Stranraer waves goodbye to ferries

SHORTLY before 8pm tomorrow the familiar sight of the Belfast-bound ferry will slip out of harbour, leaving behind Stranraer and 150 years of history.

From Monday, the Scottish coastal town will no longer be a ferry port and a direct link across the sea to Northern Ireland will be lost. Steam packets were making regular trips to Glasgow, Girvan and Belfast from the 1830s and an official ferry link to Belfast was established in 1862.

But now Stena Line is moving almost seven miles up the coast to Cairnryan, with two new boats making the journey ten times a day.

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The new vessels and upgrades on either side of the North Channel represent a £200 million investment for the company, cutting journey times and improving capacity and comfort on the route.

For Stranraer it is the end of an era, with the daily arrivals and departures gone, but a new vision for the town is on the horizon with substantial redevelopment planned.

The Stranraer Waterfront Urban Design Strategy and Masterplan has been developed by Dumfries and Galloway Council and others aimed at redeveloping the waterfront, including the East Pier currently occupied by Stena.

A council spokeswoman said: “The vision for Stranraer is to develop an attractive seaside town for residents, businesses and visitors. The move is an opportunity to develop the east pier which could include new housing, business, retail and leisure developments.”

One of the objectives is to turn Stranraer/Loch Ryan into a centre of excellence for marine leisure and tourism. A marina has been built and a new shore block is planned, while the town centre has been improved and the Castle of St John restored.

But local taxi operator Sam Scobie said: “The feelings locally are of sadness and trepidation. It’s really only hitting home now that the last ferry is on Sunday. The waterfront plans have been around for years, but they seem to be just that, plans.

“People appreciate what’s been done in the town centre, but it’s maybe too little. There is real concern and apprehension about what will happen in the future.”

Along the coast the newly developed Loch Ryan Port at Cairnryan will be the base for Stena Line Superfast VII and Superfast VIII ferries which will cut journey times to Belfast by 45 minutes to two hours 15 minutes.

The vessels will each cater for 1,200 passengers – three times the existing number – and 660 cars, as well as luxury extras like jacuzzis, saunas and iPads to enhance the voyage for the one million passengers a year.

Paul Grant, Stena Line route director, said: “When we start our new route timetable on 21 November it will be from one of the most advanced ports in the UK. Loch Ryan Port is the culmination of years of planning and it will provide our customers with a world-class facility.”

The loss of the ferry also means an end to the “boat trains” which carried passengers to the port and tonight the landmark will be commemorated.

The railway came to Stranraer in 1861 and the following year the line was extended to the harbour. The boat train, started on 1 October, ran through Galloway from London Euston until 1991.

The boat train to Glasgow, which started in October 1877, will connect with ferry sailings at Stranraer for the last time with the departure of the 7:45pm service to Glasgow Central tonight.

The Stranraer to Ayr Line Support Association has organised the “public service of thanks and commemoration”. Spokesman Richard Carr said: “We feel it is important to mark this historic occasion.”

However, it is hoped the rail line to Stranraer will remain open. Transform Scotland spokesman Paul Tetlaw said: “The Ayr-Stranraer line has great potential but is currently under-valued and under-utilised. The railway has for too long been seen as only serving ferries when it should also be providing a service for locals, day-trip visitors and overseas tourists.”