An Overview and Introduction

Ferries in Scotland have been running as long as mankind has been traveling the seas and crossing rivers. You might consider the first ferry to be the owner of a long boat who was about to take a short trip across a strait, when a friend asked, “Say, can you take me over there with you?” and offered a chicken or some eggs as payment.

We decided to take a look at some of the more unusual and lesser known (or even forgotten) ferry routes and crossings from around the British Isles. For more about unusual ferry crossings in Scotland, see our post on ferry routes in the Glasgow area, plus ferry crossings in the Hebrides and the Northern Isles including Shetland and Orkney.

Before we get into the stories about the ferry routes that have been in use in Scotland over the last few centuries, we might want to review a bit of Scottish geography. There’s the mainland Scotland which is the northern tip of the island of Great Britain. This mainland is surrounded on all sides by over 790 islands of all sizes. The North Channel of the Irish Sea separates the southwestern tip of Scotland from the east coast of Ireland in some places by only 30 km. The Faroe Islands, a Norwegian possession, lie hundreds of kilometres to the north in the North Atlantic Ocean, marking the halfway point between Norway and Iceland.

From the eastern coast of Scotland, you have to travel 305 km of the North Sea to reach Norway. The Isle of Man is to the south in the Irish Sea; the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands, also called the Northern Isles, lie off the northeastern coast in the region where the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea mix. The Hebrides, lying off the west coast of Scotland that touches the Atlantic Ocean, cover over 7200 square km and are one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Scotland. The Inner Hebrides consist of 36 islands lying between 20 and 40 km off the coast; the Outer Hebrides lie 70 km or more from the Scottish coast and consist of 100 inhabited islands and uncountable smaller islets. The land border Scotland has with England is made up in part by water too, with the River Tweed and the Solay Firth separating Scotland and England on the east and the west.

All these islands are the far end of ferry routes originating on the seacoast of Scotland. Ferries in Scotland also cross the numerous rivers and firths, the Scottish word for an inlet of the sea. Some routes have been in use for centuries and some are defunct, but all are fascinating.

The ferries of Scotland have been the focus of consolidation over the last twenty years, with a few exceptions in every region. Some use enormous vessels to move vast numbers of passengers and vehicles across long stretches of ocean, while others move commuters to and from work across short straits of calm water. Some are run by large corporations and others are family businesses. All serve a vital function in the transportation industry of the United Kingdom.