The dates are set, our flights to the UK are booked for Thursday 19 November and our onward flights home to Temptress are a WIP (more later). It was time we looked at the rest of our travel around the UK for the seven weeks we are there so last night we got out the laptops and settled down to a few hours surfing the web with the TV on for background noise.
The plan seemed simple on the face of it. Arrive in the UK, move all the boxes from Dubai and various boat related oddments from our garage in Molesey to Kevin’s mum’s garage in Donaghadee. Travel back to England for Christmas and Boxing Day. See in the New Year in Northern Ireland and finally join Susie’s family to celebrate her father’s 90th Birthday on January 9th.
Naively we assumed trains would run, flights schedules were correct and we could book a one way van hire. Well the last proved true after an extensive web hunt and a couple of phone calls as long as we take the 8 hour trip on the Liverpool ferry not the faster Dublin one and return the van to somewhere in darkest Antrim. Via Dublin was almost double the price due to the van needing to be insured in the Republic. Next up was the fifty mile or so trip from Chessington where we are to spend Christmas Day to Kempston on Boxing Day morning. No trains to Waterloo from Chessington and none either to Bedford from St Pancras all due to engineering works. Fortunately Kevin’s brother is able to lend us a car for a couple of days. Another box ticked.
We then looked at routes from Belfast to London and back for the holidays and decided our savings would stretch to flying Aer Lingus with Rhona as long as we have only hand luggage. Yet another bit of the puzzle in place, it felt like a productive evening.
Next up was our final trip back from Northern Ireland with our sailing bags as we begin the journey to the Caribbean via the birthday lunch. From past experience a sailing bag will weigh around 17-20kg when jam packed full and we’ll have two each plus hand luggage. The ferry will take you with whatever you can carry so no problem with the luggage there. Aer Lingus charge a premium for checked in bags (£45 per 40kg). Whichever route we’d need to get from London or Liverpool to Kempston.
However did we travel before the internet? After an hour or so of checking car hire and trains we discovered a few pointers that eventually lead to a booking. First was the bad news that car hire offices in Birkenhead close at 18:00 whereas the Belfast ferry arrives at 18:30. A phone call from Singapore to the UK found that we’d be expected to take a taxi to Liverpool airport to pick up a car!
The best nugget of information was the accidental discovery via The Man in Seat 61 that it’s possible to buy a train ticket from Belfast to Bedford which includes a ferry (Belfast to Cairnryan, Stranraer), a bus across to Ayr, two trains (Ayr Glasgow, Glasgow Euston), a short underground trip and finally another train St Pancras to Bedford all for a bargain £53 per person! This appealed to yours truly Susie who loves train and ferry travel but it does take over twelve hours and we’d have all that luggage to lug from platform to platform. However if you ever fancy exploring the UK by train and ferry try Virgin Trains. And The Man in Seat 61 is a huge and fascinating source of train and ferry information worldwide that I discovered when researching a potential train trip through Vietnam, sadly we’ve not had the time as yet but one day…
Our next discovery was that the National Rail website would not give us train times for Jan 10 when we needed to arrive at Gatwick around 09:00. Having experienced this error in the past I guessed this was likely to be engineering work. A quick check elsewhere revealed lots of it along the Thameslink route with replacement buses, not a good idea for an early trip to Gatwick with a plane to catch.
Weighing up the costs of the various routes – flying or ferry/train combo and realising that we’d need to hire a car to get us the final leg to Gatwick on Jan 10 – we came up with the interesting statistic that once all the costs including petrol were considered they were within a tenner of each other. It seems airlines, train companies and ferry operators do their research when setting their tariffs! Eventually we settled on Aer Lingus partly because the total travel time is around a third of the ferry/train combo and partly because they also offer car hire at competitive rates if you book it at the same time as your air ticket which made the total cost a tad cheaper than the ferry/train route. So now we can get to Gatwick for our long haul flight home to the boat and as a bonus have a car for a few days!
And what of our Caribbean flights? Well as some of you will know we have had a few problems. The tickets were booked a few months back as we were aware that January is peak tourist season in the region so flights would be both expensive and difficult to find. On the recommendation of Singaporean colleagues Kevin fortuitously used an online travel agent Asia Travel . The long haul leg is with the local airline flying from Jamaica and Trinidad to London and the USA, Caribbean Airways. Their prices were a third of those of BA & Virgin. Then, a couple of weeks or so back ,we received a bombshell automated email cancelling the Gatwick to Port of Spain leg. It took a while for our travel agent to get to the bottom of it; Caribbean Airways have withdrawn their Gatwick to Trinidad schedule due to mounting costs. Our flight was booked for Jan 13 and their last flight to Trinidad was announced as Jan 10.
Hats off to the Asia Travel; they have kept us informed at every step as they struggled to get seats for us on Jan 10 and re-arrange our connecting flight to Grenada with Liat Air without incurring us any costs. It seems this is now agreed though the replacement tickets have yet to be issued. One final glitch still to be resolved is that we don’t have anywhere as yet to stay on Jan 10 in Grenada as the Cool Runnings apartments close to the boatyard where we planned to spend the few days until Temptress is refitted and launched, has no space for us until the following day, but the rest of our travel plans are now all in place. Can’t wait to get started!