Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Coming from Overseas

Howth Head, Dublin, Éire

In some ways, it isn't inappropriate that an international low fares airline is headquartered in Éire, even if the standard of hospitality is far from generous and very unlike what you'll meet in many parts of the country. Getting to and from the island means either flying or sailing and both options are covered here; there is no undersea tunnel like that which connects Britain with mainland Europe.

Of the two options, air travel probably is the quicker and the more reliable, even if it is often far from being cheap and that's especially when you have to make a late booking. Sea crossings can be tempestuous affairs and cancellations due to rough seas do happen a lot. Thankfully, it is seldom that there is a calamity at sea though so that should be some consolation when if your travel arrangements get disrupted. Saying that, I get the impression that ferries run well most of the time.

The comparison between both ways of travel comes down to a common dictum: whether you are rich in time or money. Sea travel is for those who have the time to enjoy the journey and there is something to be said for it too. On the contrary, time poverty makes the air option better though you can't always say that you'll have an experience to be treasured. That statement show just how far air travel has come down from its glamorous days; it has become little better than an airborne bus service much of the time these days though there remain some operators who do pride themselves in hospitality but they would appear to be the exception.

Going by Air

Given how important air travel is for getting to and from Éire, here are its main indigenous airlines. Since I began flying between between Britain and Ireland, everything has changed with full service operations becoming itemised affairs. Seeing the totals that you can rack up, it is hard to believe that cheap air travel exists but booking well ahead of the intended time of travel can bring its rewards...

Aer Lingus

Formerly Ireland's national state-owned airline, this operator provides services to and from the U.K., Europe and the U.S.A. A more generous luggage allowance and generally better travel experience than Ryanair has ensured my patronage for over a decade now. Though I am not that careless when packing, there have been times when I ended up a little over my allowance only for the person behind the desk to use their discretion and allow me to avoid excess baggage charges, not at all a Ryanair habit.

Standardisation of the main fleet around Airbus jet aircraft has meant that they initially dropped their smaller routes but the establishment of Aer Lingus Regional, operated with turboprop aircraft by Aer Arann has meant that services between Manchester and Cork or Shannon have been started in recent years. What these flight are not is cheap and paying £100 is common even when booking a god while ahead of time and exceeding £200 is far from uncommon either. It does seem that air travel is increasing in cost too with cheap fares between Manchester and Dublin becoming harder to find. Maybe fares aren't as low as they used to be.

Ryanair

To say that the presentation of this lot is a bit in your face would be an understatement. Subtlety isn't one of their bywords and they can be very noisy too. Between ill-fated take over attempts for Aer Lingus and complaints about airport taxes, they certainly know how to keep their profile high. A lot of their unique selling points have been picked up by rivals but they still continue to go their merry way. Baggage has been weighed in a manner reminiscent of gold for longer than most and they very quickly can sting you with a pricey fare if you happen to miss your flight, not that hard given that they overfill flights and that's why so many have got into the habit of queueing early at boarding gates. The promise of low fares for all of Europe has the usual sting in the tale: if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. In response, they'd probably state that you get that for which you have paid anyway.

Going by Sea

The sea option is not one that I have used so often on journeys to an from my native Éire but the idea has often come to mind in recent times. Some journeys between Scotland and Northern Ireland (en route to the Republic) have gone over the sea but their counterparts using ports in the Republic have only involve one such sailing until very recently. That was between Rosslare and Cherbourg nearly twenty years ago! Lately, I added the crossing between Holyhead and Dublin to my tally and there may be more yet. In the meantime, here are a few options.

Irish Ferries

In the mid-eighties, the Irish Continental Line changed its name when it took on the Irish Sea ferries that it runs through to this very day along with sailings between Ireland and France dating from its previous incarnation. I believe that it is still Irish-owned, a fact that would distinguish it from its rivals. Like Stena, the fleet is a mixture of conventional and high speed ferries and it accepts foot passengers on its overnight sailing from Holyhead to Dublin.

Stena Line

Known as Sealink in the dim and distant past before it escaped the clutches of the now defunct British Rail to become part of the Stena empire, this shipping firm remains a prominent purveyor of Irish Sea ferry services between Britain and Ireland. Choices are between conventional sea ferries and the speedy catamarans on its Wales to Éire and Scotland to Northern Ireland. While a good option if you want to get your car to Ireland, the temperamental nature of the Irish Sea can mean that services are prone to disruption.

P&O Ferries

Another ferry operator linking Britain and Ireland via the Irish Sea but it also runs services between France and Ireland.The main interest here is their Liverpool-Dublin service that takes eight hours but crossings between Scotland and Northern Ireland also form part of their offering. The longer sailing time makes it a better option for overnight sailing than shorter crossings between Wales and Ireland. Nevertheless, it is perhaps too leisurely for daytime travelling though its clientèle are exclusively travelling in their own vehicles so the avoidance of tiring driving might be appreciated. For those without their own vehicle who want to travel as foot passengers, this option is a total non-starter, something that I considered a pity prior to a later discovery.

Brittany Ferries

Its weekly (France to Ireland on Friday and then the other way on Saturday) overnight Cork-Roscoff route is what gets this operator included in this list but they started out as a shipper of vegetables from Roscoff to Plymouth, a far cry from what they do today with their ferry routes to Ireland, England and Spain.