Slate Islands Heritage Trust



For centuries the most convenient means of travel to the West coast of Scotland was by sea. By the mid nineteenth century large numbers of tourists as well as residents and itinerate workers travelled to Easdale by steamer. The slate upon which the Easdale people depended for their livelihood was also transported by sea. Local slate boats would tie up inside Easdale harbour but the larger ocean going vessels anchored in the bay and were loaded from small boats plying to and from the harbour.

Passenger steamers tied up at the McBrane's pier which was erected outside the main quarry at Ellenabeich. The pier is now in danger of complete collapse. In recent times surveys have been made with a view to reconstructing it and also demolishing it. Like so many projects devised to improve the facilities and appearance of the area, neither proposition ever left the drawing board.

In the 1990s money was found to restore the old piers and slipways on either side of the Easdale Sound and the result is a visually pleasing and practical reconstruction suited to the present day requirements of the islanders. Similarly the ferry waiting room on the island was given a face lift in 1997. Proposals have been put forward to replace the old waiting room on Ellenabeich pier which was blown away by the January storms of 1998.

In the mid nineteenth century it was possible to board the steamer at Easdale pier in mid morning and, arriving at Crinan at two o'clock in the afternoon, take the narrow canal boat Linnet across the Kintyre peninsular to Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne. Here one would board a Clyde steamer, which arrived at Broomielaw Quay, Glasgow in time to catch the London train that same evening.

There are many instances of people walking great distances, using small boats to ferry them across the large lochs they encountered along the way. The Easdale Volunteers are recorded in Queen Victoria's Journal as having walked to Taymouth Castle when Her Majesty was the guest of the Earl of Breadalbane in 1841. His grandaughter remembers tales of Dr Patrick Gillies walking from Easdale to Edinburgh when he was a student at the University.

When a metalled road was eventually constructed linking Easdale across Seil island to the main Oban road, a local entrepreneur started the Easdale Omnibus Company and residents could now drive into the fast developing rail head town of Oban. The 1861 census shows us that before the coming of the railway in the 1890s, Oban was a small fishing village with a population of 600. In the same year the combined parishes of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan (Seil, Easdale and Luing) supported a population of 3000.

The telephone brought instant communication with the outside world. A report in the Oban Times of March 16th 1878 tells of the excitement created by the installation of the first telephone in Ellenabeich village: On several occasions during the week Mr McLean, the recently appointed postmaster of Oban, has afforded some of the residents here the rare treat of speaking and hearing by means of this wonderful instrument. Arrangements having been made with Mr Cowan, the local postmaster, the opportunity was eagerly taken of holding converse with parties in Oban, sixteen miles distant ...

A hundred years ago Easdale had its own postmark and there were several collections daily. A letter sent from Easdale would reach its destination in London, next day. A reply could be expected within three days.

Health History Index Food & Agriculture