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.