The history of the harbour
Ferryport on Craig (as Tayport was originally known) started life as a quiet farming and fishing village. There are traditinal references to ferries here and, in 1050 MacDuff Thane of Fife is reputed to have fled across the river to escape Macbeth and, having no money, paid the ferryman with a loaf of bread. Thus was the ancient ferry known as the The Ferry of the Loaf. The harbour was dominated from about 1450 by a castle whose last remains were removed in 1855.
It was not until the invention of steam aided ferries that Tayport really took off in its own right. The village was a natural crossing place for goods travelling from St. Andrews and Edinburgh northwards to Dundee and Aberdeen. With a reliable network of railroads through Fife, goods transportation was a rapidly growing business.
Tayport Harbour was arguably the world's first roll on roll off ferry crossing the Tay at Tayport and over to Broughty Ferry. The current harbour was rebuilt 1847 by the Edinburgh & Northern Railway as a basin formed by a pier and two quays; it was the terminus of the ferry to Broughty Ferry which served to complete the link up of the east coast railway between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The harbour fell into disuse for that purpose when the first Tay Rail bridge was built but was then brought back into use as a rail ferry link when the first Tay bridge was destroyed in a storm in 1879.
The Harbour was eventually taken over by a Timber processing company, Donaldsons of Tayport, and was used by cargo boats of up to 3000 tons carrying potatoes, grain, esparto grass and timber until the 1980s when the timber firm began to wind down its operation.
Recognising its value as a community asset, the then local authority, North East Fife District Council, took steps to maintain the harbour for community use. The land around the harbour had previously been rail and timber yards and so, before granting planning permission for the designation of the timber yards for housing, the Council played its part in persuading Donaldsons to dispose of the harbour element of their holdings to Tayport Boat Owners Association. By then, the harbour was heavily silted up, allowing boat movements in and out only for short periods near the top of the tide, and was used by a handful of locals for mooring their boats.
Tayport Boat Owners Association had been leasing the harbour and, in 1990, formed Tayport Harbour Trust who then bought the harbour. The Trust was set up with the express aim of restoring and repairing the harbour by means of encouraging its use as a leisure sailing harbour. Much work was done by volunteers and funds raised from a variety of sources - including berthing fees from harbour users. These initial funds were used to carry out dredging and to purchase the materials necessary to build pontoons in order to attract more boats and thus, in turn, to provide more funding for maintenance works.
The Harbour Trust holds a valuable community asset in trust and continues to engage with Fife Council in order to work together to upgrade the harbour and its environs in order that its potential contribution to the wellbeing of the Tayport Community could be maximised. The Council invested £400,000 in a programme of environmental improvements on the landward side of the harbour including improving the car park area, surfacing the Fife Coastal cycle path and footpath where it passes through the harbour environs, and installing hard landscaping and seating.
The Trust for its part, has made substantial investments over the years invested in such areas as both upgrading 2 of its 3 'home-made' pontoons to professionally built and installed pontoons which can provide the levels of accessibility and safety required of a modern marina; and a major programme of dredging which means all boats are afloat on neap tides and that access to and from the harbour is greatly enhanced at all states of the tide.
The Trust is managed to ensure that, as far as possible, the income from harbour users will (in most cases) be adequate to maintain and operate the harbour on a long term sustainable basis and, in cooperation with other bodies with an interest in the harbour and surroundings, that its facilities and essential fabric can be improved. The harbour continues its programme of dredging; installed (in 2015) a small toilet and shower block and is planning the replacement of the 3rd pontoon. Ideally the harbour would also like to see the provision of a modest harbour building with a social space, a kitchen and a small office.
The Harbour Trust anticipates that the general improvement to the harbour and its environs will create not just an attractive and important source of relaxation and pleasure for the local community but also that it will create a 'destination' which will see visitors from further afield contributing to the social and financial wellbeing of the Tayport Community. Subject to cooperation and investment by appropriate authorities, addition of interpretation material telling the history and heritage of Tayport and its harbour, as well as information on the ecology of the Tay estuary, a site of special scientific interest, would create an educational resource for schoolchildren, locals and visitors alike. The Trust will keep a watch for opportunities to promote these further improvements as and when possible.