The meaning behind Stranraer's name is centred around the town burn with Stran- as sruthán (Scottish Gaelic) meaning 'streamlet' or 'burn'. The second syllable -raer is either from reamhar (Scottish Gaelic) or ramhar (Irish Gaelic), both meaning 'fat' or 'thick'. So Stranraer is 'thick burn'. Or is it? Ramhar (Irish Gaelic) can also mean 'swarming' (as in with fish) so Stranraer could be 'burn swarming with fish' - this makes sense as the burn used to be an excellent place to fish.
Stranraer was first mentioned in the 14th century though there may have been a settlement here from as early as Roman times when a Roman road ran from Gatehouse of Fleet, via Dunragit, to Stranraer and continued up towards Cairnryan.
Stranraer's life as a town really began in 1595 when Ninian Adair applied to King James VI to give Stranraer trading rights and a market. In the 17th and 18th centuries the town quickly expanded due to trade in textiles, tanning and fishing.
Stranraer, much like Cairnryan, has it's history centred around the port with the first harbour being present in the mid 18th century. Further construction of the port occurred in the 1820s with the construction of the west pier. By the 1830s steam packets were making regular trips to Glasgow, Girvan and Belfast. Next came the railway to Stranraer in 1861, which, in those days came direct from Dumfries. The following year, the railway was extended to meet right up with the harbour and link up Portpatrick too. It was in 1862 when the official ferry service to Belfast in Northern Ireland began. In 1863 the east pier was constructed and Stranraer was designated as the Royal Mail office for Ireland. In 1872 the ferries to Ireland changed their destination to Larne whereas today the ferries go to Belfast again.
Stranraer and nearby Kirkcolm played an important role in the war with Winston Churchill himself taking a trip in a Boeing flying boat from Stranraer to the USA in 1942. Flying boats were stationed at Kirkcolm and the Supermarine Stranraer was named after the town.
Now no longer a port, after Stena Line moved their ferry services closer to the mouth of Loch Ryan, (near Cairnryan) in 2011, the town has been planning a redevelopment for the past few years.
Don't Miss This in Stranraer...
- Castle of St John - Currently under renovation until 2010, this is now a museum of the building's past, though the tower has been used as a military fort, a prison (the cells were last used in 1907), a court and even a home. The castle was built by the Adair family in the early 1500s. Make sure you climb to the top of the tower onto the roof (former prison exercise yard!) where you can see spectacular views over the town and Loch Ryan. Also look out for the fountain by the side of the castle green - this used to stand outside the old town hall (see below) and celebrates Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
- Stranraer Museum - once the town hall (built in 1776) but now hosts exhibits from Wigtownshire's past including displays on polar explorers Sir John Ross (who lived in the North West Castle - now a hotel) and nephew James Clark Ross. There are different exhibitions throughout the year on the upper floor so it's worth checking back regularly.
- Stranraer Town Trail - You can pick up a leaflet for this walk around Stranraer from the Tourist Information centre. The trail takes you round some of Stranraer's most historic and interesting buildings. Look out for the blue information plaques on walls along the way.
- Loch Ryan Coastal Path - As suggested by the name, this footpath, established by the Rotary Club of Stranraer, takes you right along the coast of the unique sea loch of Loch Ryan, eventually meeting up with the Ayrshire Coast Path (if you're up for a long walk!)
- North West Castle Hotel - this was just the North West Castle until it was turned into a hotel. It was the home of arctic explorer Sir John Ross for whom the castle was built in 1820. Close by is the Garden of Friendship which dates from the 1920s and was featured on the BBC's Beechgrove Garden for a much needed upgrade.
- Agnew Park - park by the shore front with miniature railway, paddle boats, adventure playground, go carts and island. Memorial to the Princess Victoria ferry that sank in 1953.
- Ryan Centre - Leisure centre, cinema and theatre all rolled into one. 25m competition swimming pool, health suite, fitness suite/gym, games hall, cafe and theatre/cinema.
Nearby Places to Visit...
- Loch Ryan - A birdwatcher's (and seal watchers!) paradise - look out for divers, grebes, waders, ducks, terns, geese plus common and grey seals.
- Knockquhassan Reservoir - Reservoir with easy access from Southern Upland Way. Walk either way on the SUW from the reservoir and it's not long before you are rewarded with magnificent views. The reservoir supports fish and attracts many different species of birds.
Featured Accommodation in and Around Stranraer
Bed and Breakfast at Fernlea Guest House
Address: Stranraer, DG9 7AQ.
Tel: (01776) 703037
Details: Fernlea Guest House provides 4-star personable luxury accommodation in Stranraer with easy access to both ferry ports.
Self Catering at Laggansally Lodge
Address: Blackpark, Leswalt, DG9 0LX.
Tel: 01776 870240
Details: Luxury self catering accommodation ideally located between Portpatrick and Stranraer.
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