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A Long Day Trip to Douglas

Photographs and Text © Kevin Bennett 2007

After meeting my friend Ray at Lime Street Station we caught the 1905 “pacer” train to Preston where we changed to a Virgin “Pendolino” to take us to Lancaster where we arrived at 20:35. After spending some time at the station so that Ray could take some photos we then caught the 21:10 2A bus to Heysham Towers.

By 22:00 we were both enjoying a pint or two in the “Duke of Rothsay” which overlooks Heysham Harbour. At midnight we checked in at the Heysham Sea Terminal. It was a clear mild evening.  The BEN-MY-CHREE and MERCHANT BRILLIANT were both already in the harbour when we arrived.

We had been somewhat confused on our approach to the terminal as foot passenger signage was poorly positioned – we only saw one on the road. We followed some footsteps painted on the ground into the car park. The ground markings ended at an impenetrable fence! We continued round the car park and ended up back on the road, which if we had carried on along it would have taken use to the Terminal entrance, rather than us having to undertake an unnecessary circuit of the car park! “Well planned!” we thought!

The interior of the terminal was like a building site. The floor covering had been removed and was uneven. We sat on one of the few seats available. The toilets were out of use and were unable to find the “fictional” portaloos that were supposed to be provided so one had to resort to using the disabled facility.

Boarding of the BEN-MY-CHREE commenced at 01:10, with the ship departing at 02:14 with a loading of 121 passengers. We had first settled in the “Legends Bar”, but moved to the quiet lounge as the bar became busy. After another routine crossing the BEN was abeam Douglas Head at 05:23 and berthed at 05:34. It was a misty morning in Douglas. After disembarking, we spent 30 minutes deciding what to do next.

We took a wander up to Douglas Head for to photograph the Departure of the BEN-MY-CHREE and SUPERSEACAT TWO. SSC2 departed for Liverpool at 07:23 with 565 passengers as the mist had become a haze. The BEN-MY-CHREE departed for Heysham at 08:47 with 390 passengers, by which time the sun had broken through the haze making things quite pleasant up on the head.

Following the departure of the BEN-MY-CHREE I went off to get some breakfast and whilst Ray went off to do his own thing. Following breakfast I took a wander along the inner harbour to the bus depot and railway station. On the way the straps on my hold all snapped, fortunately I was able to buy a new one at the nearby Newson’s store.

Afterwards I took a wander up Strand Street.

You could be forgiven nowadays whilst walking along Strand Street that you were on the Isle of Man. It resembles any other British high street. There are now no traditional Manx Souvenir shops left – progress?

Some shops still sell a small selection of Manx souvenirs – the same selection from shop to shop which gets smaller each year. At least "Pickwicks" still has a decent selection and you can’t beat the Lexicon for books.

It was sad to see the Villa Arcade all boarded up for refurbishment. This was a location where you could find the last two bastions of traditional Manx souvenir shops, the last one “The Emporium” making a last stand until 2006. Why couldn’t the work on the Villa Arcade could not have waited until after, or been completed before the Centenary TT?

In comparison to Douglas, a recent visit to Llandudno revealed a good balance of modern and traditional shops. It is a shame that Douglas isn’t the same! It’s a shame that many of the old Victorian buildings which give Douglas its character are being replaced rather than being refurbished. – The horse tramway along the promenade probably won’t last much longer either!

I discovered the hard way that the conveniently sited “Travel Shop” which was located close to the bus stops adjacent to the former Bus Station site had closed down the previous day. The new “Welcome Centre” in the Sea Terminal replacing it.

The Manx transport postcards once offered for sale in the “Travel Shop” do not appear to be available in the “Welcome Centre”. The “Welcome Centre” staff was not that helpful as they appeared unable to answer some travel queries I had for a visit later in the year.

I overhead locals complaining about the closure of the travel shop, many also not knowing that it had closed. Elderly passengers were not happy as they now had to go out of their way down to the Sea Terminal – Douglas desperately needs a proper bus station again!

After a visit to “The British” for a couple of pints I made my way back to watch the arrival of SSC2. I had a longer wait than expected as SSC2 was running late and didn’t arrive until 14:25. I know wished I hadn’t had that second pint as I discovered the harbour toilets were closed!

I then headed back into the town during which time SSC2 conducted manoeuvres in the harbour and was berthed for a while bow on to the linkspan. Unfortunately I witnessed this from the wrong side of the Sea Terminal and thus missed some good photographs.

I checked in for the return sailing at 16:45 and shortly after met up again with Ray. The terminal was packed and it was obvious it was going to be a busy sailing. Boarding commenced at 17:00. What Ray and I did notice was that many foot passengers were being allowed to take rather large suitcases on board as hand luggage, probably to avoid delays at the baggage reclaim in Liverpool.

Large items of luggage is fine on a quiet SSC2 sailing, but should not be allowed when she is heavily loaded, I doubted that Liverpool Sea Terminal would have allowed anything larger than a hold all as hand baggage. From personal experience Liverpool can deem that a medium sized hold all can sometime too large for hand luggage.

Once through the security check I noticed that new photographs had been put on the walls of the walkway, hence I took my time to enjoy the pictures, finally boarding SSC2 at 17:25.

Departure was on time at 17:45 with 529 passengers. Once clear of the harbour I desperately needed to sit down so I retreated inside. We were unable to find two empty seats – it’s amazing how large suitcases, bags and other belongings get very tired and need a seat to rest on!

After a third circuit round the vessel asking as we went “Is this seat available, anyone sitting there?” We were getting the reply “Yes someone is using that seat!” What they really meant was “I don’t want anybody sitting next to me – my luggage is relaxing!”

Eventually we found two seats next to a chap sitting on his own. It turned out that he knew a friend of mine Ted Capstick, so it was fate that we ended up sitting next to one another.

We noted “reserved” signs and numbers above the windows in the starboard aft lounge which I hadn’t noticed before and wondered if they were new.

At 19:33 we passed Q1 buoy, Formby at 19:37, Crosby at 19:47, C23 at 19:54 and Tower Buoy at 20:01 being secure alongside the stage at 20:18. We were at the front of the disembarkation queue just behind a lady with a pram who wanted to use the lift. She was informed that foot passengers could not use the lift as it went to the car deck; instead a crew member assisted her down to the landing stage with the pram and baby.

As usual I eventually arrived at Castle Street for my tunnel bus to Wallasey just in time to see it pulling away from the stop which resulted in a 30 minute wait for the next one! SSC2 departed back to Douglas at around 21:10.


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