a habit of cropping here, there and everywhere around the west coast and it was quite fitting that this well-travelled little ferry had the honour or reopening the link out to Lochboisdale. Most of CalMac's network was now open on Sundays and the Castlebay route was no exception. Serving peak times on the Sunday she loaded at both Castlebay and Mallaig via the vehicle hoist that she had acquired back in 1979 when she took over as the Skye ferry. The following year, in 1989 a vessel cascade took place and the Iona, replaced at Islay by the Claymore, came north to relieve her Pioneer from her Skye and Outer Isles operations. This resulted in the Pioneer becoming spare vessel but also increasing the routes capacity by 50%.
Clansman at Lochboisdale
Clansman alongside at Lochboisdale
Columba approaching Lochboisdale
Columba at Lochboisdale
Iona at Lochboisdale
Pioneer at Mallaig
The route’s mixed start - stop history didn't stop there. After the 1990 season it was halted due to the fact that Mallaig hadn't had a linkspan installed yet and all other ports on the route had. This resulted in the Iona using her hoist at Mallaig and a direct service from Oban (where a linkspan was fitted) was considered more practical. In 1994 however calls from Mallaig to the Outer Isles were reintroduced on two days per week (Tuesdays and Sundays) using the Iona once again. In 1998 her passenger certificate was not renewed due to huge costs needed to bring her up to new safety regulations. She was withdrawn from the fleet and her place taken by the larger and better equipped Lord of the Isles (displaced by the new Clansman at Oban).
Due to her not being available until the 5th of July that year the ever adventurous Pioneer was sent back to cover the run which also included the Armadale crossings, unfortunately due to a major breakdown she was sent back to Oban to join the Iona (on charter and by then renamed Pentalina B) on the Craignure crossing. Mallaig was left with a Island Class vessel and the Loch Dunvegan to cover. This meant that the long crossing to the Outer Isles had to be abandoned due to obvious reasons with the class of ship left at the port. When the Lord of the Isles eventually arrived on Station it was too late for the crossing. The better services from Oban to the Outer Isles put the final axe to the crossing and after the 2001 season it was withdrawn after several attempts to increase passenger numbers.
It would be another decade before the link returned once again and this time it was as a result of sustained lobbying and pressure from South Uist.
Lord of the Isles in the Sound of Sleat
Lord of the Isles arriving at Mallaig
Lord of the Isles heading out past Eigg to South Uist
Lord of the Isles arriving at Lochboisdale
Lord of the Isles at Lochboisdale
Lord of the Isles at Lochboisdale
Lord of the Isles was engaged on a three year trial service linking South Uist to Mallaig, starting in the winter of 2013/14 in response to island calls for a shorter link to the mainland than the 5 hours 20 minutes slog to Oban. The route saw the ferry sailing eastwards from Lochboisdale and around the north side of Canna and Rum and offered some truly stunning scenery long the way. Over the three winters of the trial period however, there many weather related cancellations or diversions to Oban because of the tight clearances in the harbour at Mallaig. Loadings were very low as a result; the reason being that people simply couldn’t depend on the ferry actually being able to berth. Despite this the go ahead was still given to make the service permanent from 2016 and Lord of the Isles became the dedicated Uist ferry full time on a sailing of 3 hours 30 minutes duration. She gave an inward sailing to Mallaig in the morning and an evening sailing back out. This was actually a reduction in sailings compared to the two double runs timetabled in the winter trial. Skye instead benefitted from three return sailings to Armadale (two on Sundays).
In the winter months the South Uist service became split between Oban (Mondays and Fridays) and Mallaig (Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays) and while Isle of Arran or Hebridean Isles were called upon to cover while the regular ferry was away for overhaul or covering Clansman’s overhaul, all sailings were diverted to Oban.
There are future plans for the harbours at both Mallaig and Lochboisdale to be redeveloped. For Mallaig this could involve a completely new outer harbour offering far less restricted movement and thus accessible for more of CalMac’s major units. For Lochboisdale ambitions plans were drawn up that involved building out from the island of Gasay to provide a new deep water harbour which would be accessible for bigger vessels like Isle of Lewis and the new Glen Sannox. These plans would take upwards of 5 years to come to fruition and for now Lord of the Isles will be based at Lochboisdale for the foreseeable future.