Tarbert on the brink of “radical transformation”

The village of Tarbert in Harris stands on the brink of “radical transformation” as a number of exciting developments come together to cement its growing reputation.

By Murray MacLeod
Friday, 14th May 2021, 11:17 am
Work at the pier is expected to be completed autumn, although it will be some time yet before the new ferry arrives. Pic Ronan Wilson
Work at the pier is expected to be completed autumn, although it will be some time yet before the new ferry arrives. Pic Ronan Wilson

With a resident population of around 500, the ferry port becomes a bustling hive of activity over the summer months on the back of the area’s t ourism boom, with nearby beaches and scenery now enjoying widespread international acclaim.

It is as yet unknown what this year’s tourist season will bring, but the one thing that can be relied on is that the area will once again be very busy with campervan staycations, if nothing else.

Three major developments are currently on-going which together could transform the village’s fortunes even further: major redevelopment work on the pier, the marina and an expansion of the distillery.

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Tarbert, a village on the brink of transformation

John Murdo Morrison, a well-known retired hotelier whose family still runs the business, has seen Tarbert change dramatically over the generations, but is now convinced it stands on the brink of a very bright future.

“RJ MacLeod, who were awarded the contract for the pier, have worked so hard in all weather conditions and are producing something which is going to be better than we ever imagined,” he said. “With the marina as well being well used it’s going to bring a lot of interest to Tarbert.

“With the distillery right next to the marina, there is another opportunity there. You have a growing movement just now where yachts go on distillery tours round the west coast. Historically, they would only come as far as Talisker, Skye but now it’s only a hop across the Minch to another distillery right here.”

He added: “With all that happening at the one time we could be seeing a radical transformation of Tarbert.”

Just last week Harris Development Limited, who oversee the marina in Tarbert and other pontoons in Scalpay, announced the marina would re-open for the season, although users were being reminded that Covid regulations would remain in place.

The Isle of Harris distillery recently submitted a planning application for a warehouse extension to the north of Tarbert in anticipation of growing orders.

They recently announced they were on the cusp of a major breakthrough into the American market with their ever-popular Isle of Harris Gin and their “Hearach” single malt – when finally available for public sale – is expected to generate huge levels of interest and additional visitor activity at the centre .

The final point of triangulation in the Tarbert transformation is the extended pier at a cost of £14.3 million.

It was designed to cope with a new larger ferry which was initially supposed to come onto the route back in 2018 but which has been embroiled in a series of long-running contractual disputes surrounding the Ferguson Marine shipyard -- and still no clear indication of when the vessel will actually be finished.

Contractors RJ MacLeod said they will be finished in Tarbert in the autumn, which other than a new extended linkspan will also provide a new office -- due to be opened next year -- and additional car-parking.

Senior civil engineer John Quinn said the work is “progressing well” and “the reconstruction of the new pie r is taking shape.”