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'Godsend' £300K boost helps secure future of vital Cromarty-Nigg ferry link

By Hector MacKenzie

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Jacqui Ross described the development as "a godsend" and said: “We simply couldn’t risk losing our ferry."
Jacqui Ross described the development as "a godsend" and said: “We simply couldn’t risk losing our ferry."

THE future of the last ferry connecting two points on the east coast of the Scottish mainland should now be secured after two Highland communities won £300,000 from a fund set up to address the pressures created by the success of the North Coast 500.

The finance from the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF) will also mean that Cromarty on the Black Isle will be able to offer dedicated facilities for the growing number of motorhomes which arrive there from the long-distance driving route.

A partnership between Highland Council and Cromarty Community Development Trust is set to receive the cash to provide campervan facilities including hard standing, waste disposal and toilets along with improved slipways for the Cromarty-Nigg ferry, which has seen a 30 per cent growth in traffic.

The RTIF was launched in 2018 to help meet the demand of growing visitor numbers by funding infrastructure improvements such as parking, motorhome disposal points, visitor facilities and recycling points.

For a millennium, ferries across the firths of the east coast of Scotland were integral to the national transport network. In the second half of the 20th century, however, car ferries plying the Forth, Tay and Beauly firths were progressively withdrawn as the waterways were bridged. Now only one remains.

There has been a ferry operating between Cromarty and Nigg since at least the 13th century. The route became known as the The King's Ferry having been used by King James IV on a number of occasions in the 15th and 16th centuries as he made pilgrimages to the shrine of St Duthac at Tain, on the Easter Ross peninsula.

From the early 1970s, it took shifts of workers from the Black Isle across the mouth of the Cromarty Firth to work at the Nigg fabrication yard.

Today the summer-only service carries a growing number of tourists who want to get away from the busy A9. But its future has been in doubt because the slipways it uses are in urgent need of repair, with perhaps only two more seasons of operation feasible.

Cromarty, meanwhile, has witnessed a significant increase in the number of motorhomes arriving from the NC500, which has been welcomed. The community, however,is concerned that its ability to offer the best visitor experience, while maintaining the quality of local life, is already being sorely stretched. Uncontrolled parking on “The Links” amenity land in the summer months has had a serious day-to-day impact on the many residents who use and value it.

Meanwhile the inconvenient location of public toilets and absence of any shower or proper waste disposal facilities don’t represent the welcome that residents want to offer visitors.

Other funding will be sought but the £300,000 from the RTIF should allow the communities of Cromarty and Nigg to upgrade the slipways, with the prospect of a larger ferry being acquired by the operators in the future. Meanwhile money will also be spent on establishing a dedicated site for motorhomes in Cromarty with proper facilities.

Jacquie Ross, chair of the Cromarty and District Community Council and a director of the Cromarty Community Development Trust (CCDT), which applied for RTIF funding along with partners the Nigg and Shandwick Community Council, said: “We simply couldn’t risk losing our ferry. Not only is it historically important to Scotland’s human heritage, it is one of the main economic drivers in our small community at the north east tip of the Black Isle in the 21st century.

"The opportunity to apply to the RTIF was therefore a godsend. We are absolutely delighted that our funding will now allow us to secure the long-term future of the ferry.”

CCDT chair David Fraser said: “In addition to the ferry, the RTIF will allow us to give a proper welcome to growing number of people who visit in motorhomes. The ‘wild camping’ on an area of land which is central to the community life of Cromarty, has not been ideal for local residents or visitors. We certainly want to encourage tourism, and our RTIF success means that we will be able to do that more effectively in the future.”

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