COMMUNICATIONS in the West Highlands used to depend on ferries powered

by oars rather than engines. That from Islay to Jura was still propelled

by oar as late as 1918. Most changed during the late nineteenth century

when paddle steamers emerged, but very brief crossings long used very

small craft. The ferry from Colintraive to Rhubodach on the Kyles of

Bute was a tiny motor boat as late as the 1950s, though it now boasts a

small but speedy engine-powered CalMac car ferry, which takes three

minutes on a calm day.

It serves Rothesay, though it hardly competes with the main Weymss Bay

service which takes far longer by sea but saves the very long car

journey fronm the lowlands via Loch Lomond, Loch Fyne, and Glendaruel.

The islanders, or a goodly majority according to a recent opinion poll,

would like a bridge at Colintraive all the same. The example of the Skye

bridge has whetted appetites but stimulated almost no local opposition.

It is an example of how car ownership has multiplied. A mere two cars a

day used to seem the maximum from Colintraive to Strachur during the

early 1940s, but the car ferry and the (relatively) new fast road down

Glendaruel has changed everything. There is a now a fairly constant

traffic, particularly during the summer. There is a good case for a

bridge, not least because the existing ferry journey is not particularly

cheap, though no doubt any new creation would, like the Skye bridge, be

financed by tolls, and its actual costs might not be any less: even a

short crossing bridge would be expensive and if the most scenic location

were preferred to the shortest it might be at the Burnt isles just

before the Eastern Kyle turns to Tighnabruaich and opens up views up

Loch Riddon and across to Kintyre on one side and right down past

Rothesay Bay to the Renfrewshire coast on the other hand. But that would

be a much more costly project, with dearer tolls.

The proposal will attract a lot of discussion but will hardly displace

any popular boat song: ''The Day we went to Rothesay O'' is immortal.