People seem very surprised to discover that the ferry crossing from Liverpool to Belfast takes eight hours.
Not a single person nods sagely when I tell them – it is all raised eyebrows, sharp intakes of breath and expressions I can only describe as aghast. “Eight hours?” comes the inevitable disbelieving reply: a question, rather than a statement, dripping with incredulity.
I suppose it does sound a long time considering that the fastest hops from mainland Britain to our other neighbours, the Republic of Ireland and France, take 2hr 15m and 1hr 30m respectively. And that the only other GB to Northern Ireland crossing – Cairnryan to Larne – clocks in at just two hours. How can the alternative take four times as long?
The answer is hardly surprising – a cursory glance at a map will reveal that the distance between Liverpool’s Birkenhead port and the Northern Irish capital is, indeed, about four times as far (if not more) as the Scottish village of Cairnryan is from the east-coast town of Larne in County Antrim. But still. People seem to have a hard time accepting this as fact.
Although not as much of a hard time as they have accepting that I look forward to such a prospect. If I was embarking on an eight-hour flight, it would be an entirely different story – something to endure rather than enjoy. But a day spent traversing the Irish Sea, floating atop the blue-grey expanse, with sporadic bursts of sun causing lights to shiver and dance enchantingly across the surface of the waves? I can scarce think of a more relaxed way to spend my time.
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The decompression begins right off the bat when I reach the Stena Line terminal at Liverpool’s busy port. I’ve arrived an hour and 15 minutes before my 10.30am departure time – check-in only closes an hour in advance of the sailing – and as is so often the case as a foot passenger, I stroll up to the queue-free desk and am attended to immediately. No need to even present my ticket: I’m asked for my name, handed a boarding pass with a smile and told to sit down. I’m also handed a card with a code to the Stena Plus Lounge, which I am exceedingly excited to explore once onboard.
I sit and relax before we, a small group of gathered pedestrians, are waved through. As ever, I mentally give…