Saturday, February 9, 2013

Boats and Trains and the British Isles

Pulp's "Boats and Trains" seems like an appropriate theme for this picture show.

At the end of August 2012, my partner and I traveled from Dublin to London using a ferry and a train. I documented the trip in pictures. (There's a wealth of information about this "SailRail" journey on the Man in Seat 61's website if you want more logistical details.)

Early on a Friday morning, an enclosed gangway fed people into the massive ferry called Ulysses in the Port of Dublin.

The perplexing Joycean theme continued inside the ship, which had a shopping mall and a "James Joyce Balcony Lounge."

Smokestacks belched as we pushed across the Irish Sea.

Lifeboats splashed against the water down below.

In the distance, Wales loomed.

Disembarking meant passing through another industrial tunnel.

Now we had reached a transportation hub on the Welsh island Ynys Môn, or in English Anglesey.

A fancy pedestrian bridge connected travelers with the town of Holyhead.

The clearly expensive bridge contrasted uncomfortably with the struggling "pound shops" lining the high street.

At Holyhead's center we found the church of St. Cybi, whose namesake was buried here in 555. The Cornish saint is also commemorated in the town's Welsh name, Caergybi.

The medieval church was built on a Roman fort, whose still intact walls seemed to whisper "helloooo" as we passed through the churchyard.
(Then we looked up and saw the grinning faces of two boys who were lying across the top of the stones and whispering to spook the tourists. It was some A+ pranking, well done little Welsh boys.) 

Back in the railway station, intricately decorated brackets held up the roof. This reminded me of a strong impression from my only other trip to Europe, when I was 17: functional things were prettier there than in the United States.

We climbed aboard our train, which was run by Virgin under contract with the government. It was not very clean inside, or comfortable. The dirty windows made it impossible to take decent pictures of all the castles passing by outside.
The ticketing system in the UK required us to purchase seat reservations along with our travel passes. Partway through the journey to London, the computerized system failed and all new passengers had to grab whatever seats they could find. It was interesting to see how chaotic this seemed, whereas on Amtrak finding a seat on the fly is the norm. Once people rely on a system, its failure complicates what might otherwise be a straightforward process.

And then, finally, we arrived at incredibly bustling Euston Station in London at about 17:00. Waiting for our hostess to meet us, we got to see crowds of commuters having the weekend's first drink at old gatehouses that had been cleverly converted into watering holes.

London, I harriedly learned, had teeming masses on a scale that made the New York City we'd been in just a week earlier look like a movie set. London, with its spoils from centuries of global financial domination and colonial exploitation. All of a sudden I felt very small.


  1. "My wife and I visited England and the Isle of Man about 20 years ago. The lady who ran the lodging for the first part of our stay arranged for a driver to pick us up at Gatwick and take us to her B&B in Sydenham, a suburb south of London. On the way, I took a photo of a five-way intersection, which is now in our album with the caption, "Why we didn't THINK of driving in England" Between the railways and the city tour buses we had a splendid trip, one of the highlights of which for me was operating an electric railway car on the Isle of Man, and having to sound the whistle to encourage a band of sheep to graze somewhere other than the tracks. I also visited a pub which was one of the first places the Rolling Stones played at in the early 1960s (they had one early member who wasn't that much of a musician, but he had a van that would start reliably for taking their gear to gigs). Whilst in London we rode one of the earliest Underground lines--one could still see smoke smudges from the pre-electric days. Gotta get back--there were lots of things we didn't have time for.

  2. I'm not sure Wales ever looms, but thanks for the compliment. Enjoying your blog (half-Welsh displaced British cyclist in Berlin).