Sometimes nothing happens, but it nevertheless sticks in your mind. So it was with the ferry saga. A tale which includes hubris, kindness, ignorance, hope, despair and...well, its probably easier if I just get on and tell the story. In terms of making progress along the coast, it was a mere 400 meters, from Fleetwood to Knott End, but because I had created a "no ferry" rule for my walk, a 15 mile walk up and down an estuary was needed. My plan was simple: do the walk and take the ferry back. As I started off I was delighted to see a board up outside the ferry dock, saying "Ferry hours: 10.45-4.45". To do with the tides, I imagined. I strolled off happily, whistling tunelessly. Made a note that it was essential to arrive at Knott End before the last ferry; otherwise getting back would involve faffing around for a couple of hours with two separate buses. Compared with a 5 minute ferry ride.
Soon I was joined by my friend David, and his friend Gareth. Good initial progress turned slower and soggier after we crossed the bridge about 7 miles down the estuary; previous heavy rain and high tides meant that the path was waterlogged. Soon our walking shoes followed suit. We reached a little village, and met a friendly-looking man. Where's the pub, was our first question. No problem, just round the corner. And how long did he think it would take us to get to Knott End, as we had to catch the 4.45 ferry. Ferry, he said, looking surprised. Don't think its running. But, I ventured...there was the board listing the times. Ah, that's always there, he smiled. Thing is, in January, the ferry goes into dry dock for annual maintenance, and I doubt if its out yet. Hmm, off we went to the pub with a sense of foreboding, not to mention soggy feet. A pint of beer improved matters somewhat. We asked the barman, who asked several other people. The consensus was the the ferry was supposed to have finished its dry dock experience the day before, and so could be back in operation. But no one was sure, and there was no phone number for the ferry. Suddenly, in rushed the first guy we'd met - he'd run to the pub to give us an update. All was fine, he announced, the ferry was back in operation as of today. We offered him a drink for his good tidings, but he refused. He did suggest that we get a move on, however, in order to arrive in time.
So off we strode, with renewed vigour, and spirits lifted by the ferry news and the delicious beer. Not to mention the sunny afternoon. One of those moments when - apart from soggy feet - all seemed right in the world. I glanced at Google Maps, to see what time it estimated we would arrive: 4.44pm. That looked pretty tight, so we walked as fast as the muddy path would allow. In addition to not wanting to test the bus system, we had a date with a football match that evening.
Suddenly Knott End burst into view. Well, actually the view was better of Fleetwood, on the other side of the estuary. We could even see what we thought was the ferry - a small red object. We were still about half a mile away from the Knott End dock, but figured that we could run if we saw the ferry start to make its way across the estuary. A man with a dog approached us. Do you know anything about the ferry, I asked. Ferry, what ferry, never heard of it, I'm not from around here, said he. Hmm, strange - why would he come to Knott End to walk his dog. Never mind. We were now quite close, and feeling relieved.
Saw another guy: did he know anything about the ferry? Oh yes, said he, its not running. What? We'd heard that today was its first day of operation. He explained that the ferrymen been using today to check that everything working properly, but he hadn't seen it cross the estuary. He said that we would probably hear the ferry horn in a few minutes, but that we shouldn't be fooled, they were just testing it out. They'd been doing it all day. What? What kind of sadist ferry operator sounds the horn just when the ferry should be sailing, but then doesn't actually move. And how many times does a ferry horn need to be blown for testing purposes. It was 4.44pm. Disaster had struck! You can catch the bus, he suggested. Disconsolately, we wandered over to the bus stop, and saw that the first bus was at 5.30. We started to look up taxis - it was clear from the size of Knott End that it wouldn't have a taxi service, so someone would need to drive from Fleetwood, which would take at least 30 minutes.
At that moment, the ferry horn blared. We glanced up, remembering what the chap had said. It was nearly dark, but...wasn't there a faint sign of movement from the ferry? Or was that just hope triumphing over reality? Suddenly, a man rushed up to us, for the second time that day. Its OK, he said, the ferry is running after all! Unbelievable! Never had a tiny speck of moving red metal at dusk generated so much excitement. And so, with relief oozing from every pore, we strolled down to the jetty, and watched the ferry chug over to pick us up. We were the only passengers, perhaps for that entire day; we were certainly the most grateful. Oh, and the right team won at the football.
Black eye in a post office
Normally a visit to a post office is a fairly mundane affair. Not something you'd remember for more than a day or two. My walk took me to a little village which I won't name; I was surprised and relieved to find a post office. In many of these villages there's just a single shop, which sells a few provisions and also serves as a post office. So it was here. I retrieved the parcel from my backpack and walked in. Very small shop, perhaps 12 feet square. The owner was reading The Times; in fact it was the only copy of the paper, which he'd borrowed from those on sale. He was a large man, sitting rather awkwardly on a stool which looked several sizes too small. But much more noticeable was that he had one of the blackest black eyes I've ever seen, with all sorts of additional colours around the perimeter. Good morning, I said, trying to look at his other eye, and miserably failing. I wondered whether I should say something about walking into a lamp post, but decided against it. I cut to the chase: I've a parcel to post. Very good, said he, just pass it over. So what's in here, then, he asked? A picture, I explained. Aha, I thought as much, he said with what seemed like a black eye wink. I was bemused; what was so strange about sending a picture through the post? He shuffled off the stool, and made his way past several boxes of papers to the scales. That was when I realized that I wasn't in a normal little shop. It was completely extraordinary, in fact. Where there would normally be shelves stacked with sweets, or bottles of water, there were boxes with papers spilling out of them. There were a few items for sale, but they were overwhelmed by piles of stuff. You know how you look into a teenager's room and then turn away in despair; such was this shop. I wondered whether business had become so poor that he was closing down. Venturing to make a little conversation, while he was fiddling with the scales, I asked: So, are you in the process of moving? What makes you think that, he muttered. Well, I noticed a few boxes of papers... He growled: they're important. Well, that pretty much shut down the conversation. The weighing of the parcel took a long, long time. To while away the minutes, I looked at some of the papers spilling out of the boxes: mainly receipts. For a moment I wondered whether I was on the set of one of those TV programs where suddenly someone jumps out at you and says its all a joke. But nothing happened.
I was expecting to be asked the usual questions about whether I wanted insurance, delivery confirmation etc. But no, instead he consulted one book on postal rates and then another and finally, after what must've been 10 minutes of weighing and reviewing various postal rate books, he announced that it was 2.95. The time didn't really matter, as no one else came in the shop; in fact it didn't look as if anyone ventured anywhere near the place. I handed over the money and thought about asking if I could take a picture, as I'd never seen anything quite so disorderly and yet supposedly still functioning. But I didn't, and so have nothing to show with these words. I wonder if my parcel will just end up on one of the piles...