1 EAGLETON NOTES: Inter-Island Ferries



Thursday, 24 June 2010

Inter-Island Ferries

When Wendy and the children were here we went down to Harris and had lunch at The Anchorage Restaurant at the ferry terminal at Leverburgh.  Leverburgh is the point on Harris from which the ferry goes to the Island of Berneray and to North Uist.  North Uist is the northernmost of the Southern Isles.  I will post on the island chain soon because I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve never done so and few of my readers are likely to be au fait with the geography of the area.

When I came to the Islands to live in 1975 the only ferries between the Islands were passenger ferries and they were basic passenger launches or converted small inshore fishing boats.  The exception to this was the Caledonian MacBrayne deep sea ferry between Harris and Skye and North Uist.

Film36-33A-8403 The Leverburgh, Berneray, North Uist ferry in 1984

The ferry between Ludaig in South Uist and the Island of Eriskay , MV Eilean Na H-Oige came into service in 1980. (Scottish Gaelic Eilean na h-Òige "The Island of Youth")  until the causeway opened in July 2001.

Film26-08-82 Film26-09-8009 Film26-10-8009 Film26-11-8009 MV Eilean Na H’Oige

By the time the late 1970s had arrived the ferry between Leverburgh and Berneray and North Uist had been improved to a 12 seater motor launch with a proper cabin:


That was replaced on the sector between Berneray and North Uist by MV Eilean Bhearnaraigh (a similar vessel to the MV Eilean Na H’Oige) in 1982.   This operated until the Berneray Causeway opened in 1998.

The distance between Berneray and Leverburgh is too great for a causeway and a vehicle ferry Sound of Harris service started in 1996.  However the 18 vehicle ferry proved to be inadequare because the popularity of the service was greater than any of the estimates had anticipated.  The new ferry capable of carrying 36 vehicles, MV Loch Portain, came into service on 1 June 2003.  This is the ferry which we saw when we were in Leverburgh last week:

DSC00085  DSC00094 DSC00097 

Directly across the water from Leverburgh is the Island of Ensay.  There is no permanent occupation of the Island although there is a large holiday house and a chapel.  There used to be a service held every summer in the chapel which was attended by members of the church in Stornoway to which my wife and I belonged.  There was no ferry to the Island so each year the local cattle boat which was used to ferry sheep and cattle to and from the local islands was used for us human cattle:


As you may have realised I have been delving into my old boxes of photos yesterday and was lucky enough to find old photos of the ferries and scan them onto the computer.  It’s been an enjoyable exercise made possible by the horrible weather outside.


  1. Thanks for the step back in time. I can see the resemblance between one of the little ferries and the little one you commented on at Sandspit as it left the terminal. But, honestly, some of your place names must be harder to get your tongue around than our Maori placenames!
    (Blogger has just gone freakish on me and posted todays post below yesterdays! How does that happen?)

  2. What an interesting post. I've been landlocked for a few years now, and I loved reading about a place where navigating large bodies of water is an everyday occurrence. The photos documenting change over time were a delight, as well.

  3. I really enjoyed this post! So interesting, and I love the photos!

  4. There certainly seems to have been a development since the 70s! Has the population of the islands grown since then? - or tourism? - or is it just the need for keeping up with modern society that is behind the bigger ferries and causeways?

    Btw I had to look up the word causeway. I had no idea what that was, but Wikipedia tells me it's a road or railway elevated on a sandbank, usually across a broad body of water or wetland. So I guess the water between some islands must have been rather shallow?

    On our coasts too a lot has changed since my youth. Bigger ferries and more bridges. I've not been over the Öresund bridge to Denmark (Malmö-Copenhagen) which was built in 2000.


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