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.

Journeys to and from Great Britain

Aircraft wing

Even though I rarely use the airline in question, I could be termed a member of the "Ryanair" generation. Since I left Ireland to live in Britain before the "Celtic tiger" years came and went, most of my many crossings of the Irish Sea have been airborne. Ferry crossings have been occasional with two in the latter years of the last century and others in 2009 and 2011. Sailings between Larne and Stranraer got me moved to Edinburgh and back to Ireland for a weekend after my brother and I toured around part of Scotland. The first of the more recent forays took me between Holyhead and Dublin for a short walk around the Great Sugar Loaf near Kilmacanogue in County Wicklow. The second used an unused ticket for crossing from Holyhead to Dublin before I returned on what was the last sailing between Dublin and Birkenhead, an occasion tinged with sadness in a time of economic uncertainty.

Flying

Though other airlines serve Ireland, my own travel to and from the place has featured just two of them: Aer Lingus and Ryanair. Most of my journeys have been with the former for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they go where I need to be and Aer Lingus were the only option for travel between Edinburgh and Ireland while I lived in Scotland. Though they no longer fly between Manchester and Shannon, flying to Cork is a good substitute for avoiding lengthy onward travel from Dublin. The travel experience is less brash too, which makes for a more pleasant ambience that I have grown to relish. Ryanair services have their use too because they are the only airline flying between Manchester and Shannon even if flying times can be less convenient and you may find lower fares when there is a need to book travel at short notice. That had its uses for a family funeral in 2016 when I flew to Shannon and returned via Dublin, all on the same day though a delay on the outbound flight hardly impressed my brother (Manchester Airport was not functioning well that morning).

Keeping Faith through Changing Times

My patronage of Aer Lingus started in a very different era, it was 1995 when I began to fly between Dublin and Edinburgh. Then, it was very much a full service carrier with fares to match. Fortunately, my being a student did make me eligible for reduced fares even though it often meant lengthy Saturday afternoon waits while others booked trips that carried them further afield and for longer. It was a time when I was time rich and cash poor so that was one concession.

Not having as much time as I once did, it is just as well that you can do so much on the web. Once I was in possession of a debit card, the world of online bookings was open to me. It has gone much further since then with online check in now available. At the airport, there is just the matter of dropping off any hold luggage before going through security screening so life is that bit simpler as long as luggage weight is watched. The time when everything had to be done at the airport is behind us and I have not needed to use an Aer Lingus airport check in machine for around a decade.

All the while Aer Lingus itself has been changing. The rise of low fares operators like Ryanair, Easyjet and others together with economic turbulence meant that it had to change its model from a full service offering to a low fares one. Its fleet has changed too with all of its aircraft being jet engined (Airbus A320 and A330 in the main) and less busy services contracted to Stobart Air who operate smaller turboprop aircraft on routes like Manchester to Cork. Things have moved on from when Fokker 50 and BAe 146 planes were used by the airline.

To give an impression of there being low fares, much has been made a for cost option. Food and drink are sold onboard where once they would have been provided free of charge. Hold luggage and seat selection all add to the cost of a fare though fares are packaged so you get a range of benefits together instead of paying for them separately. As ever, the bare bones option always is cheaper even if you have to make do with just carry on luggage and airline allocated seats. hardly hardships for many. It may seem a maze for irregular of first time air travellers but you do get used to it after a while.

From Upstart to Pervasiveness

It might surprise you to hear it now but Ryanair once was a much loved small airline that plied between Dublin and London. Any delays meant refunds and there was a generous full service offering on board. The trouble with all of this was that they lost money instead of earning it and that meant a change was in order.

When it came, it was inspired by a development in the U.S.A.: low cost air travel. Extras were stripped away and every means of making extra revenue exploited along with intensive cost consciousness. During the rise of the "Celtic Tiger" years, brashness and publicity seeking was very much of how the airline promoted itself. The "in your face" persona of its chief executive Michael O' Leary very much fitted this and its "take it or leave it" attitude did nothing to stop the company becoming extremely successful. Customer service was haphazard as my brother found where problems hit his return flights from Malta and Poland to Ireland.

Though it has tried to soften its image in recent years, Ryanair still illustrates how air travel has changed from a glamorous way to travel to something far more utilitarian. Maybe that reflects how we view international travel these days: something for everyone and not just the few who can afford it. It is as if Ryanair and their kind appeared at just the right time in the story of air travel.

Sailing

Because this article discusses getting between Great Britain and Ireland alone, it necessarily omits sailings between Liverpool and the Isle of Man but a lot of the comments below would apply to these crossings too. In fact, my travels to Douglas have followed the reverse of the pattern of my Anglo-Irish travels. To date, I only have travelled to the Isle of Man by sea and never by air.

Returning to the subject of this piece, I have decided to include both parts of the island of Ireland for I have used ferries on both sides of the border. Hence, I have mentioned Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) above and not the U.K. Travel by sea between both islands has been going on for for centuries and more likely millennia. Before the arrival of air travel, it was the only option and that persisted until the dawn of low cost air fares. That means that a certain generation of Irish emigrants only had affordable sea travel if they ever returned to their home country at all.

Crossing to and from Scotland

When compiling this collection of recollections, I very nearly forgot about ferries between Scotland and Northern Ireland. This was how I moved to Scotland in mid-nineties and a crossing in the other direction allowed for a short stay in Ireland during the summer of 1999. Back then, the Scottish port was at Stranraer but that has changed and it is now Cairnryan though it has no train station like its predecessor, hardly an example of joined-up thinking. Two companies ply the Irish Sea from the new Scottish terminal: Stena Line who go to Belfast port and P&O Ferries who serve Larne.

Sailings use conventional ferries and only take around two hours so you don't get so much time to explore the onboard facilities, especially if you decide to spend some time out on deck like we did when I was moving to Scotland. There are plenty of departures too so you should have plenty of choice. Both of the sailings on which I travelled were smooth affairs of which I do not have much to recall apart from the speed of the crossing to Ireland. That was on a fast boat so standing outside on deck was not a viable option away from the shoreline.

Crossing to and from Wales

After Scotland, the part of the U.K. that has the shortest sailing times is Wales and there are three options: Holyhead in the north, which serves Dublin, while the south has Pembroke and Fishguard from which you can get to Rosslare on Ireland's southeastern corner. If the weather allows for a catamaran crossing, you get a travel time that is around two hours. Otherwise, you expect the journey to take three to four hours on a conventional ferry. When it comes to choosing operators, Irish Ferries operates from Pembroke and Stena Line from Fishguard while both serve Holyhead.

Because of where the Welsh ports are located, you can expect to travel for a few hours when getting to them from England. For instance, it takes around four hours to go from Macclesfield to Holyhead by train and a railway journey from the same starting point to either Pembroke or Fishguard is around seven hours.

Public transport connections in Ireland then are best in Dublin so long as you make use of Dublin Bus service 53B. The southeastern port of Rosslare is served by rail and bus too though timetables need more checking than they would with Ireland's capital city.

My own testing of the ferry sailings from Wales to Ireland and back left me with positive impressions. Everything just felt more relaxed than it would with flying and that extended to the placing of luggage in the hold for collection later. That ambience extended to the ferry terminals with the Holyhead one being sited next to the town's train station.

That easygoing atmosphere and the length of the journeys meant that there was more time for camaraderie and it helped some that alcoholic beverages were on sale. Deliberately, I chose occasions when the weather was more amenable for smoother crossings yet I still noticed more swaying on catamaran sailings, not that I noticed much motion on conventional ferries at all. In neither case did I go out on deck not only because of times of travel but also because catamarans go so fast that you would not enjoy doing that anyway.

Crossing to and from England

Because of the distance involved, there are not many choices for sailing from England to Ireland. All the ones that I know involve Liverpool and take around seven hours so booking a cabin has a use for overnight sailings. The first of these does not serve foot passengers at all and goes to Dublin. It is operated by P&O Ferries while Stena Line sail from Birkenhead to Belfast and that does convey foot passengers as well as those with vehicles. Until 2011, there was a service between Birkenhead and Dublin but that was withdrawn before DFDS sold the operation to Stena Line. That was the one that I used on its last night of operation and it did what I needed so I ask whether it will get restored sometime.