Stranraer is a town in Dumfries and Galloway near the tip of southwest Scotland. It's a ferry port, connecting Scotland with Northern Ireland, though nowadays all ferries run from Cairnryan a few miles north. The town itself (population 10,320 in 2016) has little of interest, but it's a good base for exploring the scenic Rhins of Galloway, the peninsula stretching north and south of Stranraer. The north and central part of the Rhins are described here.
An alternative visitor base 17 miles south is the village of Drummore: see that page for the south Rhins, which include Logan gardens and fishpond, and the Mull of Galloway.
The North Channel between Scotland and Ireland narrows here into the Straits of Moyle, 22 miles / 35 km across. It's deep: the Beaufort Dyke goes down to 300 m / 1000 ft, carved out by glaciers and swept clear of in-fill by the currents. Shipping traditionally plied between little ports such as Donaghadee in Ulster and Portpatrick on Galloway. The channel is pinched to 12 miles further north off the Mull of Kiltyre, but that is a long way from anywhere else, and St Columba sailed across that way to put distance between himself and his Ulster enemies.
The small ports lacked shelter, and from the 19th century vessels grew larger, so a Victorian port developed at Stranraer as it did at Belfast. The railway from Glasgow created a fast link from central Scotland. Cairnryan a few miles north of Stranraer has deep water and during the Second World War was developed as a back-up military harbour, in case others such as Liverpool or Greenock were bombed out. Its postwar military role was to handle surplus explosive ordnance, chemicals and other nasties, which were dumped in the Beaufort Dyke. In the late 20th century large ro-ro ferries outgrew Stranraer, and Cairnryan became the chief port. Stranraer continues with fishing and freight but has become a backwater.
From time to time there's talk of a bridge or tunnel across the North Channel. Modern engineering has made great strides across equally daunting stretches of water, but this one seems impractical with present-day technology. The latest revival of the idea is the "Boris bridge" spanning from Ulster to Mull of Kintyre. The guestimate cost was £20 billion, but others put it at over £300 billion. It would of course be lucrative to "consultants" and others with political connections in London even if ground is never broken here.
Ferries from Northern Ireland nowadays sail to Cairnryan, on the east bank of Loch Ryan a few miles north of Stranraer.
1 Loch Ryan Port is north of Cairnryan village and about 8 miles from Stranraer. Stena Line ferries sail here from Belfast, with 4-6 per day taking 2 hr 15 min. Buses from Belfast cross on these ferries and continue to Ayr, Glasgow and Edinburgh. There's a car hire desk at the Loch Ryan terminal.
2 Cairnryan harbour is four miles north of Stranraer. P&O Ferries[dead link] sail from Larne, with six a day taking 2 hours. There is no linked bus service for the P&O sailings, so either catch a local bus (below) or take a taxi.
From Glasgow Central there are four or five connections daily via Kilmarnock to Ayr, where you change for the train via Girvan, taking 2 hrs 50 min to Stranraer. It doesn't run via Cairnryan so for the ferries change to the Ulsterbus at Ayr.
3 Stranraer railway station is on the town harbour quay, right by where the ferries aren't. It's half a mile walk back into town centre, and buses and taxis. There's a staffed ticket office but no machines, and the toilets are only open during ticket office hours. There is step-free access to the single platform.
Scottish Citylink / Ulsterbus 923 runs four times daily from Glasgow Buchanan Station and Ayr to the Stena terminal at Loch Ryan then to Stranraer town. It's billed as a through-service to Belfast but doesn't join the ferry, so you lump your luggage off the bus to board the ferry, then onto the Ulsterbus at the other end for the short ride to Belfast Europa station.
National Express from London via Dumfries to Stranraer remains suspended in 2022. Their suggested workaround is to travel to Glasgow and join the Ulsterbus.
Stagecoach West Scotland Bus 500 runs to Stranraer from Dumfries via Castle Douglas, Newton Stewart and Glenluce, M-Sa every couple of hours and Sunday every four hours. It doesn't serve Cairnryan. Dumfries has trains from Carlisle heading via Sanquhar and Kilmarnock to Glasgow Central.
Stagecoach West Scotland Bus 358 / 360 runs to Stranraer from Girvan M-Sa every couple of hours via the two ferry terminals. Four buses a day start from Ayr.
The bus terminal is at the foot of the former ferry pier on Lewis St; it may be shown on timetables as Port Rodie. It's just a draughty coach park but is by town centre.
From England leave M6 at Gretna and follow A75 west past Dumfries. From the Glasgow area follow M77 / A77 southwest via Kilmarnock and Ayr.
WCT local bus 350 runs 8 times a day M-Sat from Stranraer Charlotte St to either the Stena or P&O ferry terminal, depending on sailing times.
Bus 367 runs 8 times a day M-Sat from Stranraer via Lochans to Portpatrick on the west coast.
Bus 407 runs south down the peninsula from Stranraer via Lochans and Port Logan to Drummore, four times a day M-Sat, 45 mins.
- 1 Stranraer Museum, 55 George Street, Stranraer DG9 7JP, ☏ +44 1776 705088. M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Stranraer Museum is in the Old Town Hall, built 1776. Discover Wigtownshire's history and that of Stranraer's own Polar explorers. Archaeology, dairy and agriculture feature heavily, with changing temporary exhibitions. Free.
- Castle of St John, Charlotte Street, DG9 7EJ. June-Sept Tu-Sa 10:00-16:30. A medieval tower house, built around 1510, used as a military garrison in the 1670s and converted to a jail in the 1820s. Videos and reconstructions tell the sometimes grizzly story of the house. Great views from the top of the tower. Free.
- Castle Kennedy ruins and gardens are off A75 three miles east of town. They're open Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00, adult £5.50.
- 2 Glenwhan Gardens, Dunragit DG9 8PH, ☏ +44 1581 400222. Daily 08:00-17:00. Beautiful gardens, open year round, created on the moor. Dogs welcome on lead. Adult £6.50, conc £5.
- Glenluce Abbey is a ruin off A75 ten miles east of town. It's open Apr-Sept Su-Tu 09:30-17:30, adult £5.
- 3 Aldouran Wetland Garden, Bridge of Aldouran Rd, Leswalt DG9 0LJ. 24 hours. Accessible garden, wetland and woodland trails, some paths prettified with Gruffalos, twee pixie dwellings and the like. Free.
- Corsewall Lighthouse is now a hotel, see Sleep.
- 4 Portpatrick is a fishing village set in the cliffs of the Rhins. Until the 19th century it was a port for sailings to Northern Ireland (and a quickie-wedding "Gretna" for Irish couples), but it was too exposed and the port shifted to Stranraer. Visit the ruined 17th century St Patrick's church, Dunskey castle ruins and walled garden, and Cairnpot hill fort. There's a dozen B&Bs here, and the upmarket Mount Stewart Hotel.
- 5 Stoneykirk Aviation Museum, Mid Cairngarroch Croft, Stoneykirk DG9 9EH. April-Oct most Sundays 10:00-16:00. The focus is on Cold War military aviation, with a collection of cockpits. Check website for opening days. Adult £5, child £3, cash only.
- Sandhead is 8 miles south of Stranraer on the east coast of the peninsula, with a good beach.
- Kirkmadrine Stones are eight memorial stones from very early Christian times, the three oldest from the 6th century. They're housed in the porch of the old church, a mile south and inland from Sandhead.
- See Drummore for Logan Botanic Garden, a subtropical garden 14 miles south of Stranraer, and Mull of Galloway the scenic headland at the tip of the Rhins.
- Ryan Centre on Fairhurst Rd has a swimming pool, gym and auditorium used for theatre and cinema.
- Southern Upland Way is a long distance coast-to-coast hiking trail. It starts at Portpatrick, follows the coast north then turns east to Stranraer and Castle Kennedy (13.5 miles, 21.5 km, lowland with no great ascent; use OS Landranger maps 309 and 310.) From there it crosses the hills via Sanquhar, Wanlockhead and Beattock to head into the Scottish Borders, eventually reaching the east coast at Cockburnspath.
- Mull of Galloway Trail starts at the Mull and runs up the east shore of the Rhins via Drummore and Sandhead to Stranraer (26 miles). It continues up the coast via Cairnryan and Finnart Bay to Glenapp (11 miles), where it joins the Ayrshire Coastal Path to Skelmorlie (100 miles). The Mull-to-Stranraer stage is just right for a marathon, run annually in June, with a half-marathon from Ardwell to Stranraer.
- Golf: Stranraer Golf Club is 3 miles northwest of town centre. White tees 6308 yards, par 70, summer weekend round £40. Other courses are Green Valley, Wigtownshire GC east on A75, and Portpatrick west on the coast.
- Football: Stranraer FC play soccer in Scottish League Two, the fourth tier. Their home ground is Stair Park, capacity 4100, on London Road A75 just east of town centre.
- Stranraer Agricultural Show is held in late July. The next is Wed 27 July 2022, on London Road Playing Fields.
There's a Tesco and a Morrisons in town centre.
Kebabs, tandoori, Chinese, fish & chips, all cluster round town centre.
Places in Stranraer include Swan Inn, Custom House, Arkhouse Inn, The Pub and The Grapes.
- North West Castle Hotel, Royal Cres DG9 8EH, ☏ +44 1776 704413. This used to be the grand hotel for ferry passengers, but these nowadays bypass Stranraer, so its status, glitter and cleaning schedules are fading into history. How long can its chandeliers, spa and curling rink survive? B&B double from £90.
- 1 Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae, Girvan KA26 0NZ (11 miles north of Stranraer off A77), ☏ +44 1465 831212. Opulent Victorian pile, great comfort, service and dining. B&B double from £350.
- 2 Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick DG9 9AD, ☏ +44 1776 810471. Victorian lodge with 10 rooms, lovely out-of-the-way spot with fine restaurant. B&B double from £350.
- 3 North Rhinns Camping, Glengyre Cottage, Leswalt DG9 0RG, ☏ +44 1776 853630. Campsite open May-Oct. Also has a few spaces for campervans, but no caravan pitches. Dogs welcome. Tent £20.
- 4 Corsewall Lighthouse Hotel, Kirkcolm DG9 0QG, ☏ +44 1776 853220. This 34 m / 112 ft lighthouse by Robert Stevenson was completed in 1817, and straightaway showed its suitability as a hotel when its keeper fell asleep and the light rotation stopped. It was automated in 1994 and the accommodation converted into an upscale hotel with fine dining. Dogs welcome. B&B double £170.
As of July 2021, Stranraer town and Cairnryan ferry port have 4G from EE, O2 and Vodafone, and a mobile signal from Three.
There is no land-based mobile service on the ferries. Switch off in case your phone latches onto the ferry company Wifi - they will be delighted to connect you at international rates.
- East is Castle Douglas, with the splendid Threave Gardens, and Dumfries where Robert Burns spent his last years.
- Ayr to the north was Burns' birthplace and early home.
- Ailsa Craig is the pyramid seen out to sea, a wildlife reserve. Reach it by boat trip from Girvan.
- Belfast across the sea is a fascinating city needing several days to explore.
|Routes through Stranraer|
|Belfast (NI) ←||W E||→ DOCKS AT CAIRNRYAN|
|Larne (NI) ←||SW E||→ DOCKS AT CAIRNRYAN|
|END ←||W E||→ Newton Stewart → Dumfries → England|
|Portpatrick ←||SW N||→ Girvan → Ayr → Central Belt|