The bridge to the Isle of Skye between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin is now open.
It was opened by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the ribbon cutting being done by a local primary school pupil at 1100 this morning.
There was a pack of press and local radio people there. A seated area was set up for the bridge workers, families and invited guests. On the other side was the fenced off area for the locals. I counted about 50 or 60 people, and no more than 20 were local!
There were no protests, except for one person holding a 'Forsyth Is a Scottish Quisling' - I would have agreed with him if I'd known what it meant! The Regional and Local Councils as well as local businessmen boycotted the event due to the imposition of such extortionate tolls.
Throughout the ceremony, the only people who applauded anything were the people in the seated area. When the bridge was officially opened, everyone just stood there, but I did give out a nice loud BOO :-) The local consensus was that it's here now, there's no point in complaining, so they didn't bother.
A convoy of cars went over first, this included a couple of vintage Vauxhalls and three old green Macbraynes busses.
The weather stayed dry until about 1200 when the usual drizzle started. the window are about 30MPH. Even with this moderate wind, the walk over the bridge was quite tough. The worst bit was the viaduct between the two islands. We're taking bets as to who's going to be the first suicide or bungee jump from the top of the bridge, you can easily climb over the 5ft fence. It takes on average 40 minutes to walk from the centre of Kyle to the centre of Kyleakin.
Then came the final ferry runs at 1500. I got onto the Loch Fyne at 1400. Just as well. Caledonian Macbrayne had been issuing tickets for the last trip, but as everyone had gone on board early and refused to get off, that idea went out the window! At 1500, we left Kyle with the Isle of Skye pipeband on board. They played a selection of rousing tunes with, of course, Over The Sea To Skye as we arrived in Kyleakin.
At that point there were several hundred people waiting on the slipway, with about 200 people on board, having parties all over the car deck round the pipeband - we were getting off for no-one! The ferries did SIX 'last' runs before finally getting everyone off. It was an emotional time, the end of an era. the ferries will be departing tomorrow to the Clyde.
A lot of people have asked why the ferry is coming off and not remaining in competition? Well, Caledonian Macbrayne are a private company with one shareholder - the Secretary of State for Scotland! They receive large subsidies towards their ferry services which go to a number of areas throughout the Highlands and islands. The Kyle-Kyleakin ferry service was the only one they had which made a true profit (but they would never admit how much this was.
It was part of the agreement between the Skye Bridge Company and the Government that the ferry service would be taken off when the bridge opened. What really annoys a lot of people here is the fact that the Government told CalMac that they would increase the subsidies to cover any loss from withdrawing the ferry. It was announced later that this amounted to nearly three quarters of a million pounds.
This means that we are still paying for a ferry service we no longer have (as the increase in subsidies comes from our taxes) AND for an extortionate bridge...
So, the bridge is toll-free until midnight tonight (of course, they still charged for the bus!). So, rumour has it that the shenanigans start at midnight, before all the press leave. I'm not sure, will it be people arriving to pay by pennies, people arriving and refusing to pay/blockade the bridge/whatever. I'll certainly be going along to give my support!
Copyright © Ray Shields, 1996.
Most recent revision, 15 February 1996.