Training Camp

Friday into Saturday – Fylde Coast to Douglas

‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft a-gley’ – from “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns

There I was on day 6 of our holiday, sunning myself by the pool in Portugal when, out of the blue, an email notification popped up on my tablet from the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company….I didn’t think much of it in the moment, maybe just a reminder about our planned sailing from Heysham to the Isle of Man scheduled for 14:15 on Saturday…such misplaced optimism.

30 minutes must have past by the time I looked at my emails and there before me was the one thing which I’d not even considered….“ADVANCE NOTICE OF POSSIBLE SERVICE CANCELLATION” – This certainly got my attention – not a cloud in sight and 28 degrees, our planned sailing being potentially cancelled due to adverse conditions was not part of the plan (Did these people not realise we have planned everything with precision? Do they not realise that we never get bad weather on our trips? Do they not know who we are ? 😉 )

I now had to put down my pina-colada and start making calls to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company – We had hotel rooms booked for the Saturday night and whilst we had 1 full day of ‘slack’ in our walking schedule, we’d not planned on using it before we got there! To complicate matters, there are only two sailings per day from Heysham to the Isle of Man – one departs at 02:15 (the middle of the bloody night) and the other is the far more civilised 14:15 sailing.

Without delay, I was on the phone, only to be advised by a very pleasant automated service that I was “…currently position 17 in the queue”…. However, after around 10 minutes I was put through to the reservations team and started trying to unpick the situation – no-one would commit or guarantee anything and therefore, the least worst option available was to bring forward our sailing from the Saturday 14:15 to the Saturday 02:15 – This was done and confirmed and now I had to share the happy news with the group! To their credit they were all pretty sanguine about the whole thing and our scheduled meeting and departure was all brough forward 12 hours to 10pm on the Friday evening with a check-in at Heysham Ferry Terminal at around midnight. (worth pointing out that I didn’t get home from Portugal until 03:40 on the Friday morning – not much time for sleeping or packing!!).

The benefit of being the person who books most things for the group is that you can make sure that when drawing straws for best rooms, window seats etc, you can always be sure of pulling your straw out first 😉 It was this stroke of good fortune that ensured that myself and fellow Left Footer Chris were due to embark as foot passengers whereas Simon, Eric, Jim and Ian (Knocker) were in the car and had to remain in the car until they were on the vessel – Me and Chris meanwhile were sat having a brew in the passenger lounge.

I’d like to say that crossing itself was uneventful but it could probably be best described as a bit bizarre. Myself and Chris made our way immediately for the appropriately named ‘Legends Bar’ and spent 10 minutes trying to work out if it was open and how we got a beer…we finally spoke to a crew member and was told we had to go and pay at the restaurant and someone would then go and get the beers for us. Six bottles Becks were duly ordered and the rest of our party arrived just as the beers did.
We made ourselves comfortable and started doing what you’d expect – catching up, talking rubbish and having a general good laugh – however, after a couple of beers and quite a bit more laughter, up popped this little lady (we’ll call her the Purser), who proceeded to admonish us for enjoying ourselves and telling us that people were trying to sleep….call me old fashioned but all of those people trying to sleep were simply laid across chairs and on the floor and none had made use of the private ‘Quiet Lounge’ or booked a cabin. We quietened down for about 5 mins before we ramped the noise back up and she was back but this time even more angry – “you’re waking that baby up every time you laugh” – you need to stop it! We were unsure what the sanction might be and tried to set our mood to miserable – however, we just don’t have that setting in us and the temporary lull didn’t last…another 10 minutes later and she was back – “no more – you have to get out of this lounge – people are trying sleep” – We were told to move to the bar (that was closed) and off we went with our tails between our legs. The bar area had three people sleeping in it but within 5 minutes they’d all moved 🙂

After all that hassle, you’d think the party would just go on and on but as you get older, levels of stamina aren’t quite what they were and, despite setting off at a pace our boys would have been proud of, it looked more like Gods waiting room by 4.30am, as the picture below shows only too clearly.

We entered Douglas harbour at around 06:15 and headed back to our cars – a friendly passenger had advised us of a cafe close to the port building that opened at 06:00 and that was where we headed for a much needed nosebag. Fine dining it was not, but if cooked breakfasts and toast you could build walls with are your thing, this was the place to be. The only disappointment was that they didn’t do kippers! Several ‘Big’, ‘Irish’ and ‘Standard’ breakfasts were ordered and most plates were cleared in pretty short order.

Amply fed and watered, we now had to try our luck and get early check-ins at the Premier Inn which thankfully was only a 5 minute walk away. I have to say the Premier Inn staff couldn’t have been more helpful and two of the three rooms were provided immediately and at least we could get cleaned up / showered. By 09:30 the third of our rooms was ready and we could at that point all get a much needed power nap before meeting again at reception at 12 noon for a reccy of the island for campsites and a recce of the Douglas pub scene by Jim and Chris.

The campsite reccy wasn’t as productive as we’d hoped but in the fullness of time it didn’t really matter. However, what we did discover that was from a scenery point of view, we were certainly going to be in for walk where a more beautiful view and a more idyllic cove was waiting to be discovered around every turn – the video to follow is from the ‘Sound Cafe’ which is situated at the end of the road in the South West corner of the island, opposite the Calf of Man.

The campsite reccy group returned to Douglas and the remainder of the day was spent topping up on ‘Manx Electrolytes’ and a sporting sensory overload at Jacks Sports Bar. We finished the evening at a genuinely lovely Italian restaurant called Isola and where we introduced to the concept of an ‘Emergency Pizza’ (no, me neither!). However, it was certainly as good a pizza as any you’d get anywhere and you can only imagine how good they might have been had they been on the menu!

Full to the brim and absolutely knackered, we headed off back to the hotel at around 9pm to try and get a good nights sleep before the challenge of walking the 100 mile Raad ny Foillan (Way of the Gull) started in earnest.

My Left Foot – IoM 100 Mile Hike – A Last Minute Hitch

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