Our lives are like boats, sailing where the wind blows. This is the adventurous story of my journey throughout the four regions of the United Kingdom (UK) in a day. I began this journey in the summer months of August 2009. My journey started off in Belfast (Northern Ireland) through Scotland, Wales and finally ending in London. This is akin to the proverbial saying of “killing two birds with one stone”. Instead of two birds, I wanted to kill four birds (tour) with one stone (one journey).
At 4am I rang the offices of the Fona Cab Company that operates taxi services in the Belfast area to send me a taxi to my apartment to pick me up to the Ferry terminal in Larne to catch the first morning service to Stranraer near Glasgow, Scotland. The ship terminal was already buzzing with vibrant human activity during the early hours of that morning. There were private cars as well as taxis seeing off their loved ones and passengers alike at the time I arrived at the terminal. A lot of families were also going away for the weekend to Glasgow, Edinburgh and others to Somerset (England) to see the Glastonbury festival that day. I had already pre-booked my tickets online, so all I had to do was to go through the check in procedure and pass through the security check point before boarding the ship just like how it is done when travelling via an airport. The travel time for crossing over the Irish Sea to Scotland was 2 hours and 15 minutes. At exactly 6am we were cruising on the Irish Sea at 10 knots per hour. The sea was calm which made the sailing very smooth. On board the HS Stena line, it felt like home, a floating city on water so to say. There was on board accommodation, restaurants, bars, casinos, shops, swimming pools (on each deck), and snooker room, a gallery for children (bouncing castles and face painting) and an on-board cinema house screening nonstop movies. Food and drinks had to be paid for on board the ship. I had already pre-booked my food together with my tickets online. All I had to do was to go to the bar or restaurant and show my coupon and food was served. After I had a quick breakfast I made a few rounds in the decks of the ship to while away time and also to acquaint myself with the ship. I went to the duty-free gift shop to see what they had on sale. They gift shop was well stocked with all kinds of giveaway gifts ranging from watches, Irish souvenirs (Guinness, Causeway etc) to perfumes. The prices were affordable so I bought my self one of my favourite perfumes.
At 8.15am we arrived at Stranraer (South west of Scotland). We disembarked from the Stena line ship and went to the Stranraer railway station which was close by the ship dock yard. This is the southern terminus for one of the branch lines of the Glasgow south-western lines. It was the Scotrail service that we boarded to Kilmarnock. At Kilmarnock, a bus was waiting to transport us further to Glasgow. From the high waters of the Irish Sea to the plains and valleys of Scotland, another journey was to begin this time by road. The bus driver was a bubbly young man probably in his late forties. He doubled as both a driver and a tour guide. He seemed to be well versed with the history of the Scottish as he started recounting to us the history of Kilmarnock; of how the first railway was built in the mid 18th century and later in the years the Glasgow, Paisley and Ayr railway lines were introduced respectively. The bus driver also told us that the Scottish highlands and Islands are Europe’s last greatest wilderness. It was nice to see the countryside, the beautiful stretches of green fields where herds of cattle and a flock of sheep stood happily grazing away. The smell of farm houses and pastures appealed to my olfactory senses. It was a spectacular scene to see ancient ruins of peasant homes and castles, to admire the peace and tranquility of the countryside, to imagine battles that were fought thousands of years probably on some of these fields. We drove through the countryside passing along towns and villages such as East Ayrshire, Drongan, Lockerbie, Barrhill and Glasgow Prestwick. Our bus journey ended at Gilmour Paisley. The skies were clear and beautiful. Time check was approximately 10.35am. At Paisley, there was the Gilmour Paisley train station that operates high-speed trains to Glasgow, London and Edinburgh. There were different types of trains that could lead you to the same destination but in this day of market competition, there were other trains that were super faster than the others. There was the Strathclyde train, the Super voyager, The North Western line among others. I approached one of the officials at the station who advised me to go with the Virgin trains since they are fast and have fewer stops than the other train routes. The journey into Glasgow was very short but fast. I think it must have lasted about 35 minutes or so.
At 11.05am, I was at the Glasgow Queens Street Central Railway Station. Glasgow is one of the most beautiful cities in the UK that I have seen with unique architectural buildings dotted around the city centre. It is a must-see place in Scotland. Scotland’s famous Loch Ness is an absolute must see on any visit to Scotland. What is also popular in Glasgow is the famous Glasgow Cathedral, the Burrell collection museum, the transport museum, the River Clyde, the Greenbank garden among others. In order not to miss out on the beautiful architectural scenery of Glasgow, and also to learn more about the history of Scotland in general and Glasgow in particular, I bought a day pass on one the Glasgow Hop-on-hop off tour buses. On this bus was a live onboard commentary given by a male tour guide who was steeped with much history of Glasgow. These were stories I only read in history books but never had the opportunity to see these amazing ancient remains or sites. A complete tour of Glasgow city would last 2 hours. I did not have much time to spare only in Glasgow since I still had to see Wales and London for the remainder of the day.
After lunch, I had to visit my next stop which is Wales. Time check was 1.00 pm and here I was back at the central station to wait for a train to Wales. I boarded the Super Voyager trains into South Wales. Wales in Welsh is written as Cymru. The weather was not pleasant in Wales as it rained the rest of my journey. Arrival time in Cardiff was a few minutes past the hour 2pm. There was not much to see and do in Cardiff because of heavy and intermittent down pour of rain. In spite of the poor nature of the weather, I was still determined to see at least a few interesting places before I leave for London, my last but not the least destination of my “tour de UK”. The Cardiff City hall, the Cardiff bay, the shopping centres at Castle Quarter, the Senedd building and the University of Cardiff were among a few places that I was able to see that day. The skies were blue and the clouds began forming, so I knew that this wasn’t a good day for touring Wales. I knew for sure that, there was going to be more rains coming soon.
I was running out of energy and also getting cold at this time stage my journey. At this time of the day, time check was almost 4pm. Cardiff Central Railway Station is the largest in Wales and operates the “Cross-Wales” trains which run directly into London Euston station, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Cross-Wales was convenient for me since it is a direct route into London. The journey time to London was four hours. The train was calling at Wrexham, Holyhead, Colwyn bay, Rhyl, Crewe, Stafford, Chester, Wolverhampton and London Euston. It was a relaxing journey on the train as there was still daylight and much to see and admire of the countryside of Wales especially the beautiful landscapes.
Arrival time in London was approximately 8.15pm. Darkness had not yet fallen completely and London was just picking up the hustle and bustle of its night life. I went to a nearby restaurant where I ordered a warm meal and a glass of red wine to replenish my lost energy. Indeed I was able to accomplish my task of touring the four regions of Great Britain (UK) in just a day. This is a journey that is meant for the strong and adventurous for I knew the night would be long.