So, what’s next?

Weds 26 July

Eight weeks have passed since I finally closed the circuit of the last big phase around the entire coast of Ireland.  The time has come to sign off and say a final, great big THANK YOU to the many fantastic RNLI characters I have met and to all of you who have supported and encouraged me over the 104 days of cycling the entire coastline, including 25 islands and 4 loughs/lochs of Britain and Ireland, via every one of the 238 RNLI Lifeboat Station.

In just four days from now, on 30 July, the funds raised for the RNLI since Day 1 at Penlee Lifeboat Station will be totalled and the online VirginMoneyGiving page will officially close.  Although I have not quite managed to reach the original target of just £1 for each and every one of the estimated 8,000 miles, the actual total mileage recorded was just 7,826. This means that, with Government Gift Aid included, the £6,298 raised is currently £1,528 short of the target.

So, if you haven’t made that online donation you were planning to make, in support of our amazing Lifeboat volunteers, it’s not too late to click HERE! 

A random slide show of some of the many memorable moments ..

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Meanwhile, the blog will continue, with occasional comments & maybe videos at a later date.  Please feel free to add comments on any of the posts.

 

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Arklow to Rosslare Harbour, via Courtown and Wexford

Day 143, Thurs 25 May.

The final day of the final phase. Or should it be phinal fase?

But before the celebrations, the small matter of another 57 miles and three more Lifeboat Stations to visit, starting with Courtown Inshore Rescue Boat at the entrance to the small but beautiful and popular harbour. The first of two D Class Inshore rescue boats to be visited today. What a debt of gratitude we owe to the designers and operating crews of this amazing wee boat.

Thanks Sam (LOM), Finton (DLA), Peter(Helm, with family/future crew Deirdre, Clodagh & Síofra), Fergus (Helm), Andrew (crew) for hanging on to meet me, re-energising me with fine tea and Jammy Dodgers and helping me with route advice (KTSOYL&JP*) on my way to the next Lifeboat.

Wexford, at the mouth of the River Slaney, is another obviously significant Irish port, with a great industrial history. Wexford ILB Station is the last one to visit before returning to the close flanking ALB Station at Rosslare. A complimentary pair of neighbouring Lifeboats. The largest of the ocean-going ALB Fleet and the most successful of the Inshore Lifeboats. A Severn and a D-Class. Thanks David (Snr.Helm) and Jack (Boathouse Manager) at Wexford and Peter (DLA) & Art (Cox’n) at Rosslare for the final round of hand-shakes, kind words and the last couple of signatures on the now complete chart. The moment of realisation that this is suddenly all over has for once, left me lost for words.

I still can’t get over the number of important harbours around this Emerald Isle. Their importance and function has shifted over the last century, mostly away from fishing, imports & exports and towards leisure boating. But this Island Nation, as much or perhaps even more so than the UK, remains dependant upon these great gateways for so much of the country’s income and identity. For as long as this continues, then so shall the need for Lifeboat cover. And for as long as the RNLI continues, then so shall the need for a regular drip feed of voluntary contributions. And for as long as the 100% charitable status and voluntary nature of each local Lifeboat community continues, with support from us via the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, free from Irish and British Government agenda and control, then so shall lives at sea continue to be saved. We shall never completely eliminate all risks, but the RNLI certainly continues to minimise those risks around our amazing coastline and on our inland waterways.

So … go on. Help me reach my fundraising target. If you agree with any of the above, and you’ve enjoyed following my little Odyssey, please turn out your pockets. Or more usefully these days, dust off your debit cards and click here to make another small** donation to the RNLI.  

Thank you so much to all of you for your interest, support and encouragement over the many months. Time to re-acquaint myself with family, friends and all things on the home front.

*KTSOYL&JP? If you can’t figure out this acronym by now, you clearly haven’t been following this travelogue for long.

Keep the sea on your left, and just pedal…   I did just that. For most of the 7,500 miles now cycled, it worked.

** I have of course, no objections to large donations to the RNLI! There are many stations that would love the funds for a down payment on a new Shannon All-weather Lifeboat. But many modest contributions are what help keep the Lifeboats afloat. So please spread the word. Thanks. Steven.

Howth to Arklow, via Dun Laoghaire and Wicklow.

Day 142, Weds 24 May

A new record was set today. My latest morning departure. Facing the discovery of a flat rear tyre whilst loading up on a full fat Irish breakfast isn’t the best start. Discovering a shared interest with the Howth Lifeboat Cox’n/Mech led to lengthy nostalgic reminiscences of aircraft and famous aviators. Taking turns describing the spine-tingling effects of watching and hearing a full-throttled Vulcan, or any Merlin-engined WW2 aircraft climbing out of a low pass…  But Ian’s passion kicked my RAF past into the long grass, way outside any airfield perimeter track. Naming his children after aircraft engines and aviation heroes is just one indicator of the depth of his passion. Ian wasn’t sure I was convinced, so within minutes his wife and daughter were summoned and I was introduced to the delightful young Emilia Guy herself (yes, after Miss Earhart and Wing Commander Gibson).

I was so nearly tempted to accept the invitation to stay another day but… after some analysis of unidentified aircraft twin throttle levers and a few photos on board the Howth Trent Class All-weather Lifeboat (with Fondo on board), it was time to tear myself away and get rolling. Many thanks to Ian Sheridan, a most engaging, enthusiastic character and modest Lifeboat hero who, like most RNLI crew members, do not waste time blowing their own trumpets but just get on with the job when the call comes. Take a look at Howth Lifeboat History, with a particular focus on 1996.

So, why was I suddenly picking up regular punctures on the same wheel? Allowing the pressure to drop makes a tyre much less puncture resistant. Regular pressure checks usually prevent this. The most common cause for another puncture on the same tyre soon after a replacement inner tube would be the failure to remove the offending thorn/nail/pin/shard of glass from the tyre itself. Having checked carefully and removed the previous objects (the first was a sharp piece of wire, the second a very small flint-like shard, then what looked like a headless nail or brad). Each was definitely a different cause, in a different place. Conclusion? After many thousands of miles, the Gatorskin Hardshell had worn too thin to offer protection to the tube. Thanks again to Ian (Howth 2nd Cox’n/Mech) for the guidance and advice on locating a proper bike shop on the next leg of the ride.  360 Cycles Ltd on Clontarf Road did not disappoint. A great shop, with a good range of bikes, parts & accessories and a fine team of at least four busy, knowledgeable and friendly staff. No exact replacement tyre in stock (but who’d really want an equally worn Gatorskin Hardshell anyway?). Before I’d finished the free coffee & biscuits (sorry about my apparent greed, it’s just essential fuel), Fondo was out of the work-stand and ready to roll with a meaty but slick new Bontrager AW1 Hard Case Lite road tyre, which, as you no-doubt know, is the bee’s knees. (If anyone can explain the origin of bee’s knees, I’d be grateful).

Back on course, around Dublin Bay and on to Dun Laoghaire, once an important ferry port, where another Trent Class ALB and a D Class ILB stand by, covering the busy Dublin Bay and a large area of the Irish Sea. Another station with a long and distinguished history, including one of the most tragic incidents, when in 1895, fifteen Dun Laoghaire volunteer crew members were lost in an attempt to save the lives of others. Many thanks to current crew members Kieran (Station Mech), Paul, Laura and Sean, plus visitors Kevin (Wicklow A/ILB), James & Ben (Technical Surveyors) and Vinnie (Fundraiser) for an enjoyable visit and the onward journey advice and contacts.

A sea fret had descended on this corner of Dublin Bay by the time the pedals were spinning once more, adding to the atmosphere around Killiney Hill, where multi-million-Euro homes are inhabited by the likes of Bono and Enya.

Pausing for a moment in Bray, to refill the nose bag (and me) with fig rolls, I was approached by a kind stranger, now known as Liam McKenna, a fellow Wheeler, who paid me the highest compliment, bestowing upon me the title of Real Cyclist, plus a generous donation to the RNLI. The combined absorption of sugar and praise boosted my power output sufficiently to get over the next two big hills en route to Wicklow with ease. A very pretty coast road, but a punishing, bone-shaking surface for most of the way.

Wicklow ALB was quite a contrast with the two previous Dublin Bay Lifeboat Stations. Calm, tranquil, picturesque …  quite befitting the home of the only remaining Tyne Class All-weather Lifeboat in Ireland. The first “fast” slipway-launched lifeboat in the RNLI Fleet. If you’re interested in more information on the various types of Lifeboats, click here. Back in 1911, Wicklow took delivery of the first engine-powered Lifeboat in Ireland. Thanks Brendan (Stn Mech), John (LPO) and Dean (crew/Asst.Mech) for the tea & tour.

Still heading south, another 16 pretty (and pretty bumpy) miles of coast road to Arklow. By now, heading for the latest evening arrival at a Lifeboat Station. But not too late to meet the half a dozen RNLI crew still on-site following this evening’s First Aid training session. A hearty welcome from Michael (Stat Mech), John (LOM), Mark (LPO), Brendan (2nd Cox’n), and Craig & Jimmy (Crew). Within minutes, Michael had phoned The Bridge Hotel/Inn and secured a room for me and (having discovered it was too late to order food there) I had to submit to Brendan’s kind insistence that he was nipping out to get a fish & chips supper!

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Contrary to claims from a few other very old Lifeboat Stations, Arklow’s really is, according to the RNLI itself, THE OLDEST and therefore THE FIRST in Ireland! Particular thanks again to Michael and Brendan for sorting all my needs so quickly and kindly, and for the fascinating tour of the Ger Tigchelaar Trent Class Lifeboat. A poignant tale of the purchase of the boat, in memory of Ger, the beloved wife of the benefactor, Fritz Oppenheim. He also presented the Station with his and his wife’s wedding rings, set into the brass plaque now mounted in the Lifeboat.20170524_202025

On the Arklow Lifeboat Station’s History page, the 1955 entry caught my attention. Amongst all the awards and medals was this:

“Awarded a case of rum by the Sugar Manufacturers Association (of Jamaica) for longest winter service 1955-1956 for service of 22/23 December 1955.”

Clogher Head to Howth, via Skerries

Day 141, Tuesday 23 May.

In brief, a short leg to Skerries then a longer haul to Howth. Thanks Eoin (DLA) at Skerries for turning out for the welcome and chart-signing. I’m not sure which is most famous in this harbour, the 160 years of Lifeboat history, now a busy ILB station housed in a more recent boathouse, or the much older looking Storm in a Teacup Ice Cream Parlour. Thanks to the delightful young ladies who prepared the most delicious complimentary ice cream tub.

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More on Howth later. Time presses.

Newcastle to Clogher Head, via Kilkeel

Day 140, Monday 22 May

Time to catch up with the few miles behind schedule after yesterday’s slight change of plan. No regrets, it was the right decision. Newcastle is a gem. Just one thing missing. Having already met Francie Morgan, a Staff Relief Cox’n, at three Lifeboat Stations around the UK, I was hoping I might bump into him here in his own home town. And suddenly I did! Just as I was about to wheel Fondo out of the boathouse for the daily pre-flight checks, in strolled the familiar figure. The most travelled RNLI Cox’n himself. A quick update on each others’ recent adventures and a fourth Francie Morgan autograph on the chart.

First port of call on today’s long haul is Kilkeel. A busy, bustling fishing port with a few big boatyards and other marine engineering works in the harbour. I get the impression that not much happens here that doesn’t get noticed. As I arrived, on the wrong side of the harbour, a car pulled up and a voice called out “Steve? Follow me. Other side.” On reaching the Lifeboat Station, other figures began to appear from within neighbouring work-places. Two Coastguard vehicles pulled up. A van and a cyclist in overalls parked their respective vehicles. A grapevine as fast as broadband.

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The welcome, the banter, the usual questions about characters at Stations I’d recently visited, cautionary tales of those next down the line and risqué messages to their opposite numbers and an account of a recent outing to Redbay Boats at Cushendall where a number of them were taken on a trip to the Scottish Islands to “study the history of the famous Malt Whiskeys of Islay and Jura”. A very cultured crew.

John (LOM), Jerry (Helm, still for some reason, pronounced “Hellum”), Harry (Helm/Mech, also full-time Coastguard), Leslie (LPO), Stuart (visiting Coastguard from Kirkcudbright) and Raymond (Helm). Thanks to you all for downing tools and brightening my moderately cloudy day.

And so to Clogher Head. This next, already quite long leg, included the third momentary deflating realisation that I was heading for a seasonal ferry that is not licenced to operate until some time in June.

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At the time of planning each day’s route a couple of months earlier, Google Maps confidently suggested such ferries. Still does. I should’ve learned by now. Just another 17 miles to add, all the way up Carlingford Lough, via Warrenpoint to Newry on the Northern Ireland shore and back down the Republic of Ireland shore, around to Dundalk. But the going was good, arriving only 4 minutes after the revised eta, to another unexpected turnout. Thirteen hands to shake, with any concerns of superstition allayed when CocoPops placed his welcome paw on my arm. Thanks to you all. This must be a record. Here we go: Padraig (FT Mech), Gerry (LPO), Matthew, Carolyn, Derek, Niall (all crew), Jim (DLA), Liam (Shore crew), Rhys and Harry (Future Crew) and last, but by no means least, Paddy (Hon. Sec, [retired] and all’round local legend). Oh, and CocoPops (Dog. Thinks he’s crew).

What a great gang! Special thanks to Gerry and Maire for inviting me home for a huge meal and a bed for the night. A wonderful evening with the additional good company of Paddy, who entertained us with some great old Irish songs and tales of yore. His voice still good and strong, well into his ninth decade. At one point, Gerry suggested a quick trip to the harbour. Magical. The sun had just set across the bay, behind the dark Mountains of Mourne. A few lights on the boats in the harbour, where Matthew was busily preparing his boat, the Argonaut IV, for the next fishing trip. The very same boat which, earlier today had brought in the hake and squid we’d just eaten! When we got back to the house, Paddy was still in full flow.

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The Clogher Head Lifeboat Station  is another with a long, distinguished history. The current Lifeboat, a beach launched Mersey Class, affectionately known as Doris, has a couple more years of service ahead of her, before the planned Shannon replacement. More mixed emotions. Nostalgia and respect versus Anticipation and Excitement.20170522_183906

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Portaferry to Newcastle

Day 139, Sunday 21 May 

This morning, I hit one of those low spots. I thought things couldn’t get any worse. With the discovery at breakfast that, on Sundays the ferry from Portaferry to Strangford does not start before 10.00, plus heavy rain and strong Southerly headwind, my plans to meet some of the Newcastle crew (no, I haven’t woken up in the North East of England, this is County Down, N.I.) at mid day were scuppered.
Thankfully, I was right. They didn’t get worse. The rain stopped in good time to blast me dry.

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When I reached Newcastle things continued to change rapidly for the better. A busy seaside town with lots of character and a Lifeboat Station somewhere easy to find, not surprisingly alongside the old harbour in a white Boathouse flying a big RNLI flag. 20170521_184928Right next to the old Harbour Inn, exactly as described a little earlier on the phone. To make things even easier, a few jolly characters in Lifeboat jerseys spotted me and marshalled me in, to the encouraging sounds of cheers and a smattering of applause. At that moment the sun came out. Along with the warm, firm handshakes, I even had a hug from the boss, Lisa the LOM. At this moment, I thought things couldn’t get any better. This time I was wrong. Things got better by the minute.

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In short, a great crew, an historic Lifeboat Station, a lovely old Merseyside All-weather Lifeboat, some fascinating links and connections with Bristol, my home port and, to top it all, a great new scheme began to emerge over a cup of tea, then finalised over a bowl of seafood chowder. One of the requirements of a good Lifeboat Operations Manager must include good lateral thinking and a belief that “if it’s meant for you, it won’t pass you”. Why battle on to the next Station in these conditions? Tomorrow,  the wind will have dropped, the views of the backdrop, the magnificent Mountains of Mourne, will be visible and the next Lifeboat Station en route are happy to be visited at a more sociable hour than a late Sunday afternoon (thanks John at Kilkeel, see you tomorrow).

Many thanks to Lisa (LOM), Paul (Head Launcher*), Nathan (Helm/Nav/acting Mech/LPO), William (Cox’n), Jim (AstMech), and crew members Karl, Orlaith and Lauren for such a great time and all the treats! My Newcastle Lifeboat hoody will be worn with pride but perhaps not in bed in the room you’ve sorted for me in the Harbour House Inn.

Newcastle, County Down has had a Lifeboat since 1825, which moved across Dundrum Bay to this harbour in 1854. This is one of (if not THE oldest) the oldest Lifeboat Stations, with a great history and a huge haul of medals, of which you can find out more by clicking HERE.

Behind the lifeboat station is Widows Row, homes built for some of the widows and families of local fishermen lost at sea. A copy of an historic document hanging on the wall here at the Old Harbour House Inn bears the harrowing list of the 73 lost and their bereft, surviving dependants as a result of just one disastrous storm.20170521_210112-120170521_215204

Newcastle’s Dundrum Bay also shares a fascinating link with Bristol, this being the place where the then still new SS Great Britain ran aground when the captain mistook the St John’s Point Lighthouse for one on the Isle of Man and tried to sail around it. A great story, which involved I.K. Brunel himself coming over to devise the means of re-floating the world’s biggest, first iron, screw driven passenger liner. It took 9 months and involved the building of a temporary harbour. After a long, successful career the SS GB is now back in its original Bristol Dock as part of one of the country’s best maritime museums.20170521_21530120170521_215319

* No, this does not mean that Paul is in charge of a giant catapult for warding off the next invasion.

Bangor to Portaferry via Donaghadee

Day 138, Sat 20 May

Enough time before we set off for my first ever cinnamon scone and a really good cup of coffee at the Guillemot Café opposite Bangor Lifeboat Station. A perfect start to today’s next short dash and first port of call at Donaghadee.

Thanks again to Kevin & Co at the Habour Master’s Office in Bangor and Mark (LPO) at Bangor ILB Station this morning.

Just seven miles between two Lifeboat Stations but each with a quite different outlook.

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Bangor’s Inshore boat in a modern Boathouse overlooking Belfast Lough and a busy marina and harbour full of leisure craft, with many visiting boats calling in on passage to Scotland, Wales and beyond. Donaghadee’s Trent Class All-weather Lifeboat tucked behind a solid stone harbour ready to head out to sea in any direction as required. The old Boathouse has a cosy historic atmosphere. Not a lot of elbow room for a full crew of between 5(min) and 7 volunteers  hurriedly donning their full kit on a dark, stormy night.

An impressive turn-out on a Saturday morning here at Donaghadee. A great atmosphere in another close-knit community. Thanks Peter (LOM), John A (2nd Cox’n), Michael, John Paul, Ian & David (all crew), Nicky and Sarah and the very curious and attentive young Finn, the trainee guide dog. Also, thank you Mark (Bangor LPO) for catching up by car to take a few photos to share, having discovered a faulty SD card and had none of the images captured earlier at Bangor.

The next leg of today’s route took me via Burr Point, my final ‘Cardinal’ in a full set of the extreme points of the UK and Ireland.

Another five minutes of fame for Fondo as the most Easterly bicycle in Ireland.

The third Lifeboat Station and today’s end of the road is at Portaferry, at the southern entrance to Strangford Lough. The Atlantic 85 Inshore Lifeboat based here in a very smart Boathouse, spends more of its working hours on the popular Lough than it does out to sea. The seasonal leisure-boating fraternity much more likely to underestimate the potential dangers of the “safe haven” of a large open lough than the regular ocean going sailors.

Thanks Graham (DLA) for the welcome tea & useful local knowledge. The original 19th & early 20th Century Lifeboat station’s priorities were very different. Then known as the Cloughey Lifeboat, based a little further up the coast facing out to sea, the original Lifeboats were frequently called to ships in distress on the very busy Irish Sea. The old service boards, now safely hung inside the new Station, show the huge numbers of lives saved over many years of service.

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Larne to Bangor

Day 137, Friday 19 May

Fully restored, recharged and revitalised after a full, no-cycling rest day, today’s ride was a breeze. A barely noticeable Southerly around the broad, flat calm Belfast Lough. 20170519_105759A gnat’s whisker below 40 miles and hardly any climbing. There were however, a few challenges. Like getting into, through and out of the City of Belfast, mid way along today’s route. As noticed and reported previously, the cycle friendly roads, with nice wide, clearly defined safe margins for us pedal-powered two wheelers have a tendency to suddenly disappear for long stretches, usually when they’re most needed. But today, they weren’t going to get me down. I was on a mission. With the huge, historic, Belfast Lough natural harbour to keep on my left, the giant, world-famous, difficult-to-miss Harland&Wolf shipbuilding gantries and the Titanic Quarter landmarks to guide us, Fondo and rider’s determination was unstoppable. Apart from the essential moments to stop and gawp. And very occasionally remember to take a photo.

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Today’s credits and thanks (to those who have assisted, supported, entertained and tolerated me) go first to John & Nicky, for sharing their amazing top-floor, central Belfast holiday apartment, with such great urban views, contrasting so much with the typical Irish coastal room-with-a-view of the last five weeks. I couldn’t see the sea, but the high-rise view back across the city, with the Divis Mountain backdrop, was stunning by day, by night and in the twilight zone.

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Thanks again to Derek, Station Mechanic and creative up-cycler of old RNLI yellow wellies at Larne Lifeboat Station for everything, including this morning’s travel advice and cheery send-off. 20170519_094924At the other end of today’s ride, Bangor’s Harbour Master, Marina Manager, ex RNLI crew and now Bangor Lifeboat Station’s DLA and general Mr Very-Useful-to-Know-and-All-Round-Nice-Guy, Kevin Baird must be thanked for giving up part of his late lunch break to meet & greet, make coffee, open up the Lifeboat Station, sign The Chart, give a personal guided tour of said LBStn plus Harbour and HM’s Office and tuck Fondo away in the Harbour Master’s Office for the remains of the day and night.

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Must get back into writing shorter sentences. Shorter than that. Even shorter. Now.

Red Bay to Larne

Day 136, Weds 17 May

My shortest day ahead, a mere 23 miles of snaking coastline, just a few feet above sea level, a very short stone’s throw from the ebbing tide and no hills! Not as thrilling as yesterday’s roller-coaster, vertigo inducing, leg burning, brake-block melting ride along County Antrim’s North East coast, but still a great ride, this time around the bottom of some mighty tall cliffs, along a boulder-strewn shoreline. No time for rolling back the stones. I can still just about see The Mull of Kintyre over my left shoulder.

I had to try very hard to find something to complain about today. Then it occurred to me that there were several cyclists, often in pairs, zooming past me, going in the opposite direction at a very rapid pace. Of course! The wind was on their backs! Wimps! Where were they all yesterday, when I was struggling over Benmore, Fair Head and Torr Head? I don’t recall a single cyclist other than me all day yesterday.

Having estimated a journey of a little less than two hours, I was crushed to discover that, as Fondo’s front wheel made gentle contact with the white painted wall of Larne Lifeboat Station, Garmin had recorded and now displayed 25.2 miles in 2hrs:01min! Was it the moderate southerly headwind or the missed left turn short-cut to the harbour? Or a combination of both? I’ll get over it.

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An undeserved but very kind welcoming committee greeted me upstairs in the crew room. Thanks Derek (Station Mech), Fiona & Barry (A&ILB crew and parents of wee Isla, future crew), for the instant production of a generously filled chicken, bacon & mayo sandwich, pink fondant fancies and mug of hot tea! Later, Willy (ILB Helm & ALB crew) and Norman (2nd Cox’n and world record breaking pilot, the first and so far only one to circumnavigate the world in an Auto Giro) called in to say hello. We’re both wondering what to do next.  Maybe a joint ANTI clockwise rotation of UK&ROI in an Autogyro fitted with floats.

What a great bunch. A full tour of the LB Station, which included some unusual extra kit, this also being the North East Ireland base for the Flood Rescue Service. Next to their regular D Class ILB,  is another more basic version of a D Class boat and a second, specially equipped very low mileage, semi submersible RNLI Landrover.

Thanks again to Derek and all the crew here for looking after me so well, including organising my bed for the night in the neighbouring Harbour House Inn B&B.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s scheduled rest day. Meeting up with senior brother John and sister in law Nicky who are staying in Belfast City.

Portrush to Red Bay

Day 135, Tues 16 May

As promised yesterday, a few more words & pictures on Portrush before moving on. Thanks again to Judy (LPO) for more useful contacts, Anthony (Stn Mech) for giving Fondo a fine stable for the night, Tim (ALB crew) and Keith (LOM) for your kind support and encouragement.

I hadn’t realised the significance of the glass cabinet that grubby Fondo had been leaning against all night in this very atmospheric old Boathouse. Surrounded by the service boards listing significant Lifesaving rescues for the last 126 years and many photographs and paintings capturing some of those moments, the glass cabinet contained some memorabilia gems, including several of the actual medals awarded to crew members of this station. One in particular, one of the first awarded to a Portrush Lifeboat man, caught my attention.20170516_102507

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If you opened the link to this Station’s history in yesterday’s post you may have noticed that the most recent medal awarded to a Portrush man was to the current Station Mechanic, the modest and cheerful Anthony himself, to whom I must now bid a fond and privileged farewell.

A later-than-normal start after such welcome distractions. Time to get pedalling along the Causeway Coast Road of County Antrim.

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The rain stopped and the visibilty improved. Soon, after a long climb, the view over the brow took my breath away as much as the effort to get there. This stretch of road truly is another stunner. The Emerald Isle has just layed out another vista, completely different to those well trodden (or, more often driven) rugged and ragged, westward pointing peninsulas of Counties Cork, Kerry and Clare. Today’s ride was way above expectations. Some very demanding climbs, white-knuckle descents around the most picturesque coastline with views across to Scotland, from the first tantalising glimpses of Islay (where, just over a year ago, Fondo & I enjoyed a tour of the island’s famous malt whisky route), the Paps of Jura and finally the nearest, clearest, vast mass of the Mull of Kintyre. Not forgetting to occasionally look inland, over my right shoulder, at a landscape to match the splendour of many a Scottish Glen. Perhaps the story of the origin of the Giant’s Causeway is true! Or maybe not. The tempting detour down the pay-to-enter cliff path to Northern Ireland’s No.1 tourist attraction will have to wait until senior brother, Geology John, turns up to share the experience very soon.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment at another Lifeboat Station. A couple more ridiculously steep plunges towards sea level down to Cushendall in Red Bay. A fine setting for a very proudly perched, large Lifeboat Station. Not only does this location warrant an Atlantic 85 ILB but recently, the addition of a Trent All-weather Lifeboat on trials here, suggesting that this notorious north coastline, with exposed headlands, cliffs, beaches and rocky islands, and a vast expanse of open sea, needs serious ocean-going kit!

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Thanks Liam (Station Mech), Joe (DLA), John W (ILB Helm/ALB Nav), Sarah Mc (ILB Cew), Danny (HonSec) and later on, Andrew McAlister (LOM) and Paddy McLoughlin (Cox’n) for everything, from the great welcome, the visit to the temporary ALB location, the useful tips and local information, the accounts of some fascinating Lifeboat experiences and rescues, finding a very good local place to stay and providing another warm, dry, secure place for Fondo.

Later that evening, having noticed the number of McAllister/McAlister connections around the village (shops, estate agents, funeral parlour etc. .) and spent much of the evening in Harry’s Bar talking to a 7th generation Cushendall  McA…, I asked another local if he too was one of the clan. “No, I’m not!” he said. “I’m in the minority. There’s a strong belief around here that if you roll back any stone within sight of The Mull of Kintyre, another bloody McAllister will appear. That’s why we leave the stones alone.”

And there was I, thinking I was one of a rare breed. No more talk of McAllisters. I promise.

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I didn’t say it!