December is never a good time to move house. We should know – all of our moves have taken place in December due to differing circumstances. This December however was the hardest of the lot.
We drove off in the car loaded with bedding, three dogs and essentials of life for the first few days. It was just after 2pm and already getting dark as the rain began to fall. We had a satnav – something I have resisted for years, and after this journey I felt fully justified in my prejudice. It assured us our journey was 253 miles to the hotel. The miles ticked off as we ploughed through what developed into a storm but although we had followed it’s snooty voice without question a glance at a real map showed we were nowhere near Stranrae when it reached a mere 10 miles to go. By the time we got to the hotel it was almost 7.30 at night and we had driven an extra 80 miles. And the satnav was now telling us we were still 10 miles away.
The hotel was dark, just a faint light in the reception area. At first glance it could have passed as a set for “The Shining”. We hauled ourselves up the entrance steps and across the lobby, footsteps and dogs’ claws echoing in the gloom. I think we must have looked awful as the lovely receptionist persuaded the kitchen staff to stay on and make us something to eat. We staggered to our rooms and collapsed, feeding the dogs first and covering the bed with a blanket to guard against paw marks. The food was excellent, delivered to our door, and the dogs seemed happy despite such a disruptive and strange week. We slept – oh how we slept.
The next morning we left the echoing, empty hotel that had been so kind and welcome and headed for the port. The satnav, obviously inhabited by a malicious spirit of some kind, sent us round in circles for ten minutes until we turned it off and navigated ourselves, arriving just in time to load. The worst part was leaving the dogs in the car. We had chosen Stranrae to Belfast as it was only two hours. Two of the dogs are good, experienced travellers but the youngest had never done anything like this before. We settled them in their crates, left little treats hidden in their blankets and stumbled upstairs just hoping they would settle and sleep.
On board the staff were lovely, there were coffee, tea and pastries available and excellent seating areas. We chose a place away from the televisions which was just as well as the BBC was announcing new travel restrictions and an imminent lockdown in Northern Ireland. If necessary we would claim ignorance – it was too late now and we had nowhere to go back to. As we pulled away from the dock and set out across the Irish Sea I felt an overwhelming rush of emotion and began to cry. It was a mixture of relief, exhaustion, fear (mainly for the dogs) and grief for all we were leaving behind. Looking back now I can still feel that pain, lessened by time but still enough to hurt. I’m only surprised I didn’t cry earlier but I think we were both hanging on so tightly we didn’t dare relax.
The dogs were, of course, fine when we got back to the car. The little Trojans had just curled up and slept with no fuss and less worry than I had experienced. As we drove out of the port we passed a large group of police and customs officials who were setting up cones and signs, the new checkpoint. We drove on, trying to look suitably respectable which was not easy under the circumstances, not stopping until we reached the service area on the motorway. Here we grabbed sandwiches and water and walked the dogs before heading for the border and our final destination.
The journey was quite uneventful after that, enlivened only by another storm and the bastard satnav lopping another 80 miles off the journey. Oh, and a Gardai checkpoint on the motorway outside Dublin. Although it was rush hour every car was stopped causing a long tailback. When we got to the front of the queue a very young and very wet officer looking into the car, raising his eyebrows at the contents. By this time we probably looked more like car residents than respectable travellers.
“Can I ask you the purpose of yer journey today?” he asked, raising his voice over the barking.
I was very tired and in no mood to be stopped so close to achieving the impossible.
“We are moving,” I said. “We have rented a cottage near Nenagh and we are going there.”
There was a pause as he digested this before stepping back and waving us on.
“You have a safe journey then” he said.
That was when I knew it just might all work out.