If you have just stumbled across this entry I would suggest that you read my entry from the 10th June 2018 entitled, “I haven’t really got lost” as it explains exactly what is going on in relation to this particular series of entries which I hope to link sequentially if I ever work out how. They refer to a trip I am currently still on in my home country of Northern Ireland where I have been for jut over a week and may be for an unspecified time for reasons which I shall touch on now.
Obviously I shall not be going into details but my octogenarian Father has not been enjoying the best of health lately and it had been a while since I saw him so that was overdue. Coupled with this my younger brother had told me that there was to be a gathering of cousins from my late Mother’s side of the family so it really was a case of killing two birds with one stone
I really do dislike flying short haul now as it is just so much hassle for such a short time in the air. I do not particularly dislike flying per se but with the exception of London City which is a couple of miles from my home, it takes me a minimum of 90 minutes to get to any one of the other four “London” airports none of which are actually in London! Add to that the requirement to be at the airport two hours before departure and it makes for a long journey. If I am going home I fly into Aldergrove airport which is about an hour bus ride to central Belfast then another hour on a train to get to Portadown and then an irregular bus or a taxi to Tandragee.
My preferred mode of travelling back to Northern Ireland is a “railsail” ticket which includes train travel from London to Holyhead, ferry to Dublin and a train to any station in Northern Ireland. Somewhat oddly it does not include the bus from the ferry to Connolly station of the Busaras bus coach station) but even allowing for the €3 single the fare is certainly comparable with flying even on the “cheapo” airlines which I refuse to use anyway having been let down by them far too often.
I had opted for the 1210 train as opposed to the 0910 boat train purely to avoid the rush hour on the Tube which is such a pain. The seldom used alarm function on my ‘phone did it’s thing and I woke in mid-morning feeling absolutely wretched. Whatever had been laying me low previously seemed to have return with a vengeance and I really felt like doing nothing except staying put and going back to sleep but I knew I would regret it if I did not go as planned so I forced myself into the shower, packed a small rollalong in a few minutes and headed out.
At this point I shall utilise a review I wrote for the now sadly demised Virtual Tourist website, suitably edited, which is still relevant as I do not see much point in re-writing something that took me so long in the first place. It actually refers to the journey the other way but the details are the same in reverse.
“When I began travelling in the 1970’s the only realistic way to travel to and from Northern Ireland was by boat as air travel was hideously expensive. Travel to London without driving involved either an overnight boat to Liverpool, a train to Larne and over to Stranraer with an awfully long train / coach trip or the Dublin / Holyhead option going through the Republic of Ireland and train or coach from North Wales. Frankly, none of them were a lot of fun.
As the years went on, air travel became more affordable especially with the advent of low-cost carriers and just about everyone adopted the aeroplane as their default mode of transport. I did the same myself but just recently I am becoming more and more disenchanted with air travel, especially within the British Isles. With the post 9/11 security regulations at airports, cost of travel to out-of-town airports, check-in hassles and now the appalling practice of having to pay through the nose for checked baggage I really am fed up with it. I recently worked out that is just about the same time for me to get door to door from my home in central London to the centre of Edinburgh without ever going near a ‘plane. It is also immeasurably more comfortable and I do not have to produce my passport to travel within my own country which really does annoy me.
I should mention here the excellent Man in Seat 61 website which is literally all the information you need for train travel you anywhere in the world. It really is essential reading if you are going to ride the rails. It was there that I discovered this travel option and I decided to check it out some years ago. I like train travel and time is not a major concern for me. So what are the details? At time of writing it was £68 each way and you can book online which attracts a small fee but it is possible to purchase them at this price until 1800 the previous day or from any major UK rail station.
My journey started at London Euston and involved a change at Chester. Some trains involve a further change at Crewe. I settled in my pre-reserved seat still feeling so rough I did not even fancy a coffee much less a drink. I did not even feel like reading which is unlike me and just sat and looked out the window at what was a pretty decent day. Had I wished to use my laptop, there were power points provided although you need to pay for wi-fi if you are not in first class.
The day had started OK but the weather degenerated the further North and West we went which was a shame. It was sad the weather was so foul as the little I could see indicated that there was some lovely scenery with the journey along the North Wales coast and its numerous holiday destinations and caravan parks, crossing the Menai Straits and then across Anglesey, or Ynys Mon as it is locally called. I do remember reading that this was the last place there were considerable numbers of druids before the advance of Christianity obliterated them.
Here is the drill if you do take this route. The small railway station at Holyhead is actually the same building as the ferry terminal and is well signposted, you really shouldn’t get lost. If you should, for whatever reason, need the left luggage office (it was closed when I was there!), it is on the left at the end of the platforms as you walk towards the ferries. There is a shop and refreshment facilities. The pick up area is to the right as you walk from the station to the ferryport and if you want to walk into town the entrance to the left over the modern new walkway will lead you there.”
I still was not feeling great but this was to prove the least of my worries. The route is jointly operated by Irish Ferries and Stena Line and I was due on the 1715 fast boat which, even allowing for the bus transfer in Dublin would leave me in plenty of time to get the Enterprise train North. I joined the queue and waited, and then we waited some more to the point it was clear we were never going to depart on time. We had our bags screened by security and let in a waiting room which certainly fulfilled its function as we waited, man did we wait! Included in the passenger list was a group of about thirty or so pupils from Bocombra Primary School which could potentially have been a right pain but in fairness to them and their teachers they were very well-behaved if a little noisy. We eventually got the bus for the short transfer to the ferry and it was nearly 1900 before we cast off and got underway. I knew that my 2050 train was looking extremely doubtful. What annoyed me was that at no point did I hear any explanation as to the delay although I am guessing it may have been to do with the very thick fog.
Again, I shall return to my earlier writings to describe the boat.
“The boat was a huge improvement on the cattleships of my distant memory with a lot of things to keep you amused. There are various eating and drinking options, large screen TV’s, comfortable lounges and even a cinema (extra charge). I have to say that the price of food and drink is pretty high onboard, probably something to do with the captive audience thing. Euros and sterling are both accepted and basically if you buy something in sterling then you get your change in sterling and the same with Euros.”
Comfortable as it was I neither ate, drank nor even read and was content to vaguely watch the news on the large screen TV and try to doze. There was certainly nothing to see out the window but fog.
We arrived in Dublin very late and I went to the bus where I paid my €3, having made sure I had some € on me. Last time I did not and was completely ripped off at the desk who changed € to £ at one for one. At this time of the night, there was nobody even on the desk so I would have been completely stymied. Had the bus left then and there I might have just made the train but the driver sat put until the people who had stowed their baggage had retrieved it from the baggage carousel. He seemed in no hurry with the driving either even though there was no traffic at all. The upshot of all this was that I arrived in Connolly Station 12 minutes after my train had departed. Brilliant!
I was sure it was a forlorn hope but I went to the information desk and, rather more in hope than in expectation enquired if there was another train that night which of course there wasn’t. I was effectively stranded in central Dublin on a Friday night with no accommodation and probably little chance of getting any. The guy on the desk was very helpful and phoned the bus station for me but nothing doing there. When I asked him about somewhere to stay he suggested a hotel just across the road or, failing that another one just around the corner.
The first one was posh, obviously expensive (Dublin is a very pricey city) and full. Ditto the second. The friendly young lady there suggested a nearby street near the bus station where there were several possible options. Her directions took me along a particular street and, lo and behold, what was there but Jacobs Inn, a sizeable looking hostel. At weekends Dublin is a magnet for hen and stag parties and I wasn’t really hopeful but it really was any port in a storm at this point. I wandered up to the desk and enquired to be told that I was in luck and I secured the very last bed in the establishment. The young man on the desk rather apologetically told me it was a 12 bed mixed dorm and it would be €36. “It’s the weekend,I’m afraid”, he said.
Even at 58 years of age hostels don’t bother me at all and I rather enjoy them in many ways as they are much more sociable than soulless corporate hotels and are great places to meet travellers. Having been in the Forces, communal living does not bother me in the slightest and in matters of accommodation all I really require is a clean bed long enough to fit my 6’5″ frame and a decent amount of hot water (or cold depending on the climate obviously) to shower in.
For some reason, probably operator error from this technophobe) I could not manage to ‘phone or SMS my brother to let him know the situation albeit that he was less than 100 miles away as the crow flies. I suspect it was because I was in another country although I really do not know. I sent him an e-mail from the dorm on the fast internet wifi, then headed for a look round.
Jacobs is one of the “new” breed of hostels that I made so much use of on my unexpectedly extended wander around Europe last Spring / Summer which will eventually form the basis of yet another travelogue as it is a Hell of a story. They are such a far cry from the places I hostelled in right back to the 1970’s with curfews, chores, lights out and no TV! I really do rate them as a travel option in the 21st century and I am glad that the 26 years age limit is long gone or I would never get in. Whilst it is not common, neither is it unheard of for me to meet people of my own vintage. Beware you youngsters, the grey travellers are coming! It is a subject I shall return to in future.
A quick exploration showed the hostel to be spotlessly clean and well-kept with all the usual facilities and boasting a fourth floor roof terrace where I went for a smoke and which offers fine views over the city. Those that know me will find my next statement all but unbelievable but I was in Dublin City Centre on a Friday night with some brilliant pubs within about a 400 yard radius and I did not even go out for a single pint of Guinness! I sat drinking bottles of water in the company of three young American girls watching some American TV police drama on the large plasma TV. Normally I wouldn’t even think about watching something like that but I still didn’t feel up to doing much else and it did actually turn out to be reasonably enjoyable, something about a serial killer and FBI criminal profilers, just don’t ask me what it was called. I took my leave of the ladies and turned in a touch before midnight. Dublin will still be there next time.
As I was getting ready to “hit the pit” I had a look round the dorm and saw that most of the bunks were still empty so I was more or less prepared for a night of little sleep as various drunken rowdies returned at all hours of the night. In the event, the young people were impeccably behaved, tiptoeing about and whispering very quietly and still I got not a wink of sleep. I did give it a good go but I have a sleep disorder and am generally fairly nocturnal. Coupled with the fact I had been dozing most of the day, the warm embrace of Morpheus was never going to happen. I have learned not to even bother fighting it and lay there reading my book to pass the time.
I know that technically I am now into the 3rd of June so I shall break this here or it will get untidy.
Due to me feeling so bad I didn’t take any images on my way to Dublin so the images here are all from previous journeys although nothing has really changed and they are here merely to provide an idea.
Stay tuned and spread the word.