Neil Stoddart looks into the history of Ardrishaig, Argyll and Bute. At one time a small fishing village, its pier now supports timber freight operations that take significant tonnage of timber transport – benefitting the environment, increasing safety and reducing deterioration of the road network infrastructure.

SITUATED on Loch Fyne, Ardrishaig was a fishing village of four or five houses up until the early years of the 19th century. In 1809, the Crinan Canal was opened, linking Loch Fyne to the Sound of Jura at Crinan. By 1829, over 30,000 passengers were travelling along the canal each year. Ardrishaig Harbour’s first pier was built in 1873 and became a significant port for freight traffic as well as for passengers.

Lock-keepers at Ardrishaig were kept busy with the steam puffers that moved goods and supplies up and down the west coast – timbers, grain, and coal. Every lock-keeper got a bucket of coal for the fire from the boats and would repay the puffer men by giving them fresh vegetables to help stave off the scurvy. These would accompany the gulls caught on the boat and handed to the chef for making supper.

One heavy user of grain and coal from 1831 was William Foulds & Co, distillers of Paisley, Ardrishaig and London, the owner of a distillery in the village producing fine malts such as Jamie Tamson, Glenfyne and Honeydew until 1928.

Into the 1900s, the area around the pier grew from supporting puffers and the fishing fleet to being a hive of industry. One of the early forestry connections was in 1904 when the Barking House was constructed on the pier. This was for fishermen to soak their nets in a tannin made from bark – providing a treatment to protect them from the salt water.

As the financial depression took hold in the 1930s, the Forestry Commission set up one of 38 Instructional Camps across the UK at nearby Cairnbaan. It was built by the Ministry of Labour to ease severe unemployment from heavy industry. This saw a boom period in the glens of mid Argyll as vast hillsides were planted with conifers, providing jobs and establishing a timber resource. In 1962, the pier came under the management of the British Waterways Board, which was established by the Transport Act to manage and maintain the UK’s inland waterways.

Forestry Journal: Bark treated herring nets, hanging out to dry.Bark treated herring nets, hanging out to dry.

So, forestry in Argyll was going well, until overnight on the 15th of January 1968, when a hurricane storm swept through the area. Large areas of carefully created state and private forests were devastated with windblow. As is normal in these events, the volume of timber harvested in order to clear the damaged crops far outweighed the requirements of local sawmills.

The pier facility at Ardrishaig was ideally located to provide an outlet for logs and shipments of approximately 200-tonne cargoes were prepared for Bally Cassidy sawmills and Coolraine sawmills in Ireland. With mechanisation still in its infancy, logs were pre-bundled and loaded with a fly jib cable crane – all hook work. Slow and steady, this worked well and established the facility as a workable export port. Some of the haulage to the pier and the ship-loading work was undertaken by local timber haulier Eddie McGinty of Cairnbaan.

The ship work eventually dried up as the windblown volume was cleared, but the ideas and thinking around loading roundwood didn’t stop. Eddie invested in the first truck-mounted hydraulic crane loader in the UK, a FOCO top-seat model which was imported from Sweden and certainly increased productivity. Meanwhile, the pier was upgraded in the 1970s with strengthening work, seeing both sheet piling and tie backs applied to the south-facing wall.

Forestry Journal: The mighty McGinty Foden Loglift 300 independent.The mighty McGinty Foden Loglift 300 independent.

The late 1980s saw forestry production increasing, but with the Wiggens Teape paper mill in Lochaber switching from roundwood to baled pulp, the Argyll area was once again producing more than the local users could use. Contractors and timber buyers alike, including Sheffield, Iggesund and Kronospan, came from south Scotland and northern England to tap into the growing resource, resulting in roundwood being hauled by road over long distances.

Eventually, Ardrishaig, along with fixed ports at Campbeltown, Portavadie and Sandbank, became the focus for shipping of both logs and pulpwood material from the area. By the late ’80s the vessels were getting bigger, and larger timber cranes were required to handle them. Eddie McGinty had the opportunity and the foresight to build one of the first big ‘independents’ capable of this task. Acquiring the last two Foden 8x6 carriers that had been produced as part of a 400-unit order for NATO, Eddie worked with Outreach of Larbert to fit a Loglift 300 cab crane to the Foden. This worked both in the forests, loading trailers, and at ports across the county loading roundwood. Other hauliers also developed similar loaders, with Martin Brolly, Ferguson Transport, and JST Services sharing the increasing workload.

Ardrishaig Pier saw several improvements in the mid-’90s with the old timber jetty demolished and the main berth extended. However, with continued limited local processing capacity, much timber was still leaving Argyll by road to be processed in central Scotland and Ayrshire. The government-funded Timberlink scheme was set up in 2000 to support short-sea coastal shipping of roundwood from Argyll to Ayrshire and Ardrishaig Pier became part of this grant-aided service that supports timber freight operations. The objective was (and still is) to take significant tonnage of timber transport off the road network – supporting the environment, increasing safety and also reducing deterioration of the road network infrastructure. JST Services was awarded the contract for loading and discharge of the Timberlink vessels from Ardrishaig.

Forestry Journal: Eddie McGinty’s Foco timber crane.Eddie McGinty’s Foco timber crane.

With this activity, loading of their own log carrier (mainly exporting sawlogs to southern Ireland), and use of the port by the Great Glen Shipping Company fleet, mobile ‘independent-type’ loaders were replaced by JST with a purpose-built Liebherr 934 handling machine, increasing loading speed and efficiency. Hydraulic material-handling machines are specifically designed for marine cargo and are distinguished by combining stability and high load-bearing capacities, while providing a controlled long reach. It’s worth noting here that he who works with his hands is a labourer, he who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman, and he who works with his hands, his head, and his heart is an artist. Most will testify that JST operator Jimmy McRoberts is indeed an artist. He has been neatly loading vessels with round timber at Ardrishaig for around 20 years.

Forestry Journal: Jimmy McRoberts has expertly loaded roundwood from Ardrishaig for the last 20 years.Jimmy McRoberts has expertly loaded roundwood from Ardrishaig for the last 20 years.

Once a division of British Waterways, Scottish Canals, the manager of the pier, became a stand-alone public body of the Scottish Government on 2 July 2012. Its first major task was to deal with the partial collapse of a section of the north side of the pier that occurred in May 2017. Closure ensued for safety reasons and a full review of its future as a commercial port was undertaken. However, positivity reigned, and a Scottish Government grant enabled Scottish Canals to rebuild the pier and reopen it to freight use, as well as undertake works to ensure that future operations were fit for purpose.

These upgrades began in March 2018 to install rock revetment to stabilise the masonry section of the pier that had collapsed, and also to extend the pier by 15 metres to increase timber stacking capacity. During the project, significant erosion of existing sheet piling walls on the north side of the pier was uncovered – requiring major underwater steel plate repairs to reestablish the structural stability.

Additional works to upgrade the pier in terms of lighting, fencing and security (including an automated gate system) to meet modern port standards were also undertaken, along with a full review of health and safety systems.

The civils project was completed, and the pier reopened to freight on 15 October 2018.

So, with structural, social and welfare facility improvements that can be used by both visiting canal users/mariners and timber HGV drivers alike, the pier, along with the Scottish Canals management team, is well prepared to serve another 150 years as an important part of the Argyll timber sector.

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