15 November 2010

Bridlington to Hull

No pics at all for today, the most memorable of the trip. I do hope that readers who were there will email or send me their own for posterity. It would in any event be very hard to pick out just one that depicts a highlight of an incredible day.
As forecast, the weather is appalling when we awake and pack up, well before daybreak. To get to Hull in time for the 11:00 two minutes silence at the Cenotaph, I allowed a three hour ride which should have been plenty for a flat 30 mile trip. The combination however of congregating the five of us, Mike Stoccaro, Martin Cornally, Tim Phipps and Rachael Davidson who are riding the last stage, coupled with a full gale from the south will make this a very difficult target. Without question this is the hardest day of the trip. The wind is so strong and unrelenting from the south so there is no respite. We are frequently split as a group and are travelling the busy A163 as the most direct into Hull. Terry is now the sweeper for all of us and I am consoled only that I know that no-ne is going to be left stranded. It is selfish too that my obsession is that I must make the Cenotaph for the 2 minutes silence. I thus find myself with Mike who is a keen cyclist and kind enough to lead the way for much of the ride, letting me draft and thus safe my own strength. So it continues until we are entering the Hull suburbs and when at last the proximity of buildings shelter us sufficiently to permit a bit of momentum.
In spite of best efforts, the sound of the cannon at 11:00 reaches us while we are still several hundred yards from Paragon Square so we are a minute of so late...
The order of ceremonies on 11 November do not involve wreath laying for the gathered representatives of the armed forces and the auxilliary associations but just a simple act of rememberance followed by introductions of attending veterans to the Lord Mayor.
There is a small crowd there who are paying their respects and Mike and I join these until we spot the AOS delegation. It is a very special moment to be reunited with Maria on such a significant day...
Salvina, who has been my inspirational mentor throughout, has organised interviews with the Hull Daily Mail and therafter with Radio Humberside. She first provides me with the AOS wreath to lay at the cenotaph. We are all filled with our own thoughts at this time. It is a bittersweet moment for me and the ride is at last over.
The final push really is made in style as Martin, Mike and I ride the couple of miles to the Seafarers centre. The sky is truly black to the north and we are fortunate to get there before the heavens break!
Whatever the conditions outside, there is only warmth inside. The welcome is quite amazing and I am touched to see so many people who have turned up to make it such a great day! David Gemmill, Lord Mayor of Hull and his wife both are present too. Our Chairman Eamonn Delaney is kind enough to say some nice things about me and then it is my turn. I cant remember what I said, but it wasn't enough to express the gratitude I owe to AOS in general for allowing me to do the Seawheeling ride. The AOS network thoughout the entire country has galvanised in an incredible way to welcome me at every turn. Without that, it would have been a miserable lonely experience. I again singled out Salvina, who has cared for me by ensuring that I was housed throughout the entire first part of the trip from Hull to Liverpool. There were occasions when ladies (with raised eybrows) would give me breakfast, and produce a banana, and say "I've been told by Salvina that you must be given a banana for breakfast!" Salvina's support has been a constant inspiration to carry on.
I mentioned Terry Jepson. Terry, ex cop and 100% reliable friend made the Liverpool to Hull trip possible. It is a certainty that without Terry, there would not have been a Part 2 of the trip. I dont know how he did it, but whenever I needed him to be there, he was. Setting up, clearing up, cooking, towing were just done. No fuss, just done. Many many thanks Terry, I was so glad that AOS recognised your enormous contribution.
I also mentioned Maria. She allowed me to fullfil this mad dream (aka Ego Trip) to the detriment of maintaining the house, decorating, neglecting the garden and losing the last year which has been consumed one way or the other by Seawheeling. I know there is a bit of catching up to do!
What I know I failed to mention are all of those wonderful people who helped me along the way.
I also neglected to mention my good friends at the Lloyd's Register Hellas Training Department in Piraeus who have sponsored the ride. Many thanks John and Jenny for your support.
I was asked on the Radio Hunberside interview on Thursday what were the low points. I wasn't able to think of any, because whatever they were, they were nothing compared to the highs. On reflection I would however list them in this order
1. Disappointment that what I thought was a realistic Justgiving target is not going to be achieved.
2. Loss of the Garmin - I really did want to have printouts of each day's track
3. The laundry at the Hellensborough caravan site when together, Terry and I managed to feed the £3.00 into the slot, push the powder into the dispenser, lock the door and then realise with horror that our laundry was still lying on the floor! The worrrying feature about this is that the laundry was fitted with CCTV. I would not be surpised if our antics are not already on UTube!

So that's the story of Seawheeling. It has been a memorable, enjoyable adventure and I hope the blog has given you some of my experiences along the way. Most importantly, I hope that it raises awarness of the plight of today's seafarers and of how much we rely on them.
Thanks for reading.

Middlesborough to Bridlington

For some reason I dont have the most important photos on my camera. The ones that show the people we have met on the trip are the ones which are important. Maria's mother, always filled with inate Irish common sense and goodness used to say "It doesnt matter where you are, it is who you are with that matters!" So it is. I therefore will change these scenes when I can get my hands on photos that show the important human stars of the trip. (The new pic arrives and this shows the reception committee at Bridlington! - Sorry Whitby!)
This penultimate day is both long and the route across the N yorks Moors National Park has plenty of hills to cope with. Not only that, I get my third puncture of the trip while on the Moors. No worries, I change it out for the spare and am up and running again without much delay. We take tea just on the northern side of Whitby and after that agree to meet at the North Bay at Scarborough for lunch. Terry is fortunate in getting a prime parking place overlooking the Bay but the considerable amount of sand on the road attests to the stormy weather of the recent days and the seas that have crashed over the sea walls here.
I leave for the last 20 or so miles of the day to Brid and Terry gives me a friendly honk as he passes, a few miles outside of Scarborough. He is no sooner out of site when a bang from the front tyre again serves nottice of another puncture. I am instantly chastised and cursing, knowing that I am in trouble this time, because although I've plenty of spares in the car, I forgot to replace the one in my rucksack after this morning's blow-out. Very stupid!
My call to Terry goes streaight to voicemail and all I can do is to walk the several hundred yards to the next roundabout and wait for him to pick up the call and get back to me. Again, he comes to the rescue and calls after 15 or so minutes to tell me that he is on the way back with the spare Trek.
Our welcome in Bridlington is as warrm as they come. A lovely crowd and of course I really am coming home now, with lots of earthy Hull accents, including that of the PP Fr David Grant who hails from Holderness Road. I have been away from Hull long enough to to forgive him (as a West Hull boy) for that!! It was a wonderful way to spend our last evening of the trip in such great company. Thanks too to Steve at the Naked Fish restaurant in Brid for giving us such good food without charge. I should add that in addition, the kind lady at our caravan site in Sewerby declined to accept payment when she learned that we are making the trip on behalf of AOS.
The downside of the evening is that the weather is getting worse and looking at the forecast for our final stage is looking really ugly.

Blyth to Middlesborough

Wind again, and although there is a slight change in direction, blowing from the east there is no let up in the adversity. It is cold and miserable as I struggle to keep the bike in a straight line. Frequent rain squalls blow though and even a hail storm, which I can say is not funny!
I have been buoyed at many times on the journey with memories associated with the areas through which I am travelling and heading towards the Tyne provides plenty. I served my apprenticeship with a Geordie outfit, Common Brothers, whose offices once graced Quayside, a short distance from the High Level Bridge. Drydocks on Common's controlled ships were always at Tyneside shipyards so events of 50 years ago, are suddenly as fresh as if they were yesterday. I recall after up to 15 months away from the UK, that on the homeward legs when returning to the Tyne, the ships were always painted overall, just to look immacutate for the visit of the owner when we docked. Even as a teenager, it seeemed to be daft to me, that once this ceremony was over, the fresh paint was wrecked with heavy plant, staging, pipes and the ship being overrun by hoards of yard workers. What a waste!
I am delighted to see that the Tyne ferry still operates and I have a good feeling to note that this is one of the last major river crossings of the trip. One more box to tick off!
On reaching South Shields, I really am in home territory, having many happy times in this most hospitable of towns. This time, I do need to follow the coast road, and am delighted to see such a great renewal along the sea front. It also is a pleasure to see that the Marsden Grotto, a famous landmark night club in Shields is still operating! A call for an interview from the Scotish Catholic Observer comes just as we are sharing the morning tea break. It is pleasing that AOS is getting this kind of publicity in Scotland which will hopefully in turn result in enhanced recognition of the work of AOS.
After Sunderland, there are more choices relating to the route. It looks to be far more intersting to follow the coast roads of the A1066 and A178, but we are staying at the Caravan Club site to the west of Middlesborough at Stockton on Tees and the easier option of taking the A19 and A66 is just too appealing. These busy A roads have no charm unless they are provided with cycle tracks set away from the main carriagways but these luxuries haven't arrived yet to this section of the A19. Furthermore, the relative sanctuary of the 2 feet wide strip between the solid white line and the grass verge seems also to be missing here. Thus, it is a wild ride and I trust to God and both my solid and flashing strobe rear lights to keep me safe! The great news is that the wind has shifeted to the north and I am able to fly along, making very good progress. The flyover at the interchange with the A19 and A66 isnt for the fainthearted but with the following wind, it is elating to be not only keeping station with cars but passing them as they slow in the afternoon traffic queues.
No rest for the wicked again, however, as Tony McAvoy wants us to get to the Teesport Seafarers Centre for 1700hrs in order to meet port officals and other who he has informed about our arrival so after the usual comforts of tea, cake and shower, we are off to Teesport.
The Teesport Centre is another friendly welcoming place and we meet a couple of seafarers from a steel products carrier who arrive to get Lebara phone cards. These cards permit overseas calls at very reasonable costs and thus are a lifeline with home. We are taken by their friendly good nature but there is an underlying melancholy in their demeaner. When one of them tells us that it will be in july 2011 when he returns to his family in the Philipines, we dont need to ask why.
Tony takes us home for dinner and we are grateful to Tony and to Lynn for their kindness. We also note that there is a framed citation hanging on his living room wall, a Bene Merenti (Good Work) from Pope Benedict in recognition of his work for AOS. Tony, you are an example to us all!

Berwick to Blyth

The photo shows the lovely view of Berwick Harbour entrance from the caravan site. I need to point out that this was taken on Sunday, the rest day. For a reason that puzzled me when I came to look, and failed to find a suitable photo for the Berwick to Blyth stage. I then realised that the reason was that the weather was so bad and taking out the camera on the trip to Blyth would have soaked it! The rain is incessant and the wind again, depressingly from the south.
Ideas of detouring via Holy Island, Bamburgh and the Northumberland Heritage Coast were easily cast aside. The exposure of the coast and additional miles were enough to make the dismal choice of using the A1, the only option. Wet, wind and fast passing traffic are constant and unfriendly companions. It is at these time when Terry seems to have an uncanny understanding that there might be a need for support, and he frequently stops in laybys just to make sure that all is well.
The signs for Seahouses and Craster remind me that there is some wonderful scenery close by, but the attrocious weather kills any incentive to take a look. A consolation though when I ride through Warkworth and its beautiful castle again tells me that this is a part of the country to which we will most deffinitely be returning.

The closest caravan site that Terry and Andrea are able to source is located at Ashington which is about seven miles to the NW of Blyth. Although this is a commercial site, it is very well maintained and the kind owner declines to accept payment once he learns what we are up to. I find these acts of generosity very touching.

The tea/cakes and hot shower - in that order - never fail to do their magic and in dry clothes, we are off to Blyth to make a special 7 O'Clock mass at Our Lady and St Wilred's. We are just in time and Paul Atkinson, OAS lay Port Chaplain for Blyth meets us at the entrance relieved to see us turn up. It is a wretched evening with the rain stil pouring and winds howling. He says look inside and we are amazed to see at least 50 parishioners who have left their homes to turn out to greet us. In addition to PP Fr Phillip Quinn, the Mass is concelebrated by Monsr. Ronnie Brown, who I know well as a fellow AOS Trustee. A lovely church and congregation who, as in the case of St Cuthberts in Berwick neen no introduction to the work of AOS. They are intrepiud supporters of the holy Island Pilgimage for AOS each year and literally send coach-loads of parishioners to support this event. Some great personal stories are exchanged after the mass and from a town where seafaring and coal mining were once the predominent industries, I felt for the first time the kindred bond of hard dangerous lives of miners and seafarers. One lady remarked that she had two brothers one of whom chose to go to sea on a famous collier, small coasters that once ran coal to the Thames power stations. She said that he had signed on in Blyth, but was so disenchanted by the time his ship reached London, he quit and came home by bus. Evidently taking up a mining career was, at least for this lad, an easier option than going to sea!
Fr Phillip treats Paul, Terry and I to an excellent Italian meal and it attests to the size of the portions that even with my carb-hungry stomach, it isnt possible to finish!

Berwick on Tweed

Although it is a rest day, being Sunday and invited to speak at both the 09:00 mand 10:30 masses means that we are up an about early. Again, it is a lovely fine day and I am secretly thinking that I should be taking advantage of this by heading south instead of hanging around here, since the forecast for Monday is poor. However, it is true to describe Berwick as being one of the most welcoming towns on my trip and we are treated to a great stay.
There is no lack of humour from the pulpit as before Mass, Fr Kelly instructs me NOT to mention him when I thank everyone for their kindness. He uses this at the end to wryly point out that he'd noted all the glowing praise that I'd lavished on the AOS contingent, and to Maura and the parishioners, but not mentioned a word about the kind hospitaility of the priest who'd given me his last tin of soup when I arrived on Saturday, cold and hungry! A funny, generous and kind-hearted man.
A further chuckle was raised when I noted in my presentations that in the first reading, the words "savage torture" were used with reference to brothers who refused to renounce God and were killed. I offered a short description of savage torture of a different sort!
To describe Maura Flanagan as a human dynamo does her a disservice. She runs her newagants and general shop, starting work at five in the morning and probably doesn't stop until ten at night. Attending all three masses with us ensures that all runs smoothly. She then shows us her AOS domain - a 6ft x 4ft B&Q garden shed that sits inside the secure area of Berwick Docks! Berwick is a port seldom used these days and sees a ship perhaps only once in four or more weeks. Thus there can be no justification for any seafarers drop-in centre. Maura however is an obvious charity magnet and receives a lot of clothing, which, as I have mentioned before, is so welcomed by seafarers who arrive in the UK dressed only in jeans and tee shirts.
In spite of the demands of family and this also being her own day off, she insists that she takes us to see Holy Island. "It's just down the road" she says. Unfortunately the tides are wrong and so we aren't able to make it. Evidently barely a week passes where foolish motorists fail to take notice of the fact that the causeway floods at high tides and require to be rescued.
Not to be beaten, Maura shows us the sights of this picturesque little town and it is mid afternoon before she drops us off at the CC site then rushes home to make lunch! Another example of how well the Caravan Club runs its site, it is immaculately maintained and there are wonderful views across Tweedmouth and to the harbour entrance. I need to plug again, the fact that the Caravan Club has provided us with free accommodation at their sites. It might be thought that off-season, they would be empty anyway, but it is surprising that even in the middle of November, plenty of caravanners are still out and about. Maura caps the Berwick welcome by inviting us to the Jazz concert at the St Cuthbert Parish Hall. It is a great success with a fantastic atmosphere generated by a large crowd. Maura, thanks for being so kind to us.

14 November 2010

Edinburgh to Berwick on Tweed

Finally a bright day dawns! After the wet and head winds of the past week, it is a pleasure to find the Edinburgh day dawning clear, fine and calm. Local residents Sue Light and Pete Sykes arrive at the site to provide companionship and local knowledge and pilotage through Edinburgh and its suburbs out towards Gifford, about 20 miles to the SE. Unfortunately Pete's bike suffers an early flat and without a spare, he needs to call off his ride. Sue and I continue however, and in spite of riding a super-heavyweight town bike, Sue rides at a very good pace. Our ride takes us into the Lammermuir Hills, and what extraordinary scenery and with sunny skies it is pure delight. Terry meets us at the Gifford village centre with the ever-welcome tea and cakes. Pete had managed to ride his bike home (only 6 stops to repeatedly pump up the tyre) and returned to Gifford by car to pick up Sue. Having the support of these charitable people was a great pleasure, particularly as neither was known to me prior to meeting them this morning.
From Gifford to Berwick there is an amazing ride of 40 odd miles through almost empty countryside with a couple of testing hills thrown in for good measure. Due to navigation error on the part of the cyclist, an important turn was overlooked and this resulted in me missing Terry who was waiting at the designated lay-by. It is peturbing to have passed the location where I am expecting to see Terry, but without any sign of the familiar cream square of the rear of the van, I start to worry as to what might have gone wrong. Phone reception is poor to non-existant so I can't contact him to ensure that all is well.
I roll onwards and actually pass the all important "England" sign and have to turn round to catch the photo. I am quite disappointed to see that it is plain, unadorned and there is not even a "Welcome to..." How unlike the welcome that accompanies arrival in Scotland at Gretna.
By the time I raise Terry, and realise that I made a wrong turn, I am within 10 miles of Berwick so trek onwards towards our rendezvous at St Cuthberts, where AOS NE Regional coordinator Tony McAvoy has managed to round up almost the entire NE AOS contingent. Their welcome was truly brilliant. We are able to make the vigil mass and I have the opportunity to give a short talk about AOS. It is a pleasure, but I can see clearly that I'm preaching to the converted here at St Cuthbert's. Set at a prominent position at the back of the church there is a table stacked with AOS literature thanks to the tireless ministrations of Maura Flanagan, AOS Ship Visitor for Berwick. Tony has permission from PP Fr Brendan Kelly to use the AOS stands and flag at the sides of the altar so the impact is very forceful. The highlight is a presentation of a cheque to AOS from Sr Mary Scolastica of the Sisters of Charity. Teasingly refered to by Fr Kelly as Sr Elastica, Sr Scolastica is an amazing example of Christian charity. When asked as to how much money she has raised over the years, she matter-of-factly replies, "about half a million pounds!"
We are treated to a great meal at the caravan site club house that stands immediately across the road from Maura Flanagan's shop at Spital. Some of the AOS group have travelled more than 110 miles to be here tonight. It is a testament to their incredible commitment to AOS that they pass this off as nothing at all!
Many thanks to Tony, Paul Atkinson and his wife Kathleen, Juliana Henderson, (Ship visitor for Sunderland) (On left of photo above) Terry Patchett (Ship visitor for Tyne ports) Jimy Ross (Ship visitor for North Tees) and his wife Eileen. It was great to meet you all.

12 November 2010

Perth to Edinburgh

Another rainy day and getting out of the caravan door takes a bit of effort plus "encouragement" from Terry! The A912 intertwines with the busy M90 as I head south. Rain all the way that gets worse as the Firth of Forth approaches.
In recent days I have had increasing pain from my left Achilles and personal chiro Vinnie offers some advice to keep it under control. I am now taking Ibuprofen and Ibulev to ease the pain, but nevertheless I find it difficult to put pressure on the left pedal. Not a good situation.
Crossing the Forth was in heavy rain so no opportunities for photos of the famous bridge. I am reminded of my crossing of the Severn back in September. It all seems so long ago.
The ankle pain was becoming really troublesome so after crossing the bridge I stopped at at a chemist for a support sock. The kindly chemist was dismissive of my apologies about the huge puddle that was dripping from my soaked gear.
Timewise, I made good progress along the cycle route towards Edinburgh, passing through Cramond, clearly the place to live for the very well-heeled! The Caravan Club site in Edinburgh, like all CC sites, is impeccibly maintained and the glorious luxury of a hot shower at the end of a wet ride never diminishes! It is, however another day where there is no time to rest as we are expected at St Mary Star of the Sea Church at 1630 for the ever-welcome reception. Fr Denis Cormican and the generous parishioners who are prepared to turn out on a Friday afternoon give Terry and me rousing cheers as we arrive and we are treated to copious quantities of cakes and tea before leaving to see the brilliant Seafarers Charities display at the local mall. AOS Parish Contact Ann-Marie Stephen and AOS port Chaplain for the Forth Richard Haggarty have done a brilliant job in raising awareness of AOS in the Edinburgh area and getting this display at the very location where the Royal Yacht Britannia is moored and visited by thousands couldn't be bettered.
Our evening concludes at Ann-Marie's home with excellent conversation and glorious food!