“Would You Do It Again?” – David

The title of this post is a chance to sum up the trip and answer the question that you are always asked by people who have heard of the trip.  It can’t be a one-word answer as no trip is ever perfect in every way, all the time, in every context.

Would we fly Business Class both directions?  Hell yeah, if only to avoid being on a 737-MAX H8te ever again. That aircraft is just horrid in Economy.  Even SeatGuru.com says the “Premium Economy” seats are as bad as seeing  Death Himself walking backwards out of an outhouse reading MAD Magazine with his pants down and shit on his shoes.  

Boat.  The Lapland Bunting was a fine boat, perfect for two blokes, but converting Rob’s bed each night was an annoyance.  Perhaps a slightly longer one, that has two berths that we could leave as berths and a sit down ‘salon’ as the Brits call it.  Maybe even the womenfolk would come along for at least part of the trip. We know them well enough that the day and half going through the Mere district wildlife reserve might bore them a bit, but then there is always wine to be consumed before it goes bad.  One does not want wine to spoil and we know the womenfolk would attack that task with their usual devotion and dedication. We did ask them about participation in another adventure of this ilk and their consideration is that going two days without a shower is not going to happen. There would have to be hotel rooms on the route and a ‘wider fucking boat’ to quote one of the spouses.

We’d probably skip the Irish Whiskey Museum tour in Dublin  And skip a hotel in Temple Bar. There were a couple of hotels we eyed near Grafton Street in Dublin that looked appropriately plush, yet modest in price and near all kinds of things like pubs.

Taxis.  No walking from Wrenbury to the Marina.  Book a taxi at Crewe to Wrenbury with a stop at the local provisioners before reaching the marina, so one can take the training, sign the papers, load up and get motoring to Wileymoore Lock for opening time and a pint of real ale.

Weather.  I think we chose the right time to go.  We both opined that in the high summer season that traffic on the canal would be near-oppressive and unpleasant.  Off-season was just right, with exception of Storm Callum.

Storm Callum.  Yes, it was windy and rainy for two days or so.  We did get soaked to the eyelids, but it was a challenge, not a bad thing.

Provisions.  We would know more about our consumables habits and provision appropriately with an emphasis on things that can be consumed with one hand whilst piloting.

Bacon Sarnie and Chips with a Salad – Ellesmere Pub

Bacon Sarnies:  Yes, yes, yes, ohgawd yes!

Oscar in the pub at Wileymoore.

Dogs in Pubs.  Eminently Civilized.  We ate well, especially the Sunday Roasts, but also Gammon and Chips, Yorkshire Puddings the size of a cat’s head covered in lovely gravy and steak at the Tomahawk Restaurant finished over a wood fire on our last night in Dublin.  

People.  To a person they were polite, friendly and  often curious why two blokes from Canada would make the effort to come this far to drive around in a narrowboat in October.  A common theme we did hear was “Ahh, Canadians, so you’re not Americans then.  What do you think of the Yanks down south?”  Our answer was usually, “The neighbours?  Oh well…”

One trick we learned many years ago from work travel to foreign climes was that a very modest Canadian Flag pin on your collar opens a lot of doors when they recognize you’re not American.  I always has a half-dozen in my pocket and would give them to folks who engaged with us, especially if they said they had family or friends in Canada. You can get them, free, from your Member of Parliament and they are only available from Parliament.

One little girl of perhaps six was with her grandpa at Wileymoore and she had never seen a narrowboat, or a lock.  Grandpa was explaining how it all worked and she was fascinated.  It turned out that Grandpa was in the Royal Engineers as a sapper, as was Rob, in the Canadian reserves, so the doors of welcome were opened and Grace got to see the boat with her Grandpa.  Both walked away with a tiny Canadian flag pin as a memento of their impromptu visit.

Walkie-Talkies.  If you have two, testing the flotation abilities of one of them makes the other one of no use, when you discover that a walkie talkie does not float.  That and a tea cup were the only victims of our adventure.  The broken tea cup was kept as a place to put tea bags when the brew reached the correct potency.

River Liffey in Dublin

Dublin.  Probably an extra day there, mayhaps even a bus trip down to Cork, if only to see the place.  Trinity College, housing the Book of Kells is a tourist spot that we semi-wanted to see, but then again, we also wanted to hit other places, so it was left off the list.  

 

Rob contentedly piloting a narrowboat

Company.  I couldn’t imagine doing this trip with anyone else but Rob.  We both mesh in attitudes and tasks, getting things done and enjoying each other’s company.  Adding the spousal units would be the only thing that would have made it better.  Trip of a Lifetime?  No trip, except the last one to the hereafter is a Trip of a Lifetime, but this was most certainly in the top five.

And not flying on at 737-MAX H8te ever again

 

Getting Home

There are joys to flying on bonus points, but routing is never one of them.  We were fortunate that at least for this trip, it was Montreal-Dublin, then return Dublin to Montreal.  Except that we had to go back home through Toronto, then Montreal and train it back to the loved ones.  One of our original routings saw us going Ottawa – Toronto – Frankfurt – Heathrow. Given a choice between having a Brazilian ballwaxing by Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS who has hooks for hands or flying into Heathrow, I’d have hairless balls.  Heathrow is a complete and utter shitshow of the first order on almost any level you care to measure, as well as being an eight to twelve hour time suck to get anywhere near out of the joint.

Dublin was easier getting in and getting out.  Looking at our itinerary we did see if we could change our flights.  Rather than flying to Toronto, then flying over Ottawa, landing in Montreal and taking a train back to Ottawa, we figured why not ask if we could just go Toronto to Ottawa, even if it cost us a few bucks.  Air Canada doesn’t actually have ticket folks in Dublin, Swissport handles those things for Air Canada, as is the nominal practice worldwide. We eventually found the guy, who was amazingly adept at spinning his pen in his non-typing hand, but wasn’t entirely sure where Ottawa was, or if there were flights from Toronto to Ottawa.  He stared at his screen for a good 6 minutes, spinning his pen, then said sorry, we don’t have that information. Oh well, through the veal pen lines for Security, then on the aircraft.

We were fortunate the aircraft was an Airbus 330-300 which actually has a seat pitch that almost fits humans.  According to SeatGuru.com the pitch and recline on the 737-MAX Hate is 30” with a 3” recline, while the A330-300 is 31” pitch and 4” recline.  Trust us, that one inch in pitch and recline makes all the difference in the world. We could actually sleep on the plane home, so we did. Meal?  There was some chicken thing that ate like food.

We disembarked in Toronto and had to hot foot it through Customs to catch our flight to Montreal. The Montreal flight was uneventful, part of the usual rotation and it landed successfully in Montreal.  Where the wheels fell off was in Baggage. Ten minutes, then twenty staring fitfully at the belt with about 100 other people. I approach the ‘Service” counter, tugging my forelock. The baggage guy gets on the radio “We’re missing a can from that Toronto flight, where the hell it is?” is the radioed question.  

The reply is unintelligible and I do make out “Tabernac!” but they assured us it won’t take long. Another 20 minutes and bags start falling out the belt. We grab ours and go in search for the Via Rail Shuttle Bus. Eventually, having been misdirected by a paramedic to the wrong level, we find the right place and nearing the last possible moment, the shuttle appears.  We’re going to be tight making our connection, even though the Dorval Via stop is not that far, getting into and out of the airport is never quick.

The Dorval Via waiting room is utilitarian, with employees hiding behind their desks for fear they make eye contact with customers.  We roll out to the actual platform and consult the signage as to where we should stand to come approximately near where our car is supposed to stop.  A bright light in the distance, ostensibly down the rail line gets bigger and bigger, then becomes a train that grinds to a halt. Boarding commences and we settle into our seats for the last leg, a last beer and avoid the food offerings.

The measure of a trip might include Planes, Trains and Automobiles and we exceed that measure. Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Ferries, Narrowboat and Bus, not to mention Walking.  We did miss Funicular, Cog Railway, Hot Air Balloon, Street Car, Sedan Chair, Horseback, Rickshaw, TukTuk, Scooter, Jeepney and Zip Line, but we can live with that.

 

Return to Dublin

After returning the Lapland Bunting in Wrenbury, we did the wise thing and hired a taxi to get us and our luggage to Crewe.  We overnighted at a hotel near the train station in Crewe and did enjoy at least one hot, all over, plentiful showers to soap away nine days of boating.  Yes we had our own rooms. Then a longish walk to a pub for Sunday Roast and a chance to sleep in a real bed, with reliable electricity.

Overnight, the Irish Ferries did not disappoint us.  Our ferry, the Ulysses, was running with no issues. We would be getting to Ireland, without a five hour layover in a hateful holding pen in Holyhead, unlike our outgoing trip.  Skies were clear, winds were pleasant and the local news was filled with reporting of the damage caused by Storm Callum two days before. We did not avail ourselves of the complimentary copy of The Sun to see who’s titties would be featured on Pg. 3.

Again to a Virgin train, with their talking toilets and fine service, we train to Holyhead, then stroll the 90 meters to the Ferry Terminal to embark, stopping for a coffee at the same place as our outbound trip.  This time, instead of the insane, we were merely accompanied by someone who needed a major adjustment to their prescription medications.  Either the UK is filled with crazies, or we just seem to attract them.  Perhaps we look too Canadian?  Or, they behave that way because they are trying to speak in Welsh.  For those who can, congratulations, but for the rest of it, trying to pronounce the words correctly hurts your mouth.

  

A shuttle bus boards the ferry and we seek out the Club Class forward.

The Ulysses was at one time the largest car ferry in the world and plies the Holyhead to Dublin route for Irish Ferries.  On our outbound journey we saw not much more than a quick tour with our objective being sleep after a hellish flight over to Dublin.  Plus, it was a dark and stormy night and nothing much to see of the Irish Sea. This time was different.

Club Class is reasonably plush, with free food and not free beer, but the particular joys of wide windows at the bow of the ship to allow you to see where you’re going.  Food and beverage obtained, we settle in to see the Irish Sea.

We followed another ferry from Holyhead, also transiting to Dublin, the Stena something or other, which launched a few minutes before us.  The safety briefing was conducted by the ostensible Captain of the ship, who near as we could discern was the Irish equivalent of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob, with the same sonorous voice and deliberate intonation.  Perhaps he was hired for his public speaking traits, not his seamanship, as his comment regarding muster stations included “If we are sinking, you unwashed proletarians had best get the hell out of my way, or I will kill you with my bare hands”

One thing we have noticed on this trip is that the majority of positions of the ‘service’ industry are occupied predominantly by members of former Soviet Union countries, working away from home in more prosperous environments than their home countries.  All pleasant and polite of course, with a willingness to serve well.

Captain Sideshow Bob kept the Ulysses well-aimed at the green stripe on the horizon and eventually we hit land, fortunately at the actual Irish Ferry Terminal in Dublin.  This made unloading much easier, but the signage was now in Celtic as well as English.

Taxi to the hotel, the Paramount, near Temple Bar and we unpacked for two nights

 

Thomas Telford was a Smart Guy

There are smart guys all along the narrowboat canal, but the smartest one was Thomas Telford, the Scottish lad who engineered the parts of the canal that we’ve run on.  Some context is in order. Telford died in 1834, or about two years after the Rideau Canal was opened here in Canada.  Various parts of the Shropshire Union Canal were built and running commercial traffic before work even started on the Rideau Canal in 1826.

We’ve explained earlier why there are so many canals in the UK:  Canals were the superhighways of their day, lugging large quantities of goods from place to place as horse drawn wagons could only pull a limited quantity of something a short distance on the unimproved roads of the day: A horse-drawn narrowboat could regularly ship 20 to 30 tons of something along the canals simply because a floating boat has almost no friction.  It isn’t fast, but it makes up for the lack of velocity with the increase in capacity.

Telford started out as a stonemason’s apprentice at the age of 14, learning how to bash rocks, then through various contacts in London became an engineer and surveyor eventually winding up in Shropshire. In 1790 he built his first Iron bridge, iron being the modern building marvel of the day, much as we look at carbon-fiber today.  

Telford was a bit of a maverick in that he tested things.  Would this kind of casting in this dimension, stand up to this kind of load?  We are talking before super computers. Telford’s tools were paper, pencil, perhaps a rudimentary slide rule and keen observation with a nimble mind.  Victorian-era high technology.

On our trip we got to try out a few pieces of his craft, the top three being the Chirk Aqueduct, the Chirk Tunnel and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  You could argue that almost all of the canal system we traveled from Wrenbury to Llangollen was his work and you might not be far from wrong, but we’ve picked the more impressive pieces.

The problem with canals is water doesn’t run uphill very well.  The idea behind the canal is to have the least number of locks on a route that is not always a straight line from one place to another.  

Where it gets complicated is the land.

Unless you’re on a perfectly flat geography, there will be things that get in the way like rivers, valleys, hills, towns and fields. To change heights or to detour around things like rapids and waterfalls with a 30 ton load of slate or coal on a horse-drawn boat takes some engineering.  Locks work and in the day that was the choice. Wales, however, is hilly and there is no escaping it.

The River Dee cut a swath through the route for the canal, making things difficult.  If Telford had done locks there would have been at least a dozen, six down the valley, a short canal, then another six back up to where the canal would run, essentially a staircase on either side and at least a day or more to pass going up and down in 20 foot increments.  

An aqueduct was a wiser choice. It took ten years to build the stonework and put a cast iron canal trough on the top of aqueduct, to allow boats to pass in 20 minutes, instead of a full day. Telford then did the same thing at Chirk, not quite as long, or as high as Pontcysyllte, but the same concept of an aqueduct topped with a navigable canal.  In between? The Chirk Tunnel, 460 yards of hard work, lined by bricks containing the waterway and the towpath to pull the narrowboats through.

Crossing the Pontcysyllte and Chirk Aqueducts is a marvel.  There is a fenced walkway on one side, the former towpath for horses, but the other side is a sheer drop to the valley below.  We’ve included still photos for now, as the real-time video shot in high-def is too large for WordPress.  We’ll add links to a Youtube source later so you can see the whole thing as we transit.

A fun aside, on the outgoing trip a charming couple said they had never crossed the Pontcysyllte on a boat and could they come along?  There was plenty of room on the tiller deck so Rob had company on the journey as they marveled at the view and thanked us profusely for our hospitality when we made the other end.

Today, the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very impressive memorial to the days when engineers used their minds and hands to solve problems.  Thank you, Thomas Telford.

 

Locks, Bridges and Storm Callum

By now you might have an appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of our trip on the Lapland Bunting.  Rob pilots for a sound reason: He has the experience and expertise of many years of boating, knowing how to maneuver and take advantage of things like winds, current and the tiller.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t pilot, I did and yes, the boat is a handfull of near-constant corrections, but on the occasions where I was at the tiller, we didn’t hit anything or anyone, so it is considered a win as far as I am concerned.  The duties that did come my way were more of an Enabler of Passage.

Locks have been around since pre-history on the Nile River as a way to get a boat laden with stuff around rapids or to make changes in elevation from one navigable part to another.  Locks rely on gravity to fill or empty the lock chamber. Gates at either end keep water in or out depending on what direction you’re going. The essential operation be it the Wileymoor Lock, Beveridge’s on the Rideau Canal or the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal, they all work the same.  The Rideau Canal, has Parks Canada Lock Keepers who do the work of doors and draining or filling the locks. As a boater you listen to what they tell you and ride the boat up and down as need be. Gatun Locks in Panama are merely orders of magnitude larger.

The Shropshire Union Canal has manual locks, which means someone has to open the doors, close the doors and work the windlasses and winding gear to fill or empty the lock, open the appropriate door to let the boat continue, then close the various doors and windlasses to allow whomever is next do their thing.  Since someone has to pilot the boat into the chamber, that would leave someone else to be the Lockie.

It isn’t a particularly difficult thing to do and gravity being reliable on this planet, means the locks work as they should when operated as they should, which we did about two dozen times.  Up and down, gravity and water pressure being our transportation friend.

Lift bridges along the canal are also a feature.  All but one were manually powered, meaning crank the windlass around 30 times or so to raise the bridge and crank it another 30 or so the other way to lower the bridge, the road being generally a dirt track or cow path from one field to another.  Hydraulics are good, reliable things. Again, since someone has to pilot the boat, that means someone else has to operate the lift bridges. The whole process of locking and lift bridges can be done solo and hundreds do, but it is easier with two people.

 

Where locking, lift bridges and boating become less fun is in the midst of a named storm called Callum.

We knew going into this trip that there was always potential for less than idyllic weather, the UK being the UK.  There was a cold night in Whitchurch, frost on the Lapland Bunting when we opened the hatch in the morning, but we also knew we had packed rain gear and boots to cope with the occasional downpour and soggy ground.  

In the course of two days Calum dropped a month worth of rain on the part of Wales we were in, along with rather bracing winds. Wind and rain, when you’re in the house is not a problem. On a narrowboat, it is simply miserable, especially since a narrowboat is essentially a 230 square foot, under powered steel sail and the wind is always blowing in exactly the wrong direction on an open tiller deck.  

Rain gear or not, we both got soaked to the skin for two days with a cold Welsh gale. After mooring clothing was hung on the interior radiators in a futile attempt to reduce the moisture content from cold terrarium to only modestly sodden. We did forebear with frequent cups of tea for the pilot and lockie to ward off the chill and the damp, but standing next to the heating radiators after mooring up was very welcome.

We were rewarded for our perseverance with a double rainbow toward evening on the second day of rain.  A good omen.

It was a Dark and Stormy Day

It’s a gray day, rainy and wet the wind blowing hard and making navigation difficult as the boat is pushed into the wall. A challenging day to remind me that boating is not always fun and pleasant sunny days but that there are days you’d rather stay tied to shore and watch the day blow past. And that sometimes that is not any option. We have to get the boat back to whence it came and ourselves off to Dublin for a few days to get adapted back to world time from canal time.

We fight the rain and wind moving off the safety of the mooring and into the channel, looking a little like the Michelin man with all the layers – only in blue as that is the colour of my rain gear. Not on the pull today. As we’ve noted narrowboats are, well narrow, but also they are long. The canals are also narrow, the one we are in now is 14 feet or so wide. We are pointing the wrong way and have the choice of backing out of the section we are on or going to the other end where there is a winding hole – a space large enough to turn a narrowboat using the power of the engine or of the wind or in the day, of horses or of the crew.

On my boat back in Canada this would be a simple matter of putting the transmission in reverse and using proportional thrust to steer out, around the corner and if I’d wanted, wherever we needed to go. Narrowboats don’t reverse that well, I can get it going fairly straight but the precise steering of twin engines is not possible.

We push off and slowly move past all the moored boats, at the speed of a 6 month old toddler crawling. As we get to the end I judge the distance, what I have learned of the boat, slowing to a near dead stop.  I use the prop wash in reverse to start turning the boat around the center. When it starts to move backwards I hard over the tiller and change to forward using the prop in forward with the tiller to continue moving the boat around it’s center. I’m now committed to this process switching between forward and reverse to keep the boat still but moving around its center.

As we pass the quarter turn, the wind comes in to the port side of the boat, I try to hold it but the 47 feet by about 5 feet above the water makes a very good 230 plus square foot steel sail. There is nothing for it, get the horses, oh wait you don’t get horses anymore, and the wind is causing the issue. Muster the crew, Dave. Bravely Dave whose physic is not that of an Olympian but more of a older techie with a mix of writer that smokes too much, tries to use the pole to push the boat against the wind. Wind 1, Dave 0.

So Dave jumps off the bow and tugs the rope much like the small ponies of yesterday would have. He pulls and pulls, I help we the engine a little. At last like the Little Engine That Could he has freed the boat, the engine now able to push us out of the Ellesmere branch of the Llangollen canal. There will be more pushing today a then a little scotch and some food when we find a find a place to moor that is fairly sheltered.

 

A Trip On A Real Rail Line

Our hotel in Holyhead was a masterpiece of adequacy.  Originally booked to enjoy a lovely view of the sea from the hotel, our 0100 (Zero Dark One) arrival in the depths of a cold, rainy night after very little sleep, precluded any possible sightseeing.  The view from the rooms was of a dark, wet night without lights.

The room was clean, warm, indoors and had a shower. Very kindly they allowed us a very late check-in, the capable clerk attempting to inveigle us into committing for the Full English Breakfast the next morning, was met by sleepy grunts from both of us.

Up and out the door by 0700, we taxied to the Holyhead Train Station under a sky leaden enough that it would have depressed Sylvia Plath on downers.  A convenience store awaited, offering coffee in various strengths, as well as our own free copy of The Sun  (Headline – “See Rita Ora’s Big Titties on Pg 3!”) because we had made a purchase. Rita’s pigmented areas were covered as The Sun is a Family Newspaper, but we did appreciate the first hand knowledge of her surgically augmented protuberances and did wonder if she could sleep face down without unduly straining her neck.

As train time approached, we felt obligated to find the actual train.  Virgin it said on the tickets, so we found a sleek, modern sliver Virgin train.  It was easy to find as it was the only train on any of the five tracks and it was pointed away from Holyhead. There was no conductor, or customer service yob as there would be on Via1 guarding the entrance to the car: You find the car number printed on the ticket, press the green button and get on the damn train.  Since we were a dozen minutes early, there was no one to say we could or could not enter, so we did and settled into the finely upholstered seating and leaned back.

Five minutes before departure a pleasant fellow asked for tickets and said that the car attendant would be by shortly to take our orders.  Spot on departure time, the train rolled.

Virgin Business Class is quite plush, with comfortable seats and tables, with room for your luggage.  You do have to mind your own gear, as there are no longer porters to attend to your possessions, but this is 2018 and there is a certain obligation to do some of your own work.

Food commenced shortly after we rolled out of Holyhead.  Choices were generous.  A Full English for Scrim and the first of several Bacon Sarnies for RoadDave.  A Full English, for those who are unfamiliar with the term is Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, Beans, Tomato, Mushrooms and Black Pudding.

A Bacon Sarnie, or as Virgin calls it, Bacon Roll, is no more complex than you might think: Fried bacon on a soft roll.  We were, this being the UK, offered Brown Sauce with our meals.  Brown Sauce is HP Sauce, that peculiar combination of tamarind, spices, vinegar and salt that seems to accompany every meal, at least as an offering.  There were more healthy offerings, a yogurt parfait, herbal teas and other comestibles of that ilk, but we were having none of it.  We did question the wisdom of HP Sauce with a yogurt and fruit parfait, but decided to let others investigate that culinary oddity on their own time.

Rail travel in the UK is different from Canada.  In Canada, Via does not own the tracks or the schedule.  CP and CN own the rails, ties, lights, signals, crossings, and most importantly the schedule.

CP and CN set their priorities on where the money is:  Freight.  Freight doesn’t care about a smooth ride, level crossings, or much else except get this 90 car load of double stack well-cars to where they’re going as fast as you can haul ass with the smallest possible crew, then do it again going the other way with oil cans, auto racks and hoppers of iron ore pulled by honkin’ fast ES44AC’s in notch 8.  Via trains are at the mercy of CN and CP when it comes to schedules, meaning get the hell out of the way of the freight trains.

The UK by contrast, sets the priority on passengers.  The lines are silky smooth, no jerking, rolling or pitching about for the passengers.  Speeds are routinely above 100 kph and we noticed almost exactly four level crossings in our journey and one twenty-car freight, parked off on a siding out of the way.

Two hours later, with only a few stops at intermediary places including one in Wales that seemed to be pronounced “Llanfairpzmrqzlmb” with the accent up at the end, we arrived in Crewe.

 

The Fun of the Irish Ferry

The original plan was to arrive in Dublin overnight, then have some lunch at a pub and show up at the Dublin docks for an Irish Ferry to Holyhead, on a ship called the Swift. As the saying goes, in order to make God laugh, make a plan.

The day we were leaving, we receive an email from Irish Ferries saying due to rough weather tomorrow, the Swift would not be sailing the afternoon of our arrival.  Our options, according to Irish Ferries were twofold: Take the late sailing on the Ulysses, or go fuck yourself. We chose the late sailing (2055 hrs) on the Ulysses. Irish Ferries, to their credit, did upgrade us from Club Class to a free room for the crossing.

The problem became evident when we showed up at the Dublin Dock terminal for Irish Ferries five hours before our sailing, the objective being a little lunch, perhaps a pint, maybe a snooze on a waiting room bench for a little bit with our luggage stowed safely around us.  This was the plan and it was a good one to kill five hours waiting for our ship.

For those of who don’t know, the Dublin Ferry Terminal is set up like a prefabricated air terminal for a city of 2500 people.  Everything is shiny and new, stainless steel and indestructible plastic designed to handle the wear and tear of thousands of ferry passengers every year for the next 75 years.  There are ticketing kiosks and clearance kiosks, with the requisite veal-pen straps to guide the hordes to the right counter at the right time in as seamless a process as can be designed by bureaucrats taking common-sense suppressants.  There are restrooms for the usual genders and levels of ability, clean and aseptic, untouched by vandals, or footy hooligans. The Men’s sported two Dyson hand driers that could blow a 747 off the runway and we suspect the Women’s is the same. Although we did have five hours to burn, we considered investigating the Women’s bathroom as not on.

You will notice that there is no note of foodservice or other creature comforts before the ticketing and clearance kiosks.

This means you are now trapped in an industrial wasteland on the docks, next to the Bitumen plant, across the road from the oil terminal and next to the transport truck ferry with its happy load of placarded hazardous cargo being kept away from any boat that also serves regular citizens.  There was a sign that said “Nowhere At All 2 kms” with the arrow pointing at the Dublin Ferry terminal.

There were staff.  Two as best we could see, one in a high-visibility vest with an impressive ring of keys and one lone damsel behind the Ticketing counter.  We asked if we could check in early for a ship. She bashed the computer for a moment and said “No. Preboarding does not commence until 7 pm”  Is there some place we could get a coffee? More keyboarding and suddenly she burst out, “There’s vending machines over there!” as if it was the first time she had been asked about any customer services.  We rolled out luggage ‘over there’ and discovered that unless you had Euro coinage, you were shit out of luck. The fine damsel could not make change.

The lack of coffee was not that bad, but what was hideous was the actual structure of the furniture.  Humans sitting tend to correspond to a few positions, mostly within a few degrees of each other.

The designer of the chairs and tables was given a specific remit:  Make the position of the back be exactly wrong. Make the seat precisely too small for an average arse.  Make the furniture out of artificial stainless steel, as the real stuff is too expensive, but we still have to be able to pressure-wash everything in the interests of Health and Safety.  Make sure that there is no possible way anyone can stretch out, even slightly, under any circumstances, by positioning he back support exactly where the Irish Chiropractic Association (Eire dir Achinback) says one should never put undue pressure.  Make everyone want to avoid actually using the seating under any circumstances.

This remit was fulfilled in every way.

By the third hour the ostensible Manager of the Terminal allowed us to pass unescorted up past security to the ‘restaurant’ on the second floor, handing over a dog-eared “Unescorted Visitor – Not for Ship Access” pass which allowed us to get a coffee and a bacon sandwich from the sole person on the second floor, complete with hair net and white ‘chef’s’ coat. She ably reheated the sandwich.  Rob had something to eat that was so exciting he has absolutely no recollection of what it might have been except that it wasn’t vegan.

An hour later we descended and awaited the opening of preboarding.  

Precisely ten minutes late the kiosk was opened for preboarding and we were duly cleared through to wait on the second floor.  The number of foot passengers crowding around was astonishing. There were six of us total, penned into more of the ghastly furniture, waiting for someone to come down from the ship and let us in.  About ten minutes before sailing, a ship person beckoned us to ramble through a labyrinth of ramps and stairs to the check-in desk. We will give Irish Ferries their due, as the service was quick and efficient: They live and die by commercial truck traffic and automobiles, so those who want a room get one promptly.  As did we, somewhere on deck 10, a twin bed with a shower and toilet that was clean and serviceable.

However we did require food and drink, which meant a hike back towards the center of the ship where the various food service options reside.  A quick reconnoiter and it was decided that beer was more important than food. Following beer, a quick pass through the Pizza Bistro confirmed that the Irish do not know what a pizza is.  The quick service restaurant at least offered sausage and chips, which were consumed with gusto. Then, back to the room for a couple of hours of blessed sleep, the first horizontal sleep since Montreal, more than 24 hours previous.  Were there astonishing views of the Irish Sea while we were underway? No, it was a dark and rainy night, rain lashing the windows. Plus, it was blacker than a well-diggers arse at midnight, so there was nothing to see, as the Irish Sea does not have streetlights.

Things improved on the Ferry.

Rescue By A Cab

Trains in England are a little different from Canada. In Canada if there is a station there are people there and there are cabs and phones etc. At least for the parts of Canada I’ve seen.

In England this isn’t always the case. We catch the train from Holyhead to Crewe and manage the change to the Wrenbury train – more of a truck on rails serving the smaller communities.  Three cars, comfortable enough, with a diesel engine that they wind up to 1200 rpm, then release the brakes to roll away.

Getting to Wrenbury there is nothing there, barely a station, no people and no phones. So we are two Canucks stuck in the middle of Nowhere with rolling luggage.

Cell phones point the way and we begin to walk, I’m fat, I don’t like walking, I complain a lot. We carry on for short while and I being looking on the phone for a cab from Wrenbury. Nope. There are no cabs in Wrenbury. We continue the walk, there are cabs in Nantwich and in Whitchurch that service the area but, as optimists, we figure we can cover the rest of the journey. Plod, plod, plod one foot in front of the other moving slowly forward. I scan my phone again, should we just call and have a cab get us. Plod, plod, plod ever on like true Canadians without complaint.

A car passes and then another and finally a taxi enroute somewhere else.  We flag it down, it is divine intervention. No. The cab has a passenger and is on it’s way from A2B – can we share for the short while? Some discussion and then a discussion. Rescue, they will take us up the main road to the marina. A few quid pushed in the hand of the passenger at the end ensures all are happy and we’ve made it to the marina.

Just in time for the health and safety briefing we are duly trained on what to do at locks and where to find things on the Lapland Bunting.  It isn’t any more complicated than a recreational vehicle that floats.  We will post more later about life on a narrowboat, but for the time being, we find the pointy end and the arse end, two somewhat informal nautical terms.

Our next stop, since we’re both running on only a few hours sleep, is to regain some strength for our mighty toils on the waterway.  A short stroll into Wrenbury and we find The Cotton Arms Freehouse, a CAMRA-award winning Pub and Kitchen.  The sign outside says it all “Children and Dogs Welcome”.  Real ale and roast beef dinner with some of the locals who welcome us to their village.

One small issue we had the foresight to plan for was provisioning.  The marina provides you with fuel, water, a boat and the equipment to operate the boat.  They do not provide provisions, meaning things like food.  We both like food and consider food to be almost as important as drink, air, or spouses.  You decide which order these should be in.      

We wander a little further into Wrenbury, finding the local convenience store and obtain important things like coffee, milk, bacon, bread, cheese, hummus, croissants, butter and crisps.  And liquor, specifically a blended malt scotch whisky called Sheep Dip.  Neither Scrim or I are abstemious, so yes, there is drinking on the boat, but both Scrim and I are responsible boaters.  Drinking is only permitted after we dock for the evening.  Or if it is really, really chilly.  Or if the name of the day of the week has the letter Y in it.  

A long walk back to the boat and we sign off the documentation adding our own uniquely Canadian touch to the registration number of the boat.  Lines off and the Lapland Bunting is pointed in the direction of Wileymoor Lock. 

We are underway.

 

 

A Different Interrogation

Landing in Dublin we are feeling a little shite, covered in shite, deep fried in more shite and then stuffed with shite. The upthrust: the 787MAX8 is shite.

I know this well as the flight attendants have played video games on the back of my seat for several hours. But we land none the same and after thinking about and preparing for the Customs and Immigration we are ready for their questions. A small bonus, the plane will empty from both ends and since we are flying “‘rewards” points we are at the far end and get to exit early.

Into the airport of a foreign land we wander looking for the Baggage and Customs. We are Canadian. We are braced for what comes in Customs; a questioning practice started by the Nazis and continued by the supremacy movement in the US. As we exit there is a sign that points to Customs and Exits and we start the march to the exit. Will our brothers from the same mother let us in?  Is there something we forgot? I think, got the prescriptions in the bottles, no large amount of money, no drugs I must declare.

I think on this as we march from where we land to Custom and Exit. Legs barely working from the wonderful Air Canada flight on the 737 MAX HATE. As we continue I curse more though silently, this was my plan and at this point I hate it, thanks to our number one airline. After what seems like a forced march for the entrants into the Airborne we reach the Customs agents.  The questions;

  • Why are you here?
  • How long are you staying?
  • Isn’t that 737 Max 800 just shite?
  • Why haven’t you visited before?

The last with the most force, a wonderful example of the people we will meet. After assuring the young lady will we be spending some time in Dublin we are left to look for an exit and our bags. The bags are easily located, Air Canada being deprived the ability to lose them by being a direct flight. And for Customs, the first lady being only the Immigrations. We find the doors to custom guarded by a couple of lads that should be playing rugby. There are two sets of doors, one blue and one green – inquiring as Dave is a smoker with more than 200 smokes as to the path –  we are sent through the green doors. Where we  merge with the folks through the blue doors. Why?

I can only hope that it is for the sheer fun of it, I am hoping the Irish are a fun and wonderful bunch and if this is an indication I won’t be disappointed.