Catching the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale may not always be the quickest way to get to Skye, especially when you take into account the need to arrive in time to check-in. On the other hand, with the dramatic improvements seen in recent years to the roads from Fort William to Mallaig on the mainland side, and from Armadale to Broadford on Skye, the time difference between this route and the long drive around via Glen Shiel and Kyle of Lochalsh may not always work out the way you might expect.
And when you take into account the extra effort of driving the extra miles around to the Skye Bridge or the Glenelg Ferry, and the fuel costs involved in doing so, it is no surprise to find that even though the tolls have been removed from the Skye Bridge, the Mallaig to Armadale Ferry is more popular than ever before.
Apart from everything else, if you travel this way you are left in no doubt at all that you are travelling "over the sea to Skye", and that the place you are going to remains beyond any question an island. For current timetable and fare information, and for bookings, visit CalMac's website.
Until a few years ago the car ferry service only operated in Summer. Now it runs all year round, but you still need to remember that the service is limited at weekends through the winter months. It is worth checking the timetable before you set off towards either Mallaig or Armadale by road. Booking on this route is advisable.
Since 2004 the Summer service has been operated by the MV Coruisk. The winter service is operated by the MV Lochnevis, which also operates the Small Isles service from Mallaig. Over the years a variety of other ships have operated on the route as stand-ins for the regular ships, most recently the MV Lord of the Isles and MV Loch Bhrusda.
Until the late 1970s a ship called the Bute offered a side-loading roll-on roll-off service between Mallaig and Armadale. Our main memory of it is clinging grimly to a piece of superstructure and listening to crockery smash in the kitchen while standing off Armadale in a very severe storm on 29 August 1977.
MV Coruisk, named after a loch set amid the Cuillin mountains on Skye, is a versatile, if perhaps not classically beautiful, ship. From many angles it looks impossibly tall for its size, and while it does have a distinct bow and stern, in calm weather its design and double ended bridge allow it to do the Mallaig to Armadale leg "in reverse".
Only if the weather is bad enough to call into use its stabilisers is the Coruisk forced to tackle both legs with the bow at the front. The Coruisk was built at Appledore's yards in Devon in 2003 and can carry 40 cars.
The crossing between Mallaig and Armadale is a short one, taking some 25 minutes, and the start and finish points are clearly visible from one another. Despite this, the crossing is full of interest, and offers magnificent views in all directions. Looking towards Skye, the Sleat Peninsula on which Armadale is located is fairly low lying, and your attention is gripped by the startlingly jagged peaks of the Cuillin towering above it: despite their location 15 miles further away.
On the mainland side, the peaks of Knoydart, that last great Scottish wilderness, capture the imagination, while further north the views sweep round to take in the mountains in the Glen Shiel area. In the opposite direction lie the islands of Rum, with peaks every bit as jagged as those of Skye, and Eigg, with its extremely distinct profile.