Dublin via the Mid Cheshire Line by Mike Battman ….

Posted on November 14th, 2011, by The Chairman

My wife and I have threatened to go to Dublin for a while; we’ve both been to Ireland a few times both sightseeing and fishing, but remarkably never stopped off in the capital.

Anyway, whilst browsing the web one day and revisiting the essential rail travel website www.seat61.com I stumble across the Ireland page and read the headline “Discover a well-kept secret…” quickly followed by “Manchester or Liverpool to Dublin = £30”. Combine that with one of my favourite bands playing in Dublin and we had all the excuses we needed to book a trip.

Booking the tickets is easy; it’s exactly the same as booking on-line in the UK; just go to The Train Line www.thetrainline.com* and enter Dublin Port as your destination. We decided to book the Swift Seacat ferry which is an additional £5 each way, i.e. £70 return.

Our train left Navigation Road on time at 07:44, one of the old Northern Rail class 150s, although we did pass two of the ‘new’ ex-London Midland units heading in the opposite direction. Between Navigation Road and Knutsford the train was ‘full’, with standing room only, mainly school kids; our tickets were not checked until Cuddington. I wonder how many of those travelling on the train had tickets; the problem seems to be that the guard can only activate the doors from his guard’s room. It is not easy to check tickets, take money, issue tickets and operate the doors when stations are coming thick and fast as they do between Navigation Road and Knutsford.

We arrived in Chester at about a quarter to nine giving us plenty of time for a comfortable walk over the footbridge and a coffee in the new glass kiosk before we caught the 09:22 to Holyhead. Whilst drinking the coffee two freight trains go through the station in quick succession the first was a Rail Head Treatment Train, topped and tailed by two yellow class 97s, followed by a class 66 on an empty Guide Bridge to Penmaenmawr stone train supplying the new Metrolink extension.

The Holyhead train is an Arriva Trains Wales class 175 from Birmingham via Shrewsbury, requiring a reversal at Chester. This initially confused us as we were expecting the train to arrive from the opposite direction! The train left Chester a few minutes late, I think the announcement said “…waiting for a guard.”, but I could have been mistaken. If possible try to get seats on the coastal side of the train as the North Wales line is scenic all the way once you’ve passed through the industrial areas of Chester. Again arrival was on time and we seemed to make up the time from the slightly late departure from Chester.

At Holyhead, the Ferry Terminal check-in is at the end of the platforms, foot passengers’ baggage is the same as at an airport, large items are taken from you and loaded separately, you can take hand luggage onto the boat. Check in took less than 5-minutes, you then jump on a courtesy bus that runs you to the ferry. The ferry left before the advertised time of 12:00 arriving at Dublin Port at about 13:45. Baggage collection was simple and quick. At Dublin Port there is a bus to the town centre waiting for you, it cost €3.00 each.

Dublin is, well mad, there is no other word for it, it is also not cheap, but we had a great time. We visited The Guinness Brewery, Trinity College where the Book of Kells is kept and The Castle; did an open top bus tour; ate and drank in many pubs and restaurants, visited a few shops too and saw the band play at a lovely city centre venue. It is definitely not the place for a quiet weekend but a place to enjoy the craic. It was good to see that the new LUAS trams are well patronised despite the two lines not yet joining up! Why can’t Manchester have 3 carriage trams?

Returning on Saturday afternoon, we were booked on the 14:30 Seacat due to arrive back at Navigation Road at 21:02. We did consider coming back on Sunday, but the abysmal Sunday service on the Mid Cheshire Line meant a journey into Manchester and tram to Navigation Road unless we caught an earlier boat.

There probably was a bus out to the ferry port, but we didn’t research it; consequently we took a taxi from our hotel at about 13:00, it took 20-minutes and cost €15. Check-in at Dublin Port was again quick and simple as we said goodbye to our case until Holyhead and waited in the departure lounge with a coffee for our boat to arrive.

Again a slightly early departure from Dublin Port and an early arrival in Holyhead, a quick bus transfer and the bags were there at the terminal building before us! I’ve never had that happen at an airport. Our itinerary had us catching the 17:30 train from Holyhead; but we were pleased to see that the 16:37 Arriva Trains Wales to Cardiff was still in the platform and we caught it with 5-minutes or more to spare. This of course meant that we caught an earlier train back from Chester to Navigation Road (we only missed an even earlier train by 10-minutes) and we were back in our house by 20:15.

Now, a word of warning, going out was a fairly rough crossing (well it was November!) and if you are a bad sailor, the Swift Seacat may not be for you, but you could catch a later train, the 09:44 from Navigation Road, and then travel by ordinary ferry, the 14:10 from Holyhead arriving at Dublin Port at 17:25. Interestingly when we got home there was an e-mail from The Train Line Customer Services, Today Irish Ferries have informed us that the ferry you booked for travel tomorrow is in doubt because of severe weather warnings. I appreciate this must be very inconvenient for you, and I apologise on behalf of Irish Ferries. If you still wish to travel, you would be accommodated on the other vessel – The Ulysses – at 20:55.” Yet strangely the homeward journey was calm.

Yes, we could have flown and probably done it for a similar price and quicker, but I find airports a far from pleasant experience and will avoid them is there is a viable alternative.

Mike

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(* Instead of the trainline, we recommend using a Train Operating Company’s (TOC’s) site to book tickets such as Northern Rail or TransPennine Express as they don’t charge for Ticket Delivery by post, using Ticket Vending Machines for Ticket Collection, a Booking Charge or a Credit Card Surcharge.  We hear new site “redspottedhanky” provides a similar service.  If you’re near a station with a booking office like Altrincham, Hale, Knutsford or Northwich you can buy these there, or even buy them from the conductor on the train where they’re not advance purchase, as these aren’t. – Ed)

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