The origins of the ferry at Colintraive are obscure but pre-date the introduction of steam on the Clyde. The early steamboat guidebooks refer to the ferry in the Kyles of Bute.
“From Rothesay the channel, for some miles, takes a north-westerly course, leaving the Clyde, and taking the name of the Kyles of Bute, which encircles half the island. In sailing through this channel, several agreeable prospects are met with. A few miles farther on to the right is the opening of Loch Striven; and near it the house of Southall, Campbell; about 8 miles from it is a ferry called Collintray; close to it are some rocky islands, and the mouth of Loch Ridden, where is Red Island, on which are the ruins of a castle of that name, used as a garrison, in 1685, in favour of Monmouth.”—The Steamboat Companion, James Lumsden & Sons, Glasgow, 1820.
The construction of the road down Glendaruel in the early 1800s to facilitate the Lochfyne herring trade raised the importance of the ferry and it was a calling point for the early steamboat traffic, at the time dominated by the Castle Company. At some point, probably around 1845, a quay was constructed to help with the loading and unloading of goods, and after that Colintraive became a destination for trips and excursions.
Castle Company, August 1845
Castle Company, 1848
“On Saturday week, being the first convenient day in May, the workers at Ladeside Power Loom Mill, Rothesay, got a holiday; and Messrs John Robertson and Co., their employers, having previously resolved to promote their enjoyment, arranged with the Steam Boat Company, to give them pleasure sail. Accordingly, on the arrival at Rothesay of the Castle Company’s steamer, about 12 o’clock, the pier was occupied by the workers, to the number of 200, who went on board, accompanied by their worthy employer, Mr Robertson, and sailed into the Kyles of Bute, to Colintrave, where they landed, and proceeded to view the romantic scenery of Loch Redden. After wandering about and admiring the beauties of the locality, they partook of a plentiful repast, provided by Messrs Robertson and Co., during which, expression was given, in a highly appropriate style, by several of the male operatives, on behalf of themselves and fellow-workers, who all seemed fully sensible of, and grateful for, the considerate kindness of their employers. A special steamer was despatched for the company in the evening. Such a number of happy looking faces, have rarely been congregated together. During their passage home, a musical group was concentrated on the quarter-deck, and gave voice to a number of anthems and songs, which were performed in a most harmonious and tasteful style. Everything was conducted with the utmost propriety; and all being well dressed for the occasion, it really formed as pleasing a spectacle as one could have wished to see.”—Greenock Advertiser, May 15, 1849
“A person of the name of Colin Graham, pretty well in years, keeper of Colintraive Quay, left this yesterday afternoon by the half-past five train, in second-class carriage, intending to proceed to Glasgow. When the train was about mile from Greenock, suddenly got up from his seat, opened the door, and leaped out. The alarm was given by the passengers, who had been so much taken by surprise to be unable to stop him, but the train had gone some way before it could be stopped. A messenger was at once sent back, when the man was found with his arm broken in several places, the wheels having gone over it. The person came on to Greenock, and an engine was immediately despatched, which brought him to the Infirmary, here, where the arm was amputated by Auld, and he now lies in precarious stale.”—Greenock Advertiser, December 27, 1850
Glasgow Herald, March 6, 1857
The call at Colintraive was maintained by the steamers on the Royal Route of Messrs Hutcheson and later Messrs Macbrayne. The pier was extended in 1859
“Colintrave.—The pier at Colintrave, Kyles of Bute, is at present being extended some yards further into the water, for the accommodation of steamers landing their passengers.”—Glasgow Herald, January 5, 1859
There were some less savoury events.
“Prize fight.—Scotland has neither a champion’s belt nor a championship to be competed for; but, if it be anything to her credit, she has some aspirants to pugilistic honours. To be sure the glory that the prize ring may confer is not very high, yes there are people who have a relish for it, and who seek it at much personal risk, and seldom without a considerable share of personal chastisement. But perhaps the most harmless exhibition of pugilistic science on record was made yesterday for £50 a side, in a field in the neighbourhood of Colintrave, by a Scotchman named Tom M‘Culley, and an Englishman named Tom Quin. The, idea of a prize fight naturally suggested to us its usual disgusting concomitants; and we anticipated the sickening duty of narrating to our readers how Quin and M‘Culley battered each other in due time into a sort of unrecognisable pulp, and how they did so to such a degree that they themselves even should hardly be conscious of their own identity. But a few exhibitions such as yesterday will be quite sufficient to bring the prize ring into contempt, even with the class on whom it depends for existence. What was meant to be a serious fight became a pugilistic farce. We have seen more blood shed by the drawing of a single tooth than was shed by the prize fighters at Colintrave yesterday, after two and a half hours hard fighting! A single leech would have disgorged twice the quantity! The men feinted and dodged and, for nearly half an hour, sometimes did not strike each other a single blow. Prettier sparring, it was said on the field, had never been seen in Scotland. That may be—but as it was mere sparring, the men might have been fighting yet, or might have fought till Christmas, if physical endurance could have held out so long, had not the referee at the end of two and a half, hours declared that the battle was a drawn one, and the combatants shook hands, evidently heartily tired of the whole affair. Fortunately, old John Falstaff, tickling, his nose with spear grass to make it bleed, that it might be thought he had been fighting, would have presented a much more terrific appearance than either M‘Culley or Quinn when they left the field. Both of them are men of some experience in the art, which they profess, each having fought several battles, and one of them showing on his face the marks of former contests, as a fighting dog bears on his head and neck the seams and scars of many a hard-fought encounter. When the battle was over, two of the spectators (of whom there were about 300) quarrelled, and in a single minute the face of one of them was gashed and streaming with blood, as if he had been undergoing half-a-dozen complex surgical operations. While the flight was proceeding, three of the Argyllshire police warned the combatants to desist; but the warning was not attended to, and on returning to Glasgow by the Iona, the combatants were seized by a dozen of police constables at Greenock, handcuffed, and conveyed to Glasgow.”—Glasgow Herald, August 14, 1861.
South Hall Road, Colintraive (Spencer)
The appearance of the Iona and Columba at the pier twice a day during the season was the highlight of the day. Regular calls were also made by the Clyde Cargo steamers. However, the Inveraray steamer, Lord of the Isles, did not call.
Lord of the Isles passing Colintraive
Iona at the pier
Iona at Colintraive pier
Columba at Colintraive in the 1920s (Spencer)
Colintraive Pier from Columba
The service continued with the Saint Columba and Lochfyne until the beginning of the second world war when the pier was closed. The pier was briefly reopened after the war but closed completely in 1948.
Saint Columba approaching Colintraive in 1937 (Valentine)
While the pier at Colintraive closed, improvements to the roads from Dunoon on the Cowal peninsula and from Port Bannatyne to Rudhbodach, the ferry point across the Kyles on Bute opened an opportunity to reintroduce the ferry. In the post-war years there was considerable demand for a vehicular ferry to Bute, and the existing services from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay involved slow and dangerous loading and unloading over planks, and only when the tide was cooperating. The first purpose-built car-ferries were not introduced until 1954. Accordingly, with encouragement of the County Council, a service was introduced on the Colintraive-Rudhbodach crossing in July, 1950. The private company, Bute Ferry Co. Ltd., used a Canadian built wooden landing craft, Eilean Mor, loading first from the beaches and later from specially built slipways. The vessel was renamed Eilean Mhor in 1964, and a number of other vessels were also used. The service was taken over by the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd, at the end of December 1969.
Advertising pamphlet for the new route to Bute
Ferry charges in 1953
Colintraive in 1954 (Valentine)
Lochfyne passing Colintraive in 1961 (Valentine)
Eilean Mhor at Rudhbodach
Eilean Mhor at Rudhbodach