The Channel Tunnel has been very much in the headlines recently, and also the ferry services from Calais to Dover have come under the spotlight because of industrial action by the French former employees of MyFerryLink.

These days the main ferry routes to the Continent are mainly confined to the various services to France from Dover, Newhaven, Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth. The only exceptions to this are the services from Newcastle and Harwich to Ijmuiden (DFDS) and the Hook of Holland (Stena Line) respectively, and the P&O services from Hull to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge. If you cast your mind back half a century ago, the traveller had much more choice.

In those days you could sail from Newcastle to Bergen and Stavanger on Bergen Line’s Leda and Venus. I sailed on the Leda myself in 1954 when she was a new ship and a breakthrough in North Sea ferries as she was the first to be fitted with stabilizers. Associated Humber Lines offered a passenger service from Hull to Rotterdam, and Rotterdam could also be reached from Tilbury by Atlantic Steam Navigation who also served Antwerp. British railways operated services from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, and from Dover and Folkestone to Calais and Boulogne. In addition, they operated train ferries from Harwich to Zeebrugge and Dover to Dunkirk. Townsend Bros. also ran from Dover to Calais. Currie Line offered passenger accommodation on their routes from Leith to Copenhagen, and from Leith and Grangemouth to Hamburg and Bremen. Ellerman’s Wilson Line operated from Hull to Oslo, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Stockholm, and Tyne-Tees Steam Shipping Co. offered a service from Newcastle to Hamburg.


Many European Lines also operated to the United Kingdom, notably Belgian Marine administration who ran 3 car ferries and 7 passenger ferries on the Dover to Ostend route. DFDS (The United Steamship Co.) served Esbjerg to Newcastle, Harwich and London, while Fred. Olsen operated from Oslo and Kristiansund to Newcastle. From Gdynia and Gdansk it was possible to travel by ferry to London and Hull on a service operated by Polish Ocean Lines, and Swedish Lloyd ran regular services from Gothenburg to Tilbury using the much loved Britannia and Suecia. The Russians also ran a regular service from London to Leningrad via Le Havre, Copenhagen, Gdynia, Stockholm and Helsinki.

Obviously air travel reduced the demand for passenger only ferries and it was inevitable that many of these services would become uneconomical. However, I am still surprised that the demand for car ferries has dropped so much. I would have thought that the opportunity for holidaymakers and businessmen to be able to travel with their own vehicle would have been an attractive proposition.

It is very sad that there are no longer any ferries from the United Kingdom to Scandinavia since the passing of the Harwich to Esbjerg service last year.



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