Cruise ships set sightson Berwick

Several major cruise ship tour companies are being lined up to bring tourists to Berwick.

By Ian Smith
Monday, 15 April, 2019, 09:33
Tweed Dock. Picture by Alan Hughes

Harbour commissioners at Tweed Dock are hoping to welcome the first cruise ship passengers next year.

A landing pontoon to receive passengers arriving by tender from ships moored in Berwick Bay is in place and an application has been made for funding to make the dock’s facilities more visitor-friendly.

Chris Hardie, a harbour commissioner, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Berwick and the surrounding area if we grasp it.

“The phase we are in now is promoting this facility. The dock has already had the major cruise agents visiting the town to have a look at it. These cruise agents are coordinating 1,900 cruise ship visits a year to the UK and they have said it is jaw-dropping.

“The quality of the pontoon means they can get access to Berwick now. It’s been on their list for the last 10 years but just haven’t been able to get here because the facilities weren’t in place.

“Their customers are Royal Caribbean, Viking, Disney, Sovereign and MSC. All of those companies are interested but the one showing the most interest right now and is sending visitors to do their own survey is Fred Olsen so very quickly we are going to be on the map and landing people at Tweed Dock.”

Addressing delegates at Berwick Tourism Conference on Monday, Mr Hardie said it was crucial that the town was ready to cater for these visitors.

“What do we do when we land them at Tweed Dock?” he asked. “We need to have ideas and promote ourselves.

“They will want to arrange their own tours so it’s all about us putting together the

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town and attractions within a 30-mile radius together in a package so visitors can see this as a destination. They can go south or inland to the likes of Manderston, Mellerstain and Floors or, as would be close to my heart, stay in Berwick.

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“A significant proportion of people will come ashore and don’t take the expensive tours, they’ll take the shuttle or bus or even a boat across the river into town. This is where we can all link up.

“Not only is this a huge opportunity for the area with tens of thousands of new visitors arriving over the course of the year, it also presents a new opportunity for the town, a completely new income stream.

“This is all about us improving the river frontage and getting Berwick working but it requires funders and others to come together with the harbour management to put together plans for the future. The facilities are there, now we’ve got to market it. Berwick is on the tick-list for most of them, now we’ve got to make it a reality.”

Stephen Scott, secretary of Berwick Chamber of Trade, said it was an opportunity to be grasped.

“We’re trying to market the pontoon to cruise ships to get them to come to Berwick,” he said. “There is a long lead time before that happens as these companies tend to schedule their trips 18 months ahead but it could be as early as 2020 when we might see developments and, if they do arrive, we as a town need to know what we are going to do.

“Of course they will want to go to other parts of Northumberland but there is a huge opportunity there and we need to have a package of events to cope with those extra visitors.”

Work is also planned this year to replaced the dilapidated wooden jetty at the entrance to the port. The jetty is a crucial navigational aid and its collapse would mean the immediate closure of the port.

The work will safeguard the future of the port of Berwick and the 10 jobs presently supported there, with plans to create up to 70 more jobs once the project is completed. It will enable the port to attract larger vessels and expand its ability to secure vital new contracts.

The works have been funded by a £2million grant from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund.

Neighbouring Eyemouth became an approved cruise ship port in 2012 and welcomed its first cruise ship in 2015.