Postcards from Skye: Armadale, Kylerhea, Sconser, Portree and Uig

Two of the pioneering MacBrayne car ferries, Clansman and Hebrides, took the spotlight in a popular Valentines postcard of the 1960s

In the days before the Skye Bridge, people talked of going ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ — words that captured the romance of a holiday journey to Dunvegan, Portree, Sleat or Sligachan. The quickest and most convenient sea route was the Kyle-Kyleakin crossing, which CRSC member John Park featured in his previous collection of west coast scenic postcards. Now John turns our attention to other parts of the island — starting in the 1960s, when increasing levels of car ownership prompted new car ferry services to either end of Skye.

The biggest change came in 1964 (writes John Park), when the appearance of Clansman at Armadale and Hebrides at Uig drew much attention. Such was the level of interest that Valentines published a long running multiview card (top of page) which illustrated both new services.


The arrival of Clansman was quickly recorded by most major publishers, with some early cards describing her as the ‘new’ Clansman ferry. Curiously, more cards were published of Clansman on the route than of any of her successors, perhaps due to the initial flurry of interest at the start of the service.

The majority pictured her at Armadale. The most interesting, by Valentines, was an animated scene of her berthed at the main pier, with the dieselised puffer Spartan unloading a cargo of coal at the stone jetty in the foreground (below).

Valentines also published a fine deckle-edged card of Clansman underway, heading off towards the mainland:

On the mainland side Clansman appeared in a number of more general views of Mallaig, including this Dixon card which includes a MacBraynes bus in the foreground:

In this Dexter view, Clansman shares the harbour with Loch Arkaig:

Pick of the Mallaig cards is this lovely sunset view published by Jarrold:

Iona appeared in a number of cards of Armadale during her time on the route. An attractive card by the little known publisher Thought Factory is probably the best view of her….

….while Phil Banks Photography and local publisher Sleat Trading issued the following two cards of Iona manoeuvring and berthed at the linkspan:

Iona also features in some views of Mallaig harbour. Colourful cards by Firtree Publishing of Fort William and Whiteholme of Dundee were among the best examples published:

Pioneer is captured in a Hail Caledonia view of Armadale taken from the same spot as the Clansman/Spartan card mentioned above, though there is no puffer sharing the view on this occasion:

A larger sized card by Stirling Gallery shows Pioneer sweeping away from the pier towards the mainland. It profiles the vehicle hoist she was given in 1979 to enable her to operate the Mallaig-Armadale run before linkspans had been fitted:

An interesting view of Pioneer sharing Mallaig harbour with Arran in 1979 was issued by Hail Caledonia….

….while a larger sized Dixon card shows her departing the mainland port for Skye:

Coruisk brings the Armadale views up to date with more recently published cards of her berthed at the linkspan by Printsmith of Fort William….

….and a Sue Anderson view of her heading off across the Sound of Sleat:

A different combination of ferries at Mallaig is captured in another Printsmith card, which features Coruisk and the 2000 Small Isles vessel Lochnevis together in the harbour, with Eigg and Rum looming in the background:

Glenelg & Kylerhea

It is still possible to cross ‘over the sea to Skye’ by turntable ferry, using the seasonal Glenelg to Kylerhea service. This picturesque location has hardly changed over the years and these 1960s cards by Dexter of the Glenelg slipway and Photo Precision of the Kylerhea side could easily pass for today were it not for the assortment of period cars. The traditional red phone box is still at Kylerhea, although the Vauxhall Victor estate car in the second of these cards probably caught the next ferry!

A much earlier view of Glenelg is this postcard issued by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, which features the Stornoway steamer Lochness passing through Kyle Rhea on her way from Mallaig to Kyle of Lochalsh and Stornoway. Such SYHA cards are rare and can command high prices:

Just before we move on from this most scenic crossing, how many of you happened to notice that Glenelg is a palindrome (a word that reads the same backwards as forwards)?

Sconser & Raasay

Postcards from the Sconser and Raasay areas seem few and far between: only two have found their way into my collection. Both feature an ‘Island’ class ferry — most likely Raasay, which rarely ventured from this route during her CalMac career.

Jarrold published a card of Raasay nearing the terminal at Sconser….

….while West Highland Publishing of Broadford issued a larger size card (below) showing Raasay heading in the opposite direction towards the island after which she was named. Other cards will no doubt be in circulation but these have escaped me thus far.


While postcards of Portree reveal an interesting variety of steamers, the topography of the harbour means that most views are taken from a broadly similar angle.

Something of a rarity is Lochinvar in a colour postcard published by Jarrold. It dates from 1959, the veteran MacBrayne motor ship’s only summer on the Portree mail service, after which she was sold out of the fleet:

Another rare postcard shows the MacBrayne cargo boat Lochdunvegan in a view published by Dexter:

 Judges of Hastings produced at least two very similar black & white views of Lochearn, usually based at Oban but seen here at Portree during one of her occasional spells in the 1950s relieving her Kyle of Lochalsh-based sister ship Lochmor:

The 1934 Lochnevis, Portree mail boat until 1958, proved a more popular choice and features in near-identical views by several publishers, including this more elevated view from Millar & Lang:

Dixon managed to find an alternative angle with this interesting view looking down on Lochnevis from above the pier:

A regular at Portree for many years, Loch Arkaig was also a popular choice with publishers, and the clearest of several similar views of her is this Colourmaster card:

A more recent card issued by Whiteholme features Waverley making a visit to Portree during one of her West Highland jaunts:


A selection of Uig cards was featured in ‘Postcards from the Uig Triangle’, published earlier in this series, and a more comprehensive selection can be found there. However, a few cards are included here in order to complete this postcard ‘tour’ of Skye harbours and ports.

Like Clansman at Armadale, the 1964 Hebrides appears in more cards than any of her successors, and a few classic views are worth repeating here. An early morning arrival with a MacBraynes coach waiting to provide an onward connection is superbly illustrated in a White Heather card….

….while an evening arrival highlighting Hebrides’ classic lines is featured in a Dixon card which remained in circulation for many years:

A wider view of Uig Bay, published by Valentines, shows the 1964 Hebrides berthed at the pier:

Hebridean Isles, new in 1985, spent less time on the route than the 1964 Hebrides. However, she is still represented in three larger size cards, issued by Stirling Gallery and Phil Banks Photography:

The current Hebrides appears less frequently in postcards than either of her predecessors. The card published by Mull-based Island Blue series (below) is one of the few to feature her:

Postcard Postscript

The origins of Valentines of Dundee can be traced back to 1851 when James Valentine (1815-1879) added photography to his established printing and stationery business. The firm grew steadily over the following decades, but rapid expansion came about after 1897 when the business began the mass production of picture postcards.

In addition to the well known postcard range, the company produced a variety of photographic goods, greetings cards, calendars, children’s books and guide books, and a new purpose-built printing and manufacturing facility was opened on the Kingsway in Dundee in 1937.

The production of picture postcards began to decline from the mid 1950s, a period which coincided with the publication of Valentines’ distinctive deckle-edged cards. The last black and white cards were produced in 1967 while the last colour postcards were produced three years later. It has been suggested that the firm did not move quickly enough from black and white to colour images and that this cost them their share of the postcard market.

A substantial amount of the black and white range is now in the safe hands of St Andrews University Library archives, having been presented to the university in 1971. Detailed information about that range can be found online, including how to date views from the card serial numbers.

The colour transparency range was sold to other publishers. The ‘Ferries to the Hebrides’ multiview postcard featured at the top of this page was just one of a number of former Valentines products subsequently published as postcards by the Charles Skilton publishing company.

The John Waddington company of Leeds had taken over the Valentines business in 1963, and they owned the firm until 1980 when the business then passed to Hallmark Cards. The Dundee factory finally closed in 1994, ending a connection of almost 150 years between the Valentines business and Dundee.


Postcards from Skye: the Kyle-Kyleakin ferries

Postcards from the Uig triangle

Postcards from Stornoway

CRSC thanks John Park for sharing his postcard collection.

Published on 7 November 2022