The ferry linking Port Askaig on Islay and Feolin on Jura takes five minutes to cross the half mile width of the narrowest part of the Sound of Islay and can carry around 10 cars. Payment takes place on board and no bookings are needed. The service is timetabled (see the link on the right). The crossing is so short that each service can, at busy times, turn into a shuttle as the ferry ensures that all those wishing to cross at both ends have done so.
Those wishing to travel from the Port Askaig end join the signed queue off to the left of the traffic queueing for the ferry linking Islay to the mainland and wait to be directed on board. By preference the Jura ferry, the MV Eilean Dhiura, uses the main linkspan for loading and unloading, though an alternative is available when the main Islay ferry is berthed.
The MV Eilean Dhiura was commissioned by Argyll and Bute Council especially for the route and was built in 1998 at McTay Marine Ltd's shipyard at Bromborough on the opposite side of the River Mersey from Liverpool. Although when you look at her from the side she looks like the older style of "landing craft" ferries, MV Eilean Dhiura's bridge is very slim and she has both bow and stern ramps, allowing vehicles to drive through and greatly reducing loading and unloading times. MV Eilean Dhiura is Gaelic for "Isle of Jura".
Most motorists stay in their vehicles for the short crossing. For foot passengers and cyclists she offers a small enclosed cabin and another clear sided shelter on the deck, looking for all the world like a bus shelter. There is no dedicated backup vessel for the crossing, which means that when she goes for her annual refit a replacement is brought in on an ad hoc basis. The photograph on the right shows Calmac's landing craft type ferry MV Eigg at Port Askaig while standing in on the route in 2002. The ferry is paid for by Argyll & Bute Council, but operated on their behalf by ASP Ship Management Ltd.
In modern times the usual way to reach Jura has been by to do so via Islay and then by the ferry crossing from Port Askaig described above. This arrangement has largely been a function of Jura's relatively very small population compared to Islay's. Yet if you look at a map, it becomes obvious that at its closest point, Islay is some 15 miles from the mainland while the east coast of Jura comes within 5 miles of the mainland.
This gives rise to an obvious thought: might there be scope for a direct link from Jura to the mainland? The answer is yes, and for centuries, Jura was a stepping stone for traffic from Islay and Colonsay to the mainland. At the time, most traffic comprised Highland cattle being driven to markets in central Scotland and beyond, and these would be ferried across the five miles of the Sound of Jura from a harbour built at Lagg on Jura to Keillmore on the mainland. Drovers and their beasts would travel together in open boats that were very vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. Cattle from Islay would first be ferried across to Jura, from Port Askaig. They would then be walked from Feolin round the line of Jura's only main road to Lagg, originally built in the early 1800s to facilitate the drovers.
In the days of the steamers it was common for ships from Glasgow and elsewhere to call in at Craighouse as well as a number of destinations on Islay, but the displacement of the steamers by ferries cemented the pattern you see today, of needing two ferries to reach Jura. Some on the island have tried to change this. From some years the Islay & Jura Ferry Company Ltd have sought to gain approval of plans for a small car ferry operation from a planned new slipway at Lagg on Jura to Keillmore on the mainland, but press reports suggest that this was unable to gain the necessary support to proceed.
Meanwhile a direct passenger ferry service from Craighouse on Jura to Tayvallich on the mainland did get under way in 2008, using an advanced RIB type vessel with a cabin. Public funding was cut in early 2011 but a reduced service continued.