Stranraer to Ballantrae – Section 2 | Day 1

The symbol of hope during this unprecedented time is the rainbow. It is therefore apt that our skiff found a rainbow in the carefree days earlier this year.

The colours chosen for our skiffs is a yellow hull, a white strake and a blue Sheer strake. This is based on the Stranraer Academy badge and the old town colours.

Stranraer is located on the Southern shore of Loch Ryan, a 13Km long sea loch. The whole area is under the influence of the warm Gulf Stream which flows Northwards between Ireland and Scotland and this coast is also known as the Scottish Rivera!

We launch in the shelter of the Ross pier and the West pier, which used to be the berths for the ferries to Belfast before they relocated 5nm north to a new facility at Cairnryan. The loch is surrounded by high ground on the West and East shore, so has provided relatively calm rowing water which has enabled us to be active when other clubs have been shore bound.

Looking south down Loch Ryan
We glide gently over the only natural oyster beds in Scotland nestling on the seabed, undisturbed a few fathoms below us. The oyster boat is often encountered, but a wide berth given to avoid the trawl wires.

Our first obstacle to navigate around is the “Scar”, a sand and shingle spit extending almost halfway across the loch from the West side.

Wig Bay
The West end of the spit is a superb sandy beach at Wig Bay which is often used as a stop off destination on a Sunday morning row. Behind this beach are the remains of the extensive hard-standings for the Sunderland and Catalina flying boats in World War II. During the war, the loch was used for two flying boat stations, a marine craft training unit and a port, built to take over in the event of closure of Liverpool or Glasgow docks.

In those days, our sedate rowing would have been outpaced by the thundering four engine Sunderland, which travelled at approximately 70-80 Kts and using several miles of water to take-off.

One notable passenger, who departed from Loch Ryan, was the Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. He flew to America for talks with President Roosevelt. Further information on previous wartime activity can be accessed in the following link: “Loch Ryan – The Secret WW2 Flying Boat Base” Leafet   (pdf, 2.8 MB)

HMS Ark Royal’s last days
Beyond the Scar, we pass the village of Cairnryan on the East shore. This single street village is overshadowed by the remains of the WW2 pier from No 2 Military Port and the two modern ports for the ferries to Belfast and Larne in Northern Ireland.
The old wartime quay was used, in the early 1980s, as a place to dismantle submarines and warships including the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.

Dolphins often choose to play with us, but a real sprint is required to produce a bow wave!

Travelling at a sedate pace, compared to car travel, the rowers should be able to observe a wood in the shape of the Ace of Clubs on the hillside opposite Cairnryan. This represents the troop formation at the battle of Corunna. The wood was planted to commemorate Sir John Moore of Corunna’s victory in the Peninsula War. Tragically, Sir John Moore was mortally wounded in the battle, which was to enable the bulk of British troops who were being pursued by the French army to evacuate via this port in Northern Spain. Dunkirk of it’s day! The hillside forms part of the estate, which his family owned at that time. You can read more about him at Wikipedia: John Moore article  

There are also memorials to him built by the French army over his grave in Corunna, a statue in Glasgow’s George Square, a monument in St Pauls Cathedral and the fifth hole on the Craigmore golf course, which we also row beside is called “The Corunna”, you can see the rough shape from the fifth tee .

The mouth of Loch Ryan with Ailsa Craig in the background
Enough of past history. For our next challenge, we have to get our timing right to avoid the wake from the Ferries to Northern Ireland, operating from the two ports in Cairnryan, particularly the relatively new port built in 2011 at the North end of the village. These are a major source of employment in the area.

Lady Bay beach
North of the Scar is Lady Bay, perhaps the prettiest beach on Loch Ryan and also the name chosen for our first skiff. The sandy beach is reached by a steep narrow and winding lane or by skiff. The bay, flanked by rocks and low cliffs, has a flat sandy beach for easy landing and a good anchorage for keel vessels.

Corsewall point lighthouse
At the North end of Loch Ryan, we pass Milleur Point, after which we named our second skiff Milleur Maid. This is the Northerly point on the long finger of land known as “The Rhins”. Here we pass the Corsewall lighthouse and enter the open sea, heading North-East along the rocky coastline.

Glenapp Castle
Glenapp Castle is just visible through the trees. It was built in 1870 and became a hotel in 2000. It is now a luxury five-star hotel. It was the family home of the Inchcape family from 1917 until 1980’s. James Mackay, 1st Earl of Inchcape was Chairman of the P&O shipping line.

Ailsa Craig

Over to our port side is the volcanic island of Ailsa Craig. Too much of a detour to visit today, but worthy of a future expedition. This is the sole source of Granite, which is used for curling stones.

We soon reach our destination of Ballantrae. This small village is located at the mouth of the River Stinchar. The beach is shingle and there is a small tidal harbour. More info at


Virtual Cox and author: Pax Packer
Photo credits: Kerry Monteith, Gordon Baird, Pax Packer, Wendi Cuffe, anonymous providers of shared photos and Glenapp Castle.
Contribution Crew: Helen Wemyss, Alison Yellowlees, Gordon Baird, John Fenwick, Hugh Parker, Colin Monteith and Iain Sanderson.

Elspeth Mackenzie is RowAround’s artist-in-residence. Here is a picture she created at Skiffie Worlds, held in Stranraer in 2019.
See her other works on the Skiffie Art webpage
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