There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want to fly a short haul trip to somewhere in Europe. Short of taking up aluminium smelting as a hobby there’s little you can do as an individual that’s more polluting than flying added to which there’s the whole strap-you-into-a-tin-can aspect of it and the fact that the only thing that’s keeping you up is the laws of physics, and we all know how much attention we paid to those in school. So when we planned a brief Easter break in the Pyrenees, the other half and I decided to go overland – or rather over sea. We could have spent 10 hours on the train going via Paris but decided instead to make the journey part of the holiday and took the ferry to Bilbao, rented a car in Spain and drove along the coast playing ‘guess which way this toll booth works?’ as we went. The boat was fine, we saw whales and dolphins and even some sunshine on both legs of the trip and managed to work out how to get from the place that the ferry companies call Bilbao to the place that the rest of the world (including our hire car company) considers to be Bilbao. We even, on the way back, escaped from the toils of the Bilbao one-way system unscathed – a system designed not so much to discourage driving in the town centre as to act as a sort of one-off course of driving aversion therapy: Jeremy Clarkson himself, having attempted to return a hire car to the handily central Bilbao train station car park, would probably have been found registering his oyster card and hopping on a bus the very next day. Anyway, thanks to a nice man called Javier who interrupted a lively discussion in a Bilbao disability employment office (don’t ask) between those who knew the way but spoke no English, and those who spoke English but didn’t know the way, and not only climbed into our car and gave us directions but also dispensed touristic advice and gave us his mobile phone number in case we had any further problems, we caught the train and the boat and arrived back at Portsmouth tanned, rested and ready for action.
Which was lucky. Because SouthWest Trains had decided to celebrate Earth Day (and a major home Portsmouth football game) by not running any trains between Portsmouth and Havant over the weekend. We and several large, loud, but fortunately happy football fans were forced onto replacement buses which took half an hour to grind back past the ferry terminal and a further half hour to get to Havant a whole four minutes after the London train had left. Feeling slightly less tanned and a whole lot less rested we finally got home four hours after arriving in Portsmouth. All this for 46 quid – that’s just the Portsmouth-London train – the price, I have no doubt, of an EasyJet flight to Toulouse. But then if we’d flown we would never have seen a Pilot Whale … we’d only have seen a pilot.