Normally I take a low cost airline flight to a chosen destination but with a bargain price of £23 each for a return ferry crossing from Hull to Rotterdam this was too good an opportunity to miss.
My son, Jonathan, was due to come and stay with me for a few days and with the weather too bad for golf and with no imminent prospect of improvement I needed alternative plans, other than dynamite, that would get him out of bed by mid-afternoon.
The P&O website makes everything sound rather grand and markets the North Sea crossing like this:
‘Mini cruises to Amsterdam include a 2-night stay, travelling in style in one of our en-suite cabins and taking advantage of a host of facilities on-board. You will find a fantastic range of dining experiences with the famous West End Langan’s Brasserie and our Four Seasons buffet restaurant. After your meal why not relax in one of our stylish bars, take in a film at the cinema or even join the high-rollers in the casino? There is also live entertainment for the whole family, plus hundreds of great deals can be found in our on-board shop’.
I have never been cruising so this all sounded rather seductive until the truth dawned that this wasn’t really a cruise at all but just a simple ferry crossing, that I wouldn’t need my dinner jacket and that there was no chance of being invited to the captain’s table because he would be too busy negotiating the ship through the busy shipping lanes of the North Sea regions of Humber and Thames.
It was a Tuesday evening crossing and so in the early afternoon we crossed from Lincolnshire to Yorkshire over the 2,220 metre Humber Suspension Bridge which is the fifth largest of its type in the World. This is a big bridge but the statistic used to be even more impressive because when it was first opened in 1981 it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the World, a distinction that it enjoyed for the next sixteen years. The road-distance between Hull and Grimsby was reduced by nearly eighty kilometres as a consequence of the construction.
A sad fact associated with the bridge is that it is a favourite jumping place for people committing or attempting suicide. More than two hundred incidents of people jumping or falling from the bridge have taken place since it was opened and only five have survived so it is a fairly reliable way of doing yourself in! As a result, plans were announced in December 2009 to construct a suicide barrier along the walkways of the bridge but this was never implemented with design constraints being cited as the reason but cynics said that it probably had something to do with cost and now there is talk of installing a Samaritan’s Hot line on the bridge instead – so that should put a stop to it!
It was far too early to go to the ferry dock so my plan was to fill the afternoon with a visit to The Deep, which is an aquarium built on a regenerated site where the muddy river Hull joins the grey waters of the Humber and on the site of the now disused Hull shipyards and docks. On account of the fact that I have got a one year pass that gives me free entry until next June and I am determined to get full value from this I have visited The Deep several times but Jonathan had never been so I dragged him along in the hope that he would like an afternoon looking at fish and insects just as much as I would.
It’s an interesting attraction and it kept us amused for an hour or so as we passed through the fish tanks and the exhibits, the sharks and the rays, the coral reefs of the Caribbean and the Twilight Zone of the Pacific Ocean but there was still time to spare after we had completed the visit so we took a walk along the old quayside of the Estuary to the Hull Marina.
Before moving to Grimsby to live I had never really considered visiting Hull and I remember now being surprised when my school pal Rod Bull chose to go to University there in 1972.
It is almost certain that people have been trading from the point where the River Hull joins the Humber since before the Norman Conquest. Trading ships regularly sailed up the River Hull to the major port of Beverley further inland and there developed important trade in wool and wine with Flanders in France.
A port developed on the west bank of the river and by the Middle Ages defensive walls surrounded the vital port to the west and north, with the two rivers completing the defences. So important had trade become to the port that King Edward I granted a charter and the town became ‘Kingstown-upon-Hull’ in 1299.
Restored and gentrified it is hard to imagine what a grim place this must once of been as we walked through the yachting marina where expensive boats where moored alongside each other but soon it started to rain so without a full change of clothes in our overnight bags and not wanting to get a soaking we made our way back to the car park and then on to the King George Dock to find our ferry where we went through the ticketing process and were allocated our cabin so made our way through customs and onto the ship.
Shortly after our visit to Hull the City was named the UK City of Culture 2017, seeing off competition from Dundee, Leicester and Swansea Bay. The announcement comes ten years after Hull was placed at number one in the first edition of Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK, as voted for by readers of The Idler website, in 2003.