LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Stranraer

No more ferries but SFC still here after 150 years

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Stuck on the extreme south-western tip of Scotland at the end of a windswept sea loch, the location of Stranraer has both given the town its livelihood and made it a challenging football outpost.

Remarkably, its flagship club Stranraer FC has been riding these challenges since 1870, making it the third oldest in the Scottish League.

Trade across the 20-mile stretch of choppy Irish Sea sealed Stranraer’s fate centuries ago as a port for passenger ferries and cargo ships from Ulster. This wild, untamed coastline, celebrated by folk punk heroes The Men They Couldn’t Hang in their Smuggler’s Song, hid many a rugged local sneaking rum and contraband in and out of Scotland.

Sadly, in terms of football, Stranraer’s remote position has meant the local team has traditionally struggled to attract players – and supporters. The Blues didn’t even gain full league status until its restructure in 1955.

Though hosting a loyal local following, Stranraer’s Stair Park ground has usually been bypassed by the thousands of Old Firm fans making the journey from Northern Ireland up to Glasgow.

Until 2011, followers of Celtic or Rangers would have seen Stair Park flash by the window a couple of minutes after their train set off from Stranraer’s dockside terminal. Nowadays, Stena Line operates from a new ferry terminal alongside the existing one run by rivals P&O a few miles up the loch at Cairnryan. A bus connects port and station.

Its windswept port now forgotten, Stranraer half a mile away has managed to retain a busy feel. With plans for waterfront redevelopment, there’s an optimistic air around what is one of the more atmospheric of Scotland’s football outposts.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Glasgow Prestwick airport is 93km (58 miles) north of Stranraer, connected by train (£14/half-price for Prestwick passengers with proof of flight, every 2-3hrs, 1hr 45mins with one change at Ayr). From Glasgow Central, a train to Stranraer (£16) is about 2hrs 30mins, again changing at Ayr.

Stranraer’s train station is down by the old harbour, about half-a-mile from town.

From Belfast port, six Stena Line ferries a day run to Cairnryan 10km (six miles) from Stranraer. Crossings take 2hrs 15mins and cost £40 for a foot passenger

Infrequent Stagecoach bus 358 runs the 15mins from either the Stena terminal to Stranraer Port Rodie at the harbour. Streamline Taxis (01292 28 45 45) should charge around £20. Stranraer’s walkable town centre is close by, Stair Park a 10min walk east.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

A good starting point to explore the many pubs and bars that dot Stranraer is right by the old harbour: the Commercial Inn dates back to 1895 has been a port of call for many a ferry traveller – today it’s handy for the hotels and guesthouses also on Agnew Crescent.

At the other end of Agnew Park, the family-run Swan Inn is also traditional, with 3D Sky Sports, pool, darts and live music on Saturdays. It offers comfortable lodgings and, from April, a beer garden equipped with four TV screens.

On nearby North Strand Street you’ll find the smart, modern, family-friendly Custom House, offering TV football, quizzes, pub food and a range of ales. The neighbouring presence of the Stranraer FC Fitba’ Bar (see Stranraer FC) means that the Custom House is also a pre- and post-match favourite.

On George Street, the Bar Pazzarello  (‘Bar Pazz’) is a spacious modern bar and grill with a keen pool and darts team. Match screenings provide another good reason to visit.

Behind on Bridge Street, the Bridge Arms would be a more traditional choice of hostelry to watch the match, while alongside, The Grapes showcases regular live Americana music in a former coaching inn dating back to 1862.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

The Stranraer Development Trust has limited local accommodation information.

Handy for the ground a ten-minute walk away, the venerable Royal Hotel is more a bar these days. Even closer to the ground, the smart Craignelder has a dozen guest rooms and restaurant in an elevated setting on Cairnryan Road overlooking the bay. It’s a five-minute walk to Stair Park, turning right up Stair Drive then left at London Road.

Alongside is Stranraer’s finest establishment, the high-quality North West Castle Hotel, former home of Arctic explorer Sir John Ross. Set in extensive grounds on Port Rodie just above the town centre, it has its own pool, sauna, spa, gym and Alpine Restaurant & Grill. Uniquely, it also contains a curling rink, making the hotel a key destination for this popular local sport.

Hotels and guesthouses line nearby Agnew Crescent parallel to the waterfront around Stranraer harbour. All are about 15-20mins from Stair Park, heading for the Craignelder then up Stair Drive and London Road. Local buses make the same journey from the second roundabout along.

Neptune’s Rest comprises six comfortable rooms, most en-suite, while the Lakeview Guest House is a superior, four-star B&B with ten tasteful rooms, two singles. The pleasant, family-run Harbour Lights Guest House is equally welcoming, with five rooms.