A day out on Kerrera

‘There were a few people waiting, and we all managed to get on’: Carvoria approaches Gallanach, with Kerrera across the Sound to the right

On a recent visit to Kerrera, CRSC member Charlotte Caldwell discovered an island that has kept its unspoilt character, despite the ease of access now afforded by MV Carvoria.

My husband James and I wanted to see an American friend who had a temporary job on Kerrera. It’s an island many ship enthusiasts know by sight but which, until recently, was visited by few.

Judging by Lawrence Macduff’s accounts of his youthful photographic exploits, Kerrera always used to require a special effort, and the nature of the terrain was not exactly encouraging.

Carvoria arriving at Kerrera, with view north towards Oban

All this changed when MV Carvoria came on the scene in September 2017. In the intervening 20 months this useful little vessel — easily the smallest in the CalMac fleet — has enabled many people to discover Kerrera’s charms. The Hutcheson memorial overlooking the north end of the island, and Gylen Castle at the southern end, are now within relatively easy reach for anyone prepared for a lengthy trek from the island’s ferry slip.

The road from Oban town centre to the ferry slip at Gallanach involves a 20/30-minute walk or a five-minute drive. There is minimal parking at the slipway, which lies at the end of a narrow road, so we left our car up on the grass a short distance away. At the height of the holiday season, you might need to park several hundred yards from the slipway.

We arrived shortly before 11am. There were a few people waiting, and we all managed to get on. Carvoria is a sweet little craft, perfect for her job. She only takes 12 passengers and we didn’t see any seating, but the passage takes barely five minutes. She appeared not to run to a schedule, and apart from a break for the crew’s lunch she just went back and forth, back and forth, across the Sound. It seems a very efficient process — turnaround is fast.

A return ticket costs £4.80, which you pay on board — cash only, no credit cards. Remember to hold on to the ticket, as you will need it for the return trip. Be aware that there are no toilet facilities between the town of Oban and the café on the island. Go easy on the Irn-Bru.

View of the southern end of the island, with Gylen Castle on the left

We recommend stout walking shoes: the trails on Kerrera are not the kind you want to be in high heels or loafers. There is a rough track to the café at the southern end of the island, and it took us about 75 minutes, so you need to allow about three hours for the round trip (possibly more if you linger at the café). Dogs must remain on leash.

The café (tea garden) is owned by a Glasgow couple and serves excellent coffee, good home baking and a tasty bowl of soup.

You can spend the night on the island in their ‘bunkhouse’, and complete a hike of the whole island the next day.

The ruin of Gylen Castle, sitting in a lovely position on top of a cliff, makes a nice little side trip from the café — access is easy, if a little muddy (watch out for the numerous cowpats). There’s a compostible public toilet between café and castle.

The terrain is rugged and treeless, with Highland cattle and lots of sheep. If you are taking your bike, it’s ‘off road’ conditions. There are no sandy beaches. In places you may think you could get lost, but the trail is well signposted.

On the way back to the slipway, you can see Carvoria coming and going for about the last half-hour. Don’t feel you need to rush to catch her: even if you just miss her, you won’t have to wait much more than 10 minutes until she returns.

We were on Kerrera for about four hours, hiking south to the café and back the same way. A round trip returning via the north end of the island is possible. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and the crossing on Carvoria was like no other in the CalMac network!

Carvoria operates daily: her first sailing from Gallanach is at 0845 and her last from Kerrera at 1755. Full timetable here.

Carvoria in the Sound of Kerrera, with relief vessel Gylen Lady moored (far left) at Gallanach

Carvoria, pictured leaving Kerrera, offers virtually a shuttle service back and forth across the Sound. In 2017 she replaced Gylen Lady of 1999 (right), which now serves as relief vessel and is available for charter

‘Even if you just miss her, you won’t have to wait much more than 10 minutes until she returns’: Carvoria clears the breakwater at Kerrera

Carvoria arrives back at Gallanach, with the slipway at Kerrera on the opposite side of the Sound

Charlotte and James Caldwell travelled to Kerrera on 12 April 2019. Among other recent visitors to the island were Walter and Hamish Bowie, who have contributed the following photos:

Close-up of Carvoria at Gallanach

Carvoria’s wheelhouse, with skipper Ryan Hamil and Walter Bowie

Rear view of Carvoria, showing her outboard engines

Recommended reading:

‘Kerrera, bank keys and the King George’

The day MV Carvoria entered service

Published on 16 May 2019.