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17/4/10 New ferry route between Swansea and Cork
Ferry journeys
by Catherine Mack

The new ferry from Swansea to Cork by Fastnet Lines seems to have relaunched with little publicity for some reason. You don't see many ads for it, in Ireland or the UK, compared to some of the other leading ferry services such as Irish Ferries or Stena Lines or P&O Ireland. Which might explain why I was one of about thirty foot passengers on our trip home to Ireland, and three of those were my husband and children.

This service ran a few years ago, and was put on hold when the Ryanair factor spread throughout Ireland. What didn't spread through Ireland, howver, was tourism, especially to the Cork region, where local people have been lobbying for the service to be reinstated for a long time. Budget airline visitors come for weekend citybreaks, they say, and ferry passengers come to visit the rest of the country, and stay longer.

The service relaunched in March, and we tried it out for our Easter pilgrimage back home. Based in London, we took the train from Paddington to Swansea, which takes three hours, and a stress free start to our journey as the ferry doesn't leave Swansea until 9pm, so we only had to leave late afternoon to make the 8pm check in. The children were delighted to see new television screens on board the First Great Western train, now renamed by them the First Great Train telly service, as they are the first UK train service to offer pay per view television on board, at a special offer rate of £2.50 for the journey.

Arriving in Swansea, it was easy to get a cab to the ferry port, which is a few miles from the station, and cost £8. The terminal is still very basic, with no cafe facilities, and hired minibuses to drive foot passengers on board. It felt as if they were still waiting to see if any foot passengers would be using the service before committing to extravagances like coffee.

The ferry itself is the Julia, which came from the Netherlands, and a few years old already with a recent refit. This is a ten hour crossing, and so we had boooked a four berth cabin, with a sea view, for us all. These were spacious, clean and with ensuite shower room. The children were ecstatic, and although they had travelled in train couchettes before, these felt four star in comparison. Up on deck we watched a family wave some loved ones goodbye, following us down the harbour wall, and I reminded the boys that in the past, that wall would have been packed with waving well wishers'. The captain did a nifty three point turn to get out of the harbour, and we left the white strands of Swansea Bay into the open (and smooth) seas.

The bar was respectably quiet, and blissfully low on television screens. Other ferries have screens in every corner, often with different channels on the go, so this one is calm in comparison. Back in the rooms, however, our boys were delighted to have a telly at the end of the bed, although it didnt't take long until sea lulled us into a happy soporific state. The beds are very comfortable, with good quality white sheets, duvets and pillows, and most importantly the crossing was smooth. The first thing my ten year old son said on wakening to the Irish captain's dulcet tones at 6.30am announcing our impending arrival, was “I felt like I was being rocked to sleep in a cradle, and really did sleep like a baby”.

This was contrary to one unhappy Irish passenger who was on his return journey, and had been very sick on the way out.. He was disappointed that the ship was not bigger, and more able, therefore, to take on the more rocky crossings. But he was also upset with the price of a pint on board (5 Euros), the “foreign” staff (“this doesn't give tourists to Ireland a good impression”, he said, “the terrible food” and “the dated décor”. I agree that the pint is expensive, but the staff were fantastic, and it doesn't matter to me that they aren't Irish, as long as they are helpful, and welcoming. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they did Ireland, and Wales, proud. I thought the food was nothing to write home about, with fish and chips, lasagnes, and so on. But I am yet to find much better on the Irish Sea.

We rushed up on deck to watch our gentle arrival into Cork harbour, passing the historic towns of Cobh and Queenstown, further down the narrow estuary, ironically the last port of call for The Titanic. This is a beautiful approach into Cork, where the harbour is located outside the city in Ringaskiddy, where we berthed an hour late at 8.15am. Similar to Swansea port there is still little infrastructure in Ringaskiddy. We had wanted to hire a car, but had to go into Cork city centre to do so. There is a bus, apparently, but there was little sign of it, so we hired a taxi, which took us into the city centre for CEHCK THIS BUS SERVICE AND PRICE- which was pretty much the same price as all of us going by bus anyway.

The journey back was equally smooth, if a little more busy, with foot passengers queuing to board this time, due to the Icelandic volcano eruption the night before, and all airports closing down. Fastnet Lines suddenly got all the free publicity it needed, with queues going out the door of this usually sleepy terminal. It was hard not to feel a little amused at the suited businessmen boarding, and one even starting to take off his shoes as he passed through the very basic security area, as if programmed to do so. I sauntered through with my hot coffee (better cafe facilities at Ringaskiddy) and all clothing still in place, rather enjoying his shock at the ease of it all. He was going back to Devon, so when I asked him if he was taking the new XXXX ferry link from Swansea to Ilfracombe, in North Devon, he rolled his eyes, and said, “sadly, no, as my car is in Heathrow”. The Fastnet staff coped brilliantly with the sudden surge of foot passengers (six hundred more than usual) despite some of the airline passengers who were frustrated at the speed of the journey, and finding it hard to, literally, go with the flow.

Sailing out of Cork, I could still catch sight of the cliffs we had walked along earlier that day at Ballycotton, which is part of the Ballycotton cliff walk, which goes all the way into Cork. I hadn't known about this way marked way before, a cliff walk which stretches from XXXX TO XXXX , a walk which had given us the most exhilarating end to a blissful holiday. Taking this long slow final view of it, as we left home shores, made me long to come back soon and discover the rest of this walk(how many kms?) -
Only two complaints for the return journey. We thought we might try something better than chicken nuggets and chips for the children on the way back, and headed for the main Fastnet restaurant, with white linen and a wine list. However, at 35 Euros a head for three courses, and no flexible options for children, or if they only wanted a main course, we went for chips and a pint instead. Before heading to bed, we stocked up on Irish chocolates in the shop for friends, but couldn't pay with a credit card, as the machine doesn't work while out at sea, due to lack of signal apparently. I wondered if the people paying 35 Euros a head for dinner were being given the same story.

We arrived into Swansea bang on time, and joined the other six hundred to disembark,which was a bit chaotic due to the airline crisis. People were up in arms about the delay, however, I really thought the company coped well with the sudden excess. They helped us with our bags downstairs, smiled throughout, and gave all the advice they could. There was a coach to the bus and train station in Swansea (£3 for adults, and £1 for children) which serves the daily ferry arrival. As we boarded, one man from Clonakilty, County Cork, said he was delighted with his changed plans, and said he had a much more pleasant journey than if he had flown. “I slowed down, and started thinking about bringing the family over to Devon and Cornwall this summer. Something I would never have thought about before”. Even a volcanic ash cloud has a silver lining.

Fastnet Lines – Not on Sailrail -
For all details of all other ways to travel to Ireland without flying,
Prices are based on 1 adult & a car each way & are subject to availability
- additional adult charge is £23/ €25 per sailing
Cabins & Pullman Seats are obligatory  on our overnight sailings and are an additional charge.
Cabins each way from  £44/€49. Pullman Seats each way from £15/€17
Foot passengers

Prices: Foot passengers can travel between Swansea and Cork with Fastnet Lines from £18/€20. Cabins & Pullman Seats are obligatory and an additional charge. Cabins each way from  £44/€49. Pullman Seats each way from £15/€17.