Monday, March 13, 2006

"This train shall call at Maybole, Girvan, Barrhill and Stranraer, where it shall terminate."

Terminate. Or more simply, die. For me, it is the bleakest journey in the world. I leave Edinburgh, a city which has the haughtiness of an imperious old dowager. A train takes me to Glasgow, a big, angry, fleshy, fat city with Victorian architecture in abundance where people are either bellowing or looking daggers at everyone else. Then comes the decline away from city scenes as another train chugs towards the wee town of Ayr.

By this stage of the journey, towns give way to villages and then fields, hills, cowsheds in the unending rain. It sounds idyllic and in some ways it is. Today there was a spectacular rainbow which cheered me up. There was a river that flowed fast and muddy with the melting snow. But otherwise, this journey to the ferry port of Stranraer feels as if the great land mass of Scotland has started to give up with an exhausted little squeak as it slides towards the Irish Sea.

Stranraer... can there be anywhere more dismal? Oh yes there can. For, with the Stena line ferries cancelled because of rough seas (the television monitors carried this message: "sailings cancelled do (sic) to severe weather"), travellers like me were taken by bus to another port, Cairnryan, and the ferry leaving Cairnryan goes to Larne.

Lovely Northern Ireland has some of the unloveliest of places and Larne is one of them. Tonight, as I disembarked into the Larne night and walked towards the bus for Belfast, there was no sign of my luggage. I asked one of the ferry workers who pointed me to where my bag would soon arrive off the ferry. I thanked him and asked, "will the bus wait for me while I get my bag?" He turned round and roared too loudly with laughter and said: "Oh, I don't know about that! This is Larne, absolutely anything can happen here!"

I got my bag, boarded the bus and left, which, for the sake of accuracy, is the only thing that actually does happen in Larne -- people leave it. The Ulsterbus driver looked like he had just skirted puberty and might have been 17 years old. But he knew exactly what to do: as soon as the door closed he floored the accelerator and we left Larne without slowing for any of the speed bumps.