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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