Why one couple’s epic failed U.K. trip is the exception that proves the rule

In Derry, Northern Ireland, where the population is a mere 500,000, a cross-border bed-and-breakfast, the Leddy O’ Dee, just north of the Northern Irish town of Ballymena, is where visitors pay for a spot…

Why one couple’s epic failed U.K. trip is the exception that proves the rule


In Derry, Northern Ireland, where the population is a mere 500,000, a cross-border bed-and-breakfast, the Leddy O’ Dee, just north of the Northern Irish town of Ballymena, is where visitors pay for a spot of peace — or at least a lingering cup of Earl Grey tea.

But this year, the dimly lit pub has been one of those that is nearly deserted. The reason? A record-breaking blizzard.

Mr. Baker, a 67-year-old man, said it was around 3 p.m. on Dec. 3 when the pub was “non-stop, foot-high snow.”

“The wind was whistling,” he said. “I shouted to the policeman manning the pub, ‘Do you think we can get into town?’ and he said, ‘Not with the way the snow’s fallen.’”

For those on tour, Mr. Baker, who has been to 32 places in 27 countries, and his wife, Jane, had no idea how to get to a town that, by their estimation, lies about 20 miles away from its nearest connection to an internet connection.

“We could not have waited that long,” he said. “It was pretty terrible out here. The roads were full of drifts. We knew the town was so far away, but what we didn’t know was how bad it would be when we got there.”

Using a smartphone, the couple crafted an alarm which sounded when they reached their destination.

“I’d turned the computer off and I had no line of sight to Google maps because the phones were down,” Mr. Baker said. “We kept calling the U.K. and Irish Tourism and they could not get us past the border.”

On their way back from a day at the pub, the Bakers needed four hours in the car to reach England. But once they reached The Rock Tavern, a pub four miles from the border, they realized it was high time to go.

“We’d heard something on the radio that there were 74 of us in a pub called The Rock,” he said. “We got here at 10 p.m. the next night. The rock was closed and closed.”

Luckily, they had a Guinness.

“There was no way we’d have got this far without them,” Mr. Baker said. “They kept us fed, watered and warm.”

The following evening, amid a blizzard, the couple were told by one employee that he had drunk enough coffee to put him out for a year.

“We chatted to other people who didn’t have power, who had no water, no heat or anywhere to go,” Mr. Baker said. “They had a couple of showers, but they didn’t have any place to put it. I could tell something was wrong when I thought the blizzard had come in. There was nothing there.”

For the next few days, the Bakers created makeshift shelter out of aluminum sheeting and blankets.

“Nobody was too skint,” Mr. Baker said. “There were lots of people who were doing all they could to help us.”

Last week, they boarded a bus to Ballymena, an hour away, and checked in at the Welcome Inn, a pub, restaurant and cab service, one of Britain’s best winter escapes.

“It was so full of pictures of snow, the rest of the pub was full of pictures of our pub,” he said. “I’ve been coming here for about 10 years. I don’t ever remember it being this bad.”

Mr. Baker said the build-up to Christmas will present a new set of problems.

“There are six of us left,” he said. “I can’t imagine how they’re going to solve the housekeeping in the house or the food for the holidays.”

“I just hope I’m not the odd one out,” he added.

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