History and Heritage

The Ferries of the Black Isle - some history

During the summer months, the bracing trip across the Cromarty Firth via the Cromarty/Nigg ferry is a must. But travellers may not be aware that this is just the last of a whole network of ferries that once were an essential part of getting around, or getting produce to market.

There were ferries across the rivers at Beauly and Scuddal (which became Conon Bridge when Thomas Telford built the bridge there that gave the village its modern name). There were long distance ferry routes from Nairn to Cromarty and Nigg, and short ones like the ferry between Alcaig and Dingwall. Names like Alness Ferry on the north side of the Black Isle remind us that there was a ferry here, until the 1860s.

The most important ferry, of course, was Kessock Ferry. Many will remember, with the fondness of distance, boats such as the Eilean Dubh and Rosehaugh, although just missing the ferry at the time could be a fraught experience!

There were tragedies associated with the ferries, as when the Chanonry ferry (between the Ness and Fort George) went down in 1811 with the loss of 11 lives. The widest crossing was from Foulis to the Black Isle, originally to Shoreton and then to Toberchurn.

The ferry was such an established means of transport, at a time of poor roads and few bridges, that local folk would often regard the nearest town as being the one just across the Firth. In Resolis, the ancient Inverbreakie Ferry between Balblair and Invergordon continued to be so well used that even in the 1960s, folk would cross to Invergordon for their shopping.

Long may the Cromarty/Nigg ferry continue. And when you cross the Cromarty Firth here, remember you are travelling a royal route as King James IV frequently crossed on the ferry here (The King’s Ferry) when on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Duthac at Tain.

Jim Mackay, Culbokie Community Trust

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