We are frequent visitors to the Isle of Skye and although it is now linked to the mainland by the now free to cross, Skye bridge, we still prefer to arrive by ferry. There is something romantic about travelling "over the sea to Skye", that the bridge just can't deliver.
Booking is essential at all times of the year as the ferry is very small and only has capacity for about 12 cars. I always book by phoning Cal Mac on 0800-66-5000.Alternatively it is very easy to book on line. You will need your vehicle registration number and a credit card. The person's whose credit card you use must also be travelling, worth knowing if you are paying for a teenage child to go of on his or her own! Once the booking is confirmed you will be given a reference number. You will need this number to collect your tickets from your departure port.
The ferry leaves from the port of Mallaig about an hours drive from Fort William. You will need to take the A830 out of Fort William; the route is well signposted with ferry signs. You will need to allow about an hour for the drive from Fort William and you have to be at the port ½ hour before you are due to sail. The ferry is operated by Caledonian MacBrayne, who operate nearly all the routes to the Scottish Hebridean Islands. This monopoly does mean that the prices are expensive.
We have always travelled in the winter months to avoid the summer crowds on the Island. Even when the weather has been on the wild side the ferry has run. The ferry itself is surprisingly tall and looks quite impressive! Once you have collected your tickets you are ready to board. I should mention that there are toilets in the Cal Mac office! The ferry can only take about 12 cars so boarding doesn't take long!
It is possible to travel as a foot passenger without pre booking, although in the summer I'm told its best! If you are travelling on foot you will be allowed to carry on 40 Kg of baggage. You have to be able to carry your baggage in one go! However if you have small children, or a disability the staff will be happy to help.
Once on board you can choose to sit in the inside lounge or brave the elements and sit outside. The crossing only takes about 25 minutes, but it is well worth having your camera ready, as the scenery is wonderful! As this is a short crossing you will be able to see both the mainland and the Isle of Skye, giving a real sense of the Geography of the area. Looking towards the mainland you can see the mountains of Glen Shiel, with the magnificent jagged peaks of the Cullin range in front of you, on the Isle of Skye. The small Isles of Eigg,Muck and Rhum are clearly visible too.
There are sometimes sightings of Dolphins and Whales but usually during the summer months. We have seen plenty of seals but have never seen any Dolphins on this crossing.
The seating area inside the ferry is comfortable and warm. There are large picture windows for viewing. As this is a very short crossing there are only limited facilities on board. There is a small café serving drinks and snacks but they tend to be expensive. There are toilets and baby changing facilities on board and they have always been well maintained.
The ferry arrives in Armadale, which is located in the Sleat peninsula, to the south of the Isle of Skye. We always stay in the north of the Island so taking the ferry doesn't really save as much time or fuel! However it is the best way to arrive in my book!
The port of Armadale is tiny. Cal Mac has a small office with toilet facilities and not much else. There an interesting clothing shop called Ragamuffin to the left of the ferry office that is worth a look if you have time (see my review) In the summer there is a café at the port but when we arrive in the winter this always seems to be closed.
I really recommend you bring a car if you are visiting Skye, as public transport is very infrequent especially in the winter! You could always bring a bicycle, carried for free on the ferry!
I have left this bit until the end, as I didn't want to put you off the idea of taking the ferry! I did say that Cal Mac have the monopoly so are expensive to prepare you!
The winter season runs from March until October and fares are a bit cheaper. For a single journey a car will cost £16.00 and all passengers pay £2.75 each. Under 5's travel free of charge.
In the summer the fares increase to £19.45 for a car and £3.65 for passengers.
There are discounts available for drivers who have a blue badge and are car tax exempt. You will have to carry your blue badge and show your car tax disc to qualify.
For full details of sailings I suggest you go to the Cal Mac web site at www.calmac.co.uk To give you a rough idea there are just 2 sailings a day from Mallaig to Armadale during the winter season, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There are no sailings on Saturdays or Sundays.
During the summer sailing increase, with frequent sailings during the week, including Saturdays. There are 6 sailings on Sundays in peak season.
Overall I highly recommend arriving on the Isle of Skye by ferry if you are able to do so. Its just so romantic!
The ferry from Mallaig to Armadale is not necessarily the quickest way of getting to Skye but it is extremely scenic.