A new ferry route from Newcastle to Bergen and Stavanger in western Norway puts the Atlantic Road and the Laerdal Tunnel in easy reach of the annual fortnight.
Update 1 MAY 2014: IMPORTANT, NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THIS STORY
Update 30 July 2014: see the latest on Norwegian Seaways.
Update: on 21 January 2015 Norwegian Seaways announced it will launch a UK-Norway ferry service in March 2016. See more here.
New route announcements are not uncommon in the ferry industry. Far rarer are services that actually get off the ground (or rather into the water).
Who can forget the eco-ferry due to set sail – literally – from Totnes to St Malo in 2010? Or the high speed Euroferries boat we were supposed to watch via GPS on its voyage from Australia this year before it took up the route between Ramsgate and Boulogne? Both sank without trace.
Yesterday’s reports of a new service between Newcastle and Bergen and Stavanger in Norway, set to start on 14 April 2014 despite the lack of firm financial backing or a boat to show off, looked initially like more empty promises.
But there are several reasons why this new service should be taken seriously.
Crucially, it turns out that the company behind the service, UK-based Norwegian Seaways, has not in fact set a firm start date.
Chief Operating Officer Paul Woodbury told DriveEurope yesterday via email, ‘At this stage we are not in a position to announce a commencement of service. The reports in the Norwegian press are inaccurate and in no way reflect an official statement from Norwegian Seaways.’
Also, a direct Norway ferry link was defined in the recent North East Independent Economic Review by Lord Adonis as an ‘immediate priority‘.
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership confirmed to DriveEurope yesterday that Norwegian Seaways had applied for funding, described negotiations as ‘positive’ and said a decision was due ‘within the next month or two’.
The two are also working together on funding from other bodies.
Finally – if press reports are to be believed in this respect – there was a fair degree of enthusiasm in Norway when plans were revealed on Thursday.
Chief Commercial Officer Peter Iles told local TV afterwards – in English – that Norwegian Seaways will work with tourism organisations to extend the season and, ‘look to develop Norway as a skiing destination for British people’.
Since DFDS withdrew from the Norway route in 2008 there has been only one direct ferry service between the UK and Scandinavia, DFDS Harwich to Esbjerg, Denmark.
Limited passenger places are available on DFDS Freight ships between Tilbury/Immingham-Gothenburg/Brevik but otherwise, to reach Norway, drivers have to catch another ferry from northern Denmark, or cross into Sweden via the Oresund Link.
update 16.01.14: Norwegian Seaways has announced the ferry route will not start in time for Summer 2014. Click here for the full story.
update 01.05.14: Norwegian Seaways is still working on its UK-Norway ferry plan.