Lift off – the red dog has landed, Saturday 31 July

Written by Matthew

Having just return from a week’s holiday in the Cotswolds with his family, Matthew can hardly say that he’s been deprived of a vacation – but a holiday doesn’t really feel like a holiday unless we’ve really travelled somewhere. The second week of Matthew’s two-week break certainly involves travel – as we’re visiting Northern Ireland for the first time. It all starts with a long drive from Bristol to Birkenhead (via a nice National Trust property called Shugborough Hall where we can walk (and empty) Jojo and Zoly; then the real excitement happens when we depart land.

Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire

There’s nothing quite like going on a ferry to make us feel like we’re having a holiday. After a year of Covid-related travel restrictions, we’ve not left these shores by boat or plane for quite some time. To get to Ireland we sailed overnight from Birkenhead to Belfast on a beautiful Stena Line ferry. We arrived at the docks in plenty of time for check in – with a brief detour to Tesco for supper supplies. Given we’re not actually leaving the UK, there were no custom checks and we were through pretty swiftly and directed to join a queue of cars to wait embarkation at the very end of lane 9. The views over to the Liverpool waterfront were wonderful.

Unfortunately, the end of lane 9 was very close to the big passenger terminal building and shortly after we’d parked the double decker bus that takes foot passengers onto the ferry pulled up right next to our car. The arrival of the bus caused most of the foot passengers who’d been waiting inside the terminal waiting room to rush towards the bus. This was in spite of them being told that he bus wasn’t  boarding until 9:00. So much was the eagerness to get on that bus that the foot passengers were clearly not going back into the lounge, but instead formed a disorderly huddle next to the bus and – being the last in line – around our car.

The unexpected crowd left us with something of a dilemma, because in the boot of the car were two dogs – who desperately needed to be emptied before we all boarded the ferry. Getting the dogs out of the car and attached to a lead is a bit stressful at the best of times. Jojo will generally just sit in the boot and have a look about at where she is before jumping out – which gives us plenty of time to attach a lead. Zoly, of course, is a different matter. Poor Zoly is a very nervous traveller, so as soon as the back of the car is opened he jumps out as quickly as he can. Given that Zoly belongs to the second-fastest dog breed in the world, he jumps out of the car pretty fast! If you know the direction he’s likely to leap, then it’s possible to be prepared to grab him mid-flight. However, to stop the dogs seeing (and woofing at) passers-by we cover the car’s rear windows. It’s a great solution to reduce woofing, but the downside is that from the outside we can’t see which direction Zoly is sat poised to launch himself out at the first opportunity. Preparing to release the dogs therefore requires both of us, with leads in hand, limbering up like a couple of goal keepers – ready to try and save Zoly!

We couldn’t wait with Jojo and Zoly in the back of the car indefinitely, notwithstanding that there were now a crowd of ferry foot passengers all around us. So we just  opened the boot and out Zoly jumped – straight at a group of youngsters! Screams and squeals ensued as the kids scattered in all directions. Fortunately,  my eye-hand co-ordination is pretty good, so Zoly was grabbed and attached to a lead before anything untoward happened. As we headed away to a quieter spot though, I overheard an Irish women’s laughing and saying to her friend: “Did you see wee Shannon’s face? She nearly shat her pants when that dog landed”. So there we have it, Zoly has made an impression on the Irish before he’s even arrived in Northern Ireland!

Once on board, Zoly and Jojo shared a kennel – Mike hated leaving them there… but the crossing was smooth and we had a good night’s sleep in our cabin (the last dog-free night for the rest of the week). The next morning the dogs were very happy to see us and we set off from Belfast to Mary Larkin’s cottage, overlooking Carligford Lough on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Dawn over Belfast docks

The roads in Belfast were quiet at 6:30 in the morning, we had wonderful views of Samson and Goliath – the huge twin bright yellow gantry cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyards (the yard that build the Titanic).We’re hoping to have a day in Belfast later in the week, so Mike’s very excited about visiting the Titanic Museum.

"Samson" and "Goliath", Belfast (7)
Samson and Goliath

Driving south through Belfast towards the M1 at Broadway Roundabout we saw the ‘Rise’ peace sculpture that was installed in 2011. Matthew said he’d read that it has been called the “the Balls on the Falls”, “the Testes on the Westes” and “the Westicles” – this, of course, made us both giggle!

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