Sunday, January 15, 2012

Strome Ferry - No Ferry

Today was a clear day, so we went for a walk and to do some beachcombing. We found ourselves rummaging around one of the old Strome Ferries which was beached on the North of the Loch in 1970's. This is a wee bit of a co-oincidence when tomorrow the Strome Ferries will temporarily be starting up again.

The communities South and North of the Loch Carron are connected by the A890, a stretch of this road running on the south side of the Loch along side the railway line ( Inverness to Kyle ) is known locally as the 'Bypass'. It was opened in 1970. Previously two ferries provided the transport links, but the volume of traffic, the queuing and lack of night time crossing required a road to be built. However  from the outset the current route of the road was advised against by surveyors geologists and engineers. Across the loch is a massive geological fault line. The mountains on the North of the loch are made of older rock and the South is part of the 'Moine Thrust' which is younger rock forcing its way up and over the older rocks, by millimeters? every year. While this makes spectacular local geology, it does not make for a stable road underneath crumbling cliffs. Every year there are landslides, rock falls and road closures. Millions of public money goes into maintaining this road every year. There have been many near misses. Our secondary school pupils travel that route, and every local parent has feared for their children's safety travelling that route. We all have anecdotes of getting stuck or of driving that way when rocks and waterfalls have been spilling out onto the road. From a Fire service point of view, i've already been to two train derailments when trees have slid onto the line west of the bypass, its always in the back of my head ...what if..? the loch is very deep there. It doesn't bare thinking about. We often say locally, 'it's going to take someone getting killed before anything is done' well lets hope not.

On the 8th December The road was closed due to rockfalls. This is from the Highland Council website;

"The road is inspected daily and also undergoes a major monthly inspection. On 8 December the road was closed overnight due to a rock fall which was cleared and the road re-opened. On 22 December there was a rock fall of about 100 tonnes around 09:30 and the road was closed – it has not reopened.

Work continued to clear the rock on 22 and 23 December and a specialist contractor was brought in to dislodge any rock above the road deemed to be in imminent danger of collapse.  By midday it became apparent that there was at least 3 days more work needed to make the road safe.  The contractor stood down at dusk on the 23 December.

De-scaling work recommenced on 28 December and was completed by dusk on the 30 December.
It was intended to reopen the road the following morning, however there was another overnight fall of about 100 tonnes on the 30/31, so it was not safe to reopen the road.

Also on the 28 December a consulting engineer was mobilised to assess the stability of the rock face.  He advised on the 31 December that more extensive survey was necessary to establish what needed to be done to make the area safe.

A full survey is being undertaken this week. The debris from the fall on the 30/31 December has been removed but the face above remains dangerously unstable, and the road remains closed on grounds of safety."

So local people trying to get to and from work have been stuck since the 22nd December. Thankfully the trains are still running, but the service is only 4 times a day each way, the times do not fit in with office or school times, and the tickets are expensive. People are having to take taxi's ( if available ) onwards to their workplaces. It also limits the ambulances as they can't reach broadford hospital, and emergency service fire provision is now very limited as a back up primary sized appliance would now have to come from Dingwall ( 50 - 60 minutes away ).

Folks are frustrated and angry. The highland council was on holiday until the 9th January, so it felt like nothing was happening for ages. The first week back to school the pupils used the trains and the school day was extended to fit the train time table. A ferry service has now been organised, it will start tomorrow. Full details and timetables are on the Highland Council website. It is not ideal and will no doubt have teething problems. But I'm certainly excited to see a ferry up and running again, albeit temporary.
There will be a public meeting tomorrow to discuss the options and service provision. I have no doubt it will be a stormy one.

 Every few years after a prolonged closure this issue comes up again. It always boils down to money of course, and local politics. This time I have been writing to our local Councillors and MSP Rob Gibson ( SNP ), and have been impressed with their replies. Councillor Biz Campbell shares local concerns that the road needs a long term replacement before someone gets hurt. Over the years options such as a tunnel, a hill road over the top, a concrete shelter, a bridge, a ferry have all been discussed. It is now clear that the status quo is not viable or cost effective. A lack of capital funding will as usual be an issue. Various factions have objections to one proposal or another, all of which slows down or stops a solution.

I enjoy seeing the railway being used and the stations busy, the ferry will likewise be a sociable community based way of travelling. With the pressure of modern life however we need more joined up and affordable transport solutions. I'd ideally like to see a bridge integrating tidal power turbines, but will accept any solution that joins our communities safely. Any solution requires forward thinking and planning, our current economic and political systems do not tend to allow for that. Hopefully people will press forwards and create enough momentum to overcome political inertia and negative self interest from blocking certain options.
( prints available ! )

Here is a painting I did of the 'Pride of Strome' one of the previous Ferries beached up in the 70's. It was built in 1962 by Forbes of Sandhaven. The smaller boat was called 'Strome Castle' and was built in 1958 by Nobles of Fraserburgh.This was it today.

 Of course Iain Banks fans will also know 'Strome Ferry - No ferry', from the book Complicity. The Hotel at Stromeferry ( no Ferry ) is accurately described in the book, and < spoilers > burns down as part of the plot- which of course the real hotel also did. When I met Iain Banks I asked him if he'd been to the same parties as I had been to at the hotel and used this as inspiration. He said he had no idea that there had been a hotel there, and simply liked the road sign 'Strome ferry- No ferry' anything else was ';coincidence' !

meanwhile here is a leaflet i found, produced as part of the heritage centre project back in the 90's. It contains some more strome history and some really ropey illustrations by me;

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