The old slipway at Glenelg has been repaired allowing the last sea-going, manually operated, turntable ferry in the world to continue to operate.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) supported The Isle of Skye Ferry Community Interest Company (CIC) with a development grant of £31,500 to complete the structural repair work before the start of the busy summer tourist season.
The ferry, MV Glenachulish, itself has also been restored to its original livery and a celebratory event will take place at Glenelg Ferry Slipway on 27th June which will be attended by Cameron of Locheil, representing the Ballachulish Ferry Company who operated the ferry there initially and whose colours the boat was painted in.
Although the crossing on the ferry from Glenelg to Kylerhea is the original and shortest route to Skye, indeed an old droving route where cattle were once swam across the narrows, a road bridge was opened in 1995 spanning the sea between the villages of Kyle on the mainland and Kyleakin on Skye.
The ferry continues to provide a lifeline transport service, attracting around 12,000 visitors every year and employing eight people in the local community.
The slipways which serve either side of the Kylerhea narrows, between Glenelg and the Isle of Skye were both old and listed structures which had deteriorated over the years due to the harsh actions of the marine environment, where the current can flow at up to 12 knots at times.
Both slipways were originally built of dressed stone blocks with stone sets on the surface and were designed by Thomas Telford. The repair work will allow the future, safe operation of the ferry which had become threatened by the damaging effects of the sea on the old, stone structure.
In 2004 the then skipper of the ferry indicated he planned to retire in 2005. In the absence of a private buyer and little agreement locally about the best way to save the ferry, a group of enthusiasts scrambled together enough money to lease the boat in time for the 2006 summer season.
The Isle of Skye Ferry CIC was launched in 2007 when a business proposal was put together, and the group raised enough funds to buy the ferry.
Glenelg is part of a remote peninsula and a trip to the shops or hospital over in Broadford on Skye is a mere 10 miles using the ferry rather than a 30 mile journey via the Skye Bridge. The sea connection to Skye provides a visually spectacular route for tourists and also gives holiday cottages and guest houses based on either side of the route increased numbers of visitors.
Ian Philp, HIE Development Manager, said: “We have worked with the social enterprise since its inception and have provided a package of financial support to allow them to develop their ambitious growth plans. Members of the community recognise the importance of the ferry as an attraction for tourists and the reason why so many people visit the area. It is great to see the repair work has been completed on the Glenelg slipway and an increase in visitor numbers over the years will benefit the whole community.”
HIE also funded the post of Jo Macaskill, a part-time Marketing Development Manager, who has since been taken on as a permanent member of the team to identify and implement projects to grow the business.
Jim Coomber, Chair of the Board of Directors of Isle of Skye CIC, said: “We are delighted that the work on the slipway has been completed. We thank HIE for their advice and support and through being account managed by HIE, it has really helped us think about our options for growing the social enterprise even more in the future.”
As well as owning the ferry, the social enterprise leases the Stevenson Lighthouse situated beside the slipway at Glenelg which brings in revenue through teas and coffees and ferry merchandise. The project has also received financial assistance from the Highland Council.