Hebridean Transport - closing the gap


Berneray causeway in progress

** Accomplishments in Improving the Efficiency of Transport **


1) The Golden Road

A short walk south from Tarbert/Harris along the main road (A859), which leads from Tarbert to Rodel, a sign post invites the visitor to follow a winding track southeast towards the east coast of Harris. "Drinishader 2 1/2 m, Scadabay 5 m, (Golden Road)" is what the the sign says. The name is ironical. The half official name was given by the locals to show their anger over the cost of providing a narrow road along a rough coast line already 70 years after a Royal Commission was told that the conditions of transport in the area were desperately calling for improvement. The story goes that under "normal" environmental conditions the road could have been paved with gold for the amount of money paid for the whole project.
Riding a local bus one wonders how the bus drivers manage to keep the vehicle on the track and particularly how they shoot through cattle grids where there are only a few inches space between either side of the bus and the gate posts.
Probably, this scenic road along the beautiful east coast of the island has saved a handful of villages from emigration which would have been the inevitable consequence of the remoteness without it. So in the long run the cost of blusting a single track road through the hills and cliffs did pay.

2) Rhenigidale - a village "behind the hill"

Until 1997 the only way to reach Rhenigidale was by fishing boat or via the scenic foot path across the hill from Tarbert. For generations all supplies have been carried either way, a strenuous task if we think of coal, food, mail and especially cases of human emergency. Now a 7 mile long dead end road leads straight into the village. This helped to prevent the final depopulation in virtually the last minute. The neighbouring village of Molingeanais had been abandoned a few decades ago. Its remains are still to be found if one followes a hardly visible path off the nature trail leading from Tarbert to Rhenigidale.

{short description of image} Bridges

1) Skye Bridge - Gateway to the Outer Hebrides

A much debated project which has cost 39 million (ca 110 Millionen DM) - 24 million of which are being paid for by tax payers and regular toll payers until the total revenue collected reaches ca 24m - has been finished in 1995. It has thus substituted the two ferries that were running every few minutes from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin (Isle of Skye). The ferries were free for passengers and cyclists and, as far as I know, island locals were not charged either.

Skye ferry, connecting Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh;
lower part of the new bridge in the background

Drive through ferry service onto Skye has been in place since the late 60s. In 1991 a pair of larger ships (Loch Fyne and Loch Dunvegan) arrived from Port Glasgow and took over the Kyleakin/Skye - Kyle of Lochalsh 10 minutes "back and forth service"


Now the ferries are gone. The crossing of the bridge is a must and so is the payment of the bridge toll. Complaints about the tolls have become a topic in higher administrative circles up to the Houses of Parliament, letters have been sent to the Prime Minister. The debate is still going on. Some of the islanders are still furious.


Skye Bridge shortly after constructions work had been finished

Skye bridge, connecting Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh


and this is what the islanders are so furious about:

These are the ONE WAY prices from 1st January 1999
(already lower in comparison to the originally proposed amounts which had to be paid so far)

  Up until 30th April 1999 1st May to 30th Sept 1999
Car or Transit Vans <5.5m £4.70 £5.70
Car & Caravan (or trailer >2.5m) £9.40 £11.40
Motorcycle £2.40 £2.90
Lights Goods Vehicle <7.5T £10.80 £10.80
HGV 1 (2 or 3 axles) £14.00 £14.00
HGV 2 (4 axles or more) £27.90 £27.90
Local Bus £16.40 £16.40
Midi Coach (up to 22 passengers) £15.80 £23.70
Coach (over 22 passengers) £27.90 £41.20

for further details visit the Skye Bridge main page

2) Scalpay Bridge

The bridge which is connecting the islands of Harris and Scalpay since 12/1997, and which came into use almost nine months prior to its official opening, has improved economic development and social access. A 65% grant from the European Union through Objective One funding helped considerably to proceed with the 300m long construction which carries vehicles and pedestrians as well as the water supply for the island.
Scalpay's oldest resident, Mrs Kirsty Morrison, at the age of 103 years, led the way for the first crossing of the new bridge. For the opening of the bridge the Western Isles welcomed Prime Minister Tony Blair M.P., his wife Cherie and Mr Donald Dewar, at that time Secretary of State for Scotland.

Scalpay Bridge near Tarbert / Harris

Scalpay Bridge


1) Berneray Causeway and Sound of Harris Ferry

Although being officially opened by lesser officials than the Prime Minister, the Causeway connecting Berneray/Harris(ca 150 inhabitants) to North Uist was no less an event for the islanders themselves than was the opening of Scalpay bridge. Although viewed first with a doubtful eye by some of them I have hardly ever seen so many of the islanders attend an island happening and I have never seen the people moved so much by an event.

Endeaver of Berneray Endeavour of Berneray - passenger ferry between
Harris - Berneray - North Uist
Endeavour of Berneray
Eilean Bhearnaraigh Eilean Bhearnaraigh - car ferry between North Uist and Berneray before the causway was finished Eilean Bhearnaraigh
Loch Bhrusda MV Loch Bhrusda
car ferry between
Harris - Berneray - North Uist replacing the Endeavour of Berneray
MV Loch Bhrusda


An island inhabited for centuries and the islanders being used to travelling by passenger ferry, a six car vehicle ferry, and an even bigger car ferry since 1996 are now part of the neighbouring island of North Uist. The impact of the causeway for an increase of population hopefully remains to be only a matter of time. Simple tasks for mainlanders like shopping trips, carrying construction material and secondary school access for children have been subject to weather conditions, tidal conditions and ferry time tables. Cultural events, although not rare on Berneray itself, are now much easier to reach. There will never again be a "last ferry" to catch.
Centuries old dreams have come true as the islands of Scalpay and Berneray were finally linked to their neighbouring islands and Skye to the mainland.


2) Eriskay Causeway

The island of Eriskay has also been connected to the neighbouring South Uist by a causeway. The 1.6 km causeway is part of the £9.4m Eriskay and Sound of Barra transport project.
Formerly, Eriskay was accessible via ferry service from Barra and South Uist. A passenger boat (Eoligarry/Barra-Eriskay-Ludag/South Uist) and a small car ferry (similar to the Eilean Bhearnaraigh, Eriskay-Ludag) which can take six cars or one lorry across the shallow water were the three possible ways to get there .

More Bridges and Causways ...

There are quite a few more bridges and causeways which all contribute to the comfort of traveling along the Western Isles' spinal route. Others connect smaller islands to the next larger ones. most projects partly funded by the EU view in full width browser window for optimum results
location type of link date cost info
Great Bernera (West Lewis) bridge finished in 1953,
opened on Wednesday July 22
£70,000 first pre-stressed concrete bridge in UK
Baleshare (North Uist) causeway, 350 metres built in 1962 . The causeway links the island of Baleshare with neighbouring North Uist.
Baleshare's population had fallen from 67 ten years before to 55 in 1991.
Meanwhile, formerly inhabited islands which failed to get fixed links in time became totally deserted.
Loch Bee (South Uist) causeway, 550 metre surfaced in the 1930s, widened and raised in the 50ies, since 1990 850 metres of double track road £372,000 (1990) The Loch Bee causeway is the the oldest causeway of the Spinal Route dating back to the 18th Century. Built for cart traffic it consisted of drystone walls with shingle and sand between. 1990 the causeway has been improved to full double track road.
Berneray (North Uist) causeway, 0.9 km with 500m approach road on Uist and 167m on Berneray started in 04/1998, connected in 08/1998, opened in the last days of 1998, officially opened on Thu April 8, 1999 by Prince Charles £6.6 millio A crowd of 350 people, a TV-helicopter, a bagpipe tune, a breezy drizzle and a rare tension in the air were the components of this historical afternoon, when the gap between North Uist and Bernray was closed and the islanders hurried to walk across towards Otternish. Details: 300,000 m3 of rock, provision for marine creatures: otter culverts and a culvert for fish, cetaceans and other sea mammals.
North Ford (Benbecula - North Uist) causeway, five miles opened on Wednesday September 7, 1960 by Queen Mother . longest causeway on the Western Isles connecting Gramisdale in Benbecula with Carinish in North Uist. There are nine passing places to each mile and three bridges along its length, two to allow for boats to reach the main channels and one for drainage.
South Ford (South Uist) bridge/ causeway bridge completed 1942,
the cares of the War prevented the King from participating in the opening ceremony, bridge replaced by acauseway on Nov. 18, 1982
£2.2 million (causeway) In 1983 the new two-lane causeway replaced the South Ford bridge, which due to the damage done by the elements was in need of repair. The South Ford causeway was officially opened with a Gaelic ceremony held in a howling gale. After cutting the ceremonial ribbon a local girl, Mod winner Mairi Macinnes, aged 18, sang two Gaelic songs at the conclusion of the event .
Kildonan (South Uist) causeway, 220 m improved to a 3-metre wide road in the 60s, resurfaced &strengthened after a storm damage in 1984 .£40,000 (after 1984) The 220 metre causeway across Loch Kildonan in South Uist is one of the earliest crossings, having originally been built for cart traffic decades ago.
(South of Barra)
250 m
started in 1989,
finished in 1990
£3.7 million Work on the causeway between Vatersay and Barra started in 1989. The project presented a considerable challenge because it linked the Atlantic Ocean on one side with the Minch on the other - 75 miles out from the mainland und thus permanently subject to the often severe powers of the tides and gales.