It’s not the destination but the journey that matters. Bollocks.

Actual photo 😉

Some bright spark said a few years ago that it wasn’t the destination that mattered but the journey, that’s very noble but I beg to differ..

A while back I had to travel back to Norn Iron and I thought instead of doing the sensible thang that any right minded person would do and get the 45 minute flight from Heathrow to Aldergrove, that I would like to get the train from London to Stranraer in Scotland and then the ferry to Larne and then the train down to Belfast,  for a bit of adventure, a decision I was soon to regret..

Here’s a tip for anyone thinking of undertaking this journey, first of all check a few things; check that the Scottish football team Celtic aren’t playing football in Wembley stadium that evening and the train up to Stranraer isn’t going to be full of drunken cheering Scots fans chanting footie songs all the way from London to Glasgow..

Plus it’s probably a good idea to check the weather forecast..

So, the train first, the conductor was obviously Scottish (or Norn Irish!) for this is what he said before we even left Paddington;

‘Good evening, this is the conductor of your train speaking, and we will be departing shortly.  Please note that we will be cruising at an altitude of approximately zero feet, and our scheduled arrival time in Stranraer is 10:15 tomorrow morning. The temperature in Stranraer is a cool 5 degrees Celsius, and Stranraer is in the same time zone as London, so there’s no need to adjust your watches. May I remind all passengers that there is strictly no smoking allowed on any part of the train. However, if you are smoking a joint it is only good manners that you pass it round the rest of the carriage.’ This caused some considerable mirth amongst the footie fans that seemed intent on drinking Canada Dry (or at least the bar dry). They promptly burst into standard fare of “here we go, here we go, here we goooo’ and repeated that little ditty ad nauseam.. and of course all the empty McEwans ale cans rolled joyously up and down the carriage as the train went around each bend and slowed down and sped up, all night.. I groaned and tried to switch off and made futile attempts to snooze… it was going to be a long night.

Sadly as I was trying to get comfortable and shut out the cat-a-wailing, a man of some considerable girth plonked himself down opposite me and then commenced what can only be described as a cacophony of noise sounding vaguely like a rabbit being sucked slowly through a two inch hole. I was DEEPLY jealous of him for he immediately fell asleep. Bastard. To paraphrase Bill Bryson – he was not, I regret to say, an attractive sleeper, most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; he looked as if he could do with emergency medical attention. He slept as if injected with a powerful muscle relaxant.  His legs fell open in a grotesque come-hither manner and his mouth, and anything that was inside – tongue and moist bubbles of curry scented intestinal air decided to noisily leak out.  From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, his head tipped forward to empty a quart or so of drool onto his chest, then it fell back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling. And he snored, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character, with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve exhalations.  For long periods he grow unnaturally still, in a way that inclined me to lean forward in concern, then dramatically he stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole-body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown (if only!).  Then he shrieked once or twice in a piercing and effeminate manner and woke up to find that everyone within the carriage had stopped doing what they were doing and were staring at him and small children were clutching their mother’s hems.  It was a terrible sight to bear and he was sitting opposite me.  This described him perfectly, I sat there fuming and yet mesmerised, unable to take my eyes off him, like a car wreck or in this case a mini train wreck.

So by the time dawn broke I had slept maybe a whole 60 seconds in total, if looks could kill.. However I made some effort to go find breakfast in the buffet car and breathe in the fresh (by now Scottish) air.. Now the strange thing about Stranraer train station is that it doesn’t actually exist, I know that sounds weird but I only found this out as the train stopped like it had done a few times, I assume because of engineering works or because of a dead Haggis on the tracks but the train stopped and everyone started to disembark. I thought this a mite strange because looking out the windows on the right hand side of the train all I could see was what I’d been seeing for the last few hours, teeming rain on lush grassy fields and miserable looking cows but still everyone was getting off so I went out of the buffet carriage and looked out the left side of the train and was somewhat surprised to see a HUGE fecking ferry about the size of a Death Star on the other side of a wooden railway platform and train passengers making their way to it. So, one side green fields with cows munching on grass, the other side a huge ferry and Darth Vader welcoming everyone aboard, oh and the end of the train line, surely a metaphor for everyone who was getting onto the ferry, I felt like shouting up ahead “don’t pay the ferry man…”

There were no announcements saying we had arrived, not like one is going to miss a huge ferry (once looking in the right direction of course) so I gathered up my belongings and made my way to the quayside.

I probably should mention that the weather had ‘somewhat’ deteriorated during the night and there appeared to be a storm raging out in the open sea; torrential rain, gale force winds and huge waves crashing against the side of the ferry, you name it, it was there, was just waiting to tick off tornado and my ‘End Of World’ list was complete, hey, welcome to Scotland everybody! and looking out across the sea the waves seemed a trifle intimidating, I was filled with foreboding (and bacon sandwiches) and I assumed the ferry would not be leaving harbour until the storm subsided..

How wrong was I. The Larne- Stranraer ferry is made of stronger stuff than I and considers itself unsinkable (or likes to think so) and will sail no matter how stormy it is – and I mean that, George Clooneys ‘The Perfect Storm’ was a picnic in the park compared to the crossing we made.. The Captain made the bog standard safety announcement and on an aeroplane one gives scant regard for these instructions because you are too busy trying to find out what the movie selection is but for once I gave the safety announcement 100% of my attention, I checked out EXACTLY where the life boats/life belts where, lashed myself to a nearby column and made my peace with God.

You ain't seen no'fing yet baby..

The ferry left the relative safety of the harbour and then the real fun began. Now I’m not huge on roller coasters but I believe one of the scariest roller coaster rides is the Millennium Force which stands taller than 300 feet at its highest point, reaches speeds of 93 mph, lasts a full two minutes and is considered to be the most shit-yer-pants roller coaster in the world. It is located at Cedar point in San dusky, Ohio US. That’s chicken feed to what we went through, for two hours and forty five minutes climbing monstrous tidal waves only to smash down on the other side with the force of a thousand tons, a white knuckle ride, up and down, up and down like a fiddlers elbow for what seemed like forever, I couldn’t understand why on earth it was considered safe to leave. I couldn’t understand why there weren’t long lines of kids queuing up to enjoy the trill of the ride, I’m never sick on flights or even on the sea but I went into the loo’s and every sink was full of you know what and I immediately barfed, however I felt no shame because most of the crew were in there with me doing exactly the same thing. It was easiest the scariest/worse journey I had ever made – and trust me, I have flown on some crappy airlines (including Egypt Airlines which almost had goats and chickens on the flight from Luxor to Abu Simbel ) but this took the biscuit, I’m not hugely religious but there was one point when I thought it best to hedge my bets and pray to God, Allah, Buddha, Confucius and Colonel Sanders – all at the same time..

Obviously my implorations to any and all deities seemed to worked because I somehow made it to Irish shores a few hours later but I was knackered, tired, nauseous and very green around the gills and I was wondering what on earth possessed me to travel for so long and for so hard when a simple fight would have taken 45 minutes.. Next time I fly – even if it’s Egypt Airlines.

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