North Sea Ferry

It has not always been easy to have our anniversary trip line up with the right date.  I’ve often said that next time I get married, I won’t do it in November – we should have thought of that the first time!  This year we had set off in time to catch Glow, but had the luxury of extending our time away to include the actual date.  Unfortunately, by the time Glow had finished, I was coming down with a cold (again – that’s the second time in two months after several years without).  Clare was also struggling with a sore hip and back, so we were both feeling a little sorry for ourselves.  The hotel we were staying at continued to exhort us to “Stay Out” and enjoy Eindhoven.

Front entrance to a hotel.  The ground floor of the hotel has large windows.  Each window has the silhouette of a letter on it.  From a distance it spells "STAY OUT".
STAY OUT of the Hotel

We checked out on our last day and set off in search of breakfast.  We had an unhurried schedule for our return journey, though carrying a heavy pack meant we were not going to do too many side-quests.  After breakfast we headed to the train station.  I knew there were trains every ten minutes to Amsterdam, and we could pay with a contactless card.  We’d just missed a train via Utrecht, but that meant it was an unhurried stroll to get the train via Rotterdam instead.

Before we reached Rotterdam, the display on the train showed that there was a broken down train on the line beyond.  I was able to read enough of the Dutch to work out that we now needed to change at Rotterdam and take a different route (other routes are available).  When we got off at Rotterdam, the displays were showing an even more confusing picture – it seemed that trains were now not running between Utrecht and Amsterdam due to a collision – though no information on what had collided with what.  There was a train with an impressively long list of intermediate stations about to leave.  We decided to get on and hope that it didn’t take all day.

The stopping train went via Gouda and a number of other places I began to recognise from our cycling trip some years back.  It soon became clear that we had probably taken the best option, and would arrive only half an hour behind the time our original train was scheduled.  I was able to relax and watch the familiar names come and go.

By the time we got off at Amsterdam Centraal we still had well over an hour in hand, and we were ready for lunch.  Clare spotted a cafe selling “Only Pancakes – Dutch and American” – perfect, we hadn’t had Dutch pancakes so far this visit.  The pancakes were as good as we had remembered.  While eating we were able to watch the ferries shuttling across the Ij every few minutes.  I was puzzled by them showing a red light when they arrived, switching to green just as they departed.  I eventually twigged that these were port and starboard lights (respectively) – the ferry boats are double-ended and the lights show which way it is currently going.

The coach transfer got us to our ferry in plenty of time, departure wasn’t until after dark.  As we left the outer harbour we could feel the ship beginning to move under us.  On previous trips I have felt queasy at this stage and headed to the reception desk to ask for a seasickness tablet.  I’ve never felt seasick on Bartimaeus, but it seems the months of living in a room that moves slightly might have improved my resilience at sea.

The ship travels at about 20mph all night, not a speed we usually cruise at.  Compared to Bartimaeus, it is ten times as long, ten times the draught, and nearly fifteen times the width.  The two engines are each 200 times more powerful than the engine on Bartimaeus.

We took our time at the all-you-can-eat buffet, aiming for variety rather than quantity.  The multilingual announcements in the morning make sure everyone is awake in time to have breakfast before we arrive.  We’d opted for buying coffee and pastry rather than another all-you-can-eat affair.  I thought the scene behind the ship had something missing.  Then it dawned on me….

View from the rear deck of a ship.  The orange sun is just over the horizon which separates the grey sea below from the grey clouds in the lighter sky above.
Sunrise Over the North Sea

I was reminded again of the cycling trip where Clare and I had taken the same ferry in both directions.  On the outward journey we had had a similar view, but that was of the summer sunset – it was a lot warmer!  We were still some distance from port, though the English coastline was clearly visible.  We had time to finish our packing before coming back out on deck to watch our arrival at the mouth of the Tyne.

Just before we reach our berth, we cross the route of the ferry between North and South Shields.  The ferries look very similar to those in use in Amsterdam.  The frequency is very different though, only two crossings an hour in each direction.

Ferry from South Shields.  A small ferry is docked at a jetty below a line of buildings at the side of a river.  We are looking from the deck of a ship which is obviously much larger.  The larger ship is flying a Danish flag.
Ferry Waiting at South Shields

As we approached our berth I could feel the engines being worked hard to drive us sideways.  We had watched as a bunch of crew members had assembled on deck ready for docking.  They had with them the small cannon which launches a plastic ball on a wire towards shore.  While we were still an unreasonable distance from shore, this was fired and delivered the plastic ball straight in to the waiting hands on the wharf, raising a cheer from crew mates and passengers.

Cannon ready to fire.  A view from a higher deck of a party of crew members preparing to fire a rope to shore.  The ramp for loading vehicles is visible below, which makes it clear that the ship is still more than its own width away from the shore.
Prepare to Fire Cannon

The ship’s engines continued to push us towards the shore while the crew lowered huge ropes over the side.  Each in turn was hauled ashore using the smaller ropes that had been attached to the wire.  We don’t usually have to work so hard to moor up, but there have been occasional times when I wished we had a way of launching a rope like that.

The waiting bus took us to the railway station in Newcastle.  We had just enough time to grab some refreshments for the ride to Edinburgh.