4 hours 45 minutes to
5 hours 45 minutes
(Barra) Isle of Lewis
(S. Uist) Lord of the Isles (Winter only)
Oban - Castlebay / Lochboisdale
Mainland - Barra - South Uist
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 - 2015: Clansman / Lord of the Isles
2016 - Present: Isle of Lewis
Pioneer / Isle of Arran / Isle of Mull / Hebridean Isles (Reliefs)
Oban: 3 storey terminal building with ticket office, waiting area and toilets. Two linkspans, raised walkways linking the passenger gangways to the terminal building. 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.
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 product of the Robb Caledon yard in Leith and she bore a more than passing resemblance to their other ship of 5 years earlier; Pioneer.
The new ferry had a stern ramp and vehicle hoist but no visor so reversing on or off was the order of the day. Nevertheless this ferry, capable of carrying 50 cars, settled in well and offered new levels of comfort for passengers on the long haul. 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. At first, occasional calls were made at Lochaline too, but these were quickly dropped.
In addition to the service from Oban, there were also several spells where Lochboisdale was served from Mallaig. The full history of this link can be seen on a separate page.
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. Loading was by way of the bow visor at Oban and stern ramp on the islands following completion of the linkspan at Castlebay and the route then became totally drive-through - 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 superior in every sense – larger and a touch faster; a feature that was to play an important part in further developing the route to the Outer Isles.
The Clansman settled into her routine and proved to be a reliable unit, gaining a reputation for venturing out in all but the worst of storms. However the ‘mighty one,’ as she became known, was not alone on the long haul route for long. Lord of the Isles was back on the scene in 2003 when she returned from the Mallaig – Armadale run and 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. Clansman’s sailings to Castlebay were all direct with the exception of Thursdays, which also incorporated calls at Coll and Tiree in both directions. Lord of the Isles meanwhile undertook a weekly direct sailing to Lochboisdale and back on Saturdays and then two outward trips to Castlebay via Lochboisdale on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, returning via Lochboisdale on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
The concept or Road Equivalent Tariff pricing (RET as is widely known) saw ticket prices slashed for routes to the Outer Hebrides from 2008 in what was initially a trial and then rolled out in 2015 to cover the whole CalMac network. The cut in prices was responsible for a huge upsurge in visitors to the islands and the ‘Barra-Boisdale’ routes covered by Clansman and Lord of the Isles were no exception.A major shake-up of routes and vessel assignments took place in 2016. Barra lost the services of the Clansman altogether, save for the weekly long run via Coll and Tiree (now changed to a Wednesday). Barra was allocated the giant Isle of Lewis, displaced from the Ullapool – Stornoway crossing the previous year by the new Loch Seaforth. Not only was the Isle of Lewis bigger, she was also faster and the crossing time was cut to 4 hours 45 minutes, sailing at a steady 17 knots. She was regarded by one of her Masters as ‘the best thing that’s ever happened for Barra’ – quite a claim!
The timetables were also completely recast. No longer were the Outer Isles ferries based in Oban for the majority of the week. Isle of Lewis was to spend every night tied up in Castlebay, making her inward run in the morning and leaving Oban again after lunch.
Lochboisdale’s service was subject to even more of a shake-up with the age-old link to Oban being forsaken in favour of Mallaig, following a trial that commenced in the winter of 2013/14. The full history of this can be seen on the Mallaig – Lochboisdale page.