Sailing home for Christmas

A surprising discovery during the Volcanic Ash Cloud drama, was that it’s remarkably cheap to travel from England to Ireland via train and boat. For little more than £30, my Dad was able to escape from Manchester and make it back to Belfast in the same day. Last Christmas it also saved my stranded Australian Godsister from a Christmas on the floor of Stansted airport. This Christmas, partly to avoid potential travel chaos and partly because it seemed like a more logical option, I bought a SailRail ticket to Ireland instead of budget flights.

On paper, it does look slightly ridiculous. I exchanged a 4 hour door-to-door journey for a 9 hour one. Flying would’ve involved a 40 minute train journey, an hour’s flight and a 20 minute car ride. SailRail comprised two 2 hour train journeys, a 2 hour ferry crossing and a two hour car ride – that’s considerably epic. (Though I’m grateful that getting to Euston only required a 15 minute walk.)

However, there are multiple benefits:
– The environmental damage is less.
– The only luggage restriction is what you can carry – no liquid restrictions or security checks.
– There’s a lot more potential for getting work done at tables.
– Chester to Holyhead is a very scenic route.
– You can watch a lot of DVDs (or iPlayer downloads) in 6 hours.
– It’s cheaper than flying.

Of course, being me, I had to find my own form of entertainment. I’d been amazingly organised and not only had created a picnic for both breakfast and lunch (when your train leaves at 7.10am, you need to take a breakfast picnic) but had also trawled iPlayer for fun things to watch. Sitting on the train, immersed in the Steve Jobs documentary, I realised that most of my fellow passengers were also en route to Dublin – after all, who else would be so keen to get to Chester at that hour of the morning?

Knowing from previous ferry experiences that electricity is hard to come by on the boat, I had a power-saving strategy too – keep Macbook plugged in on both trains, thus ensuring that I definitely had enough juice to keep me amused to Dublin. Arriva Trains Wales’ non-functioning sockets threatened to scupper this, but I managed to find my own amusement for the Chester-Holyhead leg.

An unpleasant encounter with an unreasonable woman with an overly-large bag introduced me to a beardy, bookish fellow. He pointed out to the woman that on a crowded train it was rather off to place a large bag under a table, thus meaning that no one else sat there would have room for their feet. The woman angrily refused offers to move the bag and didn’t seem to see what the problem was, so beardy man and I moved away and found alternative seats. Always a fan of beardy, bookish types, I chronicled my adventures on Twitter and in turn managed to amuse some friends too. When you’re going to be in a confined space with the same group of people for several hours, there’s always scope for making a new friend…

The ferry trip and time in Eire meant that I was out of Twitter contact for several hours. The last friends at home heard of the saga was that I’d spotted what he was reading while we were on board the bus from the station to the ferry. Details of the rest of the trip had to wait until after the Twitter blackout. I did make a friend, but not beardy man – an 18 month old child travelling with her mum who needed an extra hand/pair of eyes at changeovers. It’s probably a good thing that I became separated from beardy man onboard as within half an hour of cast-off, I was beginning to turn green at the gills. The fast crossings are a good thing (2 hours instead of 4), but on a moderately rough sea, it’s rather choppy. The sight of a small child throwing up into a Waitrose carrier bag almost finished me off, but a festive episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks took my mind off it till we reach land again.

I’m rather looking forward to my return trip on Thursday – I may even use the time for a Harry Potter marathon. The only niggling worry is that the Irish/British let me out/in. The ferry company said passports weren’t needed for crossings and that a driving licence or bankcard would be sufficient ID. However, when your driving licence says you were born in Tonga, it doesn’t make for great evidence of your nationality…

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