[on the 24th May 2019]
I’m standing by the slipway in Tarbet Bay, waiting with a couple of other people, chilly in the wind, for the 3:30pm ferry to arrive. Then we notice a small green boat has slipped into the bay. An even-smaller orange dinghy detaches from its stern and heads over towards us.
We look at each other. Is that the ferry? Not quite what we were expecting. It’s tiny!
We wait, politely, at the end of the slipway. As the dinghy draws nearer, a group of four walkers seem to appear from nowhere, and push past us. I think I recognise them. I think they’re the hikers I saw earlier.
The man steering the dinghy hands them life jackets, and then the walkers climb aboard. The little boat rocks alarmingly. There clearly isn’t room for us too, so we can only stand and watch as they chug back across the water to rendezvous with the little green ferry.
‘Hope it returns for us,’ says one of my companions. We don’t say what we’re all thinking – ‘How rude to push past us.’ The couple tell me they’ve walked here from their B&B on the Morar shore, but their car is parked in Mallaig.
Two more walkers join us on the slipway. I think they must be the older walkers from the foreign group. The little boat returns, and we step forwards, but the boatman waves us back and motions to the older walkers to get in.
‘This is a private ferry,’ he explains. ‘Yours should be here soon.’
Oh. It’s not our ferry, after all. We watch the dinghy make its way over to the larger boat, and then watch as the green ferry leaves the narrow entrance of Tarbet Bay and disappears into the distance. The noise of the engine fades and we stare across the empty water and wait. And wait.
At 4pm we hear a faint chug-chug sound, and then a dot appears out in Loch Nevis, and grows larger. We exchange sighs of relief. It’s our ferry – a proper ferry – with a large cabin and railings around the decks. It doesn’t approach the slipway, but sends over its own dinghy – a robust, no-nonsense, metal affair.
We climb aboard (no life jackets needed) and cross the bay to board our ferry. As we climb up onto the deck, a group of people are preparing to get off. They have a huge collection of luggage with them – bags and cases, bottles of water and sacks of food. Everything including, possibly, the kitchen sink.
One of the crew explains this group of passengers has rented a place nearby. Obviously there are no roads to their holiday home, and they have to bring all their supplies with them, including drinking water.
I watch as the holidaymakers set off in their metal craft. They’re not actually staying in Tarbet, but are continuing their journey further up Loch Nevis. Sounds like there is no escape from this holiday until the ferry comes to pick them up again. Hope they like each others company!
When I booked the ferry a few days ago, the website said you had to pay extra for bringing shopping bags with you. At the time, I thought it was a bit mean to charge for shopping bags but now, looking at the luggage piled high, I understand why.
As our ferry pulls out of Tarbet Bay, I spot a wonderful house on the shore, with a rounded section. It looks like a castle. How lucky to stay there! But then, I gather from conversations with the crew, they’re staying in a much smaller cottage further along.
The ferry turns to the left, heading north-westwards, and begins it’s journey towards Inverie.
I gaze to the east, looking towards the top of Loch Nevis. It’s supposed to be one of the most remote areas of Scotland and I love the dramatic view. I also notice a few scattered cottages along the shore, and wonder which one the holidaymakers are heading for.
It’s a good half-hour journey to Inverie. There are only 4 passengers on the boat – myself, the couple I waited with at Tarbet, and a woman who is working in Inverie and has come along for the cruise. While ferries shuttle regularly between Mallaig and Inverie, this is the only one of the day that comes up Loch Nevis to Tarbet.
Remembering the ferry’s website promised whisky in the bar, I pop down into the cabin and then down a further set of steps into a tiny windowless bar area, where a bored-looking young man pours me a glass of whisky. I think I’m his only customer!
Taking the whisky up onto the deck, I sit and enjoy the scenery. It doesn’t get much better than this – a great day of walking, a tasty nip of whisky, and a wonderful ferry ride down Loch Nevis. All you could wish for now was some sunshine.
Inverie comes into view. It is supposed to be one of the most remote villages in Scotland, with no road access, and set in the wilderness of the Knoydart peninsula.
The couple were telling me they were disappointed with Inverie when they visited it earlier this week. Now, as we draw nearer to the wharf, I’m surprised to see cars moving around on the roads. I thought there were no roads in Knoydart, and no cars either.
It seems that half the population of Inverie has turned out for the ferry. More people get on, a couple of large kayaks are manhandled onto the deck, a pile of cases are brought onboard, and passengers jostle for a good spot on the seats.
The mooring ropes are slipped and the ferry sets off again. Suddenly, a man next to me says, ‘Oh no, I forgot the canoe.’ ‘Too late now,’ says someone else. ‘Ask them to bring it over on the next crossing.’
We’re heading westwards now, towards Mallaig. This section of the journey is choppy, as we leave the more sheltered waters of Loch Nevis and face the open sea.
We have to hover outside Mallaig for some time, waiting for a much larger ferry to clear the harbour.
By the time we finally dock, it’s nearly 6pm. Much later than I anticipated – partly because the ferry was late, and partly because I hadn’t realised it would take so long to travel up Loch Nevis. I’m not sure of the train times, or the bus times…
Tomorrow I’m heading back home to Manchester. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to have to work out how to tackle the Knoydart peninsula – one of Scotland’s least accessible areas. It’s going to be a challenge.
The kind couple I met in Tarbet offer me a lift in their car. They’re passing through Morar, so I feel no guilt in accepting. It’s a comfortable way to end today’s expedition.