Friday, 6 July 2018


This is getting to be a habit, only posting every two weeks. Maybe it's a thing I'll continue, just so you don't get bored with my chat!

With a low tide forecast and the glorious summer weather continuing, I set off once again to capture footage for my documentary film, The Last Ferries Of Ballachulish.

Despite it being the week before the Scottish schools went on their summer break, the Highlands were surprisingly busy. I dread to think what it must be like now!

On a misty, chilly morning I left Edinburgh just after sunrise, with Glenelg, near Skye, as my destination. The low cloud and mist didn't lift until I was well past Stirling, but until that point it was all motorway anyway, so I didn't miss much.

My route north took me through spectacular Glencoe, on to Fort William, Spean Bridge and Kintail. Just a short distance after Spean Bridge I detoured down to the Caledonian Canal at Gairlochy, to reshoot pieces-to-camera at the old wreck on the shores there. Once rumoured to be the remains of the Glen Duror, it is now a mystery itself.

I was only half way to Glenelg by this point, and the clouds were starting to gather. By the time I took the steep and winding Mam Ratagan pass from Kintail over to Glenelg, I had lost the best of the weather. However, as it turned out, filming the Glenachulish turntable ferry from the air would have proved almost impossible, with any bright sunshine reflecting of the surface of the Kyle Rhea waters, so as it turned out it was perfect for filming.

I love visiting this ferry, and without fail it always brings a tear to my eye when I hear her engine and glimpse her Ballachulish colours for the first time.

A familiar sight is the skipper Donnie, and it was a joy to sit a while over a coffee and let the world go by, despite a few cars already aboard the Glenachulish waiting to cross, the drivers and passengers scratching their heads, wondering what time departure was.

Across the other side of the water a Sea Eagle swooped down on fish near the surface, then flew off to it's nest, where this year they have two successful young.

Watching the world go by does not stop the clock, and to my surprise it was already 5pm by the time I decided to make tracks back down the road. I bade farewell to the Glenachulish, who will turn 50 next year, and headed south for the Isle of Mull.

Just a few miles south of Fort William is a roll on, roll off ferry, taking cars and passengers across the tiny 300m span of Loch Eil where it meets Loch Leven, onto the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. I was heading to Lochaline, and a small B&B for the night, 40km along a single track road, which has to be one of the prettiest little roads I've ever been on.

As night fell a full moon rose over Duart Castle far away on a promontory of land on Mull.

At 7am I was aboard the CalMac ferry that would take me the three kilometers across to Fishnish on the Isle of Mull. From there, under glorious blue skies, I headed for Ulva on the west coast. Single track road all the way, surrounded by stunning scenery, looking out to the Treshnish Isles, Coll and Tiree beyond on the horizon. My goal was to capture aerial shots of Ulva and the 50m crossing from the island where the Glen Duror saw her last service.

Just around a corner of land, in a small bay, lies the wreck of the actual Glen Duror. Carrying heavy camera gear on my back, a steel flight case in one hand and a tripod slung over my shoulder, I battled my way through shoulder-high bracken to reach her. It was evident the winter had taken another toll on her. Though I had the footage I needed from my last visit nine months ago, I decided to shoot more. 

But my main reason for coming back was to wade out into the water, to what I had seen was the line of her bow from an aerial shot taken on my previous visit. By the time I reached the front I was already waist deep in water, and underfoot was precarious with slippery seaweed growing around all manner of rusted metal parts. The tide just wasn't low enough.

I would have to return another day.

Job done, I bade farewell to the old girl again, and headed for the large CalMac ferry that would take me onto the mainland and the town of Oban. Ahead was an hours drive north to Ballachulish, my childhood home from almost 50 years ago.

As I drove across the ugly Ballachulish Bridge the light was beautiful, so I detoured off the main road to capture new aerial shots of the bridge and surrounding area. As I did so I realised that had I not arrived here when I did, the sun tomorrow would be in the wrong position for the shots I wanted to capture.

The evening was unbearably hot in the youth hostel, and despite paying for a room, I decided to sleep in my car, which, though not as a comfy as a mattress, was preferable to sleeping in a pizza oven!

On the last morning I met up with Kate once again, daughter of Peter McKenzie, the last ferryman of Ballachulish, and the one I identify with from my childhood. Her and I, in her words, are probably the last two remaining people who feel so passionately about the old turntable ferries, so it is always a pleasure to meet up.

With a few more shots ticked off, I headed 20 miles south toward Appin, to shoot the ruins of Castle Stalker, which sits atop a small island, before turning the car toward Edinburgh, and the three hours back through ever increasing tourist traffic.

It had been a whirlwind tour over three days, but as before, it was an absolute joy across arguably the most beautiful country in the world . . . in my opinion.

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