A bridge too far

The Oban Times - - Heritage - Iain Thorn­ber iain.thorn­ber@bt­in­ter­net.com

THE dis­rup­tion to the ferry ser­vice across the Cor­ran Nar­rows for five days re­cently brought the in­evitable knee­jerk re­ac­tion that it should be re­placed by a bridge.

True, many mo­torists, cyclists and foot pas­sen­gers were in­con­ve­nienced, but ac­ci­dents hap­pen and all things me­chan­i­cal break down at some time, es­pe­cially well-used ma­rine com­po­nents. The prob­lem came about be­cause the standby ferry wasn’t stand­ing by but was sit­ting in some dis­tant yard where it had been for months.

Com­pla­cency had clearly reigned supreme and, for leav­ing the penin­sula vul­ner­a­ble, the coun­cil of­fi­cial in charge should con­sider re­sign­ing.

For the High­land Coun­cil’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives, salaried or elected, to talk of a bridge with­out hav­ing a long-term strate­gic plan for up­grad­ing the sin­gle lane car­riage­ways to Locha­line, Salen, Achar­a­cle and Kil­choan, is ridicu­lous. Long sec­tions of th­ese roads are in an ap­palling state and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing by the day. They can hardly cope now with the traf­fic for Mull which CalMac is divert­ing from Oban to Locha­line and Kil­choan be­cause their fer­ries to Craignure are fully booked. Clearly, the sit­u­a­tion is go­ing to worsen, par­tic­u­larly in the sum­mer months, and that a slow-mov­ing con­voy sys­tem will ul­ti­mately be nec­es­sary.

One of the grum­bles about the ferry be­ing off is hav­ing to ne­go­ti­ate heavy

ve­hi­cles on the twisted sin­gle-track road on the south side of Loch Eil. Yet this is ex­actly what all driv­ers would face on the A884, A861 and the B80047 if a bridge was built across the Cor­ran Nar­rows.

Lest it be for­got­ten, the Cor­ran Nar­rows form part of the Great Glen fault which is prone to seis­mic move­ment. While per­haps not im­pos­si­ble to con­struct, ex­pen­sive com­pen­satory ar­range­ments would need to be in­cluded in a fixed link that would also need to be high enough to al­low ship­ping to pass un­der. Who would fund a bridge? The High­land Coun­cil and its Holy­rood pay­mas­ters are not ex­actly flush. Tolls per­haps?

The ferry reg­u­lates the flow of ve­hi­cles which is the key to good traf­fic man­age­ment in ru­ral ar­eas and the 15-strong lo­cal crew who op­er­ate it, are the eyes and ears of the penin­sula. If a bridge was built, what of their full-time jobs?

If there is one place a rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive fixed-link could and should be built for light pri­vate and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles, it is across the Loch Eil Nar­rows from Cor­pach to Acha­phubuil. The span is short and there are no large mer­chant ves­sels pass­ing through. It would be a boon to the folk on the south side of the loch for ac­cess­ing Fort Wil­liam and use­ful for those of us who live fur­ther down the penin­sula when the ferry is storm-bound.

There has prob­a­bly been some type of ferry ar­range­ment over the Cor­ran Nar­rows since dugout ca­noes were around. Records ex­ist of a ferry in the 15th cen­tury and of it be­ing put out of use when the Hanove­rian troops ran­sacked Ma­clean of Ard­gour’s prop­erty af­ter Cul­lo­den.

The stone piers on ei­ther side which un­der­lie the ex­ist­ing ones were built in 1817 by Thomas Telford. The stone came from Stron­tian by way of Loch Su­nart, the Sound of Mull and Loch Linnhe.

The ferry was on the cat­tle drov­ing route from Mull, Morvern, Su­nart, Ard­na­mur­chan and Ard­gour to the great Falkirk Trysts. Large flat-bot­tomed boats, called wher­ries, oc­ca­sion­ally took an­i­mals over but more of­ten they were forced to swim at slack wa­ter.

The nar­rows form a bot­tle­neck through which the cur­rents flow at speeds of up to eight knots, mak­ing it a dan­ger­ous place in the days of sail or when oars were the only form of propul­sion. In a note in the 1842 ad­mi­ralty chart for Loch Linnhe, it was rec­om­mended that two steam tugs of about 90hp should be sta­tioned in the vicin­ity to as­sist ves­sels strug­gling to make any head­way or in dan­ger of be­ing pushed onto the rocks by the pow­er­ful back ed­dies.

Judg­ing by logs kept by the Ard­gour light­house keep­ers, there were many ca­su­al­ties: 1870, the Fortune at Cor­ran point and the Gag­ella at Black point; 1872, the Moir, east Cor­ran pier; 1874, the Mar­garet, Sal­lachan point; 1881, the Pe­trel, flat rock Cor­ran and the Lord Clyde, half tide rock Bun­ree point; 1892, the Mer­ganser, Cuilcheanna spit; 1909, the Ness Queen, Cor­ran; 1911, the Glen­rose, Cuilcheanna point and the Feishaic, Cor­ran Nar­rows; 1912, the Loch Nell, Keil Bay and the Trea­sure 504 INV, Sal­lachan Point; 1918, the Mar­garet, Cor­ran Nar­rows and the Back­wash GY 1299, Ard­gour slip; 1924, Drod­gena schooner, south of light­house.

There is lit­tle doubt that if a bridge was built at Cor­ran it would al­ter an en­tire way of life forever. The crime level would rise and hous­ing and ugly in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment would run ram­pant, tak­ing away the charm and unique­ness of the area which every B&B and hol­i­day cot­tage owner raves about.

The coun­try needs places like West Lochaber. Would it be too di­rect to say to those who grum­ble about its iso­la­tion and find be­ing cut off now and again dif­fi­cult to cope with: ‘Per­haps you should try some­where else – we like it just as it is.’

Pic­ture: Iain Thorn­ber

A wreck at the Cor­ran Nar­rows.

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