Stranraer – Cairnryan – Larne Harbour – Belfast Great Victoria Street – Derry/Londonderry

I had a relaxed schedule today, which was just as well as I forgot to put my phone on charge and it turned itself off overnight. Fortunately when I woke and realised this, it was only 10 minutes later than the time I’d planned to get up.

After breakfast I went for a look around Stranraer. Only a small town, a couple of streets, but it has some nice buildings. The loss of the ferry port to Cairnryan has clearly hit it hard and there were more vacant shops than any town would want.

There is a plan to regenerate the town based an and expansion of the marina, which they hope will bring people to the town. It’s certainly a safe mooring, but it really is a long way from anywhere else. The view across to the station is rather odd now that it is no longer a ferry port.

I caught the first bus from the town to Cairnryan. There was a grand total of 6 other foot passengers there when I arrived, shortly before the announced closing time. Clearly some people were aware that they don’t enforce this, and by the time we boarded there was 11 of us.

The other small detail is that whilst my booking in reference was taken, no-one checked my ID at any point, on either side of the crossing. As I write this, the British Government have no idea that I have escaped the country!

Something I’ve never seen before was that the bus was loaded onto the ferry and travelled with us. We were invited to leave baggage on there if we wanted to.

Despite the lack of foot passengers, the service was busy by the time we had boarded (the bus was the last to load.) Accommodation was limited to the restaurant, bar and a few seats dotted around inside and out, all on one level.

The sea was very calm, so it was a good crossing, though it would have been nice to be able to see more of it, as it was very foggy and the ship’s horn was being sounded every couple of minutes. Less than two hours after departing, the County Antrim coast emerged from the mists and the ship entered the surprisingly narrow entrance to Larne Lough.

I was the only ferry passenger who was taking the train to Belfast. There was a 50 minute wait in the deserted station, but the sun was shining. I sat on an old rowing boat that was used as a decorative feature on the platform, rather than the benches in the shade.

The run in from Larne to Belfast is rather pleasant. You head along the edge of Larne Lough, then after a short inland section emerge onto the coast at Whitehead. I got a momentary (an unexpected) glimpse of the railway museum there; enough to make me think it would be worth a look when I’m next in this part of the world in September. As you approach Belfast, the iconic H&W cranes are the first visible landmark, from over 10 miles away. As you enter the city they dominate the skyline.

I could have changed trains at a couple of earlier stations as my inbound and outbound services share a route for a few miles, but decided to carry on to the end of the line at Great Victoria Street. This small and unimpressive terminus is due to be replaced in a few years by the much more fitting transport hub being built next door.

Belfast has some lovely buildings and on a sunny Sunday, was a lovely place to spend some time between trains. I walked as far as the City Hall, grabbing some lunch on the way back.

The Derry-Londonderry service stops in lots of places, as do most trains in this country. There isn’t really a lot to see for the first half of the journey but from when the coast is reached, all the way to the terminus it is very pleasant.

I’ve driven around the edge of this city a couple of times but never before visited it. The station terminus is small but very nice, with bits of the original station mixed with a recent extension.

Hotels here are not cheap, but I got a good deal at the Premier Inn. What I’d not realised is just how far from the station it was, and how big the hills are in all directions. I’d initially set off in a different direction, as something had caught my eye. It turned out to be the ongoing regeneration of a former barracks, next to the peace bridge. At the moment it is a building site, but at some point it will be fabulous. Small businesses and cafes are already moving into the completed buildings.

I consulted my phone and it gave me directions to the hotel. What it failed to tell me was that I would be walking through a Unionist estate. It was the kerbstones I spotted first, then the number of flags, the graffiti and even a roundabout which had been modified to be red, white and blue.

It started to rain as I reached the hotel. Given the long walk, the time and the weather I decided I would stay at the hotel and eat next door. Every time I have misfortune to eat in a Brewer’s Fayre I swear I’ll never do it again, it’s just been so long that I’d forgotten. The staff were lovely, but the food left a lot to be desired.