Day 67 Monday 16 May: A new record. Five Lifeboat Stations in one day. Seahouses, Craster, Amble, Newbiggin, Blyth.
For the first time since Oban on the west coast of Scotland, today I woke up in familiar surroundings. Not the actual bedroom, but thanks anyway to Paul & staff at The Sunningdale in Bamburgh for a very comfortable night and exactly the breakfast I needed. A great view of Bamburgh Castle from my window, first bathed in red setting sunlight, then floodlit, then silhouetted in front of this morning’s sunrise.
Just a sort dash along the sand dune lined coast road to Seahouses. Just as I remembered. Many fish&chip shops and a fascinating old port. Thanks to John (FT Mech/ Cox’n), LeeAnne (A/ILB crew and fundraising chair), Richard (crew & ILB Helm) and Rachael (crew) for the great welcome. Having called in at the RNLI Museum in Bamburgh yesterday, where Grace Darling’s famous heroic feat is featured, including the actual boat she used, it was quite moving to see the current Seahouses Mersey Class Lifeboat bearing her name. But not for much longer. One of several soon to be replaced by a new Shannon Class. I could sense the mixed feelings of the crew. Their fondness for the long serving Mersey and the excitement of taking delivery of the state of the art, faster, more manoeuvrable boat. They also have (and make frequent use of) a trusty D Class Inshore boat on a trailer with a Land Rover. Many of their shouts are causeway related at nearby Lindisfarne. Despite the clear warning signs, visitors still set off across the Holy Island causeway on a rising tide. Other regular calls for assistance come from divers in trouble around the even nearer Farne Islands.
On to Craster, where I met John (DLA) at one of the smallest, quietest Stations. Although very quiet now, this was once one of the many busy little herring ports. Now popular as a destination for those with a fondness for seafood, with the old smoke house and not so old restaurant still doing well.
Another short (14 mile) ride along the gently undulating coast road to Amble, via the fine old Warkworth Castle and along the bank of the River Coquette. Just beyond the well stocked Marina, the Amble A&ILB Station is tucked into the very neat and tastefully modernised harbour. Thanks to another John (full time Lifeboat mechanic) for allowing me to use your magnificent, huge crew room as my lunch stop and for a good hour of your time discussing the history and future of Lifeboats here. Here, another crew awaits the not too distant Shannon replacement. Anyone fancy a share in a soon to be retired Mersey All Weather Lifeboat?
This part of the busy Northumberland coast has a string of equidistant Lifeboats. Another 14 miles to Newbiggin ILB Station. A high tech modern Atlantic 85, tucked into the oldest surviving original Lifeboat house (1851) still in use. To add to the curious setting, the boat house is surrounded by about a dozen vintage tractors, used by local boat owners to launch their boats. Many thanks to Stan, a real local character full of fascinating tales, now retired from the role of Lifeboat Operations Manager but still very much involved as the Chairman and a prolific maker of fine models of boats, historic and current. Thanks Stan, for so much of your time and Mark (ILB crew), for you perfect timing. There’s something quite gratifying about supping hot tea whilst staring out to sea from a strategically placed Lifeboat Station window. This time, I could sea the next destination, just 3.5 miles across the bay on the far side of the Blyth estuary. But not so near by road.
On to Blyth. A very different setting, in a more industrial port. Another big, modern Station, currently housing two D Class Inshore boats and an Atlantic B Class on a very clever AquaDock launching facility. An ALB Station until recently but the RNLI took away the under-used Tent Class, now in use in the reserve fleet. Many thanks to another John (LOM) for your determination to help me make contact with one of the more illusive ILB Stations soon to be visited. But not today. Five is plenty.