London to Ireland – train and ferry part 2

Published on 15 December 2009 in , , , , , , ,

Holidays. They always seem to involve rushing about. And it starts with rushing to the airport. Then rushing to security. Then rushing through the gate because security have held everyone up so long that your flight is on final call. Oh and there’s an elderly woman pushing a pram in the way.

I don’t work like that. Holidays are supposed to be for relaxing. I like relaxing. That’s why I go on holiday. Why rush? Lets take it easy.

So it came to pass that on Saturday 31 October we arrived at London Euston clutching our tickets, ready to board the 08:50 Virgin Pendalino to Holyhead – step one on our journey to Ireland by train and ferry, and all for the unbelievably low price of £29 each, each way.

(Railway experts may have noticed I said “Virgin Pendalino” there and will be tutting at my factual inaccuracies because Crewe to Holyhead is a non-electrified line and the service is run by Virgin’s Super Voyager trains. So if you’re a super pedant, I’ll mention that, at the time of writing, the 0850 on a Saturday is a Pendalino service and at Crewe they attached “Gordon Tracy” – one of their Thunderbird locomotives which hauled us the rest of the way. Now can we stop being so geeky and get on with this?)

Given we’d got such cheap travel, and given it was a weekend, and given we were on holiday (yay!) we opted for the traditional first class upgrade, sat back and relaxed.

I confess I love first class. You get more legroom, more width and there’s rarely any screaming kids. Call me a snob if you want, but hey, that free tea and coffee you get is well worth it. Which is why we were ecstatic to find out that the drinks machine was broken…

Lack of tea aside, we could settle down on the four hour journey to Holyhead. This is when train travel comes into its own for me – it’s enforced relaxation. Just a chair, a train and a good book, or maybe some TV on the iPod. Lovely.

Even more lovely is the train line from Chester to Holyhead, which takes you along the North Wales coast, instantly taking me back to my early childhood where we’d spend many a holiday camping on Anglesey – the railway runs close to the main road at many parts, although I did keep being drawn back to that time we went and the car broke down and we never actually made it…

Anyway, relaxation done, we arrived at Holyhead. The ferry port is right next door to the train station meaning we had little to do but wander over. Two companies run from Holyhead to Dublin – Irish Ferries and Stena Line. During the week, you can usually pick from both, and the Stena does get in slightly earlier. However on Saturday, the trains arrive in too late to meet the Stena boarding.

Check in wasn’t open when we got there, meaning we could make a welcome stop at the coffee shop, before joining the foot passengers queue.

Not ever having boarded as a foot passenger on a ferry, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Also didn’t particularly expect to be grilled for my passport by a load of immigration people wearing stab vests, before being ushered to drop my baggage off – suddenly it was all getting all a little too airport-esque for my liking… We were then herded onto a rather scruffy and packed bus, before walking down a gantry that looked “spartan” to say it politely, but could easily have been used as the set for a Doctor Who adventure where the Doctor runs around a dilapidated space station.

Irish Ferries’s Ulysses is, by all accounts, the largest car ferry in the world. In terms of the number of cars it can carry anyway. And it’s a bit like any other ferry you travel on, in that it’s got all those ferry things. Cabins, shop, lots of eateries, pub, cinema, kids ball pool and, of course, more fruit machines than you could shake a stick at, and a table where you could play Blackjack. Ulysses is so big it has its own walking tour. Admittedly this just seems to be an excuse to just make you walk around the ship to all of the above.

Our original plan was to spend some time up on deck getting some air, however my plan there might have been swayed by Cross-Channel ferries where there’s always lots of outdoor seating and there’s usually better weather. Travelling the Irish sea may not be so warm I guess, hence the outer deck area was a seat-less expanse with a smoking shelter…

So after exploring the delights (ten minutes or so), we headed to the on-board bar for plan B – two pints of Murphy’s and a couple of games of the most excellent Bohnanza. It would be just like being in the pub, and given the highly addictive nature of the game, we’d be playing it all the way to Ireland!

Which is why Catherine promptly began feeling seasick and decided she needed to lie down on the seats, which a surprisingly large number of fellow passengers were also doing. This, of course, did leave me with two pints of Murphy’s so was, in some respects, a bit of a result.

With no cards to play, there was little to do but aimlessly wander around the ship, and occasionally read my book and wait until we docked in Dublin around half five.

In contrast to actually leaving the UK, arriving in Ireland was a pleasure, especially due to the Irish employing the nicest immigration official you’ll ever find, who seemed content as long as you had something red in your hand, and just waved us through with a big smile on his face. Now that’s what I call a welcome to a country!

Picking up our luggage from the carousel, we sailed through Customs (in that there wasn’t any) and headed off to the bus stop. Okay, so it had been a long journey – about nine hours from our home to hotel, and true it would have been a lot better if Catherine hadn’t spent much of her time lying down on a pub seat going “urgh”, but hey, I did get rather a lot of my book read…