This trip is a little different to the previous ones. First of all, it's just me. It's my first cycle trip alone, in fact I'm pretty sure it's my first holiday alone.
Secondly, I have rooms pre-booked for the whole trip. I will be based in Doolin and exploring the Burren region from there. It does restrict my flexibility a little, but also means lots of good things:
* No need to bring camping gear, so only two panniers this time.
* No stress of trying to find a room every night, finding everywhere's too full or too expensive.
* I can leave lots of stuff in the room and travel much lighter during the day
* More room to bring lots of non-essential stuff like knitting bag and a big fat book.
Thirdly, it will finally mean I've been to a country that Dgym hasn't. :-) (although he's still got India and Canada on me)
It's a long journey from Guildford to Doolin so I decided to break it up with a stopover in Dublin on both the outward and return trips. The SailRail ticket I got was from any UK station to Dublin at £26 one way - pretty good, and only about a fiver more than the ferry ticket alone (the rail ticket to Holyhead alone would probably run into triple figures). The train part of the journey was fine - up to London, a short ride across town to Euston station, and then the Virgin train up to Llandudno Junction. The Virgin train was pretty nice, the quiet zone was right next to the bike compartment, and they provide plug sockets for laptops, which you don't see very often. The Arriva train from Llandudno to Holyhead was horrible by comparison and smelled of wee.
I'd left behind a lovely sunny day in the South East but arrived in Holyhead to rain and howling winds. On our travels we've found many places to be not quite as you might imagine - we roasted in Poland, froze in Portugal and the rain in Spain definitely fell mainly in the mountains. Wales didn't let me down though - it was rainy and full of sheep, most of which were trying to shelter from the rain behind dry stone walls. The coastline was quite pretty though, and the landscape looked quite interesting and rocky between Llandudno and Bangor.
Given the weather conditions I was pleased to find that Holyhead ferry terminal and station are on the same site so no windy, rainy ride across town was necessary. I was less pleased to find that my intended 17:15 ferry had been cancelled due to the bad weather, and the next one would leave at 02:40. Hooray - a ten hour wait followed by a three hour ferry, which would get me into Dublin at about 6am. The staff at the ferry port were rather surly and unhelpful about the whole thing, fair enough it's not their fault and I don't think they're obliged to do anything if it's just weather problems, but a disinterested shrug just isn't very reassuring when you're stranded several hundred miles from home in a cold ferry terminal on a rainy windy evening. After much fretting and swearing and calling up the B&B to cancel my room and wishing Dgym was there to share the pain, I decided it wasn't all that bad, at least I had two full laptop batteries and lots of warm clothes (awesome hat included).
The ferry terminal was really cold overnight, no heating, cold metal benches everywhere and some nutter kept playing a harmonica. I started to really wish I'd brought the sleeping bag, and ended up wearing pretty much every item of clothing I had on me (including the awesome hat, no matter how silly I look in it) - but the warm clothes really weren't warm enough, especially after I'd gone out for a curry and ended up a bit damp. Got talking to a group of young Irish mums sitting opposite me, whose kids were running all over the place (in a good way, they were quite sweet) - they'd been to London to party because "Ireland doesn't have any good raves" (which can only be a plus for Ireland). They asked lots of questions about my laptop and bike and seemed a bit surprised that I wouldn't choose a bigger laptop and / or ride a newer bicycle (apparently five years is really old for a bicycle... bah, tell that to Dawes) During the course of the evening I was offered £100 for my laptop by one of the mums, and £1 for my bicycle by Harmonica Bloke. I politedly declined both offers but if I didn't love my bike as much as I do, I'd have offered it in exchange for one harmonica.
I was really cold and tired and bored and fed up by the time they finally loaded us onto the ferry. The bike procedure was a bit different from most other ferry routes , in that I don't think they really had one. I was loaded on as a foot passenger rather than a vehicle, and taken out to the ferry (which was a mile away) on a special van which also carried a disabled bloke on a mobility scooter, and dumped us on the car deck. He could take his scooter up in the lift but nobody really knew what I was supposed to do with my bike until one of the crew came along and pointed at an unoccupied corner behind a skip. There was nothing to secure the bike to so I had to just prop it up against the wall and pray it wouldn't fall over or get bashed around.
Fortunately the ferry was quite quiet so I could nod off for a while on a couple of tub chairs in the lounge, clutching my laptop and other valuables. We got to Dublin three hours later, by some miracle my bike hadn't fallen over and I rode off into another new country.
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