Friday, 18 August 2017


Following on from the first filming trip for The Lost Ferries of Ballachulish, I once again set off north, this time with a specific goal in mind.

Along the way I filled in some of the blanks that have arisen whilst editing the original footage, including recording a piece-to-camera to introduce the film, on the South Ballachulish slipway of the old ferry. Fourteen takes later and I think I got it, but knowing this game as well as I do, I'll probably end up shooting a different beginning at some point.

The Folk Museum in Glencoe Village had been in touch to say they had a couple of items that might be of interest to capture, one being old ferry tickets and the other a waiting sign, now badly in need of preservation. These were placed at various intervals along the roadside and gave drivers an estimate of how long it would be to get across from that point. If you were at this one, saying 50 minutes, you would be just as quick driving round the loch via Kinlochleven. But where's the fun in that?

I continued north, stopping in again at the supposed remains of the Glen Duror, this time armed with original dimensions and a measuring tape. With some difficulty I was able to compare the dimensions I had, with those of the wreck, and unfortunately the wreck is four feet longer than the Duror. This casts further doubt on her identity.

The following day I was once again in Glenelg, at the Glenachulish, last survivor of Scotland's turntable ferries. I decided to approach the ferry this time from Skye, first taking the elegant bridge across at Kyle of Lochalsh.

As I crossed over to Glenelg using the Glenachulish, I could see a crowd was gathering for a celebration. This was the main purpose of my journey, for this was the day that the bell from 1969 was to be reunited with the ferry.

A few weeks ago I had interviewed Kate, daughter of the last ferryman at Ballachulish, Peter Mackenzie, and she had made the journey to witness the celebration. In her hand she was holding a photograph of the wheelhouse, as it was back in her fathers day, but the bell was not visible.

It was then that a puzzle I've had in my mind for decades was finally solved.

In the early 70s, when my father was head gardener at Commander Clark's house, the person overall in charge of The Ballachulish Ferry Company, I recall whilst playing on his lawns that there was a ships bell. My memory had told me that this was a bell most probably from some naval ship, given he was called Commander. But through further chat up at Glenelg as to where the bell had been all this time, it transpired that the bell on the lawn from my childhood was from the Glenachulish, and here it was now, in my hands.

There was a nice size crowd gathered for the hanging of the bell, enjoying good chat and a barbecue to raise funds. As I went to pay for my burger, a kindly lady took my £5 and then asked, how much change would I like? Clever. Naturally, I said none. Then, around two o'clock, a piper played as we all made our way down onto the ferry. Finally, after more than 40 years, the Glenachulish had her bell.

Back down the road I met up with Fergus Mclean, last person to have seen the Glen Loy almost 40 years ago, for a quick interview. He gave me a further lead to Strontian on Loch Struan, but this has also turned up a dead end.

The final part of this journey may be some time in coming, as I continue my hunt for the fate of the Glen Loy, and probably the Glen Duror as well. Shortly I will journey to Liverpool to the archives of GL Watson, and document the plan drawings of the last seven Ballachulish Ferries.

Sunday, 13 August 2017


On a glorious Tuesday morning, Pauline and I set off along the Union Canal from Edinburgh, to join the Forth and Clyde Canal at Falkirk, bound for the worlds largest horse head sculptures, The Kelpies.

From my front door it's around 38 miles, and though it is largely flat all the way that does mean a lot of pedaling. But it is hugely enjoyable.

The Union Canal opened in 1822, but by the 1930's it had fallen into disuse, and thirty years later it was an overgrown unsightly affair, with large sections filled in and lost. A Millenium project was launched at a cost of £82million, and in 2001 it reopened. It had been 70 years since the Union Canal linked up with the Forth & Clyde Canal, but the difference in height over a very short distance where they now met, created a challenge. A further £17million saw what has to be one of the most striking boat lifts in the world built, The Falkirk Wheel, and finally the link was opened in 2002.

The Union Canal is 30 miles long and navigates just a single series of locks along its entire length in order to connect to the Forth & Clyde. As is our desire on a cycle trip, there are plenty of places along the way to stop and have a coffee, and of course, the requisite cake. We were in no hurry, and stopped numerous times to look at various interesting things, one of which is a redevelopment at Ratho. Here houses, small in size but starting at £250K, have been built around their own marina, and in the warm sunshine it looked an idyllic place to live.

Just before the Falkirk Wheel you have to navigate through the Falkirk Tunnel. At just under a kilometre in length it can be a slightly unnerving experience, as the previous times we have been through it has been in complete darkness. Thankfully this time it was brightly lit, which gave us a new experience, as we were able to see the jagged rock ceiling in sections, that had been carved out almost 200 years ago, and limestone formations now oozed down the walls.

It was early afternoon as we swung by the Falkirk Wheel and its hordes of tourists, past miniature models of the Kelpies, and headed north east on the six miles of the Forth & Clyde Canal toward the Kelpies.

There are 14 locks on this section, which are mostly very close together, to take you down 115feet to the River Carron. I imagine it must be quite a chore and slow going making your way by boat along this section of the canal, which, built in 1790, connects the River Forth to the Clyde.

But we were whizzing along on our bikes now, covering the last few miles in very little time. All of a sudden the Kelpies came into view.

Even from a distance they are an astonishing site. The closer you get the more emotion they evoke, and lit in bright sunshine, but framed by distance dark clouds, they looked incredible.

Immediately I thought, that for me, they are the most beautiful man-made structure I have ever seen.

Designed by Glaswegian artist Andy Scott, and opened in 2014 at a cost of £5million, they stand at 30 metres tall. The two horses heads are called Duke and Baron, named after the Clydesdale horses that the artist chose as the life models for the sculptures. Sadly Baron passed away in January this year (pictured here on the right with the artist, and below in sculpture).

The word Kelpie is an old word meaning Scottish mythological water horse, which is entirely appropriate, given they mark the end of the Forth & Clyde Canal.

I stood for a while directly underneath Duke, the Kelpie that has its head bowed down, and it was a very moving experience. It was impossible to take a bad photograph.

I entered the gift shop in the hope of finding a model of the Kelpies, and as a special order they could indeed sell me such, but at £5,000 I declined, feigning having forgot my wallet.

Anyway, nothing compares to the real thing.

Friday, 4 August 2017


It's hard to follow the blog from last week, which has attracted almost 2,000 readers to date, other than to thank everyone for reading, and to say there will be a proper follow up in the near future, but for now here is how things have progressed in the past seven days.

It's been a week of further investigation, with a number of dead ends, but on the plus side there have been some new discoveries.

The focus at the moment is to find the final fate of the Glen Loy, which was last seen on the beach at Camusnagaul on Loch Eil, 40 years ago. The original lead had been that she had been taken to the River Clyde. I plotted her possible route, and I was skeptical, mainly because, as a low lying barge-type vessel at that point, it is quite a journey from Fort William, mostly on sea lochs, to the River Clyde. She would have been towed, and her most likely route would have taken the Crinnan Canal. But barge and towing vessel combined give me doubt she would have fitted through the series of locks.

Then another lead came in during the week, that she might have been the barge seen around 25 years ago at Port Appin, just down the coast from Ballachulish. This seemed far more feasible, but sadly, turned out to be a dead end.

On the upside, the designers of the past seven turntable ferries to serve at Ballachuish, GL Watson in Liverpool, were back in contact to say they had found the original design drawings in their dusty archive, and though they were too brittle to scan, could be photographed. These drawings will help confirm the identity of the wreck at Gairlochy, supposedly the Glen Duror, and at present I am trying to arrange to visit the company.

I am to return north to Glenelg near Skye next week, as the final part of the Glenachulish Ferry restoration to her original spec is to take place, when her bell is to be hung once again in the wheelhouse.
For now the quest continues for the Glen Loy.