3.1. This Chapter sets out the existing position. First, it describes the main characteristics of the island of Kerrera. It then covers transportation-road provision on the island and the various ferry services that currently operate. Finally, it discusses recent moves by Transport Scotland to maintain the existing ferry services while longer-term options are considered

3.2. This Chapter comprises factual information, supplemented with input from the community and stakeholder consultation. It provides the context of both actual and perceived problems and opportunities, which are captured in Chapter 4. As discussed at Chapter 2, the analysis is based on the position prior to the changes made to ferry service provision in early March 2013.

The Island of Kerrera


3.3. Kerrera's population has ranged between 30 and 40 residents in recent years. The vast majority (around 90%) live on the island all year round. The rest stay there for part of the year

3.4. Residents comprise a mix of those born and bred on Kerrera and those who have moved to the island either recently or many years ago. Of those who are Kerrera born and bred, several had spent time away from the island, for various reasons, but had chosen to return more recently.

3.5. Our consultations with the islanders indicate a reasonable age balance of residents

  • Pre-school/school age: 10 residents.
  • Working age: 18.
  • Retired: 5.

3.6. The distribution of population across the island depends on the definition of 'north', and whether there is a 'middle' as well as 'south'. However, around half of the population are located north of the vehicle ferry slipway, and the other half to the south if it.

3.7. As explained later, there is no vehicle road link between the north and middle of Kerrera. Thus, in most respects there are two separate communities, divided between the north and south of the island. This was the general view of consultees-both island residents and stakeholders based elsewhere. The residents consider the island to be physically divided between the north and the south end because of the lack of proper and reliable access between the two areas.

3.8. It was suggested that the island seems "unable to come together", either physically through the lack of a road connection or socially or economically due to the personality issues that can arise in a small community like Kerrera. That said, all of the residents we consulted highlighted the attraction of Kerrera as a place to live. This reflects its beautiful location and unspoilt nature.

Access to Services

3.9. There are very few services on the island for Kerrera residents. Access to the mainland (largely Oban) is therefore required to access shops, petrol stations, banks, post office, health services, primary and secondary schools.

3.10. Internet access is available on Kerrera although its quality was described as "a bit hit and miss". There is no facility for posting a letter or parcel so residents have to travel over to the mainland to do so.

3.11. The island's primary school closed in the late 1990s. This was due to a drop in the numbers of school age children. At present, all children of primary school age live in the north of the island. It was put to us that since the late 1990s families living at the south end of Kerrera have moved off the island when their children have reached primary school age. This is due to not being able to access the school transport ferry provided at the north of the island.

3.12. Residents' frequency of travel to the mainland varies significantly by type of household. Due to the proximity to the mainland, residents are able to travel back and forth on more than one occasion per day if required. Residents tend to make either:

  • Infrequent trips to Oban-i.e. less than weekly; or
  • Very frequent trips-i.e. in excess of five return journeys per week.

3.13. Residents travelling by ferry, via the marina boat or in their own boat tend to move their personal goods to the island in a piecemeal fashion, taking what they can accommodate on each trip. This inevitably is an inconvenience, but is considered by most to be an accepted part of living on Kerrera. As one resident put it, living on Kerrera is a "physical lifestyle, but it is a life-choice, and therefore it isn't an issue."

3.14. Responses to emergency situations on the island come from staff based on the mainland. SAS told us that their usual response is by helicopter. However. there have been occasions when this is not feasible and Oban-based staff have to go over on the ferry. The vehicle ferry service in the middle of the island cannot take a SAS ambulance and staff therefore travel across by foot or, on occasion, staff have made use of a police 4 x 4 vehicle.

3.15. NHS do not see current ferry service provision as constraining the delivery of health services on the island. Community nurses and midwives tend to visit the island to give care to specific residents as required rather than on a regular basis. They travel across as foot passengers. This is mostly on the marina's passenger service at the north of the island. This is more convenient than Oban based staff having to travel to Gallanach to access the ferry there.

3.16. There are two NHS staff members who live on Kerrera. They arrange with other residents for the visiting nurses/midwives to get lifts around the island as required. They do not take their own vehicle to every island they serve from Oban. Thus, Kerrera is not exceptional in this regard. NHS told us that the number of visits to small islands like Kerrera cannot justify keeping a dedicated vehicle on the island.

Economic Activity

3.17. Our consultations indicate that slightly more residents commute to Oban than work and/or are self-employed on Kerrera. The commuters largely travel on a daily basis, Monday-Friday. In around 40% of the households we consulted at least one person commutes (largely to Oban) for work. They undertake a wide range of jobs at varying levels of seniority with their employer. Most commuters start work on the mainland at or around 0830.

3.18. Employment on the island is very largely in either agriculture or tourism. The former takes place on tenanted farms owned by Dunollie Estate and in the north end of the island by owner farmers. This generates direct employment for both the tenants/owners and others who live on the island.

3.19. Our consultations suggest that around one-third of households on Kerrera have some reliance on tourism for earning a living. This is predominantly through the provision of accommodation or in providing food and drink to visitors.

3.20. The marina at the north end of the island has 100 berths and 33 moorings. There is planning permission for a further 100 berths.

3.21. The marina employs seven people all year round. There is also a significant amount of seasonal employment. This includes staff at the bar and restaurant which are open for five months of the year.

3.22. The restaurant is franchised out to a Kerrera resident. It employs 10-12 people on a seasonal basis. Two of these (including the franchisee) are permanent residents of Kerrera. Overall, however, employment at the marina is very largely among people who live on the mainland and commute to Kerrera.

3.23. Other visitor-related employment comes from the following which are mostly based in the south end of the island:

  • Bunkhouse accommodation is at the tea garden which is near the castle.
  • Parrot sanctuary, which also includes a holiday lodge.
  • Farmhouse B&B.
  • The vehicle ferry service to the middle of the island.

3.24. In total, the largest amount of visitor-related employment comes from the marina. However, in terms of visitor-related employment for island residents there is a broadly even balance between that in the marina and that in other businesses.

3.25. The bulk of visitors come to Kerrera in the summer months. The summer season is considered to last around five months (May-September), which is when, for example, the restaurant at the Marina is open. There are peaks in demand within this period. Some consultees referred to up to 200 walkers per day visiting the island. Visitor demand is based very much on exploring the island by foot as they are not permitted to bring a vehicle to Kerrera.

3.26. An Oban-based social enterprise company (Stramash) bring around 300 visitors a year to the island to undertake outdoor activities. Most (around 200) come across for the day. The others stay between two and four nights on Kerrera. During that time they will also make day trips from the island to the mainland to undertake activities there. Stramash visitors come largely between April and October.

3.27. Stramash told us that the activities on Kerrera are a big part of their overall business. They value Kerrera because it is very close to the mainland yet feels much more "remote" than this.

Existing Roads on Kerrera

3.28. As noted earlier, a key issue is the absence of a road suitable for vehicular travel between the north and the south of the island. The existing link between north and south is essentially a track; some parts on stone others across grass fields.

3.29. It can only be used by quad bikes, either for deliveries or by residents to use the vehicle ferry to collect goods from Oban. However, it is very occasionally used by a north island resident to take a vehicle on/off the island. The north-south track at present crosses a number of residents' land, and those travelling should seek permission to cross the land if travelling by vehicle.

3.30. The existing roads in the south of the island are of a basic standard, akin to forest tracks. It can take around half an hour to travel from the south end of Kerrera to the vehicle ferry in the middle of the island. The two roads on the west of the island are both adopted by Argyll and Bute Council. Members of the community consistently commented on the very poor standard of the existing roads.

Existing Ferry Services

Kerrera Ferry Limited


3.31. Kerrera Ferry Limited operate a vehicle ferry service. This is between a slipway in the middle of Kerrera and one at Gallanach on the mainland, which is around two miles south of Oban. Duncan MacEachen, a Kerrera resident, is the sole shareholder and Director of the ferry company.

3.32. The service is operated through a private lease arrangement from Dunollie Estate. The Estate provide a tied cottage and the two slipways as part of this agreement, whilst the ferry operator provides the vessels and keeps the fare revenues. The operator has to give the Estate six months' notice if they no longer want to provide the ferry service.

3.33. In addition to the main ferry service, the operator also provides on a separate private basis:

  • A weekly service for waste disposal under contract to Argyll and Bute Council. This includes use of the Scottish Sea Farms and Oban Marina slipways in the north of the island.
  • Freight runs to the north of Kerrera, using the Scottish Sea Farms and Oban Marina slipways. These are on demand and provided at the operator's discretion.

3.34. The service is provided by the Gylen Lady. She is certificated to carry up to 12 passengers, which allows the ferry to be operated by just a single crew member. This can mean on occasion that passengers have to be left behind, when more than 12 want to travel. However, given the crossing time is only around 2 minutes (one way) the ferry can return immediately to clear the backlog of passengers. None of the consultees saw this arrangement as a problem.

3.35. There is also a back up vessel, the Gylen Maid. She is a 21 foot aluminium open boat and is certificated to carry up to six passengers.

3.36. The Gylen Lady has a deadweight limit of 4-5 tonnes. She can carry a single car or similar sized vehicle or trailer, but not a vehicle of the size of, say, a fire engine. When carrying a car, the driver and accompanying passengers can also be carried on the ferry. However, the total number of passengers carried on the sailing tends to be no more than five due to limited space on board.

3.37. The lease from Dunollie Estate precludes members of the public taking cars over to the island for non-business purposes. Only island residents, utility vehicles and work traffic are permitted vehicular access to Kerrera.

3.38. Significantly, island residents very rarely take a car on the ferry. They tend to have two cars/vehicles. One for use on the island where no MOT certificate is required and a second that is parked at the car park at Gallanach, which is used to travel about on the mainland (including commuting to work). The residents travel on the ferry as foot passengers, thus removing the need to pay a vehicle fare when travelling to/from the mainland. Across the island as a whole all residents appear to have a vehicle either in Oban or at Gallanach for use on the mainland.

3.39. The deadweight limit of the Gylen Lady means that larger loads of freight (such as animal feed and building supplies) have to be brought across on the deck in a number of loads. This requires the freight to be unloaded from a vehicle on the mainland side, carried across in a number of loads and then transported onwards on Kerrera itself. When bringing feed over, a forklift will generally be brought over from the mainland to unload on the Kerrera side.

3.40. This process is time consuming. It generally requires 4-6 hours to tranship one lorry load of hay. Further, the tidal nature of the slipways means livestock or freight movements are only generally possible plus or minus two hours from high tide, and via a special charter service rather than as part of the regular timetable.

3.41. Animal feed and livestock tend to be concentrated in certain months of the year. For example, the main period for moving livestock is September-November.

3.42. Some consultees told us that the movement of livestock can be a very stressful exercise. The Kerrera farmer needs to coordinate between the ferry (over the timing of the service), livestock haulier on the mainland side, and those receiving the livestock, as well as ensuring that the livestock are 'walked' to the ferry at the appropriate time. They generally travel loose on the deck of the ferry.

Shore Infrastructure

3.43. The Kerrera Slipway Study, referred to at Chapter 2, states that the facility on Kerrera is an old stone built slipway that was capped in concrete in the early 1990s, which was the last investment in it. A stone-built breakwater is provided along the length of the slipway. Both the slipway and this breakwater were extended during the capping works. There is an existing car park at the terminal.

3.44. The slipway is only accessible for vehicles at certain states of the tide. This can also occasionally be an issue for the movement of passengers at a very low tide.

3.45. The Study also states that that the slipway at Gallanach is an old stone built structure capped in concrete. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the capping was constructed in the early 1990s, when there was last investment in it. There is an existing car park at Gallanach. However, this has insufficient capacity to accommodate all visitors' vehicles in the height of summer.

3.46. There is a lack of clarity on the ownership of the Gallanach facility. Dunollie Estate do not possess a document stating that they own the slipway. However, no-one else has claimed the slipway and the Estate pays for its upkeep.

3.47. It is also unclear who owns the car parking space. The Estate own some of the land used. Argyll and Bute Council have upgraded some of the other car parking land but have stated that they do not own it.

3.48. Dunollie Estate told us that island residents' boats have free use of the jetties. To date the Estate has restricted other users because of a fear that a competing ferry service might want to use it. Kerrera Ferry Limited has also been able to charge other, non-ferry users (e.g. divers, canoeists).


3.49. The Kerrera Ferry timetable is summarised at Table 3.1.

Table 3.1: Vehicle Ferry Timetable

Winter (October-Easter)




Number of return sailings




First/last ferry ex Kerrera




First/last ferry ex Gallanach




Summer (Easter-October)




Number of return sailings




First/last ferry ex Kerrera




First/last ferry ex Gallanach





Note: Excludes private freight runs and waste disposal contract

3.50. The summer timetable provides 11-12 scheduled return sailings per day. In addition, as noted earlier, additional runs are made to clear the backlog of passenger traffic where more than 12 want to travel at the same time.

3.51. Monday-Saturday the service commences at 0840, with the last sailings in each direction at around 1800. There is break in service between the 0845 sailings and 1030. Thereafter the frequency is regular during the day, apart from a break over lunch between 1230 and 1400. The Sunday schedule is the same as on other days of the week, except that service commences at 1030 rather than 0840.

3.52. The main differences between the winter and summer timetable is the:

  • Reduced frequency-with about half of the number of sailings seen in summer.
  • Sailing day ending one hour earlier at the weekend (around 1700) than during the week.

3.53. Overall, the service is reasonably frequent during the day but finishes quite early. As a result some residents feel that during the daytime the island is very much like a part of Oban (due to its accessibility by ferry), whereas at night it becomes more like a remote island. In addition, the current start and end times mean that some commuters to Oban require their employer to be flexible about working hours.


3.54. Fares are shown at Table 3.2.

Table 3.2: Vehicle Ferry Fares (Return)

Fare (£)


Full time resident-adults


Full time resident-children


Frequent travellers


Day visitors-adults


Day visitors-children



Full time resident-cars

20.00 (excluding VAT and passenger fare)


10.00 (excluding VAT and passenger fare)

Dunollie Estate Farms

All passenger, vehicle, freight and livestock carryings

400-1,500 per annum


3.55. The notable features of the fare structure are:

  • The flat annual rates charged for all use by individual Estate farms.
  • Higher passenger fares charged for non-residents.
  • The application of VAT to car fares, which appear relatively high for what is a very short crossing.
  • Trailers being charged lower fares than cars.

Oban Marina & Yacht Services Ltd


3.56. Oban Marina & Yacht Services Ltd. operate a ferry service from the marina at the north end of the island. This is by two passenger only vessels, sailing between the marina's own pontoons and the North Pier at Oban. The company receives a subsidised rate from Argyll and Bute Council for the use of North Pier. That facility has no slipway.

3.57. The two vessels are berthed in Oban overnight. The crossing time is 10 minutes one way.

3.58. The service is free of charge for use by:

  • Yachtsmen/women when their yacht is berthed at the marina.
  • Day visitors to the bar/restaurant at the marina.
  • Marina staff.
  • Contractors undertaking work at the marina.

3.59. It is also free to use by island residents who have their own boat berthed at the marina. As well as free use of the ferry the residents pay only 50% of the berthing charge applied to non residents.

3.60. Visitors to Kerrera who do not provide the marina or any of its facilities with custom are charged to use the ferry service.

3.61. The vessels are used solely to move passengers to/from Kerrera. No other work is undertaken for the marina, nor any charter work for third parties. The marina expect them to each last a further ten years allowing for annual overhauls/refits and running repairs. However, they are concerned about their ability to set aside sufficient resources to allow their eventual replacement.

3.62. The marina also own an aluminium catamaran which they use as a workboat. Among other tasks, it brings in fuel for the marina in its tanks.

3.63. Previously the marina brought fuel to the island, as well as building materials, by chartering an Oban-based CalMac vessel. However, the cost of this was prohibitive (£500 per hire). As with their passenger boats the marina's catamaran uses Oban's North Pier.


3.64. The two passenger vessels are certificated to carry up to 12 passengers, and operate with a single crew member. This can mean that on occasion passengers are left behind when more than 12 people want to travel at the same time. The vessels return immediately to clear the backlog. However, the marina told us that this can leave some customers dissatisfied that they have to wait. This is because they have to wait at least 20 minutes before they can be carried on the ferry service.

3.65. The marina have considered purchasing one larger ferry with a capacity of around 35 passengers. This would be of particular use in the main summer period (May-September) when the bulk of the passengers are carried. However, to date they have been deterred by the:

  • Capital cost of purchasing a larger vessel-whether new or second hand.
  • Additional operating costs-notably due to the need to operate with two rather than one crew member as at present.


3.66. Between April and September the first sailings of the day are 0810 ex Oban and 0830 ex Kerrera. The service operates until 2300. The service is generally hourly. However, at the busiest times (1100-1500 and 1700-2000) a shuttle service is provided. The two vessels operate when demand requires.

3.67. During the rest of the year the first sailings are also 0810 ex Oban and 0830 ex Kerrera. Thereafter the service operates hourly on demand. The last ferry from Kerrera is at 1800, with an 1810 ex Oban sailing. During the day island residents are only able to travel at times when there is a sailing demanded by the marina's customers. However, the first and last sailings of the day are guaranteed ones that the islanders can use.

3.68. The start time of the marina ferry is considered too late for a number of residents. Those who commute from the north end generally do so using their own boat.


3.69. As noted earlier the only passengers charged for use of the service are visitors to Kerrera who do not provide the marina or any of its facilities with custom. They pay a £3 return fare.

3.70. The marina told us that they are unwilling to charge their customers to use the ferry. They believe that this would greatly reduce their business-especially for larger parties (e.g. a family of four). They view charging to access the marina would make the facility uncompetitive against nearby ones on the mainland (e.g. Dunstaffnage). At those locations users can drive directly in/out of the boatyard at no charge and are able to load their belongings directly to/from their boat-unlike at Kerrera where they have to be transhipped to and from the ferry.

School Pupil Transport

3.71. There are presently four school pupils at the north end of the island-two secondary and two primary. They travel by boat every school day between the marina and Oban North Pier. The service is solely for the transport of the pupils.

3.72. It is provided by a private contractor. It is procured and funded (at a cost of around £14,000 per annum) by Argyll and Bute Council. The service is required due to the lack of a road that would allow the pupils access to the vehicle ferry service.

3.73. In Oban the four pupils are taken between the North Pier and their schools by a minibus that also transports other pupils. Overall, the provision is seen as effective and reliable. Only a small number of schooldays are missed due to adverse weather conditions.

3.74. Pupils frequently make use of the Oban Marina ferry service in order to access after school sport and other activities.

Residents' Own Boats

3.75. In addition to travelling off Kerrera by ferry around one in four residents also use their own boat to reach the mainland. Others that don't have their own boat often aspire to do so

3.76. This is to travel to work, bring goods back across and access evening social and leisure activities in Oban when the ferry services have finished for the day. A number of commuters would not otherwise be able to work in Oban. This is due to the operating hours of the two ferry services.

3.77. That said, all recognised the vital importance of the ferry service in sustaining the future of the island and particularly in terms of moving freight and livestock, and providing safe and reliable connections. Thus, their own transport is a complement to, rather than a substitution for, the ferry services.

3.78. Argyll and Bute Council told us that Kerrera is not exceptional in this regard. Some residents of other islands (e.g. Easdale, Iona and Colonsay) have their own boat which they use for travel to the mainland.

Maintaining Ferry Services in the Short Term


3.79. As explained at Chapter 2, during this study Transport Scotland has intervened to maintain short term ferry service provision to Kerrera. This is pending the selection of a long-term solution to the island's ferry needs.

Community Agreement

3.80. A "community agreement" has been drawn up between Kerrera Ferry Limited and the community. Its development was facilitated by Transport Scotland. The agreement is on a revised service to be provided by the operator, who will receive grant funding from Transport Scotland. This was discussed at a public meeting on Kerrera in February 2013.

3.81. The draft community agreement was issued to the community for comment. Following agreed revisions the new arrangements were set to begin in early March.

3.82. The community agreement arrangements can be summarised as follows:

3.83. First and foremost there is the certainty of a continued service. The short term arrangements are for up to two years, by which time longer term solutions should be in place.

3.84. A vehicle and freight service will be provided to the north of the island, charged at the same fares as to the south of the island. The service will be available by prior booking only, with a maximum of one booking per day, and a maximum of 12 trips per calendar month.

3.85. The ferry service operating day will be extended from 0800 to 1900, Monday-Saturday (except Wednesday). This is through one additional return sailing in the morning-0800 ex Kerrera and 0805 ex Gallanach-and one at 1900 ex Kerrera and 1905 ex Gallanach. These will be request sailings.

3.86. The operating day on winter Sundays will also be extended. The last crossing will be at 1800 rather than 1705.

3.87. The practice of flat rate charges for all Dunollie Estate Farms traffic will no longer operate. They will be charged on a per crossing basis in the same way as other users.

3.88. Vehicle and freight fares will be reduced to be in line with RET fares. The cost of carrying a car will go down from £20 (excluding VAT) to £12 return (with no VAT charged).

3.89. The cost of carrying a trailer will rise. It will increase from £10 return (plus VAT) to £12 (plus VAT).

3.90. Residents' passenger fares will increase, and will be consistent for all users in line with RET fares. Following discussion with the community, it has been agreed that this alignment and the full increase in residents' fares should be phased. Instead of a single step from £2.50 to £4.00 return for residents, the increase in early March 2013 will be to £3.00 for the remainder of this year. The visitor return fare will fall from £5.00 to £4.50 until the next fare review (which is expected to be around March 2014).

3.91. At the time of writing Transport Scotland are also working with the Oban Marina to determine whether short-term grant funding would also be appropriate for them.

Infrastructure Investment

3.92. Transport Scotland have also agreed to fund the following infrastructure works at the island terminal used by Kerrera Ferry Limited:

  • Resurface 10m length of the existing slipway.
  • Rebuild the eroded section of the stone-built breakwater.
  • Lift and reposition the dumb barge breakwater on a stable foundation.

3.93. In addition, further surveys will be carried out as recommended by the Kerrera Slipway Study referred to at Chapter 2.


3.94. The main points to note from this Chapter are:

  • Kerrera has a very small, although apparently stable, resident population.
  • Lack of facilities and services on the island means that residents are highly dependent on access to the mainland for services and, for a significant number, for employment.
  • On-island employment is heavily concentrated in tourism and agriculture. A lot of tourism employment is generated by the marina, although this is largely taken up by mainland residents.
  • The infrastructure on the island is quite limited. There is no proper road connecting the north and south of the island, while residents see the other island roads as poor quality. There has been a lack of investment in the shore infrastructure used by the vehicle ferry.
  • The lack of a north-south road means that three ferry services are required to serve an island of fewer than 50 people. It appears to have contributed to divisions between island residents. It has also stifled the opportunity to market Kerrera's visitor attractions as a whole-e.g. the castle and the marina each attract visitors at either end of the island but they cannot currently easily visit both.
  • The operation, fares and timetables of the two main services (i.e. apart from school transport) are not assured. They are dependent on private companies to fund and provide the operations and the shore infrastructure that is used. No assured or regular vehicle/freight service is provided for those on the north of Kerrera.
  • The current length of sailing day means that some residents use their own boat to access employment and services on the mainland.
  • The limited passenger capacities of the vehicle ferry and (although to a lesser extent) marina services do not appear to be major constraints, given the short crossing times.
  • The limited vehicle/freight capacity on the vehicle ferry does not appear to be a major constraint. The tidal limitations of the shore infrastructure appears to be a more significant issue. Most islanders do not want to travel regularly with a car. This means that parking availability on the mainland is a very important issue.
  • The ferry services have some distinctive features. The vehicle ferry has flat rate fares for some users, and visitors are not able to bring a car to the island. Most passengers on the marina service travel for free.
  • A number of changes are being made to the vehicle ferry operation. These include a longer sailing day, lower vehicle fares and higher resident passenger fares, plus an assured service for those moving freight to/from the north end of the island. Use of the service is likely to change somewhat as result of these innovations.

3.95. Some of these points are developed further at Chapter 4.