Belfast to London. Boat. Coach. Train. Part one.

Last weekend, I headed over to Belfast for the first time, for Pride.  I had a brilliant weekend and can’t recommend Belfast enough.

However I when I was planning my travel, flights back to London across all airlines seemed really expensive – around £250 one way, unless I wanted to get up at 6am in the morning for the first flight on Sunday morning.  Figuring it was exceptionally likely that I’d be rather hung over by then (and I was right), I looked at alternative means.

It turns out that the boat and train is actually very inexpensive.  They have what are known as ‘SailRail’ tickets for £54 one way taking you all the way from Belfast to London.  Given the length of the journey, I think that’s a bargain.

The website that is *the* reference for all things to do with European train travel is ‘Seat 61‘ and they had the full low-down on the journey, including detailed timings; their page on the journey is here.

Wanting to leave on a Sunday afternoon, I decided not only to do the boat and the train, but to take the Caledonian Sleeper, overnight train from Glasgow down to London for the full on Victorian travel experience.

The SailRail tickets do allow you take this route, however the £54 price only includes a seat.  For an overnight train that wasn’t going to be conducive to a good night’s sleep and happy ginger in the morning, so you can pay either £65 supplement for a standard class berth, or £80 for first class.

The key difference between the two is that standard class is two people sharing a compartment, where as in first, you get your own private compartment.  To me, that was a no-brainer, so paid the first class supplement.

A friend dropped me at the port at Belfast where I checked in and was given a boarding card.

The departure lounge was fairly basic with a coffee shop and a few seats for people to wait around in.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend turning up early to sample the lounge; it’s not the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney.  Boarding was called about 15.00 for the 15.30 sailing and there was a bit of a rush to get on.

On board there seemed to be a bit of rush to secure some of the nicer seats by the windows on deck eight.  By the time I’d had a look around they seemed to be all gone.

On board, there was apparently a “spa” that gave massages as well as a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi.  I didn’t end up checking it out as I forgot my swimming trunks, however given it was in the middle of the school holidays suspected it may have been over-run.

They do also have a separate lounge area called “Stena Plus” which was an £18 supplement.  However they were full that day, so wouldn’t sell me the upgrade.

I just sat around watching everyone in the coffee shop area; given the relatively short 2 1/2 hour journey time it was actually fine.

Stena claim to have free wifi on the boat.  Yes there is, but don’t expect to use it for anything other than WhatsApp or iMessage.  Even web-browsing was glacially slow.  However for at least the first 45 minutes I still had a good 4G signal from the shore so managed to catch up with season 3 of Rick and Morty.

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Before I knew it, we were close to arriving at Cairnryan in Scotland; the journey itself was very smooth and there was very little perception of any movement at all.

Disembarking was the same way we boarded, arriving at the new ferry terminal.  Stena provide a bus service that takes you from the terminal to the railway station at Ayr.  I was slightly confused when exiting the terminal as the signs pointed towards the National Express coaches and not the SailRail one, which was around the corner.  When the bus did eventually arrive it took about an hour and a quarter through some amazing scenery.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover the journey from Ayr to Glasgow, and then onwards down to London on the Caledonian Sleeper.

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