Notes from West London

Not missing the boat

Last week’s piece about missing boats to and from Ireland was triggered by a journey to Fishguard last month, to catch the ferry for our recent trip to Hollywood in Wicklow. We very nearly missed the boat. We were allowed to board even though we arrived at the terminal 25 minutes after check-in was due to close. That was a mere 15 minutes before the boat set sail. The sense of relief that we felt on being allowed on, and at not having to spend 12 hours in Fishguard, lasted for several days.

The timings of the twice-daily crossings have changed. The afternoon boat now leaves at 1.10pm rather than 3pm as it did in my childhood, or 2.30pm as it has in recent years. We left West London at 8am, although I’d hoped to be on the road by 7.30am. The late start was my fault. The rest of the family were ready before me. My online booking confirmation told me that we had to check in no later than 30 minutes before departure (12.40pm), allowing us a little more than the 4½ hours that I believe the journey usually takes, including stops.

The last time we took this route as a family (summer 2014) we were so early for the crossing that we had time for a leisurely lunch in the pub-restaurant overlooking the port, and for the children to use the playground for a while before we boarded. This time round we made slower progress. I received a text from the ferry company telling us that the boat would leave on time, and that check-in closed at 12.30pm. I kept this information to myself.

There was a bit of traffic getting out of London – two Minis had collided and were still in the middle lane, leaving a tailback behind them. We made reasonable time getting to Wales on the M4. We stopped twice for “comfort breaks”. The second stop was at one of those service stations that takes you well away from the motorway. It involved three or four roundabouts all controlled by traffic lights, all set to red as we approached them.

We were back on the M4, somewhere near Swansea, just after 11.20am. An online map service (you know the one) gave us an estimated arrival time of 12.53pm, way later than either of our official check-in times. The estimate went up to 12.58pm soon afterwards. There was congestion approaching some roundabout on the A48, and it took us 13 minutes to cover less than a mile. Vanessa Feltz was sitting in for Jeremy Vine on his BBC Radio 2 show, from noon till 2pm. We heard an item about the Labour Party’s current failure to define what anti-Semitism is.

I drove as fast as I could. It felt rather futile. I tried not to think about what 12 hours in Fishguard would be like for the four of us. At 12.54pm I pulled up to the booth to check in, fully expecting to be told we were too late. We were waved through, and so was the single car behind us. By the time we had parked and made it up to the Metropolitan Restaurant on Level 8 the boat was moving.

We spent much of the crossing listing things we might have done that would have made us miss the ferry. I had showered but not shaved that morning and offered the following, “If I’d had a shave as well as a shower this morning … we’d definitely have missed the ferry.” My wife suggested that if she had driven the last stage of the journey … we’d definitely have missed the ferry. My daughter had planned to bring at least one football with us. If she had gone back to get it … we’d definitely have missed the ferry. If we had picked up a McMuffin meal at that first “comfort break” … And so on.

During the last 90 minutes of our car journey, both of the children had asked me, more than once, what would happen if we missed our crossing. Over lunch, a few miles west of Fishguard, I told them about missing the boat when I was 11 (my daughter’s age now), as recounted in that earlier piece.

A few years ago, travelling from Dover to Dunkirk for a holiday in France and Italy, we also arrived 25 minutes after check-in was due to close, and were also allowed to board. The consequences of missing that ferry would not have been so bad. There was another sailing an hour or two later.

For our return to Fishguard from Rosslare last Sunday evening we arrived at the check-in in plenty of time. As you’d expect, the Rosslare timings have also changed. The evening crossing is at 6.10pm, a few hours earlier than it used to be. The morning crossing used to leave at 9am. It was always a rush to get there from Kilkenny., where we usually stay before a morning crossing from Rosslare. Last time I did it (March 2015, after a funeral) we pulled out of the Blackquarry service station just outside the city at 7.03am, at least 20 minutes later than we should have, and the next 90 minutes were full of the same “What if” speculation I was trying to avoid when driving to Fishguard last month. The morning ferry from Rosslare now leaves at 8am. Unless we spend the night in Rosslare itself we are unlikely to catch that one anytime soon, which is why we went for the evening ferry this time round.

It was the quietest, smoothest crossing I can remember. Monday was a Bank Holiday in Ireland, and it looked like very few people wanted to travel back to the UK the night beforehand. For the first time ever in my experience, the ferry left before its scheduled time. As we pulled out to sea it was 5.55pm, 15 minutes before we were due to leave. I pointed to the clock on my phone and told the children that at the equivalent time on our journey to Ireland we were only just arriving at the terminal.

We landed 20 minutes ahead of schedule and were on the road soon after 9.30pm. This little time windfall was very welcome. We stopped just once on the 260-mile drive home, and despite the absence of traffic it still took over 4½ hours. We arrived home at 2.15am and I made a mental note: leave at least 5 hours for the journey to Fishguard in future. We remain hugely grateful to the people who let us board the ferry so close to departure time. Without them our holiday would have been so different, and not in a good way.




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