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.