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Shore, Cairnryan - - 1298522.jpg
Cairnryan is located in Dumfries and Galloway
Cairnryan shown within Dumfries and Galloway
Population 142 (2001 Census)
OS grid reference NX067683
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district DG9
Dialling code 01776
Police Scottish
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
54°58′16″N 5°01′05″W / 54.971°N 5.018°W / 54.971; -5.018Coordinates: 54°58′16″N 5°01′05″W / 54.971°N 5.018°W / 54.971; -5.018

Cairnryan (Scots: The Cairn;[1] Scottish Gaelic: Machair an Sgithich) is a small village in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. It lies on the Eastern shore of Loch Ryan, 6 miles (10 km) north of Stranraer. The village is important in maritime history, with two ferry services connecting Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Ferry Port[edit]

Ferry berthed at Cairnryan

Cairnryan has two ferry terminals connecting Scotland to Northern Ireland. The first, at the south of Cairnryan, opened in 1973, originally operated by Townsend Thoresen and now by P&O Ferries, links Scotland with the port of Larne. Part of this terminal utilises Cairnryan Lighterage Wharf. The second, at Old House Point, just north of Cairnryan, is operated by Stena Line linking to the Port of Belfast in Belfast.[2]

Bus link to Stranraer railway station[edit]

In September 2013 a bus link, route 350 operated by McLeans, was introduced between the P&O Ferries and Stena Line ferry terminals at Cairnryan and Stranraer railway station. The bus route also serves the centre of Stranraer.[3] Stranraer railway station is served by trains run by Abellio ScotRail to Ayr, Kilmarnock and Glasgow Central.

Preceding station   Ferry   Following station
  Ferry services  
Stranraer Harbour
(via bus link from Cairnryan[3])
  Stena Line
  Port of Belfast
(nearest stations Yorkgate, Belfast Central &
Belfast Great Victoria Street)
Stranraer Harbour
(via bus link from Cairnryan[3])
  P&O Ferries
  Larne Harbour


Cairnryan is a linear settlement, looking across the main A77 road to Loch Ryan. It was established in 1701, when Lochryan House was built, along with many of the houses, in the North End of the village, for workers on the Lochryan Estate. A slate quarry may be seen in the side of the face of the Cairn Hill which overlooks the village, where the slates for the housing roofs were sourced from. Features of the Estate included a Deer Park, and a Bowling Green. These, along with houses on the shore side of the main road, would make way for the war construction the village would see. Lochryan House was remodelled in the 1820s and the imposing structure, just visible from the main road today, was the result.

Into the 1800s, Cairnryan was an important staging post on the coach route to Ayr, with half a dozen inns along this short stretch of coast. It also achieved a less desirable reputation as a haunt of highwaymen preying on that same passing traffic.

During World War II, Cairnryan became No.2 Military Port, with three harbour piers and a military railway, linking the village with nearby Stranraer, all built by the army. Only one pier remains; one being dismantled and the other being destroyed in an ammunition explosion shortly after the war. The remaining pier is now in a state of disrepair and is fenced off. Despite this, many anglers use this pier for tope, mackerel, cod, dogfish, mullet and plaice.

Another role, during WWII, was the building of some sections for the two Mulberry harbours, the floating ports on which the allies depended after D-Day.

Thousands of troops were based locally, in military camps. At the end of the war, the Atlantic U-boat fleet surrendered in Loch Ryan and was anchored in the port before being towed to the North Channel and scuttled. This activity was codenamed 'Operation Deadlight'.

For a period after the war, continuing at least until 1958, the port was used to receive, by rail and Liberty & Victory ships, surplus/time-expired ammunition which was loaded onto army landing craft for disposal at sea. That coming by rail, had trucks labelled with the address, "Davy Jones' Locker, Cairnryan". Handling and disposal was a hazardous task carried out by 13 Coy Royal Pioneer Corps (based at Quarry Camp, to the rear of Loch Ryan Hotel) which, in the early days, took the lives of several at the port, while the long-term and wider risks of such dumping have only later become more evident.

In 1957 and 1958, Cairnryan Lighterage Wharf and the port/jetty were again used in a joint Army/RAF operation called 'Operation Hardrock'. This operation was to build a rocket-tracking station on the remote island of St Kilda, serving the South Uist Missile Range, from where the 'Corporal' missiles were launched. The civil engineering work was carried out by the RAF's 5004 Airfield Construction Squadron, Wellesbourne Mountford. Staff, plant and other equipment was transported to/from St. Kilda, using RASC Landing Craft Tanks (LCTs), operated by 76 Sqn RASC (LCT), based at Portsmouth.

Military port activity ceased in the early 1960s, when most of the military infrastructure was abandoned, then dismantled, apart from the pier and lighterage wharf.

In the early 1950s, to the South End of the village, houses for were built at Claddyburn Terrace, which increased the village's population.

In the late 1960s, Ship breaking became the main industry; the British aircraft carriers HMS Centaur, HMS Bulwark, HMS Eagle, and HMS Ark Royal were all sent for breaking up, as well as a number of other vessels, including HMS Mohawk and HMS Blake. As recently as 1990, Soviet Navy submarines were being dismantled for scrap.[citation needed]

In July 1973, Townsend Thoreson initiated a ro-ro ferry service from Cairnryan to Larne, solely for passengers and cars, using the ship 'Ionic Ferry'. Four months later, the service was extended to commercial vehicles. TT was later taken over by P&O.


The main facilities in the village today are some bed and breakfasts/guest houses, plus a holiday caravan site, built on the site of the old Quarry Camp. There is also the Village Shop and the Merchant's House Guest House & Licensed Restaurant. Up until the early 2000s, there was also a Post Office and petrol station. The village church was demolished in 1990. The closed Loch Ryan Hotel is still in situ.


Its status as a ferry port to Northern Ireland looks secure, with P&O Irish Sea continuing to depart from Cairnryan and Stena Line operating from a new terminal at Old House Point from 2011.[4] This means a major financial investment in the North Channel routes and significant long term security for the village and the wider Loch Ryan Basin.


  1. ^ List of railway station names in English, Scots and Gaelic Archived 22 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Stranraer harbour bids farewell to ferries". BBC News. 18 November 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Ferry terminal plan makes headway". BBC. 9 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 

External links[edit]