412 part 4 – Kylerhea Ferry

What’s so special about the Kylerhea Ferry? It’s the last manually-operated turntable ferry in Scotland. Now, I don’t know anything about this as I sit above the ferry terminal, eating my snacks, and watching the cars drive on.

First, there’s the turntable part of the ferry. The car deck is on a platform that can turn separate from the hull, so while the hull of the ferry lies parallel to the pier, the ferry deck can be angled to make it easy for vehicles to drive on or off.

Kylerhea ferry 1, Ruth Livingstone

It’s a small ferry. Only six cars maximum. And it tends to hang around until either the deck is full, or it seems the operators get bored of waiting.

When they decide to set off, the rear end of the deck is hoisted up and fixed into position.

Kylerhea ferry 2, Ruth Livingstone

The two crew members put their backs against the rear end, brace their legs, and start to push.

Kylerhea ferry 3, Ruth Livingstone

As the platform slowly swivels round, they must adjust their position. Turn to face the deck, and push some more.

Kylerhea ferry 4, Ruth Livingstone

For a moment they seem to hang over the water, and I hold my breath. How can they push the turntable any further round? They’re in danger of falling off.

Kylerhea ferry 5, Ruth Livingstone

In the nick of time (or so it seems) they stop leaning out, and calmly step onto the exposed deck of the ship. Time to start pulling…

Kylerhea ferry 6, Ruth Livingstone

… and pulling.

Kylerhea ferry 7, Ruth Livingstone

Finally, with the turntable swivelled round, there is one thing left to do. Cast off the mooring line. Oh, and whistle for the two collies to come aboard.

Kylerhea ferry 8, Ruth Livingstone

The dogs are obviously very used to this. They hop on and pace (as collies do) around the edge of the deck.

Kylerhea ferry 9, Ruth Livingstone

The ferry backs out and away from the pier, with engines thrumming, before it turns itself around…

Kylerhea ferry turning round, Ruth Livingstone

… and heads northwards, in a direction that appears to take it away from the little dock over on the Skye shore. In fact, the ferry seems to be heading in the wrong direction entirely.

Kylerhea ferry going upstream, Ruth Livingstone

I’m not sure if this trajectory is necessary because of underwater hazards in the channel, or if it’s needed to defeat the rip-roaring current. Anyway, after crossing almost to the other side while still heading in the wrong direction, the ferry eventually swings round and begins travelling southwards.

There it is, small in the distance, approaching the opposite slipway.

Kylerhea ferry xtra long way round, Ruth Livingstone

The ferry docks and the cars – which are now magically facing in the right direction – begin to roll off.

I finish my snacks and marvel at what I’ve just seen. It all seemed so… well, so primitive. Surely those operating the ferry must break several health and safety rules? I’m filled with a burning desire to use the ferry crossing myself… but I remember I must go back and rescue Scooty from where I’ve left him back at Sandaig.

In retrospect, I’m glad the café was closed, or I might have missed the excitement of seeing the ferry turntable in action.


So, that is what makes the Kylerhea ferry special, and explains why it is still running despite its tiny capacity, despite the fact it’s positioned in the middle of nowhere, and despite the new Skye bridge providing a much more accessible (and free) crossing route.


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 22 Highlands, Miscellaneous and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 412 part 4 – Kylerhea Ferry

  1. Exactly why I wanted to do this! Stupid puncture.

  2. Chris Elliott says:

    Hi Ruth – glad you saw the ferry. I think it is brilliant. When I reached it the ferry was over the other side so I had to wait for it to arrive. I’m very glad I did. Who cares about Health and Safety. It’s unique and long may it continue. Can’t wait to read about your trials and tribulations to Toscaig – write them up soon!!!

  3. Peter Caton says:

    It’s a lovely ferry. A ferry with character. And friendly dogs. Unique. Hopefully it will keep running for many years.

  4. Robin Massey says:

    Well, that was amazing. I am so pleased that you’ve included the sequence of pictures – I’d have found it hard to quite grasp a written version. What ingenuity to design such a vessel.

  5. Maura says:

    Wonderful photos and commentary on the little turntable ferry! My family uses ferries often, taking the big ferries from the Washington coast to the San Juan Islands and Canada. I shared this post with family members. Everyone loved it!

  6. Eunice says:

    A great little ferry but you would think in this modern age they would have hydraulics to operate the turntable – I wonder how many bad backs have been caused by pushing and pulling the thing round?! To be honest, as fascinating as it is I wouldn’t like to use it as I’d be concerned for the safety of the dogs – they aren’t even wearing life jackets 😦

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