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!

09 November 2010

Arbroath to Perth

Apart from the welocoming parishioners, there was little memorable about Arbroath. The caravan site was soulless and the bathroom facilities disgraceful. On top of that it cost £20. On leaving Terry spotted the manager and "had a word." The result was the promise of a full refund. One other feature that comes to mind and that is that the Arbroath football club is located right next to the sea. No big deal but the Scotland trip has done wonders for my geography and when I listen to the football results in future, the Scotish leagues will have new meaning now that I know much more about their towns. Approaching Perth for example, I discovered that their football club is St. Johnstone!
Roisin and Vinnie Pippet have been fantastic supporters throughout the ride. Last night Roisin sent me a text to say that Laura, a classmate of Vinnie's at Cardiff Uni, lived at Abernethy, a small town about 10 miles to the South East of Perth. When Vinnie told Laura about Seawheeling and that we would be passing close to her home, she told her parents who run a chippy in Abernathy, famous for being voted the UKs best fish and chip shop in 2008 and 2009! In turn they sent word back that we would be welcome to free fish and chips there! What a lovely gesture from complete strangers. Only the fact that I would pass Abernathy at 10:00 O'Clock stopped us taking up their kind offer.
We are staying at a Caravan Club CL and the entire day for me has been spent riding though heavy rain. Although the site offered no electic hook-up, when I arrived Terry was feeling pleased with himself for having been offered a connection to the site owner's garage. Having mains power makes a great deal of difference, not least because lapttops and phones can be charged.
I was delighted to have been contacted by Brian McKay, SIRE inspector and INEOS superintendent who lives in Perth. Brian was kind enough to keep his eye on the progress of the ride and to invite me out for a meal when we passed by. Many thanks for a most enjoyable evening Brian, it was doubly welcome after such a wet day,

07 November 2010

Aberdeen to Arbroath

Our stopover was at Woodside, to the north of Aberdeen and an intersting ride though its imposing wide streets and famous gramite buildings starts the journey. Interesting too that I am going to be accompanied for part of today's ride by Mary Marr, volunteer extraordinare from Stonehaven and family friend Martin who is sporting an SNP "It's time" hi-vis jacket just to spark conversation! Brian, Mary's husband forms the advance welcome committee into Stonehaven and tells me where to go. Mary is located a mile or so closer to town and waves me down to tell me that the adjacent toilets are free, whereas those in town will cost 20p! She's certainly canny but not a Scot!
We meet at the Far and Wide Churches Together Charity shop where Mary works and are greeted by manager Barbara McLean along with the photographer/reporter from the local paper. It is indeed a special occasion. I did know that Far and Wide were planning to make a donation but didn't ever expect that this would amount to a staggering £500! These are such wonderful moments and it's not possible to convey the gratitude that such generosity engenders! To all the kind people of Stonehaven, thanks so much.
Mary and Martin are riding seriously heavy weight bikes and we meander round the town to see their lovely little church before heading just a mile or so south to see one of Scotland's most famous and important castles at Dunnotarr. Martin is a mine of history and that tells us that at one stage, the occupying English were sent to their reward in heaven after withstanding a Scots seige. When it was Cromwell's turn to lay seige, the Scotish Crown Jewels that were kept at Dunnotarr were lowered to a boat before the roundheads finally prevailed.
This is definitely a place to revisit.
Mary and Martin ride with me as far as Inverbervie where we stop for refreshments. We enjoy a final chat and like a magician with the rabbit, Mary produces a chocolate cake to see us on our way! Although there's no need for any icing on Mary's contribution to the ride! Here it is, and it is of the full fat 70% cocoa variety!
The ride from Inverbervie was increasingly cold and wet, and with all the stops, by the time I was approaching Arbroath it was gettting dark. We were sceduled to meet a press photographer at St Thomas of Canterbury Church but had been warned that there might not be parishioners around to welcome us. With no-one in tthe street and the church in darkness, we thought little about it and the photos therefore were just of Terry and me, with the bikes and the car. The photographer rushed off but I thought to knock at the presbytery door just in case Fr Kevin Golden might just be at home. The surprise that not only was he home but that a dozen or more parishioners were sitting inside was a shock and we were disappointed that the photo to appear in their weekly newspaper will not show familiar faces. I feel really sorry about that.
We returned through Arbroath to the caravan site at the north side of town and passed several shops selling Arbroath smokies. Like the famous Cullen Skink several day ago, here is another Scots town that is famous for food. I'm not too fussed about smokies but the thought that we will be passing through Dundee tomorrow is another matter!

Peterhead to Aberdeen

The road trip to Aberdeen is memorable only in its brevity. 31 miles is a ride around the block and particularly so as the winds have eased. The traffic of course increases as I approach the city but I arrive in time to meet my business friends from Return to Scene (They'll not thank me for saying so, but they develop hi-def spherical photography imaging for crime forensics, offshore oil installations and latterly, for oil and gas tankers - think of Google Street View for ships!) MD Brian Dillan organises sandwiches and we chat a bit about business - and a lot about seawheeling - until its time to leave for the key appointment of the day at the Aberdeen Town House. Brian Kilkerr has managed to arrange an inviation to meet the assistant to the Lord Provost of the City, and with Scottish AOS Promoter Bishop Peter Moran, Brian and his wife Jackie in attandance, Terry and I feel like proper VIP's. In truth, the visit is not only unstufffy, it is very interesting, especially after Cllr John Carol modestly mentioned that he was not only a former seafarer, but a sailing, tall ships one at that! A fascinating discussion ensused as he told us of his exploits initially as a part time volunteer but eventaally being full time Master-at-arms on one of the Norwegian tall ships. Of course we all bombarded the good councillor in turn, with the work of AOS! The photo shows AOS Bishop Promoter for Scotland, Peter Moran, Brian Killker and Cllr John Carol at the Aberdeen Twon house.
We were able to park the caravan in the church car park and when Brian and Jackie returned later in the evening to take us out for dinner bearing the Wiggle box that told me that the Garmin was delivered, the day was complete. Only when I came to open the package after we returned from the restaurant did I find that although the software, cables etc. were all there, the actual GPS unit wasn't! Disappointment doesn't describe the feeling. In spite of best efforts to replace it and the logistics of actually getting it delivered, finding the crucial GPS missing was very depressing. I immediately told John S to inform Wiggle that their security needs to be tightened up, and if anyone gets the feeling that I have pulled a fast one here, the package was opened up in the presence of an ordained Priest, a Deacon and a retired police Inspector! Not guilty mi'lud!

05 November 2010


A rest from pedalling today but it is busy in other respects. Port Chaplain Brian Kilkerr meets us at the Fisherman's Mission at Peterhead where we meet Centre Manager George. Peterhead is the port from which the TV series Trawlerman was made and George knows all the skippers and those characters whose natural TV presence made it such fascinating viewing. During my travels, I have heard at several ports, news that local Fisherman's Missions are closing, Another sad reflection on the decline in the numbers of fishermen in the industry?
Peterhead provides the second occasion where there is a chance to visit ships and it is such a pleasure. On this occasion, we are able to board two offshore supply vessels and as always, are welcomed like old friends. Even though a full crew change is imminent on one, our feeling of comfortable comerardarie with the crews is tangible. In spite of the circumstances, an insistant invitation to stay for lunch clearly cannot be refused!
In preparation for an important meeting in Aberdeen the following day, Terry and I pay a visit to a Peterhead barber's shop to smarten up. Although the pretty local girl who cut my hair was talkative, it was impossible to try and impress her by boasting of my exploits! She clearly couldn't understand a word of what I was saying! Listening too, to Terry's exchanges with his stylist, neither of us could make out their unusual accents.

04 November 2010

Buckie to Peterhead

The initial route from Findochty is made along the coastal path that passes through Portnochie and immediately after, the amazing sight of the Bow Fiddle Rock. This deserves a post of its own. The sands at Cullen Bay follows and then the town of Cullen itself, famed as the inventor of Cullen Skink soup!
We rendezvous with Tina at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel where I get the chance to say a few words about AOS and Seawheeling before mass. Thanks to Fr Max for giving me this opportunity.
Tea after mass was enjoyed with Terry and Tina in the van, parked alongside the tiny harbour at Banff. Tina was keen to tell of her research into Peter Anson, co-founder of AOS in 1911 (although that date might be a debated issue!). Peter spent much of his life working with fishermen in these small Scotish ports and was a much revered figure among the fishing communties, particularly as the industry declined. Having spent a good part of the day in Banff, and with the clocks having reverted overnight to GMT, there was stil a good ride to Peterhead and so we had to press on without seening the Anson home in Banff. Another reason then to return to this beautiful coast.
I arrived at the port of Peterhead just ahead of sunset, and enjoyed a slow meander round the port before meeting Terry and arriving at St Mary's where we were greeted by Fr Mark Impson, AOS volunteers George, his wife Helen, and Ruth who all turned out to welcome us to this busy fishing and oil support port. We adjourned to the hotel next door and over a lovely dinner, learnt much about the OAS work in Peterhead and nearby Fraserborouggh. I was surprised to hear of the number of Filipino, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and other foreign nationalities who crew fishing vessels here. Anyone who has watched Trawlerman knows what an arduous job this is, and I can only imagine the shock that someone from warm climes might feel at being thrown into fishing at its toughest. A word to anyone who might be visiting this area is that you need some decent language skills to understand what the locals are saying!

03 November 2010

Inverness to Buckie

As on the Bettyhill to John O'Groats stage, the ride to Buckie is almost due east. Thus the strong westerlies make riding effortless and I am pleased to see 32k/h for the first hour and 29k/h up to the time of the coffee stop at Torres. I made so much progress that a slight detour to Lossiemouth for lunch seemed to be a good idea. We stop close to the river in this delightful little port and look across to the east and the vast expanses of prisine white sands. Glorious.
On a scale of disasters that might have befallen me, it doesn't compare, say with being hit by a truck, or smashing up the bike, but losing the Garmin... what a blow! To secure the bike at lunchtime, I put it on the roof carrier and also took off the Garmin to keep it safe. What I did with it then, I cant remember, but what I certainly didn't do, was to put it in my pocket! When Terry started to pull away, he heard a crunching noise from under the rear wheel so stopped to take a look. From his findings I can report that Garmins are not Volvo-proof! I have complained about how useless the Garmin has been for navigation, but for everthing else it is brilliant. Ascent metres, speed, Av Speed, Dist, heart rate, cadence (RPM). It does the lot. Not only that, it records the entire track that has been followed for every ride. I feel distraught to have been so careless. I think about managing without it, but there are still 12 days to go so call No.1 son John who has a Gold Card at Wiggle (on line bike shop) and ask him to buy me a new one. John is good at this sort of thing. Although he is out and about in London, he reports back within the hour that the order has been placed! Delivery is promised for Aberdeen to the home of AOS Deacon Brian Killker. Although I must live without the Garmin for three days, the fact that a replacement is on the way makes me feel better!
The Saturday shoppers are out and about in Buckie, where I arrive in good time for our rendezvous with the local press and Tina Harris, AOS Ship Visitor for the port. The fishing history of the port shows itself along the docks and two lifeboats lying alngside have me puzzled until Tina explains that Buckie is a repair centre for UK lifeboats.
Tina is keen to show us her favourite port and ans when we arrive at Findochty, it is easy to see why! A lovely little village with tiny harbour and where Tina's sailboat is moored. We eat well at the Admirals restaurant and Tina tells us of her fascinating life that involves so much voluntary work with social work, writing, voluntary work, sailing and assistance for the disabled.
We stayed at a Caravan Club CL within a short ride from Findochty and were cheered that Alfie, the affable owner, declined to accept payment when he heard of our adventure. What a nice gesture.
The photo shows Tina and me next to the Buckie lifeboat. The weather, by the way, wasn't nearly as warm as it looks!

01 November 2010

Brora to Inverness

Brora to Inverness probably qualifies as the worst day of the trip so far. The caravan was rocked by high winds through the night and peppered with frequent heavy squalls that made sleeping difficult. The effort to venture out was substantial and the only consolation was that as on so many occasions, the overnight rain had cleared up. Only the small matter of the SW winds then to contend with!
We stopped for coffee a short distance on the northern side of the bridge across Durnoch Loch, the van being shaken by both the high winds and the close proximity of lorries passing at speed along the A9. I resumed with minimal enthusiasm that was, like my speed, reduced to zero as I approached the bridge itself. Being flung to left and right into the road, it was way too dangerous to continue so I took to pushing the bike along the very narrow bridge footpath that extended for a good mile. The white knight (aka Terry Jepson) honked to signal his approach and with yellow corner light flashing, stopped to let me hastily load the bike and jump into the car. Yes, I know this is cheating but there comes a time when safety does need to be taken into account! He dropped me off approaching Tain and where there was some relief from the wind. I reminded my guilty conscience that I needed to repay those couple of miles at some stage.
The detour for lunch at Invergordon provided intersting views across Cromarty Firth and of several oil rigs and supply boats that were moored alongside.
The trip seems unending today, and the A9 offers no interest. Passing Alness I recalled that it is just over four days since I was on the opposite side of this same road heading north. The fact that I have completed 250 or so miles since then should give me some encouragement but it is marginal. The traffic across Findon Mains is heavy and not helped by the road works that are under way. Worse still, a long grinding hill across the Black Isle adds to my woes! A pleasure then as I finally pulled into St Ninian's Church to see Terry having just arrived and then meet PP Fr Stuart Chalmers who offers a hot shower. Oh bliss!!
Together with Fr Chalmers, we are treated to a fine meal and hospitality at the home of Denis and Eileen Adderly whose home overlooks Moray Firth and the Black Isle beyond (at least it would if the rain wasnt reducing visibility so much.) As always among such good company, I soon forget about what a rough day it has been. We return to the caravan site at Culloden in fine humour, refreshed and renewed! Thank you Denis and Eileen for your kindness and generosity.

31 October 2010

John O'Groats to Brora

Our caravan site was some 8 miles to the west of JO'G and Terry delivered me back to the famous landmark to resume the next stage to Brora. The picture shows the outfit in front of the impressive but closed and sadly, almost derelict, John O'Groats hotel that overlooks the harbour. Another crystal clear morning and we had hoped that the signpost man would be back to get an "official" picture. We arrived to find a young LEJO'G motorcyclist with the same idea but learned from him that the signpost was elsewhere and not likely to reappear in the near future so the painted subsitute was used again. This young man had just arrived after his four day trip from Land's End in support of the Birmingham Children's hospital. We made a mutual fuss of our respective achievements to mark the the sense of occasion, shook hands and he was off!
The westerlies that had carried me so swiftly to JO'G yesterday had swung to the southwest and thus commenced an ordeal of a day. The A99 is the main road to the south from JO'G. It runs close to the sea to the east, and open scrubby moorland to the west. There is little by way of shelter against the strength-sapping winds that take their toll throughout the day. The ride is in excess of 60 miles and at less than 12mph progress is painfully slow. It is so fortunate to be able to simply pick a rendezvous with Terry based on a time/est distance at a convenient layby and then be elated when the familiar creme coloured square comes into view. Without the caravan, there would have been many days where there would have been no coffee or lunch stops simply because there just aren't any cafes!
The slow approach and passing of the prominent lighthouse at Noss Head, close to Wick is as memorable an event that I can recall for the entire ride on this quite depressing day.
We were in trouble as to where to stay at Brora. Terry has excellent research backup with his bride, Andrea, ever-willing to find sites for us to stay. On this occasion however, and even after talking to tourist boards and assorted local authorities and insiders, the best she can offer is a public car park where "no questions are asked." We therefore asked Salvina (my Uber-minder at AOS HQ) if the PP at Brora might have a space within the church grounds and were delighted when Fr Benedict Seed readily agreed to let us stay in the car park. In addition he let us hook up the umbilical to the electric mains which means we had all mod cons. It is quite humbling to hear Fr Seed, who spent 50 years of his life in the monestary at Fort Augustus until it closed, tell of a life that seems to be so frugal but completely commited to providing for Sutherland Catholics.

30 October 2010

Bettyhill to John O'Groats

The side trip to Cape Wrath meant that the departure from Bettyhill was delayed until well after 12:00hrs but the skies are blue as I set off for this important stage. The recognition that unlike the 2007 trip, JO'G will not mark the end of the ride is of little account. The wind is exactly from astern and blowing at a good force 5. I threfore am able to rattle along at a good 30k/h for much of the trip, taking in these banks and braes without seriously hindering progress. The wind is singing through the telegraph wires and the bike tyres swoosh along in unison on the still-wet roads. Their tune...? Ride of the Valkyries!!!!

Arriving at JO'G brings a short lived feeling of elation. There are photos to be taken, although the counterpart to the Land's End Signpost man here seems to have packed in for the day and taken the important bits of his sign with him. As it happens, the adjacent store has a conveniently painted signpost on its wall that does the trick. That's the top end of Scotland completed, now to head south.

A side trip to Cape Wrath

I have taken the Pentland Firth, or Northabout route as it is called at sea, to cross the Attlantic and seen the fabled Cape Wrath from the sea side on several occasions. Being so close to the famed Northwestern-most corner of the UK it is very tempting to do a "proper" coast ride, but with a distance in excess of 50 miles in ech direction from Bettyhill, I can't cycle it within the schedule. However, as the distance from Bettyhill to JO'G is only 51 miles, its possible to drive there and back to Bettyhill and still ride to JO'G within the day. We therefore decide to make an early start and take a drive to Cape Wrath.
The night was wild with strong westerlies and persistant rain buffeting the van and the morning dawned grey, heavily overcast with squally showers as we set off to the west. The town of Tongue, and then the circuit of the shores of Lough Eriball amid swirling low cloud added to the sense of isolation. Access to the Cape itself is possible only by ferry and then minibus - neither of which were operating on this dismal morning. Hardly surprising I suppose, but it's a disappointment to have come so far but not been able to reach the lighthouse.
We returned to Bettyhill with the weather clearing and by the time we were back at the site the skies were blue but with strong winds. The good news is that they are from the west.


28 October 2010

Dingwall to Bettyhill

Terry is a master 'vanner and expert at getting the van exactly at the right level, even to knowing that the nose needs to be down a tad in order to assist the shower to drain! The Dingwall site was sloping and this meant that he needed to use the ramp under the wheel on the door side of the van. As usual, he saw me off and then set about getting ready for the road. When I met him a couple of hours later, he told me that when he came to move the van off the ramp, he happened to be standing immediately next to the door. What he didn't expect was as the van was rolling off the ramp, the accumulated rain on the flat roof cascaded over the side and give him a thorough drenching! I know the feeling Terry!
The road out of Dingwall takes in the busy single carriageway A9 so there is no pleasure here. Looking over to the East I see the stream of traffic crossing the Cromarty Firth towards Inverness and think to myself that I will travel 250 miles before I am on that same road - more than 80 of these miles today. After leaving Alness, and the A9, things change dramatically along the B9176 and then the A836 to Bonar Bridge and Lairg, one of the few roads I ever travelled where an "A" road is a single track with passing places! The terrain here is unlike any other in the UK. It is beautiful, stark, bleak and largely empty. It is a such a great feeling to be in the open air and part of that.
We stop for coffee at Bonar Bridge and agree to rendezvous for lunch at the Crask Inn, a pub/B&B so remote that it features as a place name on the map! The last time I was there, there were 34 fellow soaked-to-the-skin cyclists crammed into its small bar. Today it is empty. We are greeted warmly however. They probably wont be offended if I say that the Crask isn't exactly the Ritz, but Kier and Mike still were kind enough to make a generous contribution to AOS. It is very humbling to see such kindness and I rejoined efforts towards Bettyhill with renewed vigour.
A late start and a long ride meant that it was really close to nightfall when I rolled in to Bettyhill. As I pass, nothing seems to have changed at the hotel, but the sight of the empty beach and the Pentland Firth gives me "another milestone" feeling. The site is just along from the hotel but is just as bleak as the countryside with a few statics that I note have some very substantial anchors lashing them down! Nevertheless it does have electric power which means we can stay warm without depleting the gas bottle. It is a stormy night and the prospects of the ride to John O'Groats in the morning in gale and rain are not encouraging.

Fort William to Dingwall

Another bright but very cold day dawns at our caravan site at Onich and Terry drives me the 8 miles into Fort William. In case you might think that this is cheating, I used these miles as a payback for adding 8 miles on leaving Inveraray due to a navigational (ie navigator) problem!
The ride from to Dingwall retraces the same route that we took in 2007, through very scenic areas including the Caledonian Canal.
I recall a recent episode of Coast that looked at the construction of the canal, pointing out that its timing turned out to be too late to make it a great comercial success due to the emergence of trains. A fact that stood out was that the navvies who dug the canal by hand, needed to demonstrate that they could dig a full 12 m3 every day. Amazing.
I was expecting a fairly easy day and followed the western shores of Loch Ness in dry weather and quiet roads. I overlooked however, that immediately after leaving the magically named Drumnadrochit, there is a gruelling hill that sees me again failing to stay in the saddle. It doesn't matter. I am past feeling shame at this stage!
The Dingwall site is almost empty and how it justifies a £24 a night fee beats me. What is notable is that on the other side of the site, a lightweight tent is pitched and a hardy and cheerful couple of pensioners seem to be enjoying themselves in this decidedly cold venue. What fantastic resiliance!

Fort William

Having a rest day at the Caravan Club's (CC) Bunree site is twice-blessed. Terry's thoroughness in planning the sites included a request to the CC asking if they would give us some support. What a generous response then to be given a free night's stay at each of the CC full sites. All CC sites are really a treat, being maintained to the highest standards but Bunree must be amonst the finest given its superb location. The scenery arross Loch Linhhie is amazing and having yet another cloudless and mild day makes it very special indeed. (Anyone who knows this area will realise just how rare an occasion this is!) We treat ourselves to the full Scotish before heading again to St Mary's to speak after the morning mass. Today is Mission Sunday so I make a point of telling the congregation that I am not making a collledtion, but just want to tell them about AOS. I am fast reaching the conclusion that "The Year of the Seafarer" is a very well kept secret. It is sad that no-one has heard of it.
In spite of my comment to the contrary several kindly parishioners do squeeze notes into my hand as they leave. One of these is a lady who is in her 90's. Another adds to the stash with a wry smile saying "It's expensive being a Catholic!" Lovely people - thanks so much. On returning to the site, Terry suggests a brosk walk! I decline with a lame excuse of needing to do some office work, when what I am looking forward to is a PM snooze. I do however find time to give the carpets a much needed vac, and also to clean the bike. Several people are lounging outside their vans in the warm sunshine. Definitely among the "Sights you seldom see" category. A delightful day.

25 October 2010

Inveraray to Fort William

As Terry returned me to the town of Inveraray to set me on my way towards Fort William the low cloud and rain was already clearing and the hills across to the Eastern shores of Loch Fyne were starting to become distinct. Ascending the steady climb out of the town and the day was improving with each passing minute, even though there was a real bite in the air.
The distant mountain tops of the Nevis Range were covered with a sprinkling of snow and so it made for a great ride.
Our regular schedule of rendezvousing for a coffee break after one third of the ride is working well - not to mention saving a fortune in paying pub prices!
Although it is a long ride, the day is exceptional and I am spending a lot of time stopping to take in the wonderful autumn scenery.
We have been fortunate in getting a booking at the Caravan Club site at Bunree, Onich, about 9 miles to the south of Fort William. I arrived at around 1700hrs to find that Terry had managed to procure a loch-side pitch. Not surprisingly for this most scenic of sites, it is fairly full even for the end of Oct and vanners are taking full advantage of the magical evening sun. BBQs are out and a brilliant sunset is in prospect. We need to rush however, as there is an appointment to speak after the 1800hrs mass in Ft William.
Fr Donald McKinnon at St Mary's is a wise and delightful story teller and he kindly cooks dinner for us after mass.

24 October 2010

Helensburgh to Inveraray

The rain that started on Thursday evening on the way to Helensburgh continued throughout the night. In a caravan you alway know exactly when it is, and when it isnt raining! Thinking positively that this was a good thing and that it would clear up by morning was mistaken. There was no easing as daybreak and breakfast came and went. I delayed leaving for as long as possible but this certainly was the day when there was no doubt about what to wear! The good news was that it's only a 70 odd km trip and easy to navigate. Terry agreed to meet me at the 30 km point. It was after 10:00 AM when I departed Balloch so this was a lunch rather than coffee stop. Constant rain and even with my "waterproof" jacket I am soaked on arrival. The soup and hot drink help and I contnued thinking that with already almost half the ride over, it's a straight run home. Why I overlooked the small matter of the Rest and be Thankful 300m climb, I cant imagine. For some reason it was on my mind that this memorable ascent was to be between Inveraray and Ft William. In a way it was a good thing not to have been expecting it, because I simply though of it as just another "bit of a climb" and got on with it. It therefore came as a quite a shock to see the famous signpost "Rest and be Thankful" at the summit. The descent was invigorating, but scary, since brakes weren't at their most effective, to say the least! The low cloud, thunder of roaring water in all directions from byrnes, brooks and culverts made for an exciting ride.
The approach to Inveraray is as picturesque as you could wish for but, hidden in a mist of rain and low cloud does detract a bit. Our site is located a couple of miles to the south of the village so I take in the views of the Para Handy boat (Vital Spark) replica, moored to the harbour wall in passing and squelch on in the still-pouring rain. Although I'm sure that no ill-intent was meant, an approaching Skoda timed his passing of a big puddle - no, pond - in the road in perfect sync to deliver a wave-load to drench me just as I passed!!!! The good news was that the loch-side site with waiting tea and hot shower was just a few hundred metres ahead.
Refreshed, we set off back to Inveraray for the wamest of welcomes and great food and craic at the George! Fr William McLean PP at St Margaret's Lochgilphead, with AOS supporters Mary McPherson and Ellen Simpson drove 25 miles in the wet stuff to meet us at Inveraray and we were joined by Inveraray locals Kenny Stark and Danny Kennedy who are all round warm, generous and dedicated men. Kenny spends so much of his time organsing Jumbulances to Lourdes for the Across charity it is amazing to learn of the number of seriously sick persons who are helped in this way. I hope I recall it correctly to say that an Across Jumbulance leaves the UK every week for Lourdes and that 7,000 people are able to make this trip.
The Across web site is http://www.across-uk.org/ We share many stories and of course Fr McLean's fondness for cycling adds a further interest. Details of St Mary's can be found on their site at http://www.lochgilpheadcatholic.com/ Theanks for giving us a wonderful evening. As always, the pain of the ride, the rain and the tiredness were all forgotten with such good companionship. Your contributions too to Seawheeling were most generous.

Lanark to Helensburgh (Balloch)

The stage from Lanark to Helensburgh is largely through the sprawl of Glasgow so I wasn't expecting much by way of spectacular scenery. The route taken on the LEJO'G ride in 2007 took us along the Clyde pretty much from Motherwell to Loch Lomond which was great and took in all the famous Glasgow river sights. The downside was that more punctures were had on that day than any other. It was again very cold and the tyres on the Condor aren't Armadillo's which, on my experience are virtually puncture-proof. I therefore elected to take the main roads through the city - of which there seem to be dozens.
Finding myself passing Motherwell railway station at around the 30k (coffee-stop) mark, I noted a refreshment wagon close to the entrance. It's good enough. Seeing me locking the bike to the chain fence, the lady at the counter asks me how far I'm going. When I tell her that it's Helensburgh she says I'd be better taking the bike on the train rather than leaving it locked to the rails. Evidently its chances of being there when I returned were zero!!! I laughed to explain her misunderstanding. But wait...train...bike...Helensburgh...???? Nah, I'm not going to get away with that kind of stunt so forget about buying a train ticket and content myself to munch on her tasty, but very heavy, cheese and ham toastie before getting under way.
Given the busy urban terrain, Terry and I agree that we wont rendezvous for lunch but meet instead at the destination site, Balloch which is on the southern shore of Loch Lomond, around 8 miles from our date tonight with Fr Peter Lennon, PP at St Joseph's Helensburgh.
The ride was unmemorable, but I did take the river route for several miles when I found myself at the top of Stockwell St. Passing the Holiday Inn Express and Scotia Inn where I spent many nights with "Jolly Jack" in the early 2000's brought back some great memories!
A quick shower at the Balloch site and then were are off to Helensburgh. The rain that was just starting did not stop for two days!! Fr Peter and his two lovely (self-styled) groupies, Rosaleen Moffat and top class cook Margaret Nicol give us our fourth roast of the week. Neither of us is complaining at all about this! Peter returned to Helensburgh about five years ago after many years at Glasgow City parishes. His passion to support handicapped children to go to Lourdes was revealed in a lovely story he told about visiting the parents of such a child. He knew that this was not a Catholic family but only when the father answered the door did the truth dawn. Peter described the father as "a ringer for Rab C. Nesbit" and this was compounded by the presence of the sash, Bible and King Billy pictures aound the wall! Was this a good place for a Catholic priest? Evidently when the idea of their child being taken to Lourdes was explained, the parents agreed, being at first puzzled, but none the less grateful for such a charitable gesture. Fr. Peter conluded the story by saying that the same man still does the rounds of pubs every Friday and Saturday night rattling a tin to support the Handicapped Children's Charity Trust. Thanks Fr Peter for giving us such an excellent evening. The roast was great, but the Crumple and the Roulade made it complete!!

21 October 2010

Carlisle to Lanark

The cold start on Tuesday had nothing on what Wednesday has to offer. We awoke to see both the front of the caravan and car windscreen frosted over. The single upside is that it is sunny, but the very strong northerly tells me there is a bleak day in prospect. I am cold to start with, and it doesnt get better - one of those days when you just dont warm up. The performance of my top-of-the-range heavy weather gloves isn't impressive and I was getting really c0ncerned later into the afternoon when numb fingers meant that pushing the gear levers across was hard going. The persistant wind in my face was so tiring. It's not impressive to find that even on slight ascents I was in bottom gear and struggling to make 15k/h.
The good news is that I d0nt need to worry too much about navigation as the majority of the ride is along the B7076 and latterly, the B7078 that interwine the M6 and M74. These are superb and empty roads, nestled between the main rail line into Scotland and the motorways. Thoroughly recommended if you are heading north and are bored with the motorways.

It seems quite surprising that after only two days after leaving Liverpool, I encounter the "Welcome to Scotland" signs at Gretna. The days when Gretna was the home for runaway marriages are remembered by the signs for the blacksmith's cottage and signs on another building announcing that 30,000 marriages were conducted at that location. Ecclefechan followed soon after and I looked without success for the hotel where we stayed with Bike Adventures on the way to John O'Groats in 2007.
The highlight of the day is at Lanark Racecourse where we meet with old friend Sean Noonan who has promoted the ride among the Lanark schools and resulted in a bevy of youngsters who are kitted out in appropriate gear and ready for a spin around the disused racetrack. Many thanks to the parents and the children from Lanark Primary who turned out to support Seawheeling. What a kind gesture. We completed the day with a fine roast at the home of Liz and Sean - the hardships of the day soon forgotten!

19 October 2010

Lancaster to Carlisle

I tell myself to write out 100 times "I must remember to do my stretching exercises after riding, and drink a lot more water and carb/electroytes drink." Chronic cramps in the quads last night were excruciating and there's only me to blame. I've tried to resolve that today.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hitching up and going our separate ways. In deference to the sensitivities of other campers, I demurred at Terry's suggestion of a farewell hug! Although there was plenty of rain during the night it was fine and sunny morning - but single digit cold when I left. Today presents no problems with navigation. It is A6 all the way to Carlisle. Kendal provided the coffee stop and then the fun of approaching and climbing Shap began. Although nowhere near as tortuous as nearby Kirkstone Pass, Shap is a long grind and a poorly timed heavy shower plus the head wind made the going slow. My new Goretex waterproof hat does the business but its cute looking peak only serves to effectly cut forward visibility down to nothing.
I had suggested to Terry that we meet for lunch in Penrith, but after he had seen the Shap climb, he wisely decided to park up at Shap village and stop there. A welcome sight indeed to see the van opposite a pub door. The only downside of course was that there was still the small matter of the 30 remaining miles to Carlisle to complete. The afternoon continued with a cold northerly and a couple of heavy showers that didn't help me to stay warm. It was a long ride and I arrived at Carlisle at 1645 feeling very tired having clocked well over 70 miles.
Of course the good news is that Terry has taken care of setting up the van, and we are able to enjoy a warming cuppa before getting ready for our evening out. Tonight we are given royal treatment at the home of Rosemary Armstrong who has pasta, locally produced meat pies and a delicious apple pie. There were never two more grateful guests!
A look at the weather forecast is enought o put me off - snow is expected.
The photo shows the silver threads of the roads approaching Shap.

18 October 2010

Liverpool to Lancaster

I've always thought that our kids had full social lives but now I'm not certain. Two of them - the better looking and more intelligent ones that is - asked last week why I wasn't keeping up the blog!! The two weeks off were great but it's good to be back. As you can see, the modus operandi has changed for Part 2 and Terry Jepson, freshly returned from the National Parks of the US West, will act as roadie and chief caravan tow-er betweeen now and Hull. Terry helped to clean the van yesterday so it's looking spic and span for the first day on the road. The prospect of murderous Monday morning traffic on the M62 encouraged us to make an early start, so early it was - 06:00hrs to be precise. This paid off and we had a smooth journey, arriving at the Seafarers Centre at Liverpool shortly after 08:30, greeted by Peter Devlin, Jackie O'Connell and John Wilson, who is Chief Exec of the Liverpool Centre. (See photo)
Jackie told us that yesterday (Sun) a Filipino seafarer arrived at the centre dressed in just a tee shirt and torn jeans. No wonder the warm clothes that are so kindly provided by supporters of the Seafarers Centre are so welcome.
I managed just two hours on the bike during the two week break so was not really looking forward to today's 60 miles or so, but fortunately the road was flat and the strong wind blew from the Southwest - perfect conditions thqat aided good progress. The forecast of heavy showers amounted to nothing so it turned into a pleasant ride, the average speed being in excess of 16mph throughout the day.

Both the Willie Nelson and the Canned Heat songs about being on the road again come to mind but it's the verses from City of New Orleans that seem to sync perfectly with the cadence.

Terry has organised all the caravan sites, while Salvina has somehow "magic'd" a full invitation list setting out detailed plans for dinners and other functions that will take place as we progress. What a great talent - Thanks Salvina! Such a coincidence too, that we find that we are invited for dinner at the home of Eddie and Maureen Hignett who just happen to live only a mile from tonight's caravan site! We were treated to an excellent roast of lamb plus a perfect October evening's dessert of apple crumble and Custard! Thanks to you both for such a welcome and also to your friend Cliff who entertained us with stories of hill walking and passenger ship cruising. All good wishes to Cliff and Pauline for your Golden Wedding next year.

It's many years since our family holidays in a caravan, and amazing how, what used to be very basic Caravan Club Certificated Location (CL) sites have changed. In the 70's these were little more than fields with a fresh water stand pipe. Tonight we are located at at CL at Laverick Hall, abour 5 miles to the North East of Lancaster, with full electricity. excellent showers and toilets and even free wi fi, and not least a genial owner, William Tower who offered to drive to the caravan shop at Carnforth when we couldn't find the fresh water hose connection. Luckily it turned up in the sink. Yes, not being able to find stuff is definitely a man thing!

03 October 2010

The Liverpool Seafarers Centre

Fr Patsy and Peter leave us with the instructions to just follow the road towards Southport and then shoot off to put on the kettle at the Seafarers Centre. I'm energised with the presence of Martin and Dominic and we average around 34k/h for the final 5 miles. It was my first visit to the Liverpool Centre and a privilege to meet such a great group of supporters. Several seafarers were taking advantage of the hospitality in this fine building and computers were much in evidence as their key link with home. At least a dozen PCs and a similar number of phones are installed and on hand to make communication as accessible as possible.

It was a pleasure to end Part 1 of the ride at such a historic seafaring location.
In the photo, Front row. L to R, Fr. John Seddon, Fr Pat Harnett (port Chaplain), me, David Wilde (lay Chaplain). Back Row, Peter Devlin (lay Chaplain) and Fr Patsy Foley.

Holywell to Liverpool

The final day of Part 1 and we are joined by our elder daughter Catherine, her husband Dominic and Rebecca - age 16 months, The kindly Sisters from St Winifride's (Sister Roshni and Sister Jualiana pictured) wish us well and we take off on the final stage. The road to Birkenhead is flat and straight forward. Dominic is a recent convert to bikes with skinny tyres and sets a fair old pace after Catherine who has the added bundle on the pillion completes her 10 miles. We rendezvous a short way from the Woodside Mersey Ferry terminal in order to catch the correct ferry that will ensure the welcoming committee are out and waiting for us!
The sight of the Cunard and Liver Buildings are a stiring sight and again it strikes me that we have worked hard to earn these views. We dock at Liverpool pierhead just in front of the Liver Building and a few lines of Gerry Marsden's famous song that imortalised the ferry are played to add effect. The welcome sight of AOS Assistant Port Chaplain Peter Devlin and Fr Patsy Foley, former Southampton and Tilbury port Chaplain and recently appointed AOS roving ambassador greet us as we land. When Fr Patsy explains his new role I suspect that the previous challenges of getting Seafarers Centres up and running might seem like a piece of cake in comparison!
Younger daughter Aisling, Martin and Elijah join the family and photos are taken all round to commemorate this latest milestone.

Porthmadog to Holywell

When he saw that the Porthmadog to Holywell stage was forecast to be in heavy rain, Wille Austin suggested with a wink that I just do a "Garmin Cheat." By this he meant me putting the bike on the roof rack but with the Garmin switched on, and then driving at 13mph to simulate an actual ride! Neat idea Willie but you know how it is for Catholics and conscience! I could also envisage the rage of other drivers crawling behind! Having said this, I had no problem in having Maria giving me a lift out from Porthmadog to Penrhyndeudraeth (Thanks Google Maps ;-) for this) where she dropped me at the junction to the A496 to Ffestiniog. I had already covered this road comng into Porthmadog yesterday so it didn't feel like cheating (No matter that it would have been all uphill on the way out!)
The lack of rain has been so much of a feature of the ride - I estimate that I might have seen no more than 1hrs in total, but today I know from the start that this is going to be a wet one. As always, however, I find that there's so much to be positive about. This is incredibly beautiful countryside. There are two grinding hills which once again have me wishing for that third chain ring, but I can just about stay upright and in the saddle. The mountain tops are shrouded in scudding cloud and the rain falls steadily. A further happy event takes place mid way along the A470 out of Blaenau Ffestiniog where major road works are in progress. These involve long waits for motorists in both directions as lorries delivering stone to rebuild the parapet have to be unloaded, so block the single carriageway for long periods. Looking at this, I venture past the line of cars and ask if I can squeeze by. This request is greeted with a thumbs up from the gent handling the unloading so I get back to the climb well ahead of the motorists feeling smug. The descents on these hilly roads are so exhilarating and I just need to be careful not to go too fast. The rain stings like needles into my face but in these mountains the feeling of being at one with nature is so satisfying.
Betws y Coed - "Prayer house in the wood" if you are interested (thanks for this Tony!) is just as beautiful as I imagined it, but the numbers of visitors tramping around the gift shops tells me that they are missing the point. I share a warming but expensive soup and cake with Maria and leave for the afternoon session along the A470 just as the rain is easing. The compass is pointing almost due north which means that the coast at Llandudno is now not too far away. I also recall that looking at the route, seeing that the A470 runs alongside the Conwy Valley, this is going to be flat country! There is still a 28 mile ride ahead after Llandudno, but with favourable winds and lovely views, I am feeling in good spirits until a BMW driver, obviously not happy to have to share the road, "encourages" me to use the cycle path. Given time I could have explained that the Highway Code gives cyclists a choice, but content myself with bidding him a "Sailors' Farewell!!"
I arrive at St Winifrede's Guest house that is run by the lovely sisters of St Brigit of Sweden close to 1800. Maria is waiting and we are both feeling hungry so after the ever-welcome quick shower and change, we are off! Anyone looking for a restaurant around Holywell should check these out before arrival. We were close to Flint before coming across one that didn't mention Southern Fried, Doner, or take away. The food however made up for the long search!

Aberystwyth to Porthmadog

The coastal route via Borth might have provided better scenery but I'm more than satisfied with what the A487 is offering. The hills are undulating as far as Machynlleth when I enter the Snowdon National Park.
I was delighted to be contacted by my old friend Tony Jones, SIRE Auditor, and fanatical photographer, and who lives in Builth Wells. Tony has offered to come along and take some "proper" photos en-route.
I stopped at the Dolgellau Bike shop to replace my Arbus bike lock that for some reason refused to work and met the owner who was keen for me to sponsor him there and then in order for him to lock up his neat shop and join me for the rest of the ride! He promised me that the UK Coast ride was on his bucket list and gave me a replacement lock without charge. What a nice gesture.
Tony passed me and then stopped at several lay byes on the road to Porthmadog promising me that in spite of my snails pace, he would easily fix this in Photoshop to create the impression of speed!
Maria was shocked to see Tony waiting at the Ffestiniog Railway terminus at Porthmadog, having not received my text but added to the welcome with a few snaps of this lovely town. We took the short ride to Portmerion where we had the inevitable cup of tea and cheese bap. The kindly lady who served us was a marathon runner and wanted to show her sympathy for a fellow sufferer by piling in as much cheese as she possibly could! All of these sights offer so much of intersest, and we are surely just experiencing a trailer for the real thing at some stage in the no too distant future.
We spent the night at the Church of the Holy Redeemer Presbytery with Parish Priest Fr Pius Mathew, who is from Kerala. In spite of Fr Mathew's assertion that he is a modest cook, we greatly enjoyed his Chicken Biriani and Pilau and also learning of his early life in India.
The photo shows with Fr Mathew and attendees at Mass.

02 October 2010

Cardigan to Aberystwyth

It's an ill wind...
The two key things I need to remember each night before turning-in is to charge my phone and the wretched Garmin. I've mentioned my disgust at its performance as a navigator, but it is essential for stats and in fairness, using the built-in maps for major citiy destinations has its uses. I just know not to follow any of its illogical directions.

When I looked for the Garmin, I realised that it was missing and then, even worse, remembered it was in my rucksack, and that was on the back seat of the car, which returned to Milford several hours previously with Fr JJ and AOS Director Martin Foley. The good news was that Martin was to return to Cardigan en route to Aberystwyth the following morning in order to pick up my overnight stuff. It therefore just meant a later departure. By the time Martin arrived at 11:00, the rain was clearing. The wait permitted a further chat with Fr Jason Jones who told me about the visit of the Pope and of his involvement with taking the statue of Our Lady of the Taper to Westminster. He also mentioned that Bishop Tom Burns (Bishop of the Menevia Diocese and also Bishop Promoter for AOS) led a Mass of thanksgiving following the Pope's visit, and started his homily. "The Papal visit was a disaster..." and then, "It was a disaster for the BBC, a disaster for the Press, etc...!" I have missed all of the coverage but loved that quote.

With the clearing weather, I enjoyed yet another fine ride enjoying favourable winds and stunning scenery. This part of Wales is completely new to me and I am further captivated when I stopped for lunch at Aberaeron. (See photo) My first experience of eating Cawl (Coul) too! This is another shortish ride and I arrived at Aberystwyth to meet Maria who has roadie duties until Liverpool. She wasn't waving balloons, but did manage to comment that I wasn't as gaunt as she had expected :-)
We enjoyed a cuppa in the warm afternoon sun, and then I rode the final 5 miles or so to Bow St where we stayed at a country house hotel. The muscle pain in my quads on restarting after resting for more than a few minutes gets more acute but passes however as the muscles warm up. I am now remembering to follow Vinny's stretching tips and must say that I haven't had the pain of severe cramps in recent days.

28 September 2010

Milford Haven to Cardigan

Over breakfast Fr JJ talks of his life as a priest in Manila and of how he was asked to come to the UK. I'm struck that here he is serving both as parish priest and AoS Port Chaplain among a culture so far removed from his own and yet being at ease and successful with it. Noting the size of his congregation on Sunday, it's a testament to the high regard in which he is so obviously held. Being a Filipino has to be a tremendous asset to AoS when so many seafarers are from his country. I set off to Cardigan feeling invgored at having met such a fine man.
Light drizzle was around on departure so it was the first outing for the rain jacket. The road to Haverfordwest is slightly undulating and I covered the 10 miles or so in good time. Approaching the town, I take to the well laid out cycle tracks and notice a cyclist ahead on what looks to be a serious tourer. Catching up wasn't easy but when I eventually pull alongside at a crossing, I see that this is a lady of some mature years. I comment that it looks as if she is on a long journey. She replies that she is just going to the shops! We rode together for no more than five minutes, but she had the time to tell me that she and her husband just completed a ride aoround Spain and Portugal. She asks too if I have done the Trans-America or the Seattle to Fairbanls rides, saying how much she enjoyed them. Hmmmm... these are not good seeds to be sowing!
As on Sunday, the 60 odd kl ride isn't all that long but I enjoyed the lovely coastal scenery from time to time when the rain stopped and bright sunshine made a brief appearance. There were some decent hills but also greater descents. I arrived at Cardigan a little after 1400 and don't want to interfere with the schedule of Rector and PP Fr Jason Jones of Our Lady of the Taper Church. After a cruise around this lovely town, where 73% of the population speak Welsh as their first language, I escape from the misty rain and indulge in a comfort-food lunch - steak and kidney pie at a cafe that brings happy memories of the Laughing Halibut, one of the best fish n chip shops I know, but one that is just a five minute walk from Westminster! Midway through the meal, a chap comes up and says "You made it as far as Cardigan then?" This turns out to be Patrick Flower who was at mass on Sunday evening in Milford! Small world!
Our Lady of the Taper is the National Shrine of Wales and I'm privileged to be staying here tonight. I meet Fr Jones with Fr JJ and Also Martin Foley, AoS National Director who is taking driving duties for the next day or so. Fr Jones invites us to have a photo taken at the shrine and includes the bike as well. This has to be the most spiritually enriched pushbike ever built - which probably explains why it is just so comfortable!
Many thanks Fr Jason for such a warm welcome.

27 September 2010

Milford Haven, Pembroke and Chevron

A second rest day in four is a real luxury but Milford is a major tanker port and I am keen to visit a ship. Fr JJ has a full programme for me. We enjoy a "Full Welsh" before heading to St Fancis of Assisi School and a talk to the children. This is the second occasion where I've had this opportunity and it's such a pleasure. I asked "How many of you have bikes?" Almost 100% of hands shot up. I follow "How many of you wear helmets?" The number of raised hands falls sharply. I sagely advised them to always wear helmets.

I've suffered the indignity of falling of on several occasions and each time, felt the impact of my helmet hitting the ground. On one occasion I was using my knobbly-tyred Marin through a nearby wood at home and hit a brick that resulted in a spectacular catapult over the handlebars and a painful landing into thick black mud. Again there was a crack on the helmet but my head felt fine. A pain in the chest, but all else seemed ok until I looked at my right hand and saw that the little finger on the right hand was lying at a 45 degree angle! I was able to slowly ride the couple of miles home. When Maria greeted me at the door, she saw the sight of my finger and let out a horrified squeal. She then looked at the mud that covered me, and said "I dont want to sound unsympathetic, but I just washed the floor. Will you take your shoes off!"

Fr JJ drove me to Pembroke where we met with Fr Noel who has been standing in at St Mary's for the resident preist, Fr Patrick, who is away. We had a really interesting meeting with PJ and Judy, who run the Charlton Hotel and which houses the AoS centre. These kindly people are 100% c9mmitted to offering seafarers a welcome respite from their ships and much of the conversation revolves around the rota for driving the AoS mini-bus to the Chevron terminal close to Angle. This is a 30 minute drive each way. Currently only two drivers regularly volunteer for this duty and I am in awe that they do this 24/7 and pretty much on demand f0r visiting seafarers. If there are seafarers reading this and who visit Chevron at Milford, you really do need to be grateful for such selfless commitment. For the rest of us, too it is another example of the work of AoS volunteers.
The afternoon concludes with a trip to a ship loading at Chevron. Such an interesting experience to be wearing an AoS reflective jacket and not to be acting in an oil company representative capacity!

The photo shows Fr Noel Mullen with Fr JJ and me.

Carmarthen to Milford Haven

St Mary's Church at Carmarthen is served by the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. Parish Priest, Fr Monty O'Shea has three visiting priests from the Society who relate stories of their extraordinary work in the Philipines, Thailand and in the Americas. Brother Richard Blaunch works in Bankok and much of his work involves helping girls to escape from the sex trade. He spoke of recently rescuing an 8 year old girl from a brothel.
The car is picked up by Rowel Santos, a good friend of Fr JJ Baustista (AOS port Chaplain at Milford) and Willie arrives in good time, fully refreshed after the rigors of Saturday and he's raring to go. Again we elect to take the A roads. I suppose that at this stage, I'm simply wanting to get to point B as painlessly as possible and am quite willing to forego the scenic lanes. Again, the day is perfect, sunny and calm. We make brisk progress and with such a short 65km ride, arrive at the Milford Haven Marina shortly before 14:00. Our intention was to have a light lunch, but having finished the ride so early, it also being Sunday and for Willie, the end of his stint in harness, a look at the menu templing us with sea food and steak, it's enough to reward ourselves with a good feast! Many thanks Willie for the companionship and for the excellent lunch and conversation.
We rode to St Francis of Assisi Church at 1630 to be given a warm welcome by Fr JJ and Margaret, staunch parishioner who has been seconded for the evening to cook dinner.
I was able to make a short presentatiom after mass to a full church. It is great to see so many younsters there and also so pleasing to receive such generous donations to AOS.
Dinner at the presbytery was a lively affair, we being joined by Fr Noel Mullen, mentor to Fr JJ, ex Chaplain to the Navy, and former Whitehaven RFC player. Noel would definitely be the man to have on your side in the event of a fight!
Two hearty meals within five hours doesn't phase me a bit, and the prospect of another rest day tommorrow is a happy thought to take to bed!

25 September 2010

Cardiff to Carmarthen

When I was planning each daily ride, many months ago, I'm not sure whether I was getting fed up with all the turn by turn directions, or just in a hurry to see the miles eaten up, but looking at the route, again I am dismayed that we are facing a 70+ miler with some substantial climbing.
The good news is that unlike Thursday's rain and yesterday's blustery and overcast weather, today it is forecast to be cool but clear, with winds from the North at 12-15kts. Roisin tucks Uinseann into his pram giving his new winter coat its first outing, and we walk to the Cathederal where we are to meet Willie Austin who is to ride wirth me today.
Uinseann is suffering from a bit of a cold and sneezed several times during my stay. On one occasion the results were of a considerable magnitude and I was reminded of an expression I always liked when our kids were small and had runny noses. The instruction to get out their handkerchiefs was "Quench the candle!" It has to be said that Uinseann added a new dimension to the expression "Candle power!"
We are greeted at the steps of the Cathederal by Willie, really looking the part, and Brian and Anne Roberts, friends of Willie and from my days with OCIMF. It was kind of them to come along to wave us off.
Willie studied in Cardiff so again provided local knowledge to see us out of the city centre and out onto the A48. We elected to stick to the A48 as far as Swansea and then follow the coastal route. Although this added the miles, it avoided the hills. I have mentioned before the grind of A roads, but unlike those in Cornwall, the A48 supplements the M4 which means that traffic is much lighter. The normal routine on my rides attempts to get in one third before a coffee break, a further third before a lunch stop and thus leaving just the final third to complete in the afternoon. The absence of cafes along the A48 however, means that we are running to the 2hr mark before we arrive at Pyle and find a cafe. I find some amusement at the name and reflect for a moment on at least one of the possible and uncomfortable misfortunes that can befall a long-distance cyclist!
The trip through Swansea was a real pleasure, when, as we were pondering our options on entering the City, Willie asked a young mountain biker for advice. This led us to a spendid trip through the marina, sea front and a woodland ride that encompassed the entire southern and western areas. All of this in full sunshine and brilliant sea views out to the Mumbles. Although it was cool, the Saturday crowd were out in force.
The trip via Llanelli and Kidwelly was taking us well into the afternoon and prospects of reaching St Mary's Carmarthen in time for the 1730 mass werent looking good. The wind strengthened from the North and hills which we had largely escaped thusfar, started to be felt.
In spite of best efforts, we missed the start of mass and so weren't able to have the anticipated talk to the congregation. The welcome cup of tea and biscuits, however, at the presbytery was, as always, the best drink of the day! Many thanks to PP Fr Morty O'Shea for putting me up at your warm and welcoming presbytery and also for the stimulating companionship of your visiting clergy. Thanks too to Monica Oliver for your chilli!