After my global-warming, monumental scheduling cock-up of a holiday in June, the other half and I decided to do penance by travelling to Northern Ireland the old fashioned way, on the ferry, for our next trip in September*. Flying to Belfast is seductively easy and cheap and fast – even factoring in the recent chaos – but one other overlooked advantage of flying over any other form of travel is the ease of organising it. I want to fly from London to Belfast? Easy. I get onto any one of a dozen internet sites, put in my dates and times and hey presto – all the flights laid out complete with times, iteneraries, operators, prices, and I know that only the ones with seats available will be offered to me. Book the flight and I will generally be offered a deal on getting to the airport by train, and car hire at the other end. Five minutes later my holiday is organised, the tickets are on their way by email and I can get on with worrying about important things like what I’ve just done to the planet.
Now try and do the same thing but by train and boat. There is a website – SailRail, a consortium of some (but not all) of the ferry and train operators that will let you put in your journey requirements and get back information about the price. And it’s not too expensive – 48 quid each return for a combined train and boat ticket, pretty much comparable to the flight. But that’s all the site tells us. When does the train leave? How long will it take? What operator is it? Do I have to change at Crewe? How long do I have to get between the train and the ferry? What time does the boat get in? Are there any places available? Who knows. And when I click on the optimistically named ‘booking’ link, I get to a page with a telephone number on it, or the suggestion that I head down to my local station and talk to the booking clerk there. Not impressed. Not even a little bit impressed. No wonder people stick to their cars and their cheap flights.
Fortunately, there is the excellent Man in Seat Sixty-one who has – purely as a hobby, it seems – put together all the information you need to plan to travel without flying to anywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe. This is a fantastic resource but why is it left to a hobbyist? And why, in this land of integrated transport strategies and joined-up government thinking do I find that when I finally do break down and ring up the booking number am I told that the only direct train to Holyhead arrives there a good three hours before the ferry is due to leave? Integrated transport strategies my arse … It’s as though they want us to fly.
* What is this called by the way? I called it ‘overland’ but the other half suggested we’d get a bit wet and then I couldn’t think of a better term. Surface, as in surface mail?