juliet: (Default)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m expert at sleeper train travel with a 1 year old, but in the past 6 months we’ve taken 3 sleeper train journeys and 1 overnight ferry, so here’s the quick run-down on experiences so far.

Aberdeen-London, Scotrail single berth compartment: narrow berth, not really enough room for adult + baby (Leon was 9 months at the time). But the bottom bunk is flat and has no gap down the back, so I wasn’t worried about safety. The two-berth compartments are the same style.

London-Venice, Thello, six-berth compartment: this was not the intended mode of transport, but the carriage containing our intended two-berth compartment was broken. (Even more broken, we assume, than the replacement, which is impressive.) The six-berth style compartment we actually travelled in (thankfully not sharing with anyone else, for which I was especially grateful when Leon started to throw up at 3am) had very narrow berths, and the bottom berth was heavily sloped towards the wall, with a small gap between the bottom of the seat back and the bed. I was concerned that it wouldn’t be very safe to sleep with Leon between me and the wall, and it certainly wouldn’t be comfy, so wound up sleeping head-to-tail (until 3am, anyway, when the sleeping stopped). With a younger baby I think I’d have just sat up for the night. I would not recommend this with a baby not old enough to sleep on their own. The four-berth is also this style.

Venice-London, Thello, two-berth compartment. This was much nicer. Bottom bunk was flat, very wide (for a sleeper train; I think 2’6), and had no gap at the back. Lots of room for me and Leon both to lie down comfortably. Would happily do this again, other than the bit where it took him an hour to settle. The three-berth compartments are the same style.

Liverpool-Belfast, overnight ferry, two-bed cabin. Very comfy. Standard size single beds with a rail at the edge (though I still kept Leon on the wall side) and no gap by the wall. Would very happily travel like this again (and indeed I imagine we will, this summer).

If you’re not comfortable with co-sleeping, I think you might be able to fit a small travel cot on the floor in all of the above, but you might want to check with the train company. There is in my experience always room to put a regular sized wheelie suitcase flat on the floor and a couple of inches more than that, so if your travel cot fits that space you should be OK. (I know very little of travel cots so cannot speak further to this.)

I think that, other than the ferry, our sleeper train days may be over now until Leon is big enough to sleep in a bunk on his own, and to see the whole thing as an exciting adventure rather than getting too wound up to sleep…

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.

juliet: (round the world)
[personal profile] doop & I are in Northern Ireland for the week, visiting his family. We travelled up yesterday; given my well-known antipathy to flying, this meant bike/train/ferry. And it all went incredibly smoothly. All the trains were bang on time, there were bike spaces available (we booked in advance but in fact were not asked for our bike-tickets, although I STRONGLY RECOMMEND booking on Intercity-type services[0]), & they let us on the earlier ferry at Cairnryan when we arrived 4hrs before our booked tickets[1]. All a very positive experience.

Plus we found a lovely cafe in Stranraer for lunch -- McCoag's Bistro, Charlotte St, strongly recommended for v tasty beanburger & chips, fantastic home-cooked chocolate cake, and a friendly proprietor. Then there was a splendid 6 mi ride up the road to Cairnryan (where I beat doop to the ferry terminal! I did have a head start when he stopped to take his jacket off, BUT STILL); then 13 mi around the water from Larne on the other side, which was admittedly a little hilly. We stopped to watch the local starlings doing their murmuration thing on the way, which was gorgeous against the dusk over the loch.

Plans for this week: Giant's Causeway, trip into Belfast, lots of sitting around being lazy.

[0] Ideally, book at the time you buy your own ticket, from NXEastCoast, who have a "bikes" tickybox, bless them. Otherwise, in person with your human-tickets to hand at any mainline station. London Bridge are helpful but often have to spend 15 min working out how to do this; KX/Euston/Paddington are more knowledgable & thus faster.
[1] We booked on the 8pm ferry with the intention of leaving London at 11am or something; then discovered that the 11am train was going to cost about £200 as we hadn't booked early enough. The 0539 was £25 each, London-Stranraer, which was a bit more reasonable, but would have left us with 6 hrs to kill in Stranraer had they been more intransigent at the ferry terminal. 0539 is admittedly not my *favourite* time to have to be at Euston for.
juliet: (round the world)
I have spent the week in Spain with [livejournal.com profile] dogrando, which has been very nice. If quite chilly & often damp. The sleeper train to Barcelona from Paris is terribly civilised, with a restaurant (albeit not vegan-friendly) & a bar. Barcelona itself has awesome Modernist stuff (all Gaudi all the time!) and a market where you can get exciting mushrooms for very small quantities of money. We also spent a day at Figueres visiting the Teatro-Museo Dali, which is absolutely awesome, especially if like me you are v fond of Dali. It lives up to the 'Teatro' part of the name with the humour & the attention to setting. I'd love to see some of the more famous Dali paintings in that context.

Then we caught another train down to Cordoba, which is very Moorish and has ludicrously narrow streets which are great for wandering round. Only had a couple of days there before a few hours in Madrid (cold, had lunch at awesome veggie restaurant) & train back to Paris last night.

(I may write more of this later; or I may not. It was all very lovely, anyway.)

The other event of the week was that I was made redundant on Monday, which was at least not a surprise. I am at least still a qualified cycling instructor, so if you (or ppl you know) want cycling-in-London-safely lessons feel free to get in touch for rates!
juliet: Tiny baby shoot of rhubarb (baby rhubarb!)
I made half a cold frame!

This afternoon I have mostly been sitting on a train to Aberdeen. The train has free wifi which is awesome, and I have been a very good human being and proofed 6 chapters and written an article. Less awesome is the hour or so that we'll be late, and the fact that at present the bar is NOT OPEN, so my lovely & charming sister cannot fulfil her very splendid suggestion of getting something to drink. Rumour has it that it will be reopening soon.

Also the Battersea person came round today & I now have a card confirming that we have a suitable house to rehome a Battersea dog in. Hurrah.
juliet: (audax)
[personal profile] doop and I spent last night variously sleeping on the (cold, hard) floor at Holyhead station[0], and on the middling-comfortable (why don't seats go back at all on UK trains? Coaches all manage this just fine) Virgin train from Holyhead back to Euston (thankfully no change at Chester this time unlike on the way out).

Things that I am forced to observe about the non-flying non-car option of getting from London to Belfast:
- your options are to go via Dublin, or to pay >5 times as much and have even worse timing (the Liverpool-Belfast ferry isn't part of the Rail/Sail cheap ticket deal).
- apparently Stena don't think that bikes are vehicles so Liverpool-Larne isn't an option even if cycling (which we weren't this time). Although I may contact them to discuss this.[1]
- it shouldn't take this long. 13 hrs on the way there (the main possible reduction: better linkup with the Euston-Holyhead train. You shouldn't need to leave Euston at 20:00 for a 02:40 ferry; 22:30 would be more like it. Better linkup at Dublin to the Belfast train would be nice as well but that was only 40 min).
- it really, really shouldn't take this long on the way back. Why no overnight train from Holyhead to Euston? (also, again, poor linkup between Belfast-Dublin train and ferry).
- it is v good value, though - £40 pp each way London-Belfast all in.
- the ferry has lovely squashy sofas to sleep on.
- do not eat the potato wedges available at Dublin Connolly station, under any circumstances. Pure evil.

However! We got to doop's parents' house in the end, and had a really lovely weekend. They live out near the coast, with a fabulous view over to the Mull of Kintyre, and we went for a couple of very enjoyable walks which involved scrambling over rocks and looking at seaweed and (in my case) standing in a big muddy puddle, whoops. The predicted horrible weather lifted after Friday, so you could see all the way across the sea to Scotland which I found v exciting, especially when I spotted Hadyard Hill wind farm. Also we slept a lot. And doop's family are great.

Today I intended to be largely quite lazy, but the to-do list is filling up regardless. How does this happen?

[0] After about 40 min I went in search of insulation, and came back with a pile of free papers. "I feel like a homeless person" [personal profile] doop said plaintively as I spread them all over the floor. Indeed, but a *warmer* homeless person. Query: why TF are there lovely soft squishy seats & nice carpet on the way *onto* the ferry, but on the way *back*, one is forced to spend the 4 hr wait in the rail station waiting area, which has metal seats and tiled floor.
[1] Vehicle-only ferries = "we have no method in place to get people onto the ferry on foot". If cycling you ride on along with the cars/lorries/motorbikes, so this shouldn't be a problem. I suspect it is FAIL on the part of their website.

August 2017

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