Travel special 2014: Hit the pause button on the rail'n'sail route from London to Dublin
Saturday 25 January 2014
I start by making some calculations to soothe myself. Using the Rail & Sail combo route from London via Holyhead to Dublin takes nine or so hours; to fly between the two cities takes 50 minutes – but a few hours have to be added on for the to-ing, fro-ing and faffing at airports. A one-way rail/sail ticket costs about 30 quid all in – a flight is double that, unless you're very organised or lucky. Even if you're very disorganised, the rail/sail option can be bought just before you travel at no extra cost.
The sums, though, don't add up: there's no practical reason to spend most of your day trekking on a train and then a boat to get from London to Dublin. Claiming it's for the environment is like bringing a toothbrush to a street cleaning drive.
Regardless, on numerous occasions I've made this solo journey: the 9.10am Virgin train from Euston to Holyhead; 45 minutes of sitting around in chilly-grimness at the paltry café in Holyhead, the 2.10pm Irish Ferries boat docking in Dublin Port at 5.30pm. It's not a glamorous passage (though there are some lovely views as the train rolls along the Welsh coast).
There's something, however, about extracting yourself from your daily life in such a manner, that draws me, as if hitting the pause button for nine hours. You sit, read, do work (if you must), you don't really talk, the world rolls on.
On train and boat it's rarely busy, especially mid-week – except for one journey taken in haste on Christmas Eve when snow had stopped all flights out of London; a slightly more joyous version of the last helicopter leaving Saigon.
Typically though, by the time you get to the large ship it's half empty, it feels as if it's all for you: whole corridors are walked alone, seating enclaves by windows are deserted. The restaurant has a smattering of people (the food is not good), the bar a few more but all feels quiet. There's an odd hush throughout, only an engine hum persists.
It's best to travel this way in summer to enjoy the bright days and the sights of the sea. I step on to the deck – probably alone – and watch it all sail by. And if the sun's shining on a late summer afternoon, as the boat pushes into Dublin's wide bay, the sea snotgreen (as the fella wrote), the sky beautifully blue, I wonder for a moment why I ever left the place.
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