juliet: (round the world)

I have just returned from a lovely weekend with [personal profile] doop's family (very early Xmas dinner! there were roast potatoes) in Belfast. During our very smooth return voyage (Belfast-Stranraer-Glasgow-London), it occurred to me that we are now expert in the various ways to get from London to Belfast overland. From there it was but a step to the conclusion that I should document this experience. Executive summary is below the table.

London-Belfast

Route Route detail Price (single) Time Epicness Other notes
Holyhead/Dublin (overnight) Train to Holyhead, ferry then bus to Dublin, train to Belfast £42 RailSail 13h30 (overnight) High. Lots of waiting around in Holyhead. On way out: sleep on nice-ish sofas on ferry & fairly comfortable seats on second train. On way back: hideous 4 hours on Holyhead station floor. NEVER AGAIN. Daytime route might feel less epic (no need to attempt sleep) but probably even more boring. There is a pub near the station at Holyhead which was open till 2am last Thursday & had a 50p pool table. It also had karaoke in the other bar & someone throwing up in the Ladies, so, yes. Holyhead not the classiest of locations.
Cairnryan/Larne* Train to Stranraer, cycle to Cairnryan, ferry to Larne ~£60?? ~13h30 Moderately epic. V v v early (0539) start from Euston when we did it outbound (cheap train issues). Unsure of timing inbound; possibly also quite epic. Fair amount of waiting around. Not sure they take foot passengers (also, 6mi from Stranraer station). Nice bike ride to Cairnryan, also a v nice cafe in Stranraer for lunch which mitigates the waiting around part.
Stranraer/Belfast Train to Stranraer (change at Glasgow), ferry to Belfast £46 daytime RailSail**, >£50*** overnight 12h daytime, 16h overnight (but mostly on sleeper)**** 0539 start from Euston daytime on way out; otherwise all matches up well, pretty non-epic. Overnight coming back beautifully smooth. Trains overnight going out appear not to match very well. Ferry actually quite nice, ditto Belfast Port. Technically haven't actually done this one outbound either daytime or overnight; but Cairnryan route is the same trains. Nice Italian cafe in Glasgow station available for the hour wait there on the daytime option; or there is time to find a Boots to buy a replacement Mooncup (just for example).
Came back on the sleeper this time, and it was lovely. Ferry & train matched up beautifully; sleeper train a genuinely pleasant experience involving whisky in the lounge car.
Troon/Larne* Train to Troon (change at Glasgow), ferry to Larne ?? 9h returning Trains don't join up with ferry v well, and very early start. Otherwise civilised. Haven't done this Troon-Larne, only Larne-Troon. Only runs in the summer. No foot passengers, I think?

Notes:
* Endpoint for these is Larne, not Belfast. Train from Larne to Belfast Central is I think about an hour; they're not wildly frequent.
** I am *sure* this was a lot more expensive about 9 months ago, the last time I looked at this route.
*** £25 Glasgow-Belfast (RailSail). Then you need to buy the London-Glasgow leg, which if taking the Caledonian Sleeper is more complicated. IN THEORY you can get £19 bargain berth overnight sleeper tickets; in practice it's nearly impossible, although if you can be flexible about the dates, you can get £39-£49 singles. From £53.50 for an advance sleeper (£88 standard non-advance); from £25 for advance seated sleeper (£51.50 standard non-advance).
**** Add an hour for the journey between central Belfast & the port. I confess we got a lift on this occasion, but I believe there's a bus which is free to Stena passengers.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: I think if neither time nor money were a factor, my preference would be to go via Stranraer both ways, in the daytime on the way there & overnight on the way back. If time is a factor & money is available, overnight out via Holyhead and back via Stranraer is a reasonable compromise between cost/comfort/waiting around (avoids taking a day of leave just to travel, avoids the hideous overnight return via Holyhead, saves money on the outbound less-hideous Holyhead trip especially given that outbound overnight via Stranraer is fairly epic). If cash-poor but time-rich, daytime both ways via Stranraer is only £4 each way more expensive than Holyhead and way, way nicer (the only real disadvantage being the very early start from Euston). The Larne option was OK but a bit faffy.

June 2017

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