25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.

The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.

January 2019 in New Zealand

From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.

Champagne and Provence, France

Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.

The stunning Italian Riviera

We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.

Picturesque Slovenia

We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.

A final jaunt across France

Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.

Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.

There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.

Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?

Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!

PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!

8-15 December: Culture, kayaking and conviviality

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

A week last Friday I had heard disappointing news about my airway. A visit to my local ENT surgeon found the scar tissue has returned again, closing my trachea by about 40%. Definitely not news I wanted to hear. He injected some steroids into my neck, a treatment aimed at shrinking the tissue – regular readers will know I have had a few of these procedures now, so I was hopeful it might work. Well, I don’t want to talk too soon, but so far so good – even in spite of the continued smoke, I am breathing much easier. Our fingers are crossed it stays that way over the coming weeks.

When it comes to breathing, higher numbers are better…

One of the main reasons for staying in Sydney is to be able to catch up with friends here, and breathing is always useful for that!

We had a great week full of lovely smiling faces of friends we haven’t seen for several months, with a couple of dinners out as well as hosting here in our house-sit, pleased to be able to repay others’ generosity while we have not had a home to entertain in.

There had to be a curry night with our friends John and Eveliene
And we found a local dumpling house to treat Rosemary and Richard to a Christmas lunch with a difference
A Friday night catch up with friends at the Opera Bar
L-R: Miles, Throshni, Mrs A, Owen, Mr A, Eric

I also joined a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW, always a haven of tranquility, colour and inspiration nestled at the edge of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and the Domain. At present there is an exhibition of work by Ben Quilty, an artist who uses art to spur debate and discussion on various issues. I first noticed his work back in 2011 when he won the Archibald Prize for portraiture, an oil painting of a fellow artist, Margaret Olly.

Delicious smears of thick oil paint make up the features of Margaret’s face in this larger than life canvas artwork
Using a Rorschach technique (painting one side and squashing it on another canvas to make a mirror image) this artwork is a response to an 1880 painting of Myall Creek in Victoria, where a terrible massacre of Aboriginals occurred. The woman on the riverside visible on the right, has all but disappeared on the left in Quilty’s version of the picture ‘Evening Shadows’. Quite moving to see it in person.
Another Rorschach technique painting, Fairy Bower, depicts another beautiful location which is associated with sadness and grief

After one of the worst smoke days we have seen, we awoke to cool temperatures and drizzle on Wednesday morning, the haze clearing over the water. Mark and I decided to take advantage of it and drove to nearby Tunks Park and launched our kayak.

Wrapped up warm in our rain jackets we could hardly believe the day before had been 36°C

We just love how you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by getting out on the water, with no cars or buses to disturb the gentle lapping of the water on the boat’s hull.

Peaceful paddling past the multi million dollar homes on the water’s edge
The boat launching nearest to where we are staying

We also launched our kayak on Saturday morning from the beach at Clontarf, paddling over to Balmoral for lunch and back. If only we could easily pack this beast in our luggage and take it over to Europe, what fun we would have exploring there!

At 7 metres 30cm it’s a bit beyond our luggage allowance, and actually longer than Truffy, our motorhome!
Launching from the calm turquoise waters at Clontarf
Sated post lunch in Balmoral, ready for bit more of an explore…Noticing my dirty neck? It’s actually the remnants of a big bruise from my injections last week!

We’re really enjoying staying in Mosman too, in the this little nook of Sydney we haven’t previously explored. We’re surrounded by tall gum trees, woken each morning by a raucous dawn chorus of birds. Bush turkeys strut their stuff around the streets, kicking up gum leaves, and flying up in to the trees to roost at night. Owls, tawny frogmouths and possums take up the night shift, chatters and calls joining the sound of cicadas in the evening warmth. It’s a fairly peaceful little haven, belying the fact it is only a 20 minute bus ride from central Sydney.

We joined a few of the neighbours for Jingle & Mingle, a Sunday evening seasonal catch up in the local park, taking along wine and nibbles. It was great to meet such a friendly bunch of people, with accents from around the world. We’re happy to make this area our home for the next few weeks.

27-29 November: Edging back into New South Wales

Author: Mrs A

Location: Orbost, Victoria & Wonboyn Lake, New South Wales, Australia

It was hard to tear ourselves away from our fabulous beachside view at Yanakie, but we needed to start pointing our noses back towards Sydney. On Wednesday we drove for a few hours, stopping for the night in Orbost. Orbost is a sweet little village with friendly, welcoming locals. We even considered staying another day there once we read about the East Gippsland rail trail that starts there, but on waking Thursday morning with the area shrouded in bushfire smoke decided it would be better to move on.

So Thursday saw us driving up the highway and crossing the border in to New South Wales. This part of north-eastern Victoria/south-eastern NSW is really stunning, with tall gum trees lining the road, lush with sub-tropical palms, climbing creepers, tree-ferns and colourful parrots streaking across the road in flocks, screeching. This is the Nadgee Nature Reserve (in NSW)/Croajingolong Wilderness area (in Victoria), together forming one of the twelve World Biosphere Reserves in Australia. These areas are internationally designated to be protected and demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature – much like already existed before Europeans landed in Australia. Looking at the map you can see this region is very undeveloped and the few tracks through the reserves largely follow paths forged by the first Australians over several thousands of years visiting this region.

This region is rich in flora and fauna

Before long we were pulling off the highway towards Wonboyn Lake, a sleepy little settlement with an old campground on the side of the hillside.

Reading the reviews, it sounded like the camp was on the shore of the lake and within walking distance of the beach, but on arrival we found this wasn’t the case. We soon found it was a drive or cycle to get to any of the beaches, and the lake was at the bottom of a steep hill.

The campground has recently been sold to a young couple from Cootamundra, seeking an escape from the rat-race and wanting somewhere nice to bring up their three (soon to be four) young children. They have their work cut out, with the site looking like it has been some time since anyone invested any funds in it. It certainly has some good points though.

Wonboyn Lake is famous for its oysters, with at least one producer having won awards in Sydney for its tasty mollusks. We bought a couple of dozen small unopened ones from the reception as we checked in, and borrowed a shucking knife to make a first attempt at opening them. I tried one and gave up after the shell broke off, handing the task over to Mr A. He did an amazing job – successfully shucking 23 oysters with all ten digits intact at the end and no damage to anything in the Zone – always a bonus!

Just $16 bought us 26 unopened oysters – three of which we couldn’t open…small but perfectly delicious!
This is where the oysters were from – we imagine the cream of the crop head up to Sydney’s restaurants to be served for $4+ each

We jumped on our bikes for a ride, finding the area much hillier than expected. I gave up on seeing a third steep hill, my breathing has not been great since my cold, and I wasn’t keen to keep struggling. Mr A continued on while I checked out the lake and returned to camp.

Serenity down at Wonboyn Lake
Patricia Pelican and her little friend
I sat and watched an azure kingfisher swooping in amongst the mangroves here, catching lunch

One of the great things about the campground is its proximity to the national park. This means the wildlife is literally on your doorstep, and actively encouraged by the camp hosts who handed us a brown paper bag full of birdseed when we checked in. I sprinkled some on the ground outside the Zone. Within moments we had dozens of rainbow lorikeets noisily flying down from all directions to feed.

A couple of juvenile lorikeets watch from the trees above
Clearly one of those loud squarks was the signal for the feeding frenzy to commence, and the flock descends
What do you mean I have to wait until later for my next feed?

They were later joined by the more nervous little birds – scrub wrens, superb fairy wrens, ducks and white-headed pigeons, with the occasional bower bird swooping in and out for a bite. A cat-like cry overhead alerted us to a pair of giant wedge-tailed eagles flying past, cruising for a feed – not so interested in the seed, but more so the creatures feeding on it.

A little scrub wren flies down to collect the seeds left behind in the dirt

Later in the afternoon, wallabies and kangaroos came into the campground to graze on the grass there, sticking to the tree line ready to hop off if they detected danger. Apparently wombats are often seen here too, but they were not out to play when we visited.

A mob of kangaroos pauses their evening grazing to watch us walk past…the young joey isn’t too concerned and keeps drinking its milk

Friday morning we awoke to what is sadly becoming a familiar scene, our surroundings bathed in bushfire smoke. We quickly looked on Google to check it wasn’t close by, and found there were a couple of reported ‘under control’ fires by the highway, about 9km inland from where we were. A northerly breeze picked up and the smoke started to clear somewhat, so we decided to chance it and go for another cycle.

Mr A had discovered yesterday that the downhill I had given up my ride on had been the last hill, so I decided to give mountain biking another go. I was so pleased I did. The steepest climb had been what I had already managed yesterday, after that it was all downhill into the Nadgee Nature Reserve, along fire trails towards the coast.

Lovely quiet fire trails

We had a great afternoon cycling and only saw five other people the whole time – a real benefit of travelling off-peak.

The two beaches we rode to were particularly spectacular. Greenglades Beach is overlooked by rich red cliffs, in the sunlight glowing in contrast to the white sand and turquoise waters.

Greenglades with the red cliffs

We had ridden carrying our swimming costumes, but on meeting a couple hiking out of the nature reserve who told us they had spotted sharks cruising the coast just off shore, we decided just to get our toes wet on this occasion!

Such stunning scenery
It is all ours!
The empty beach stretches on for about 6km in total
No sharks for us, just this little lizard lounging on a rock

We rode through the bush along to the other end of the beach where we spotted a couple of people fishing, the strong warm north wind was whipping up the sand and giving them a blasting. We decided not to stick around.

Baycliff Beach and its windswept sand dunes
Looking south towards Greenglades – the end of the slither of sand is where we had paddled in the water

Another visit then to the upper reaches of the lake reassured us we had made the right decision to not go kayaking today – unless we wanted to go in one direction really fast!

Strong northerly winds send waves rushing across the shallow Wonboyn Lake

It was a fabulous 20km cycle, and well worth the hills back to the campground (ok, we walked up one of them!). A beautiful location and a great time of year to visit – we imagine it would be crazy at Christmas and during the school holidays.

We’re guessing that not many people ride bikes around here. One of the locals approached Mark and asked him what he was doing. When he explained he was going for a ride, the bloke responded “That all sounds a bit hard work!”. It’s such a shame more people don’t get the beauty of riding this way – the fresh air, the smells and sounds of the bush, hearing the rustles of lizards in the leaf litter and the rush of wings as birds fly by. You miss all that from behind the windscreen in your car. But hey, if everyone did it, then places like this might be busy and we wouldn’t get them all to ourselves…

21-24 November: Feeling the burn on the Great Southern Rail Trail

Author: Mrs A

Location: Foster and Yanakie, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: Hot temperatures blew into Victoria, taking our pleasant days in the early 20°Cs up to a very steamy high of 41°C (that’s an increase from about 70 to 106 in fahrenheit for those working in old measurements). This was coupled by strong winds which whipped up the dry earth and covered everything in a thin layer of orange dust. Definitely not a day to be outdoors. We were very grateful for the ability to hibernate in Mark and Diane’s house with its refreshing air conditioning, Tassie in particular pleased to have a run about in a house.

One happy and very spoilt Burmese cat, Miss Tassie

Friday: We farewelled our friends and headed south, aiming for the town of Foster, inland from Wilsons Promontory, south east of Melbourne.

Our route this trip – down to Foster in Victoria

We settled in to our small campsite mid afternoon, relishing the quietness at this time of year, having the pick of sites in the park. An hour or so later our friend Owen arrived from Melbourne, checking into a cabin on the campground. Last time we saw Owen in person was in Split, Croatia, just before he headed off for more adventures around Europe, so it was good to catch up.

My first attempt at Chicken Basque with roast potatoes
Dinner, good music, fine wine and company – all you need

Saturday: We had chosen Foster as a destination due to its position on the Great Southern Rail Trail, deciding to cycle three sections of the track, making up a just over 60km (38 miles) return ride. It was a stunning morning, with blue skies and a gentle breeze, and we set off on the trail to our first stop, the village of Toora.

Views out to the hills
Setting off down a wooded part of the track

The scenery was quite lovely as the trail took us through woodland, past wetlands and fields of cattle, all framed by rolling green hills. Rosellas, galahs, lorikeets, honeyeaters and wrens were among the multitude of birds accompanying us on our ride.After a morning tea break in Toora, we continued on to Welshpool and from there down to Port Welshpool. Locally caught fish and chips was our reward for lunch.

Feeling empowered after coffee and a croissant
Amazing skies at Port Welshpool

We had a ride around Port Welshpool, which is a very sleepy settlement, on this particular day busy with people fishing for the heaviest snapper as part of a competition.

Welshpool has a long jetty stretching 850 metres out to sea (the third longest wooden jetty in Australia apparently). It has been restored and improved in the past 12 months, reopened just before Christmas last year. We rode out to the end of the jetty, once out there fully able to appreciate the gale force winds that had picked up as the day progressed. It didn’t bode well for our return cycle, with the full strength coming from the direction we were headed. Where are our eBikes when we need them?!

Bracing against the wind at the end of the jetty
Looking out towards Wilsons Prom
The Welshpool Jetty
Looking out towards Little Snake Island and Sand Island in Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park
Owen rides off along the quiet waterfront pathway

It was a very hard slog back into winds blowing 30km/h with gusts of up to 45km/h which could almost blow you to a standstill or certainly across the pathway. Our thighs were burning by the time we finally reached Foster and our camp…in its favour, the wind did see off the flies which were out in force on our outward cycle!

A little echidna strolls along a quiet street in Foster

Feeling in need of refreshment, Mark and Owen decided to head out to Gurney’s Cidery, local brewers of apple and pear cider, tastings and fine views. A tasting paddle and some cheeses later, they returned with some goodies to try at a later date.

A selection of local cheeses and a paddle of ciders
Fine views from the tasting rooms

Later that evening the three of us headed out to Promontory Restaurant & Winery. Incredible views were our reward for driving up into the hills for this venue which only opened in February this year.

Ready for a feed – outside the restaurant

A lovely venue with an eagle’s-eye view was accompanied by a brilliant menu featuring locally produced meats, fish and vegetable and Victorian wines. As a new winery the vines are not yet producing enough grapes to produce a vintage, but the wine list did not disappoint.

A glass of bubbles to start for me, a local Chardonnay for Mark and Owen

The food was outstanding and served with a twist – fresh scallops with lentils, whitebait with a garlic aioli, bbq pork spare ribs and a seafood laksa made up our selections. A 2015 Cambrian Rock Shiraz from Heathcote topped off the choices for the evening, enjoyed as the sun set over the magnificent view.

Sunset is quite wonderful with the whispy windswept cloud – looking over the restaurant
Looking down towards Wilsons Prom National Park
The young vineyard under a fiery sky

Sunday: We were all amazed we were able to walk after yesterday’s cycling efforts, and after breakfast packed and and moved on our way. Owen accompanied us to our next destination, Yanakie, near to Wilsons Prom. Regular readers may recall we stayed here earlier in the year, but were not able to enter the national park due to fires – we are hoping we will have more favourable conditions on this visit.

A site with a view – absolute water frontage
As long as there is sunshine, Miss T is happy with this spot
Looking back at the Feline Zone from the beach
Our view for the next few days, looking up towards Wilsons Promontory National Park

The three of us went to nearby Fish Creek for a look around and lunch. Its a quirky little village, with art galleries, local jewellers and a handful of cafes – reminding us of Nimbin in the Byron Bay hinterland. We had some lunch before returning to the Zone. Owen bid us farewell and took himself back to Melbourne.

Fish Creek, founded in 1884

14-17 November: Reconnecting with the Zoners

Author: Mrs A

Location: Beechworth, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: We are extremely fortunate that on our travels around Australia, and especially since owning a Zone RV caravan, we have met some wonderful people. So we were quite excited to learn (while sheltering from wind and rain back in Scotland a month or so ago), that there was to be a Zone Owners Muster to be held in Beechworth, Victoria just after we were back in Australia, and some of our friends would be attending.

We drove south from Rutherglen, arriving in Beechworth mid morning. Beechworth is an old gold mining town, originally settled in the mid 1880s. It was in 1852 that gold was discovered in the region, transforming a sleepy rural area by 8,000 people. The gold rush didn’t last long, but fortunately a forward thinking council at the time invested in infrastructure including a hospital and gaol which lasted until the late 1990s, ensuring the continued life of the centre.

The Zone muster was held at Sambell Lake, at a caravan site there. The lake used to be an open cut gold mine in the 1800s, and during the 1920s was regenerated to create a nature reserve. As we drove in, a koala bounded across the road in front of us and swiftly clambered up a tree beside us. We then spotted our friends Diane and Mark waving enthusiastically in a crowd of other Zoners, and drove off to park up before joining them and saying hello to the others.

The late afternoon Zone catch up getting kicked off

It wasn’t a late night – I had a shocking sore throat, fighting a virus.

Sunset over the lake

Friday: Our friends Diane and Mark hired bikes at the caravan park, and the four of us set off on the Murray to the Mountains cycle trail which starts at the park. My battle against the virus had been lost in the night and I woke with a horrible head cold that gradually got worse throughout the day.

Diane, Mark, Mr A, Mrs A – ready to explore

We rode a short way along the trail, stopping when a steep downhill faced us. Already having a narrow airway and now blocked nose and swollen sore throat, I wasn’t up to cycling uphill again without a motor! Pennyweight Winery located beside the path saved the day and we called in for a tasting.

Downhill from Beechworth….
After only 5km we find the Pennyweight Winery – most of us are happy for a taste – Mark less keen as he’s more of a beer drinker…
Some tasty drops at this boutique winery

Several delicious whites, reds and fortified drops later, we bought a couple of bottles and rode back into Beechworth for lunch and some beer tasting at the Bridge Road Brewers (to make Mark happy!).

The Bridge Road Brewers

Saturday: I woke up with the full force of the cold hitting, constantly sneezing and generally feeling awful, head pounding and working my way through several boxes of Aloe Vera tissues. Mr A and Mark took off on our bikes for another ride.

My day was very subdued, while Mr A was more social and did some sorting out of our bits and pieces in the car, reacquainting himself with what we have here in Australia. Its the challenge with maintaining two mobile homes on different sides of the planet – you think you have something, only to remember its in the other hemisphere! Ah, first world problems…!

Miss Tassie enjoyed having me around to keep her company
Miss T demonstrates the best way to recover from a cold in the afternoon sunshine

I was persuaded to leave the caravan mid afternoon and have a stroll around Beechworth, Diane and Mark bravely allowing me and my germs into their car. We browsed the gold centre (plenty of gold for sale) and Mr A’s favourite type of gold, a huge traditional sweet shop.

A fabulous scrap metal sculpture of a gold panner outside the Gold centre
Mr A with a look on his face that strongly reminds me of one of his grandsons….! (Luke!)

I concluded the day with an early night, while Mr A joined the Zoners for dinner at back at the Bridge Road Brewery.

Sunday: Another fine day in Beechworth, and a turning point in my cold. I felt a little more energetic and so we jumped in the car and drove a short way out of town to the Mount Pilot Lookout – a sandstone outcrop surrounded by eucalyptus forest. We climbed up and were rewarded with magnificent 360 degrees views across the region.

You can see for miles from up here
We imagine people have climbed up to this point for hundreds of years
Taking a moment to enjoy the view
A beautiful Sunday morning
Blowing my nose for ten millionth time on the hike down!

The flies were out in force, with giant horseflies landings hungrily on our bare legs, so we didn’t hang around at the top.

We moved on to check out Woolshed Falls, once the centre of the goldfields with thousands of prospectors camped along Spring Creek. Again the flies were there to greet us, so we didn’t hang around to entertain them.

Woolshed Falls…there is still gold here for those prospectors who have time and skill to find it…
Tassie took me for a very short walk around the campground on our return

In the afternoon, Mr A, Mark, Diane and I joined another group of Zoners at Beechworth’s second brewery, Billson’s.

This brewery was quite different from the first. They are very friendly and immediately welcomed us and invited us to taste the cordial selection, while giving us a run down of the history and work they are putting into the business. We tried shots of the gin as well. Downstairs in the basement, a speakeasy bar complete with leather chesterfield sofas offered beer tasting and sales.

Who are these clowns?
Doing a little cordial and sparkling water tasting
Mark, Mark – dog with cleft lip…Apparently a Mark joke (heard this often…yawn)
Enjoying a gin with Diane and one of the other Zone owners…don’t look too closely at my sore pink eyes and nose!

Mr A also concluded he preferred the beer at this brewery, having hit a winner on his first try, compared with trying 6 different beers at the other place and not being that keen on any. He is sure to keep researching though!

We had a couple of wines around the campfire with the Zoners before another quiet and early night back in the van. We are wild things!

It’s such a shame a virus killed my energy and ability to be more social this weekend – Zone owners always tend to have so many great tips for travel and frequently have many years of travel experience to share as well. Fortunately Mr A felt well enough to be more sociable than me and has come away having learned a few things, and our existing friendship with Mark and Diane strengthened as well. All in all a great weekend, and a new virus added to my immune system!

1-10 November: A very warm welcome on our return to Australia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia (including La Perouse, Maroubra, Malabar, Centennial Park, Coogee and Matraville)

We landed safely in Sydney on Saturday morning, an hour earlier than expected due to favourable winds from Singapore (nothing to do with Mr A and curry eating for once!), met by our lovely friend Jenny.

Jenny and David have again kindly invited us to stay with them for the week in their apartment, while we get ourselves settled in and tasks done in Sydney.

We spent the day getting reacquainted with Miss Tassie who quickly forgave us for leaving her, given we had appointed such caring foster parents in our absence, and later on cracked open our last bottle of Champagne from our trip to Epernay in France, carefully saved and transported back around the world. We enjoyed it with some Sydney Rock Oysters – definitely some of the most flavoursome oysters we have tasted, and high on the list of things we have missed from Australia.

Cheers! Our last bottle of boutique champagne from Jacquinot & Fils, Epernay. This retails for $75 a bottle in Australia – $34 at the cellar door in France

Sunday saw the four of us strolling down to La Perouse for brunch at the Boatshed, a beachside restaurant. La Perouse is situated at the northern end of Botany Bay, named after a French navigator who landed here in 1788.

The Boatshed restaurant behind us, busy on a warm Sunday morning
Pied cormorants having a clean on the bayside rocks
Bare Island – a fort on here was built in 1885 to protect Sydney’s ‘back door’ from Russian invasion – these days you can book a tour on Sunday afternoons
Compared to what we have seen in Europe, this bridge seems relatively modern, at just 130 years old
Crossing over the bridge to Bare Island
Sydney Sandstone – the bedrock that Sydney and surrounds is built on, used to be an ancient river. It is a very durable rock, and quite distinctive for the ripples of sand and deposits that are visible in the rock. Apparently it is possible to find gold in these rocks.

Jet lag plagued us for most of the week, allowing us to see some fabulous sunrises (sadly, much of Australia’s east coast bush land is on fire, smoke streaking the skies), and try to resist afternoon naps!

Good morning Monday…5am looked like this if you slept through!
Tassie gave us some yoga tips on how to stretch out after our long flight – this manoeuvre is called ‘downward cat’…

On Tuesday morning Mr A had his eyes checked using the best equipment in Australia, again getting the all clear that his pressures remain stable. It’s always a relief to know that his eyesight has been maintained, and one less worry for us health wise.

A half hour walk from Jenny and David’s apartment on Wednesday took us down to Malabar, a beachside suburb we have never visited before. It’s a real haven away from the traffic and very picturesque, reminding us just how quickly you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city in these parts.

Clearly fishing is a favoured activity by the locals here with plenty of vessels waiting to be launched at the boat ramp
Only the thick skinned were braving the cool temperatures in the sea-pool
A reminder we are back in Australia with a snake warning
Calm waters at Malabar beach and some early morning sunbathers

There were even people swimming in the ocean there – though at 17 degrees slightly too nippy for us softies!

After a haircut later in the day, we met up with friends Clive and Aisha for cocktails and dinner at Fei Jai, a Cantonese restaurant in Potts Point.

We had a literal feast, having ordered a banquet menu, and rolled out into an Uber back home at the end of the evening, having laughed lots and had a great catch up.

Lots of smiles with our friends

Thursday morning started with a dentist visit, followed by a much anticipated appointment with our trusted financial advisor, Paul Brady, to check we could still continue to live our life of world travels. We discussed a few thoughts for the future and got some great advice from Paul. Most importantly our nomadic lifestyle can continue!

Friday saw us travelling down to Nowra, south of Sydney, to where our car and caravan are stored. We caught a train and enjoyed the 4 hour journey down the sparkling coastline. Everything appears to be all in good order, and after Truffy, the Zone looks huge! We collected the car and drove back up to Sydney.

Later that day we bussed into the city and joined our friends John and Eveliene for drinks and dinner. Again it was so lovely to catch up on all their news over some tasty food and wine.

Australian-Thai fusion at Long Chim

Feeling thoroughly spoilt by all the love from our friends, we were treated yet again on Saturday. We began the day joining Jenny as she walked a friend’s dog, Jaffa, in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Sydney reminded us that it is still spring, with cool 15 degrees temperatures and a chilly breeze – stark contrast to temperatures in the early 30s when we landed last weekend.

Mr A hugging himself to keep warm while tough kiwi Jenny stands there in short sleeves. Jaffa just loves being out for a walk
Located just 3km from Sydney’s CBD, the 360 hectares of Centennial Park are a quiet haven from the city
A peaceful grove of paperbark gums – Over the past 130 + years the park has been used as a testing ground for growing native species
A huge Morton Bay Fig tree stretches its arms, providing shelter for a whole range of species

Mr A and I have lived in Sydney for more than two decades, but still love seeing places through new eyes. We haven’t been into Centennial Park for years, and it was a great reminder of what a wonderful resource this is for Sydney’s residents.

Our friends Karen and Chris live a couple of hours’ drive north of Sydney, but as Chris was flying into the airport on Saturday morning, returning from a trip to Hong Kong, Karen caught the train down and joined us at Jenny and David’s apartment.

The six of us went for lunch back at the Boatshed, Barramundi burgers all round satisfying our hunger.

David, Karen and Chris lapping up the sunshine
Mr & Mrs A with Jenny

Later on that evening we all travelled to beachside suburb Coogee (named after an aboriginal word for ‘smelly place’ after the rotting seaweed on the beach – not so smelly these days!), for a delicious Asian meal at Sugarcane.

Feeling replete after a consistently delicious array of dishes

Sunday was our final day in Sydney for a while as from tomorrow we are going to pick up the Zone and commence a new Australian adventure, so much of the day was spent getting ourselves packed up and final washing done. We made sure we found time for a walk, and took ourselves on a 6.5km circuit through the National Park down to Maroubra Beach and looping back around via Malabar Headland.

Maroubra Beach – not seen sand like this in a long while
Walking around the headland, a couple of scuba divers in the water behind me
A Peregrine Falcon soars above us on our walk
Malabar Headland, looking south

It was a gorgeous walk, the sun shining and much warmer than anticipated. The birds were out, with a peregrine falcon soaring overhead, also joined by a white breasted sea eagle. In the undergrowth the trilling song of superb fairy wrens entertained us, just lovely.

We concluded our weekend with a meal out with our other surrogate family, Rosemary and Richard, a treat for them plus David and Jenny for all their help in looking after Miss Tassie this year and for enabling us to undertake this wonderful lifestyle. Without them, we’d still probably be working and taking that commuter bus into the city every day. We are so grateful for having precious people like these in our lives.

Special times – Din Tai Fung in Chatswood – Taiwanese food to cap off the week

23 October: A day of lasts in Truffy….

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bakewell, Derbyshire & Hatton, Nottinghamshire, UK

It was a finger-numbingly cold morning as we packed up and left the Chatsworth Estate and drove the short way back to Bakewell, Truffy’s thermometer reading a mere 3° centigrade. We’ve not seen temperatures that low since central Australia last year.

The forecast was for no rain, so we decided to enjoy a last cycle ride before we lock Truffy and our bikes up for the winter. Starting in Bakewell is the Monsal Trail, 14.5 km (9 miles) of traffic-free cycleway, following part of the old Midland railway between Bakewell and Chee Dale.

Parts of the UK have their half-term school holidays at present, so it was fairly busy with cyclists, despite the chilly temperatures. We can only imagine how crowded it would get on a warm summer’s day.

An old bridge dating to 1863 when the railway was first opened

The original train line ran from Manchester to London, and was closed in 1968. The railway passed into the hands of the Peak District National Park in 1980 and the trail developed.

Mr A warming up with a cup of tea

The trail follows the River Wye valley, cutting through some lovely scenery. At one point we looked down on a collection of buildings, learning these were the sites of textile mills in the 1700s. Cressbrook Mill, set up in 1782 was notorious for unsavoury work practices, specifically bringing orphaned children up from London and forcing them to work as ‘apprentices’ for little or no wages.

Showing that everything in life is somehow linked, in 1860 the owner of Cressbrook Mill, David Cannon McConnell emigrated to Queensland, Australia, and the settlement of Cressbrook is named after this area.

Cressbrook village
Cressbrook, Queensland, Australia
The Cressbrook Tunnel, opened to cyclists and walkers in 2011 after great investment
Enjoying the view through the valley

We continued to the end of the trail, tagging on a little extra ride along a quiet road along the River Wye, before turning and retracing our steps back to Bakewell.

Some of the trees have lost their leaves already, making it look quite wintry on this grey day

Back in Bakewell we treated ourselves to fish and chips. It is getting to that point in our trip where we are relishing the ‘last’ of everything – this being the last authentic chips and curry sauce this year! Mr A had mushy peas and a pickled egg too…we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

Our last cod and chips for a while…very tasty!

We left Derbyshire and drove across the country, picking up a few storage bags at Ikea in Nottingham, before driving to Hawton Waters near Newark in Nottinghamshire.

Hawton Waters has a small number of camp sites near a lake, as well as being a gold accredited storage area for caravans and motorhomes. It Is here we have booked Truffy into for the winter, so in addition to staying the night, it was a good opportunity to have a look at where he would be living for the next four months. They’ve just extended their storage facility, so if you’re looking for somewhere secure to put your van or truck, this could be an option for you.

There’s plenty of security, with two gates to get through and many 24/7 CCTV cameras as well as lots of people around. We feel very comfortable with our choice.

We found a hard standing spot to spend the night, and settled down to our last sleep in Truffy this year.

Lovely sunset at Hawton Waters

17-20 October: Grinning like a Cheshire Cat

Author: Mrs A

Location: Northwich and Chester, Cheshire, UK

I especially look forward to catching up with friends from my university days. Like for many, going to university was a time of escape and reinvention for me, leaving a small town where it was hard to not see a familiar face, and move to the other end of the country to a small city. I left school with really only one true friend I remain friends with today, most others having gone in different life directions. Chester was a chance to start anew, make new friends who accept me for who I am.

I fell on my feet in many ways, receiving a place in halls of residence, with a corridor of lovely people. We soon became firm friends, a core group of girls we called ‘The Ladies’ Wrecked-Tangle’. We partied through our first year, then shared a house together and continued the party (inter dispersed with a bit of studying and exams) for two more years. It has been about 28 years since we all first met, and though we see a lot less of one another these days, with sometimes years between visits, it is as though we’ve never been apart. The laughter still flows, the stories and the wine. We simply couldn’t be in the country and not catch up.

Thursday morning Mark and I left Kendal and travelled into Cheshire, spending Thursday on a farm about 40 minutes from Chester. It was a cool, crisp autumnal afternoon, and with Mr A’s ankle on the mend took a stroll around the local lanes. There were plenty of birds about, squirrels scurrying up trees, collecting acorns and other nuts to store for the winter, and some quite lovely scenery.

A trout fishing lake on the farm
A couple of European goldfinches
Many great-tits along with blue tits and others
Lovely little goldfinch waiting for his turn on the feeder
Looking across the fields, looking bare after the harvest

And so after another rainy night, we pulled away and drove over to Chester, pulling into the carpark at Chester Racecourse. You can in fact park overnight at the race course in self contained motorhomes but we had decided to treat ourselves to a couple of nights in a hotel, and booked at the Holiday Inn just outside the city walls.

We had not long arrived when my friend Fiona pulled up in her car, picking me up to go to lunch. I had a great afternoon catching up with her, my first-week room mate, Vicki, and another friend, Sarah – the years falling away since our last catch up.

We ate delicious Italian food at Etalia at the Red House, overlooking the River Dee, the rain falling heavily outside while we munched on mussels, sea bass and bruschetta. No wine today though, we stuck to the water. We must be getting sensible in our old age!

So good to catch up with the girls
Back: Catherine, Vicki, Front: Fiona, Sarah

It has been about 24 years since I lived in Chester, and at least a decade since I spent any time in the city, but I was suitably impressed. The council clearly has a grand plan for the city. Chester has always been mostly pedestrianised and full of boutique shops, but now has grown to encompass art-house theatres, cinema and a wide range of cafes and restaurants within its walls. A lot of attention has been paid to maintaining the history and heritage while bringing the city into the current century, and future plans appear to encompass this theme. It feels like a prosperous city with a lot of life.

Mark returned from his afternoon ambling the streets and getting a haircut feeling positive about the city and its great upbeat vibe.

Friday night we joined my friend Emma and her husband Nick for dinner at a The Old Harker’s Arms, a buzzing and vibrant pub near the canal. Mark was beside himself with excitement on seeing that it was pie week – with literally three courses on offer! We had a fabulous evening, our first chance to get to know Nick in a more intimate group.

It had the potential to be a three pie day…but everyone was quite reserved and stuck to one!
Much laughter and back on the wine for a fun evening

We met up with Emma and Nick again for lunch on Saturday, heading into Storyhouse. This is a perfect example of how Chester is breathing life into old buildings, bringing them into the current century. Back when I lived here, this was a slightly run down 1930s cinema, but now has been redesigned and extended to encompass the library, two theatres, a cinema, restaurant and two bars. We chose lunch from an imaginative menu and ate in a room full of light and atmosphere, the walls lined with books. Books – remember them? What warmth they bring to an environment!

It is definitely worth visiting, even just to see how the interior architecture melds together the old features of staircases, pillars and walls with the newer more modern areas. The lunch menu was great, and there are plenty of shows to choose from. A fabulous cultural centre for the city.

Curved walls echo the retained 1930s features

It rained heavily during lunch, but the sun came out as we finished, so the four of us took a stroll around the walls. If you’re not familiar with Chester, it was formed as a fortress in around 60 or 70 CE by the Romans. The walls circumnavigate the city almost entirely for 3km (about 1.8 miles) and are a great way to see some of the main features of the city.

The pavements were pretty slippery with the leaves after the rain

The sun shone for us, the city gleaming in autumnal splendour. As we walked past the cathedral we watched a falconry display in the gardens – apparently they have a golden eagle, hawks and owls there.

Chester Cathedral was founded in 1092 as a Benedictine Abbey. This is where I had my graduation ceremony back in 1994
Eastgate clock – said to be the second most photographed clock in England (after Big Ben)

Eastgate stands on the original entranceway to the Roman fortress, Deva Victrix. From Eastgate you look down over Eastgate Street – some of the establishments have not changed over the years – HSBC Bank (bottom right in the photo below) was originally Midland Bank, and where I got my first student overdraft!

Chester’s getting ready for Christmas, with lights strung up across every street. It seems green is this year’s theme. They are all apparently energy efficient LED lights, and will be switched on 14 November, two days before the big Christmas market.

Looking up Eastgate Street

We continued around the walls, past the Roman Gardens. Here are displayed fragments of Deva Victrix unearthed during excavations in the late 1800s. Included are the remains of bathing houses, mosaics and pillars.

Chester’s Roman Gardens

We continued around with the River Dee our next location. From here you can cross the river and walk across the other bank, or back in our student days, drink strawberry daiquiris in the sunshine (happy hour only!).

The water is flowing fast over the weir after all the rain
The old Dee Bridge – originally built in the late 14th century, it has been amended over the years to cater for increased traffic

We continued our circuit, finally passing the castle (dating from 1070) and finally the racecourse and back to our hotel via a tour of Truffy.

We met back up with Emma and Nick early evening at a wine bar on Watergate Street, Corks Out. They had an interesting selection of wine from around the world, and a policy of keeping a step ahead of the supermarkets in sourcing interesting tipples. The bar’s located in a 13th century crypt, which adds to the atmosphere.

Cheers! Successfully persuaded Emma not to drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!

We concluded our evening at Ruan Orchid, a delicious Thai restaurant – definitely highly recommended, but book in advance. It’s a boutique venue with authentic Thai food, and deservedly popular.

It was a brilliant visit and we’ll definitely be back again. After all this time it was great to be reminded what a friendly, vibrant little city it is, with so much to see and do, especially when it allows us spend some precious time with longtime friends. Farewell Chester, we will return!

12-13 October: A taste of Scotland’s east coast

Author: Mrs A

Location: Helmsdale, Dunrobin Castle (Golspie), Fortrose and Eaglesham, Scotland, UK

We woke up to an unusual phenomenon in our pub carpark – sunlight streaming through the windows. Excited, we packed up and drove down to the harbour for a look around the tiny fishing village of Helmsdale. Although sunny, it was a fresh 7°centigrade, so we still wrapped warm, but really appreciated the break in the heavy cloud and showers and the drop in the wind.

Helmsdale fishing harbour – apparently salmon is common here
A beautifully calm morning
The birds were happy too – this little European Robin hunting for insects around the fishing gear
As well as a pair of Rock Pitpits

We were unsure how long the fine weather would last, the best forecast being to look out of your window and see what’s happening! So we turned south and followed the coast a short way to Dunrobin Castle, a stately home that has been continuously inhabited (and still is) for the past 700 years.

The route south was extremely picturesque

One thing we noticed immediately as we drove was the slight change in vegetation, with more shrubs and small trees along the road, something that has been absent from our views since we were on the isles of Skye and Harris/Lewis, and even there they were rare.

Apparently Scotland used to be covered in far more woodland, but over the past 300 years has experienced a lot of deforestation – so much that now only 4% of Scotland has trees. Much of the clearing was for sheep grazing, deemed fear more profitable than trees, and then there were the Victorians who bought up great swathes of the highlands to use for hunting grouse and deer – they burned the hills to discourage trees and encourage heather, far easier for hunting. And finally, there are all the grazing animals – the sheep, cattle and deer themselves, all loving to chew on a seedling tree, ensuring it will never make it to fully grown.

As we turned into the driveway at Dunrobin Castle, we saw trees galore, lined up welcoming us towards the grand house.

Welcome to Dunrobin…many royal carriages have driven this same path over the centuries
Our one room home (ok 2 including the bathroom) versus the 189 room castle

Mr A with his sore sprained ankle settled down with a cup of tea and a good book while I jumped out for an explore. The castle was not yet open to visitors, so I headed into the adjoining woodland, following paths and stairways through the mossy trees, enjoying the delicious autumnal aroma of decaying leaves, and the gentle rustle of the sea breeze through the beech trees.

It feels forever since we walked through woodland

Next I followed a path which wound steeply down past the castle, leading to the seafront. Dunrobin Castle looks out at the North Sea, eerily calm on this Saturday morning.

This has been home to the Sutherland Clan since the 1300s – home to Earls and later the Dukes of Sutherland
Looking up at the stately home from the beachfront…you certainly know your place as a peasant when seeing a house like this
No sand on this beach, but a calm bay from which to launch a boat, and some coastal walking tracks for those not hobbling on sore ankles

The castle has been amended over the centuries, with the architect of London’s Houses of Parliament amongst others who have influenced its design. It looks to me like a French Château – and would not seem out of place along the Loire Valley.

The exterior of the castle and grounds having piqued my interest, I checked Mr A was ok, before buying my ticket for an explore inside. The grand entrance hall with its roaring open fire is very welcoming.

A comfy seating area covered in the Sutherland tartan invites visitors to warm up by the fire

Unlike many historical buildings and castles, this house did not feel sterile and cold, museum like. Instead it was set up to feel like a home, as though you were a guest invited to stay, admire the little trinkets and souvenirs saved over the centuries.

Walking up the stairs you first enter a hallway and then a billiards room. You can almost hear the clink of whiskey glasses being enjoyed over a game or two in the room. A little typewriter written poem framed in a corner caught my eye:

The Batchelor’s Wish

One female companion to soften my cares

Two thousand a year to support my affairs

Three dogs and a gun when to sport I incline

Four horses and chaise to indulge me and mine

Five jolly companions with whom to make merry

Six dishes each day with six glasses of sherry

Seven beds in my house for my friends at their leisure

Eight somethings or other to add to their pleasure

Nine pounds in my pocket when cash I require

These favours are all that on Earth I desire, and a

Passport to heaven when from Earth I retire.

Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, 1778

I wonder what the equivalent bachelor’s wish would be in 2019? And I wonder what the somethings or other are….?

I moved on through to the dining room, set up with the family silver all ready for a fine dinner party for 10.

A cosy dining room, wood panelling and artwork setting off the gleaming silver

On next to the music room, beautiful ornate ceilings and perfectly cared for showcases full of gifts, donations and collectables from throughout the centuries.

The music room

I was tickled to spot a slipper once belonging to General Garibaldi and left behind after a visit. I can imagine some excited maid trotting up to the Duke to present this, before getting it mounted to display in a cabinet! It has to be the first slipper I have seen on display in a long while…

The attention to detail in each room is unlike anything you would see today – the coats of arms, the polished brass cats presenting the fire, the immaculately dust and soot free marble fireplaces.

These polished brass cats are on each fireplace
Pictures depicting Italy are in many rooms, a country the family travelled to frequently. Tapestries adorn many of the walls, alongside family portraits and those of visitors to the house.
Hunting was clearly a favoured sport, with deer heads on the walls around the hallways, mounted on plaques naming the shooter, and here in the library, fierce looking lion and tiger skin rugs on the floor…rather uncomfortable to look at today, but part of history all the same.
This room was decorated in the 1960s in recognition of Queen Elizabeth II visiting – the tapestries on the wall were commissioned especially for the occasion.
The green and gold bedroom
From the outside the castle appears to be of one design, but when you glimpse the interior courtyard you can see the different towers and bricks used
The night nursery – furniture all brought from Italy

In the older part of the castle we came across the Seamstress’s Room, also known as ‘the haunted room’. Nobody living today has seen or heard the ghost here, but stories go back to the 1500s. The story goes that in the 15th century the Earl of Sutherland captured and imprisoned a beautiful young woman from a rival clan, with plans to marry her. She tried to escape by climbing down a rope of sheets, but the Earl on discovering her trying to escape, swiped the sheets with his sword and she fell to her death.

In more recent times, footsteps have been frequently heard in another part of the castle, when there are no people present…so they have a ghost with no story, and a story with no ghost…

The Seamstress’s Room – Hoped to capture an apparition in my picture, but I can’t spot anything. Can you?
Looking out of the windows you can see out to sea across the formal gardens
There are falconry displays in the summer months – finished for the year at the end of September so not for us this time.

There is also a museum on site containing many collections from over the centuries, swords, more hunting trophies and other trinkets, but I felt I had left Mr A long enough, so missed it out and returned to Truffy so we could be on our way.

The landscape continued to evolve as we headed south, with our first agricultural farming for a while, all with a fabulous backdrop of cliffs and woodland.

New colours entering our landscape
One of many flocks of birds we spotted practicing their formation, readying for flying south for the winter….

Our destination for the night was a caravan park near the small settlement of Fortrose, on the banks of the Moray Firth, across from Inverness. Unlike Dunrobin Castle the wind was whistling across the water, making it quite fresh. We hibernated in Truffy for the afternoon while a machine did our washing.

Truffy has a front row seat for sunset, and the waves on the beach soothe us to sleep
Sunset over Fortrose

Sunday morning was clear and sunny, and the wind had dropped off to make it a rather pleasant temperature. We decided to move on our way however, with the wet weather forecast to return.

Before we left the area we drove up to Chanonry Point, home to a lighthouse and also a favoured feeding place for seals, bottle nosed dolphins and porpoises.

The lighthouse looking magnificent in the early morning sunlight
Mist across the water at dawn

As soon as we pulled up I spotted a dorsal fin, either a dolphin or porpoise, but it soon dipped under the water and didn’t reemerge. It was a seal we saw most of, as it popped its head out of the water and gave us all a good look on the shore before dipping under and chasing breakfast.

That floating log in the foreground is in fact a seal

We stayed a short while to watch the seal, before heading off. As predicted, the fine weather didn’t hang around, and it wasn’t long before we were back in familiar rain. A good driving day, we decided, and another opportunity for Mark to rest his ankle.

We drove a good 320km (200 miles) to just south of Glasgow, spending our final night in Scotland for this trip on the UK’s largest wind farm, Whitelee near the village of Eaglesham. We hoped to have a peaceful night’s sleep on the carpark here, in an area well known for badgers, owls and other wildlife.

Whitelee Windfarm at dawn on Monday morning…

6-8 October: Working our way up the wild and wooly north-west coast

Author: Mrs A

Location: Ullapool and Altandhu, north-west Scotland, UK

After driving off the ferry from the Isle of Lewis, we turned right and drove a few hundred metres along the road to The Royal Hotel, a pub with a large car park and electrical hook up points available to motorhomes for a token payment of £10.

The Royal Hotel – there is always (some) blue sky in Scotland (briefly!)
The view from the hotel across Loch Broom and the rugged mountains beyond

After getting set up, we went into the pub for dinner. There we met a lovely Canadian couple on holiday from the USA who had just finished travelling the route around the north coast of Scotland. They were happy to share their tips for places to visit, and in return we helped them with some ideas for their upcoming trip to Australia. It was a fun evening and we enjoyed a meal and bottle of wine together.

Weather-wise, it was a rough night, with the wind blowing up to gale force, rocking us from side to side, inter dispersed with torrential rain. Neither of us slept well, with Mr A Googling in the wee hours ‘how easy it is for a motorhome to be blown over?’ (answer: not easy unless you’re on a hill or already unstable). The ferries over to and from the Isle of Lewis were cancelled due to the rough conditions making us grateful we’d left when we did.

We decided to stay in Ullapool a second night, with the village being the largest settlement we’re likely to come across for quite some time. We took our sheets, towels and some clothes to a local laundromat to be washed, and dodged the showers wandering around some of the many little shops and cafes, finding a great spot for lunch.

The afternoon rewarded us with lengthier dry spells so we pulled on our hiking gear and did a walk that started behind the pub. It was short but fairly steep, taking us up to 250 metres (824 ft) with some fabulous views. Up the top it was very windy, and we watched the clouds gathering over the loch ready to give us another good soaking.

Plenty of benches on the walk up to enjoy the view
Definitely appreciated when breathing is misbehaving
The landscape changes as we move on up the highlands, fewer trees, more heather and low lying hardy shrubs
The higher we hike, the windier it gets, but the views keep on rewarding
Just about at the top now and the sky is getting darker – time to speed on down before the rain gets us!

Tuesday morning we moved on our way, calling in at the last small supermarket, pharmacy and smokehouse (!) we would see for a while. Our destination was the tiny settlement of Altandhu.

The hills disappear under another rain storm on our drive up the coast
Silvery lochs surrounded by mountains on every corner
Looking out across the Summer Isles as we travel down the road to Altandhu

Altandhu is a tiny hamlet on the coast, looking out over the Summer Isles. It is described as being virtually untouched for the past 40 years, and driving down the windy single track roads, it felt quite familiar after our travels around the islands last week.

Little Altandhu on the north east coast

We pulled up at our campground in strong wind and rain, wondering what on earth we were doing. But as always, a break in the weather soon had us appreciating the spectacular scenery that is uniquely Scottish.

The view from our camp spot
Look carefully and you will see Truffy parked down by the beach!

Checking in we learned that the Port a Baigh campground shop was in fact the only store for the whole area, and it’s pretty well stocked up with groceries. Apparently before this shop opened, local residents had to drive at least a two hour return trip into Ullapool to get their litre of milk.

Sensing a break in the rain, we pulled on our wet weather gear and went for an explore. We walked down to the next bay, Old Dornie.

The locals aren’t too used to seeing people walking, and voice their disapproval
Water water everywhere…wish we could send some of this to drought stricken Australia
Traffic jam on the road
Heading down to the bay…grateful for the waterproof overtrousers!
Three old ladies out for a stroll
Stopping for a cup of tea with a fine view
Watching the next storm rolling in over The Haven
Years’ of fishing equipment on the shore

We actually learned that some changes are afoot in the area, after the largest of the Summer Isles, Tanera Mor, was purchased in 2017 by London businessman Ian Wace and his wife Saffron. In 2018 they commenced plans to rejuvenate the island, building luxurious holiday accomodation for up to 60 guests, utilising existing buildings and renovating other structures on the island. The project is taking around four years to complete, and as a result has breathed substantial life into the area.

Many of the tradespeople are being housed locally, and the little bay we walked to was a ferrying point for many of the materials and personnel. The lady running the campground shop told us she had joined her partner on a tour of some of the properties, marvelling at the brass baths…it sounds intriguing!

We decided to book in at the local pub for dinner, the Am Fuaran Bar. This was a short walk from the campground and housed in an old 1800s renovated building. The late father of one of the publicans used to live in the house, and the pub is full of photographs and memorabilia. It was warm and cosy and absolutely buzzing with locals and tradespeople from the Tanera Mor project. We had a delicious meal – a beef pie for Mr A and delicious locally caught langoustines for me (cross between a small lobster and a large king prawn). Finally, the pub we have been looking for!

Sunset was a lovely if brief affair
Finally the quintessential Scottish friendly pub with great food