Crossing Time: 1 Hour (Kyle to Toscaig) / 40 minutes (Kyle to Kylerhea)
Last Ship Bruernish
Kyle of Lochalsh - Toscaig / Kylerhea
Mainland - Mainland / Skye
1955 - 1964: Loch Toscaig
1964 - 1968: Lochnell
1968 - 1969: Lochailort / Vital Spark (charter) / Loch Toscaig (relief)
1970: Lochnell / Vital Spark (charter)
1971 - 1972: Vital Spark (charter)
1972 - 1976: (Service Not Operated by MacBraynes)
1976 - 1977: Coll
1977 - 1978: Bruernish
*No Profile Available for Vital Spark
In May 1955 David MacBrayne Ltd acquired the motor fishing vessel, IRENE JULIA, to provide a new service between Kyle of Lochalsh and the Applecross peninsula, thus relieving the outer isles mailboat Loch Seaforth from the necessity of a regular Applecross call on her inward journey from Kyle. At that time the only road to Applecross and district was the very high and winding Bealach na Ba from Kishorn, no less challenging a drive then than now, and very vulnerable to winter snow.
Renamed Loch Toscaig in May 1956, she took up the Applecross service that month – sailing in fact to the picturesque little bay of Toscaig village – and in summertime she also gave morning cruises from Kyle of Lochalsh to Loch Duich, Loch Carron, Loch Kishorn, Loch Toscaig, Broadford bay and the Narrows of Raasay.
Anxious to curb the heavy losses on the lifeline service MacBraynes at the end of 1963 also bought the wooden motor-launch HIGHLANDER from its Glenelg owner. The craft had previously belonged to Bruce Watt of Mallaig and it was hoped she would be a much more cost-effective vessel on the Applecross service than Loch Toscaig.
Suitably renamed and refitted, Applecross emerged in January 1964, in the MacBrayne small craft livery – red, with a pale blue boot-top. She made her first Toscaig run on 20th January and, in addition to her mail and supplies service, offered morning cruises from Kyle of Lochalsh three forenoons a week during summer. She also began a new mail-run, three days per week, to Kylerhea, thus relieving Loch Seaforth of her call at Glenelg.
1964 saw the transfer of Loch Toscaig to the Lismore run as she made a straight swap with Lochnell. The 'new' older vessel assumed the Kyle of Lochalsh - Applecross service as well as a regular morning cruise, and also the thrice-weekly mail run to Kylerhea in place of Applecross. In March 1968 Lochnel was transferred again, to the Tobermory - Mingary roster.
It was then the turn of the Lochailort, which was for a time laid up in 1968, to take up the Toscaig service in succession to Lochnell. As a temporary measure, the service was maintained by the locally owned VITAL SPARK until Lochailort was refitted at Kyle and able to take over the Toscaig service at the end of June. In 1969 VITAL SPARK was again chartered from her owners, McLean & McRae, Kyle of Lochalsh, to operate the service from early May, when it was discovered that Lochailort was unfit for further service. She had only lasted for one year, and her hull was condemned and was unceremoniously burned at Kyle of Lochalsh on the last day of May 1969.
The 1963 timetable
The 1970 timetable
Loch Toscaig at Toscaig between 1960 - 63.
Bruernish at Toscaig, 1977
Coll, with Portakabin, at Loch Toscaig 1977
During the early summer of 1969, Loch Toscaig made a rare appearance on the service while VITAL SPARK was given a refit, during which she received the cabin from Lochailort. Newly refurbished, VITAL SPARK then continued to give the Toscaig service, manned by Lochailort's crew. A change to the service occurred in July, when the overnight base was transferred from Toscaig to Kyle, and VITAL SPARK was then operated with her own crew. Lochnell again appeared in 1970 to relieve VITAL SPARK on the Kyle-Toscaig and Kylerhea services in the spring, while the latter was overhauled at Kyle. That summer, the cruises given by VITAL SPARK were advertised by MacLean and MacRae, rather than by MacBrayne's as previously.The Kylerhea section of the service, run three times a week, was discontinued at the end of October 1971. The Toscaig service remained, however, in the hands of VITAL SPARK, which was still running on charter to David MacBrayne. After much pressure had been put on the Scottish Office by Ross and Cromarty County Council, they reluctantly agreed to pay 75% of the loss sustained in the service's operation.On 1 February 1972, the responsibility of running the Toscaig service passed from David MacBrayne Ltd, to McLean and McRae, with direct subsidy from Ross & Cromarty. After sixteen years, when Loch Seaforth had stopped calling at Applecross, another MacBrayne ferry service had ceased to exist.
From December 1976, Howard Doris Ltd chartered a small ferry from Caledonian MacBrayne to ferry personnel between Kishorn and oil rigs under construction in Loch Carron. At various times throughout the period, either Bruernish or Coll was to be found on this contract, which included operating the service from Kyle of Lochalsh to Toscaig as part of their duties. No vehicles were carried, indeed Coll sported a Portakabin on her car deck from late December 1976 until October 1977 as additional covered accommodation for passengers, when it was transferred to Bruernish for the remainder of the charter period, which ceased in May 1978.
Text with thanks to John Newth © Picture: Postcard (Neil King Collection)