All tickets please (10)

A touch of the blarney: who could resist this view of Larne from 50 years ago? It shows Islandmagee ferryboat Ferry No.10 crossing the harbour towards Stena Nordica at the quay on the left

For the latest in his series inspired by tickets he has preserved, Eric Schofield visits Northern Ireland, finding almost as much variety in the ferry crossings there as he does on the Clyde and up the west of Scotland.

The tickets here span a wide range of time, from the 1960s/70s to relatively recent days, and offer a contrast in scale: they represent journeys made on some of the largest ferries operating in the Scotland/Northern Ireland area, and one of the smallest.

No. 10  The Short Sea Route and Larne/Islandmagee ferry

The return tickets for the Stranraer-Belfast and Cairnryan-Belfast non-landing sailings not only detail the outward and return journeys, but also include the departure times and the passenger’s name.

For that point alone they must rank amongst the more unusual in my collection, but they are also arguably the least attractive-looking: on the face side there is no mention of the travel company, and my name on the 2012 ticket is misspelt.

What is not immediately obvious is the historical significance of the date of these trips, at least in respect of the year.

The 2011 ticket recalls the final year of Stranraer as operational port for services to Northern Ireland, a link dating back to 1824. The 2012 ticket correspondingly represents the first year of the new Scottish departure point for the route, Loch Ryan Port.

My 2011 ferry was Stena Navigator, a vessel Stena had purchased two years earlier from French owners and renamed. The company had three vessels operating from Stranraer at that time — two conventional ferries, Stena Caledonia and Stena Navigator, and one of their HSS catamarans, Stena Voyager (HSS – does that stand for High Speed Shoebox?).

European Causeway at Cairnryan

Having passed Stena Caledonia near the entrance to Loch Ryan on our way over to Ireland, we then watched Stena Voyager set off for Stranraer as we sat at the Belfast berth. We had another encounter with the conventional ferry on our return, this time passing Black Head Light as we headed out of Belfast Lough.

Passing Cairnryan near the end of our journey back to Scotland, we caught sight of European Causeway there — representing a rival operator, P & O, on the Cairnryan/Larne route. I finished that day with a picture of Stena Navigator leaving Stranraer on her next voyage.

Stranraer’s closure as the Short Sea ferry port near the end of 2011 signified the end on this route for the Stena ferries featured in the first part of this piece.

The company then took on charter two large conventional ferries to operate from their new terminal near the entrance of Loch Ryan. The new route brought new and rather unimaginative names — Loch Ryan Port for the terminal, and Stena Superfast VII and Stena Superfast VIII for the ferries. But they were fast and super-sized, and I have found them excellent boats on which to enjoy the keenly priced day trips offered by Stena.

Stena Superfast VIII at Loch Ryan Port

My February 2012 ferry was Stena Superfast VIII (pictured later that year at Loch Ryan Port). A sense of just how big these ferries are can be obtained from the picture (below) of the ferry alongside the terminal. On that journey over to Belfast we encountered P&O’s other ferry, European Highlander, off the Corsewall Point area.

These, and similar trips over the years, bring to mind my earliest excursions on the Short Sea route in the 1960s and 70s, whether under the banner of CSP (Irish Sea) Services or British Rail (Sealink), both sailing to Larne.

At that time I would travel by train to Stranraer, sail on the midday ferry to Larne, normally Stena Nordica, and return at 1800 on Caledonian Princess, later Antrim Princess or Ailsa Princess.

For my time ashore on these visits, instead of wandering into Larne town I would occasionally choose to cross on the Islandmagee ferry. This little open ferryboat, sailing from the harbour steps immediately next to the car ferry berth, allowed better photo angles of the ferries, even if sometimes against the afternoon sunlight.

For readers not familiar with the Larne area, Islandmagee is not an island: it is the name given to the peninsula which stretches for about 15 miles north from Whitehead up the coast towards Larne.

European Highlander en route from Larne to Cairnryan

Stena Caledonia passing Black Head Light

Stena Navigator arriving in Loch Ryan in 2011, the final year of ‘Short Sea Route’ sailings from Stranraer

HSS – High Speed Shoebox? Stena Voyager in Belfast Lough

‘A sense of just how big these ferries are’: a photo taken on board Stena Superfast VIII at Loch Ryan Port

Stena Navigator at Stranraer – one of the last vessels to use the Wigtonshire port on a regular basis

An earlier generation: Antrim Princess approaches Larne

Stena Nordica leaving Larne: she played a prominent role during the 1966 Seamen’s Strike, during which she was the only vessel to maintain the link between Scotland and Northern Ireland

Steam and beauty: Caledonian Princess enters Larne Harbour stern-first

ALL TICKETS PLEASE — the series so far:

Excursion to Ardrishaig with return journey up-river to Glasgow

Helensburgh to Holy Loch Cruise

Ardgour to Nether Lochaber (Corran)

Princes Dock to Ardrishaig and back via the Millport Illuminations

Campbeltown to Craigendoran

Campbeltown to Red Bay

Arran Embarkation Tickets and Brodick/Craigendoran single

Tobermory to Drimnin

Gourock/Kilcreggan Return

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Published on 4 December 2018