I had set my phone’s alarm for 6:30 am but awoke at 6:20 so I got up and made tea and then washed and dressed ready to leave. Tigger was ready in a flash and we left home at 7:30 – good going, I thought. Off we went on our next adventure!
We took the 476 bus as this goes right into the forecourt of Euston Station – useful if you have a heavy suitcase. Having bought sandwiches for the journey, we had a modest breakfast, watching the Departures board for news of our train. Here we found ourselves victims of the Platform Dilemma.
The Platform Dilemma is experienced sooner or later by all travellers using big stations. It doesn’t occur in small stations for obvious reasons. It works like this: the Departures board shows a list of trains, together with yours, and gives their departure times and the platform numbers – except for yours, of course. For your train there is no platform number. All trains before and after yours have numbers but yours is blank.
Your train creeps steadily up the list as departure time approaches and you begin to feel anxious: you have a heavy suitcase and, for all you know, your train might be at the other end of the station but you can’t go anywhere because the platform number remains blank.
You ask a member of the station staff but he just shrugs. They’ve obviously been sworn to secrecy. Then with 5 minutes to go, the number finally appears. You have to run to the other end of the station, board the train with your heavy case, stow this in the inadequate luggage area and find your seat… along with hundreds of other people trying to do the same thing.
Things settle down at last and off we go. We must change at Birmingham.
We scramble aboard the train at Birmingham. This time I have no trouble storing the suitcase, surely a sign that something else will go wrong. It does. Our seats are occupied by a party of woman, a “hen party”. They have already been drinking and are aggressive because another passenger is complaining about them, but reluctantly gather themselves together to move. They take their time about it, blocking the gangway and preventing passengers from getting seated. I hear one of them say “We got the wrong carriage, that’s all. What’s the big deal?”
Normality restored, we relax and watch the countryside pass by the windows. It was raining when we left Islington, then it cleared up but once again the sky is threatening rain. We pass through flooded areas which match the watery theme.
Lancaster is where we change again.
At Lancaster we have 30 minutes to wait and I buy cups of insipid tea. Our train arrives, a battered suburban cuckoo, that runs as a shuttle between Lancaster and our next changeover point. After a couple of stops, including one at the quaintly named Bare Lane, we arrive at Heysham Port. Now it is the sea that separates us from our destination.
The cuckoo chugged into Heysham Port station and we followed the small number of passengers along the platform to the entrance to the Steam Packet company terminal.
By now you will have guessed our destination: the Isle of Man. It is possible to fly there from Heathrow but this time we took the rail and ferry route. I imagined that the ferry crossing would be fairly quick but in fact it takes over 3 and a half hours. The ferry sails at a slow pace quite at odds with modern notions of travel and I can’t help wondering whether this is a deliberate ploy to get people to spend money in the cafeteria and bar.
The ferry was supposed to sail at 2 pm and we reached the check-in at 1:45 to find only two staff on duty, both occupied with customers whose cases required protracted transactions. Our queue wasn’t very long but it didn’t move at all as the hands of the clock moved inexorably towards 2 pm.
At the last minute we heard that they were delaying the ferry’s departure to allow us to come aboard.
We found seats in the Quiet Lounge which faces the stern. You avoid the rowdy boozers in shorts and football shirts but you also see how slowly the shore retreats, indicating the excruciatingly slow speed of the ferry. It might be considered uncharitable to suggest that they send old ferries to die on the Isle of Man run but it is an almost irresistible thought.
It was raining in London but the temperature was mild and we were lightly dressed. As the voyage progressed, the temperature in the Quiet Lounge dropped until I felt uncomfortably cold. I noticed that most of the other passengers were wearing anoraks or warm jackets. I hoped it was over-active air conditioning rather than the ambient temperature that was making me cold.
When we finally disembarked, it did seem warmer. We now had to find the hotel, the Devonian, whose Web site claimed it was 5 minutes’ walk from the port. I think they must have timed it by someone who walks at 30 mph.
The next thing we discovered was that there were 8 steps from the street to the hotel lobby then another 61 steps to our room. By the time we leave we’ll be either fit or frazzled.
Last time we were in Douglas, it was our first trip together and we stayed in a much nicer hotel, the Welbeck. We also had several meals in an Indian restaurant a short way up a side street off the promenade and thought to go there again this evening. Unfortunately, it was all boarded up.
We walked along the promenade looking at menus and prices. In the end we stopped at the Four Seasons. They were offering vegetarian mushroom strogonoff but the waitress came back to say it was unavailable. We ordered “vegetarian pasta”. The waitress came back to request that we have a word with the chef.
The chef was very amiable and helpful and put together a very good dish with tasty fresh mushrooms in a cheese sauce. We had sticky toffee pudding for desert.
We walked back along the promenade, enjoying the evening and reminiscing about our first visit. At last we reached the hotel and had to steel ourselves for the 69-step climb to our room. “You go ahead,” said Tigger, “and get the kettle going.”
So I did, feeling like someone climbing Everest who is forced to leave an ailing colleague behind. By the time I had filled the kettle and plugged it in, Tigger arrived at the door, tired but unbowed in spirit.
“I’ve thought of a name for this place,” she said and paused for me to ask what it was.
“What is it?”
“Stairway to Devon!” said Tigger.
Not the best pun in the world, perhaps, but at least as good as my Pen’s Ants, and it had been a long day.