6-31 August: The Aussies descend on Bradford-on-Tone!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bradford on Tone, Somerset and London, UK

When Mr A last wrote he was struggling through a bout of Covid-19, isolated in his own wing of the house, while room service (me) delivered meals on a tray. Finally on day 9 he tested negative and was free to return to the shared spaces of the house, with a great deal of relief. I had managed to avoid catching it, thanks to his strict isolation.

Soon after he was released, I had my second immunotherapy infusion in London, and on a hot Tuesday morning headed up to Hampstead. The Royal Free Hospital has a charitable arm which provides free accomodation in a brand new building for long-distance patients, conveniently located beside the hospital, and walking distance to shops, cafes and the London Underground. After checking in, I decided I wanted an afternoon in the great outdoors, given I had so much indoor time ahead (hooked up to a drip), and took off to explore Hampstead Heath.

The Heath is a bit of a hidden gem in London. First written mention of it dates back to the year 986 when Ethelred the Unready allocated some of the land to one of his servants. Nowadays, at 790 acres, it is one of the largest green (or mostly yellow at the moment) spaces in London.

There are about 30 ponds on the Heath, three of which are available to swim in (one mixed genders, one female only, one male only), which were absolutely packed on this 30 degree day. Looking at the murky brown waters, I decided not to partake! My mum grew up in this area, and told me of people swimming here in the 1950s and 60s – I cannot imagine they have been well cleaned since this time, but I could be wrong!

A cool haven on a hot day – the Heath, Kenwood House and an unmistakable Henry Moore scuplture

The woodlands provided nature’s air conditioning, perfect for walking, and I completed a 9km circuit, calling in at the stunning English Heritage Kenwood House for a look around the artwork and unique interior architecture (visit for the library alone, it is incredible!). The park is packed full of birdlife, and I saw Green and Spotted Woodpeckers, Wrens, Robins, Magpies, Grey Herons and huge flocks of Rose-ringed Parakeets munching on sycamore tree seeds. The ancient woodland is the UK’s smallest site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and is home to some rare and endangered plants and wildlife.

The view from Parliament Hill is well worth a visit – spot St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and many other landmarks

The following morning I was off for my infusion of unicorn juice. This is my second infusion of Rituximab, the aim of which is to suppress my immune system and stop it from attacking my airway unnecessarily! Already, despite having an op in June, at this point my airway was already on the decline.

The unicorn juice enters my bloodstream…hopefully working its magic

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The day after I returned from London, my sister, Helen, brother in law Stu and nephew and niece drove over from Brighton and spent a busy and very warm four days with us.

The temperatures were more like what we would have expected to find in Australia, and our local river was again a lovely cool haven for a bit more packrafting with the kids.

Living near a small river has its advantages
Elliot did well with his paddling

We held a bit of a housewarming party too, with our friends from Honiton coming over for a BBQ one evening. We ended up congregating under the cool shade of the oak tree to sip wine, listen to music and share stories of our misspent youths!

The moon was huge and the werewolves out in force 🙂

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The first of our Australian visitors arrived, with John and Eveliene stopping by for lunch en route from Plymouth to Oxfordshire, the months falling away as we slipped back into old conversations and jokes easily.

Cups of tea under the cool shade of the oak tree with friends Eveliene and John

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The next visitors were also from Australia, Karen and Chris, who stayed for three nights. They arrived on our 20th wedding anniversary, so joined us and our new friends and neighbours, Jim and Lucy, for a celebratory dinner at a local Italian, and a glass or two of bubbles.

Cheers!
Even Princess Tassie got into the celebratory action!

A tour of a nearby brewery was in order the following day, somewhat of a hair-of-the dog, and Exmoor Ales obliged us with tastes straight from the barrel. They were rewarded with a few purchases.

Some tasty tipples tried on our tour

No flying visit to Somerset is complete without a walk in the Quantock Hills before lunch at our local cider barn, Sheppy’s, and of course that was scheduled in for their final day with us (they also have a fine wine list, for the non cider drinkers!).

Starting our short walk at Crowcombe Gate – there are magnificent views almost immediately
This is the perfect time of year to see the Quantocks – the heather is blooming and hopefully the temperatures are not too crazy
The joy of the outdoors!
Fine views all the way down to Minehead on the coast

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Not one to waste time, I squeezed in another operation on my airway on the day Karen and Chris left – hoping this is the last one this year – I have lost enough brain cells to general anaesthetics in 2022! Final pre-op photo for this year…(fingers crossed!), this one conducted at our local hospital in Taunton, just 12 minutes drive from home.

All went as planned and I could immediately feel the benefit of an open airway. If my peak flow chart were your share portfolio, you’d be a happy bunny today!

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Readers who have been following us for a while will know that Mr A is rather partial to a solo cycling adventure, and he has been feeling he should plan a trip. So he set off on a training ride for two nights, loading up his electric bike with tent, sleeping bag, stove and a few supplies. The good thing about bike-packing (as it is called) in the UK, is that there is not hundreds of kilometres between water and food supplies, making the load a little lighter. The battery on the bike also helps a bit too! He had a great few days, saw some stunning countryside and was able to refine his packing list for next time.

And he’s off…and that’s just down our driveway!

Mark had not long left our driveway, and my sister and niece arrived from Brighton to join me for a few days.

An afternoon walk for a paddle in the river followed by a rendezvous with our friendly local Shetland Ponies and concluding with a cool drink with neighbours Lucy, Jim and their lovely dog, Maisie

I took Helen and Isabel to the small fishing town of Watchet, just a half hour drive from home. Following Jim’s tip to use bacon as bait, had a successful hour of crabbing in the rock pools. All crabs were released unharmed and enjoyed their morsels of bacon!

Fish and chips followed by ice creams – perfect seaside visit
Lucy and Jim join us for drinks, nibbles and games of Uno!

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After saying farewell to Helen and Isabel, Mark and I realised we had a few days off from visitors, so decided to take ourselves off on a hike. I plotted a 9km route using Kamoot (our favourite mostly free app for plotting hikes via public footpaths and bridleways) and off we went. Despite being a long-weekend, we didn’t see anyone else on the paths.

The hikes up revealed fabulous countryside views
Grand avenues of mossy trees guide us on through the Brendon Hills, part of Exmoor National Park
Our walk takes us way down into the valley, where we join the River Tone, which (further down river) passes through our village
Appreciating the joy of breathing easily

It was lovely to get out in the fresh air amongst nature for a few hours, to fully test the new (again!) airway, and make the most of where we live.

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We continue to feel more and more settled in Somerset, and metaphorically pinch ourselves on a daily basis when we admire the views from our windows or stroll through the village on our way to pilates at the village hall.

Creating memories with our friends and families, and having our Australian and UK lives mingle, all helps us to feel more at home here in Bradford-on-Tone. We are starting to make small changes to our home, putting our mark on it, and are enjoying fresh produce from the garden – a rhubarb and apple crumble last week, thanks to produce tended by the previous owners, and almost every day we are consuming salad leaves and peppery radish, sown by Mark’s youngest daughter, Hayley when she came to stay.

I am getting to know some locals as well, having met another lady with the same airway disease as me while I was in London, finding we live just 20 minutes drive apart. Last week another patient called in to meet us for lunch on her way home from holidaying in Cornwall – another time we really appreciate our proximity to the UK’s major transport networks!

Lunch with two iSGS sisters, Lisa and Jean – always good to talk to people who understand what life is like with a constantly closing airway!

While the past few months have delivered some health challenges, I am fortunate to have access to the best care, and a responsive medical team who are on my side. When I read almost daily about the waiting lists for medical treatment, I know that not everyone has this, and I am incredibly grateful. Mr A is now under the care of a world renowned eye surgeon in London for his glaucoma and pigment dispersion syndrome (PDS). We have had to organise this privately, the cost well worth avoiding the dangerously long wait to see an National Health Service doctor, which could be potentially damaging to his eyesight.

We’re learning how to navigate the systems, and though I am certain there will be more hurdles ahead, we have good friends and contacts who are helping us to overcome them.

One of the reasons we migrated to the UK was to spend more time travelling and exploring Europe…now we have been here seven months, we are starting to think about where and when we might get away…plans are afoot…watch this space!

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10 June – 10 July: Family, surgery, stunning scenery…and our new home!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton and Hastings, East Sussex, Widworthy, Devon, Charing Cross Hospital, London and Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset

What a month it has been! Time has simply rushed by with so much on our plate.

I left Mr A for a long weekend and headed over to Brighton for some family time with my sister, niece and nephew. It was perfect timing as just 10 days after my grandma’s 100th birthday, so we took advantage of that special event to pay her a visit (the first time I have seen her in three years) along with our mum.

Helen’s husband Stu was away on a boys’ weekend, so I stood in as responsible adult on school pick ups, swimming lessons and drama classes. It was simply exhausting – hats off to all those parents out there, especially those struggling to breathe (as I was!).

Helen and I on a dog walk in nearby Preston Park

It was a glorious weekend, and we made the most of every moment – lunch on Brighton’s seafront, a walk up on the Sussex Downs at Devil’s Dyke, and time in Hastings with mum with lunch on the pier and tea in her beautiful garden.

A little shopping and lunch in Brighton with my sister
Stunning (if windy) afternoon up at Devil’s Dyke in the Sussex Downs with sister Helen, nephew Elliot and Cocoa (the chocolate Cockapoo)
Lunch in Hastings with mum, Helen, and nephew and niece, Elliot and Isabel after a 100th birthday visit with Grandma Jean

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The only fly in the ointment was my breathing. I can only put it down to stress, but despite having an operation on my airway mid April, my airway was determined to rapidly close up (for our newer readers, I have a rare disease called subglottic stenosis), and was declining on a daily basis.

Mark and I still managed to get out and about and enjoy the Devon countryside, but it tended to be shorter and flatter walks, with plenty of rests!

Stonebarrow National Trust, overlooking the seaside village of Charmouth
Taking time to stop and smell the roses…and honeysuckle, and thistles….and so much more!
A stroll around the harbourside at Lyme Regis was another picturesque outing
An evening meal with friends Karen, Dan and their boys, Oliver and Sonny

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Thankfully I have a great relationship with my surgeons in London and they were able to book me in for another operation quickly…I guess breathing is quite important.

An unattractive gown followed by recovery, sunshine and fresh cherries – lovely!

My friend Jacky was kind enough to put me up in her daughter’s old bedroom in her house in Twickenham, and given the train drivers decided to strike on my surgery day, also hired a car and played taxi driver to drop me off and pick me up from my operation. I feel so grateful for her compassion, feeding and watering me over two days with kindness and patience.

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Once back in Devon, time flew by in a whirlwind of bed and appliance buying, followed by packing up boxes, with a sprinkling of walks up our picturesque lane with Princess Tassie who seems to be 10 years younger than when she arrived!

An Australian cat in Devon – she loved exploring this lane and countryside!

Before we knew it the day was upon us…completion of our new house purchase! We drove over to Bradford-on-Tone and met Andrew and Jan, the previous owners. Understandably they were a little emotional at saying goodbye to their home for the past decade, but we assured them we would be worthy caretakers, as we took the door keys and entered.

They had left the home in immaculate condition – almost like a new build, with plenty of opportunities for us to put our stamp onto it in future months.

Over the next few days we gradually moved in, our possessions from Australia fitting in nicely, and despite a few minor hiccups, most of our deliveries arrived as planned, and all services eventually connected.

Princess Tassie was pleased to see our possessions and enjoyed exploring her new home

We are more than delighted with our house, which feels like it was made for us. Tassie is embracing the multitude of sunbathing locations and enjoys her strolls around the 1.6 acres of land we have…yes we will be employing a gardener!

Broad Oak House – named for the ancient oak tree in our garden

We’ve only been in the house a week, but already have spotted approaching 30 species of birds just from our garden.

This Green Woodpecker is nesting in a tree at the edge of our garden – its laughing call somewhat reminds me of Kookaburras 🙂

Our home is a 3 minute stroll from our local pub, and within 15 minutes cycle along sleepy country lanes to several others. We are surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) in all directions – the Blackdown Hills, the Quantock Hills, Exmoor….We can be in London in less than two hours door-to-door, and the nearest junction to the M5 motorway is a 5 minute drive away, giving us a multitude of travel options. I think we are going to be very happy here!

We are home!

Home!

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11 May-9 June: A hideaway in the Devonshire hills and making memories with family

Author: Mr A

Location: Widworthy, Devon, and West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

We got so lucky! A friend of a friend has let us let us stay in their stunning little cosy retreat in the depths of the lush and rolling hills of the central Devon countryside. It really is quite a find. Beautifully fitted out, with a fabulous view, we couldn’t have beeen happier. It’s only one room, but that includes a big kitchen with loads of storage, which flows into the lounge, and bedroom (super king bed!) plus a luxurious bathroom. It has actually worked so well for the three of us. And then there’s the view…awesome.

The little cottage with the two skylights at the bottom is where we are
Tassie has been acclimatising to the new scenery and smells too
There are regularly wild Roe Deer around the property – this young lady spotted in the field below where we are living

We also got lucky with storage for our motorhome at the bottom of the road, in the car park of the local manor house (Widworthy Barton), with permission from the caretaker of course. We were parked outside the manor house unloading and he came over to talk to us. I thought I was going to be told off for parking there, but no, after a chat, he offered us a spot, protected by CCTV and just a short way from where we were to live for the coming weeks. What more could we ask for?

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Let me first explain where exactly we have landed. We are pretty much slap bang in the middle of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs in the local parlance). The one to the north of us is the Blackdown Hills, a relatively small area less than 25km’s in any direction, and yet full of a network of footpaths. Check out this screen shot from the Ordnance Survey map, and these are just the walk routes they have pulled together.

We are a 15 minute drive from the small town of Honiton down the bottom of this map.

To the south of us is the East Devon AONB another largely rural area of rolling hills criss-crossed with walking and cycling routes.

We are staying where that blue dot is towards the top of the map. It is not even in a village, a scattering of houses up a single track no through road. There are a couple of properties past us, so we may have three or four vehicles a day break the constant birdsong.

You can walk miles just from the front door – as long as you don’t mind hills, stunning scenery and wildlife… and no other people!
Sunset on our little lane

We are both strangers to this part of Devon, and we had imagined it would be heaving with tourists, but no. Get away from the few main roads that traverse it and we can cycle for ages on tiny B roads without coming across another car. Plenty of tractors though!

A stone bridge on our ride down to Seaton

The World Heritage area of the Jurassic Coast is a 20 minute drive to the south of us, and we have had several days out exploring walks and villages along this picture perfect coastline. Weekends and school holidays it is busy of course, but avoid those, as we can, and it’s just a serene part of the world.

Agriculture dominates the landscape, as it has done for thousands of years, and in particular the dairy industry, which produces some of those iconic products like Devonshire cream. I need to stay well away from that, my tummy is already benefiting from the exploration of other local goodies like the craft breweries that are everywhere, the cideries, and those oh so tempting Devon pasties.

Final rays lighting up the meadow opposite our house

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It’s hard to imagine that we will ever feel we have ”done it all” here, there’s just such a variety of landscapes, a plethora of walking and cycling opportunities. But it is the people that have made it so special. We invited the owners of the property we are staying in, and the mutual friends who introduced us, over for a welcome BBQ. Brilliant. They both have twins and there was a lot of laughter, making us feel so at home and relaxed here.

We hosted our friends Karen and Dan, their boys Sonny and Oliver, and our next door neighbours, Russ and Julie and their daughters, Beth and Mazie, for a BBQ – our ’housewarming’!

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We have walked from our front door half a dozen times now and are still finding new routes, helped by the Komoot app, which shows all the footpaths and bridleways, and enables easy planning of walks. For instance, I randomly picked Dalford, a little village 10 minutes drive away, and Catherine used Komoot to put a fabulous walk together. So yes, it was raining for most of the walk, but that didn’t bother us in the least. We have good gear which keeps us mostly dry, and it wasn’t cold. The greens in the landscape just get even deeper, everything sparkles. We just love it.

The 8th Century Tuckers Arms has a great reputation for its food
A creative use for a disused telephone box
Stepping away from the village, it gets rural very quickly
Old stone bridge over the River Yarty
The river doesn’t always have a bridge!

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Another trip out and it was the short drive down to the Jurassic Coast and this simply breath taking scenery, to a place called the Golden Cap, which is just over the county boundry in Dorset.

The clifftop walk goes through National Trust land
Even the cattle appreciate the magnificent view
Top of the Golden Cap, looking towards Worthing
A chance for a breather to enjoy the view
A patchwork of fields spread out in front of us, and traditional thatched cottages are still a novelty for us

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Another coastal jaunt took us into the popular resort town of Lyme Regis, but despite its fame as the centre of this fossil rich coast, we easily found a park, and explored the cute shops. One of the many things we are enjoying here is the variety of retailers. One shop for instance sold nothing but fossils. Catherine wanted to donate me 🙂

Less than half an hour drive and we are at Lyme Regis
Historical buildings, shops full of fossils and plenty of cream teas on offer

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We also had some family time. My two daughters came with their families to West Bagborough, the small village in Somerset that sparked this whole change of country. Hayley and her husband and two boys Luke and James, brought their (massive!) caravan down and stayed on a site owned by friends of ours. My other daughter Zoe, her husband Mark and daughter Lily and son Jacob, we put up in a lovely 400 year old local bed and breakfast.

Grandsons Luke and James were keen to adopt Granddad’s love of hat wearing and borrowed a couple of Tilly
Hats for the week
Leading the posse on a hike through the countryside
The Quantock Hills and West Bagborough
A morning out to Dunster Castle
In the castle grounds – a family photo – L-R – Jacob, James, Luke, Hayley, Mr A, Zoe, Lily and Mark
Exploring Dunster Castle grounds
And the sun comes out in Dunster!

It was quite a week! Not all smooth sailing, but some great memories in these photos. There was definitely some learnings for me in organising events like this with my family. I left the week though having got to know my grandkids a lot better. All part of the jounrey we are on.

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The Queen’s Jubilee weekend rolled around, and excuse to catch up with Karen, Sonny and Oliver again. and then also with the mutual friends for a walk along the South West Coast Path from a town called Beer. I felt right at home there!

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One of the delights of being here is being able to meet up with friends I’ve known since school. Andrew was in the same class as me, and his wife Lynne, we have been able to see only occasionally over the years. Now we can say “Let’s have lunch next week!” We met at a country house owned by the National Trust called Stourhead, and enjoyed a gentle stroll around the gardens. Serene!

Stourhead Gardens with Andrew and Lynne

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There has been so much more, but mostly we have been continuing to ready ourselves for the move. During this period we exchanged contracts on our new home!!!. We will complete on the 30th of June, 5 months to the day from when we left Australia. We are very happy with what we have found, You’ll have to wait until we move in for more details, as things could still go wrong. But it looks good. Deposit is paid, and we are busy researching what we want to do to make it our forever home. It will be a huge lifestyle change for us after all this travelling, and before that, city living in Sydney. We can’t wait for this new chapter!

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21 April-10 May: Princess Tassie-the-adventure-cat flies to the UK

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lydeard St Lawrence, Twickenham and Heathrow, UK

So much has happened since our last post, we can hardly believe it has been just over three weeks.

Our eleven weeks holiday rental in Kingston St Mary came to an end, and we moved out and into a gorgeous AirBnB in a nearby village, Lydeard St Lawrence. Around the same time as moving, our shipping container arrived from Australia – we took out one or two bits, but mostly that went straight into storage. It feels quite surreal seeing items (such as our camping car fridge) in the UK, items we only ever have associated with our travels in Australia.

Last seen on our driveway in Curl Curl, Sydney – here’s our container in Somerset!

We also have changed our car – another Mercedes but a slightly larger one with a bit more clearance for those country lanes, an issue we were finding with the GLA. Thankfully (due to some negotiation from Mr A with the Mercedes dealership in Exeter) there was no cost of changeover, and we just paid the difference with our larger vehicle.

No more grey Merc – now a flashy red number to brighten up our days

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The AirBnB we moved into next was a great find. We had wanted somewhere in the same region – not too far from the Quantock Hills, closer to Exmoor and within a village we could easily walk from, and had stumbled across a little self-contained cottage in Lydeard St Lawrence.

Given Tassie’s arrival was impending, I had enquired whether pets were allowed…and once that was confirmed, checked whether a cat would be ok. It turned out that our superhost, Cat, is a British Shorthair cat breeder, and was very welcoming of a feline visitor. Perfect! There was also parking available for both our car and Truffy, so no alternative storage required – it really was meant to be. We soon settled in.

We had been there a couple of days before it was time to head up to London for a day we we had been long anticipating – Tassie’s arrival on a flight from Sydney.

Richard has his final cuddle before Tassie heads off – and in the Sydney ’hotel’ before her first flight

She had a huge journey, leaving the loving arms of her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard on Friday morning, two nights in a ’pet hotel’ near Sydney airport, before being loaded up into a Qatar Airlines plane and flown to Doha. Once again she was offloaded and released into another ’pet hotel’.

Finally she was loaded onto another flight to London Heathrow, arriving at 7am on Tuesday morning…finally being released nearly six hours later after all the paperwork had been completed. It was such a relief to see her – and as she stepped out of her carry cage and rubbed her cheeks on my hands and started purring, we knew that she forgave us for the traumatic journey and was pleased to be back with her original servants. Princess Tassie the Adventure Cat has officially made it to the UK!

The best cuddle ever!

We must not forget to say thank you to our friend Jacky who kindly took us on a whirlwind walk around Twickenham while we waited for the call to collect Tas – a chance to stretch our legs, enjoy some fresh air and buy lunch before spending another three hours in the car.

Yes, yet another stunning spring day

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So we settled into life in Lydeard St Lawrence. It’s another pretty historical village set in the countryside between the Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. Being a conservation area, there are many listed buildings and every corner has a story to tell.

The village’s name comes in part from the church. There has been a church in the location since the year 854, and in at least partially its current form for almost 700 years, since around 1350. The church tower makes a great landmark for our return walks and cycles.

Approaching Lydeard St Lawrence and it’s old church

There are countless footpaths disappearing in every direction across the hills, and in the couple of weeks we stayed there we walked many circuits, and never the same one twice.

In one of the sandstone walls in the village, a memory of jubilees past – this plaque commemorating the Queen’s silver jubilee (this year is the platinum jubilee) sits above a spring, apparently celebrated for its medicinal qualities and has never stopped flowing

Mark and I still have our ’tourist-eyes’ on and are really appreciating the chance to just walk from the front door, drinking up the ’new’ smells and sights. Like we did with our travels in Australia, I think we are appreciating our location all the more for being away.

Views in every direction
Which way now? The trees are heavy with perfumed blossom and the roadsides sprouting with wildflowers.
Spring emerging in the woodland
Primroses surround an old lime kiln in an ancient woodland
Bluebells, celandines and more wild lfowers emerging in every location
Looking towards the Quantock Hills
A grassy bridleway between two fields
We watched three wild red deer dash out of the woods at the bottom of this field and bound away
Fields of wheat are sprouting
The quiet country lanes are fragrantly flower-lined
A Greater Spotted Woodpecker flies to a tree right in front of us, before disappearing into this hole
Goldfinches are colourful visitors to the hedgerows, rarely stopping still long enough for a photo
Goldfinch
History around every corner in the Somerset lanes

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One Sunday afternoon we took ourselves out to Clatworthy Reservoir, situated on the edge of Exmoor and just a 30 minute drive from our cottage. Mr A had picked it as our destination somewhat randomly, spotting it on the map and suggesting we take a drive.

It is a picturesque location surrounded by native woodland, and an ancient hill fort. There are a couple of hikes there, the longer 8 kilometre walk circumnavigating the water, while we took the shorter hill fort hike, spotting wildlife as we went – especially excited to spot a pair of wild Red Deer.

A picturesque valley
A Blue Tit hunting for insects in the newly burst oak leaves
Mr A hiking past the bluebells
A pair of Red Deer emerge right on cue
Very shy, they soon gallop off through the woodland

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Another outing just 20 minutes drive away was to the unusually named Wimbleball Lake, on Exmoor. Wimbleball is an International Dark Sky Reserve by night (perfect for star-gazing), but during the day a great place to walk, cycle, fish, kayak and stand-up paddle-board. Our visit was predominantly aimed at walking and bird watching.

We did a 7km return hike around some of the lake’s edge, spotting our first British Kingfisher (sadly it didn’t stop still for a photo) this year. We will keep our eyes peeled for another.

A Song Thrush hunting for worms and insects in a lawn
A Dunnock keeping an eye out
No visit is complete without a Robin!
A Great Tit perches in a hedgerow, getting ready to fly off at a moment’s notice
Wimbleball – no idea of the origin of the name – not for the lack of searching!
Mr A hiking off in to the distance

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We also had some great meals and pub garden afternoons out with our friends, Karen, Jane and Terry from West Bagborough, including a somewhat disappointing lunch at the Rising Sun, (our ’local’ while we lived in the village which was always closed because of lock-down) and a superb lunch at a nearby gastro pub-restaurant , The Barn @ Pod Shavers (apparently a pod shaver is someone who makes traditional cricket balls!).

Laughs with our friends, The Ayres – and yes, Karen has a drinking problem (as in people keep buying her drinks and she cannot keep up!)

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The landscape changes almost daily as the trees bud and these burst into bright green leaves – in a handful of days the fields have gone from being lined with bare trees to thick lush green. We are loving the almost overwhelming impact on our senses.

As the days have got warmer, we have also been out on the bikes, the quiet (mostly traffic-free) country lanes ideal for exploring….and there is always the bonus of a village pub to mark as your destination for a refreshing afternoon beverage.

A typical country lane – all single track around here and very much suited to cycling
The fresh spring colours in the sunshine are breathtaking
An unpaved track – probably more suited to horse trekking than our little e-bikes, but brings us out into some incredible views
Looking across a field of wheat

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We have had a wonderful time in Lydeard St Lawrence, made ever so welcome by our hosts (who even very kindly brought Tassie a ’welcome to the UK’ gift of treats and toys) but now it is time to move on again to our next little cottage in Devon.

Our house purchase is progressing smoothly (touch-wood!), and we hope to be moving in by the end of June. The next temporary accommodation will see us through til then.

Tassie gets to sunbathe in Lydeard St Lawrence – ironically an activity she has missed in rainy Sydney!
Tassie is settling in nicely to her British life

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1-20 April – Spring is in the air!

Author: Mr A

Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK

Ok I’m back on blog writing, now I have a working keyboard. Never buy a so admirably misnamed ”Smart Folio” keyboard from the master of design Apple. It makes a soap dish look smart. Anyway, back in the saddle now with a brand new AirPad Air, paired this time with the newish ”Magic Keyboard”. The magic is in that this one actually works. Brilliant, with a built in touchpad keeping my curry covered fingers away from that lovely screen.

So, is this a travel blog you ask, or a tech round up and bemoaning of the sad state of Apple now they have their market dominanance? Ok, well given we are not travelling around very much, I guess now its more of a catch for friends and family scattered around the world, on what we’re up to, and a great place to showcase Catherine’s ever growing repertoire of photography skills. For me, an opportunity to say what the hell I like, knowing most of you skip to the photos anyway!

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So here’s a random thought to prove that mantra. I was laying awake the other night (been doing a lot of that recently!) and mulling over a book I’m reading about the history of England. One phrase stuck in my mind. ”Civilisation after all means living in cities”, in the context of the changes that went on in England post the Romans packing up their far too short togas, and heading back to Europe to get a better tan. We are seeing up close here in Somerset changes that will I think forever change what it means to live a civilised life, and be dependent on a city to do that.

Our dependence on cities for our employment, shopping, leisure and socialising has been broken. We don’t need cities for any of that do we? We might want a city for some lively night life, bricks and mortar shopping, and that overall buzz you get from being in the thick of things every so often. But for the first time in a few thousand years, we don’t need to live in one to find meaningful, well paid work (with good broadband), or to wander the shops to find the best choice and price, or to catch the latest films, or meet up with friends.

I know, not a startling insight, this has been coming for a while, and we all acknowledge that, but now Catherine and I are living it, as we transition our lives from having a home in the city to one in the country, and coming to terms with it. Unfortunately for us, half the rest of England is doing the same, and pushing up prices of houses as a result.

But will we be happy? As long as we can get the train to ”civilisation” for our monthly fix of fine dining, window shopping, perfectly mixed cocktails, and live music…we think so. Time will tell. Perhaps the big thing missing from our ”happy list” is having that network of friends around us, and that sure isn’t dependent on being in a big city. In fact I would say now we are not working in offices, it is inversely correlated to urban living. It will happen.

Meanwhile, we can’t look at houses every day, so off we skipped to our favourite (well we’ve been once before!) birding site locally. Ham Wall – no – not in search of a sandwich smothered in English mustard, but this fabulous wetland half an hour drive north of us.

How about that hairstyle? A Great Crested Grebe in its summer feathers
This Eurasian Coot has a nest hidden in the reeds, and has fluffed up its feathers to frighten off other birds
A Marsh Harrier soars over the wetlands, Glastonbury Tor in the background
As always, a friendly Robin follows us along the paths, hoping for a snack

Some cracking shots there right? It was about 8 degrees, with a chilly old wind, and we were as happy as Larry (well, if Larry had thermals on). A Thursday afternoon and as usual the car park is heaving with fellow twitchers lugging around their big lenses and spotting scopes. All very friendly and willing to point out some of the shyer types hiding behind the rushes. I think one day this will feel like home. Not yet, but its getting easier. I don’t get a lurching feeling in my stomach as often when I think of Sydney Harbour.

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Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.

Yes…she’s a big one..the lovely Gwenevieve
Looking dwon to the coast and Porlock Harbour

Walking through old forests like these just makes us take big deep breathes, you can almost feel the oxygen levels get denser. Dogs were happy as well!

Jane and Terry…been so kind to us

After the forest came the open country up on Exmoor. Fabulous. We will be spending a lot more time up here, once we have a car that can deal with the bumps. Yup… we bought the wrong car. Too long slung. Not our finest hour in the research department. However, watch this space, cunning plan in place.

Just missed the Exmoor ponies charging across the road
A beautiful highland cow is right at home on these sparse hillsides
The right vehicle for this terrain!

We are just loving the area we are trying to make our new home. So much variety in the scenery. Coast, rolling hills, open moor, it has it all. We just need to settle into our forever home to really relax and enjoy it. Fingers crossed. Again, watch this space. Things are moving.

The Rapeseed is flowering brightly, creating a vibrant patchwork of fields throughout the countryside
An Oak Tree that has been here for hundreds of years, a few km walk from Kingston St Mary

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This week we have transferred our base of operations to our friends’ Karen and Dan’s house in Honiton north devon. They were away and asked us if we would kitten sit. Oh yes please we purred. A feline fix is just what we need while we wait for our dearly beloved Princess Tasmania to join us here (26th April!).

Obi and Ani gave us plenty of laughs with their antics, and we only got the one mouse as a gift

We also had to do a quick two nighter into London for madam to get an operation done to help her breathing once again. We were soon scuttling back to Devon, with a much improved airway. What a relief for her. It’s literally a life changing little op, to be able to get huge lungfulls of air once again into her system she can bound up the stairs, instead of wheezing her way up while the kittens dash past disdainfully.

We finished our stay in Honiton with a glorious morning out at another nature reserve, Seaton Wetlands on the Devon coast.

A female Linnett – hoping to catch a male next time – they are very colourful
A handsome Mallard Duck
A tram whizzes past the wetlands en route to Seaton
A Common Chaffinch surveys the marshland
Another Robin comes to check us out

So thats us. Coming to the end of our first spell of a ”holiday rental” – 11 weeks in fact. There have been some brilliant moments, and some tough times. We think the tide is on the turn now, in a good way, but more on that in our next instalment.

Finishing off with a few shots of the beautiful bluebells now blooming up in the Quantock Hills – if we could share the aroma, we would!

The bluebells are flowering and the scent is incredible
A bank of blue
Looking down towards the River Severn and Wales beyond

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16 February-4 March: Three (yes, THREE!) named storms and settling in to our ’new’ life

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset and Brighton, East Sussex, UK

The UK has been naming its’ severe weather events since 2015, having taken the idea from the USA. The season commences in September, with the first major event beginning with the letter A, and then continues throughout the year (names never start with letters  Q, U, X, Y or Z), to date never going beyond the letter K before resetting in September.

Since our last post, 12 days ago, the UK has encountered Dudley (17/2 just Scotland and the North of England), Eunice (18/2) and Franklin (21/2)! Despite the dramatic news headlines you may have heard, we fortunately escaped unscathed.

Storm Eunice apporaching – source MET Office

The afternoon before the arrival of Eunice, I left Mr A in Somerset and took the train from Taunton up to London and across down to Brighton to catch up with my sister and her family there. It’s been about 18 months since we last saw one another in person, and the children are growing up so quickly.

A stormy afternoon painting – artworks from artists aged 8 to 48!

It was a lovely relaxing weekend, with walks with the dog, and just enjoying one anothers’ company – the usual pressure of trying to maximise every second eased by our migration. I even bumped into an old friend from Uni on one of our morning walks, she was coincidentally doing a run in the same area.

Cocoa racing around the hillside and an inpromptu catch up with a friend
A glorious morning with a fresh breeze
Helen and I had a lunch out in the Brighton North Laine area
Cocoa and Helen took me on a walk around Preston Park, Manor and the nearby church

The time flew by, and before long it was time to farewell Helen, Stu and the children and train it up to London to meet Mark.

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Several weeks ago Mark had read an article which talked about an upcoming exhibition at the British Museum in London; ‘Stonehenge’. Mark travelled up from Taunton on a train that had been speed-limited to 50mph (because of the potential for post-storm branches on the line) and taken twice the time it should have done, and I met him in central London.

It was a wet Sunday evening and we headed into Chinatown for duck pancakes and then a basement cocktail bar for a drink.

Glistening London – could be a painting in the making
Quiet streets on a Sunday night
We find an underground cocktail bar and discover where all the people are hiding

On Monday morning, we walked from our hotel up to the British Museum and the exhibition. We had pre-purchased our timed tickets online, but on arrival saw a long queue snaking along the road. Mark spoke to one of the security guards who recommended heading instead to the entrance at the rear of the building. We strolled around and walked in with no queue at all – good tip for future visits!

Mr A lingering by some golden jewellery

It was an excellent exhibition which made use of multimedia, sounds, lights, and videos to bring the artefacts on display to life. One of the key messages we took from ’Stonehenge’ was just how migration has always been a part of the British and continental European heritage – DNA investigations into bones of people buried beside Stonehenge show that some were born in Spain in the Pyrenees, while others were born in the UK but spent time in Spain and other countries. Many of the techniques used in the creation of jewellery, weapons and stonemasonry were developed and shared many hundreds of miles away, showing how people were likely travelling more than most of us in the past two years!

Axe heads, carvings in stone and the little known Seahenge, uncovered on a beach in Norfolk
Incredible jewellery and centre part of the Sweet Track from the Somerset Levels (dated to 3807 BCE)

We are looking forward to exploring some of the regions brought to life in this exhibition in the coming years.

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Back in Somerset, our life has been focused on trying to find a house to buy…or as time progresses without anything suitable, looking at the very uninspiring rental market. As the weeks tick by with little to go and see, we are starting to feel the pressure of finding a longer term home. Our holiday rental is all well and good, but there is a definite deadline, after which we will need an alternative place to live.

We have managed to take some time out from scouring the property listings to do some local walks and a spot of bird photography too.

A handsome Great-Tit perches artfully on a bramble
A Robin glowing in the morning sunshine
A Long-tailed tit flies down for some food left out on a log
A tiny little Tree-Creeper scurries up a vertical trunk, hunting for insects
A Jackdaw enjoying some late afternoon sunshine
Views across the Somerset Levels
Looking towards the Quantock Hills

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Despite having the typical wintry weather (including some sleet and light snow) we also have had some spectacular sunshine. We did a great 12km walk last weekend from our front door, following ancient footpaths across fields and quiet lanes.

Mr A makes a hiking friend at the start of our walk
Woodlands, fields and quiet lanes
A sunny bank of crocuses
Farm tracks double as footpaths
We climb up and enjoy fabulous views from our picnic spot in a field

We finished up our walk at our local pub, The Swan, which was just finishing up a busy Sunday lunch. The Landlord is an ex Royal Marine and several of his old colleagues live nearby, and one also employed as the pub’s chef. It’s a great atmosphere there, where everyone welcomes you like family, and Mark and I certainly feel like we have made friends already.

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This week we actually made an offer on a gorgeous property, but suspect we will be severely outbid on this occasion. It’s been the first house to really tick all our boxes – plenty of space for visitors, good energy efficiency, walking distance to a great village and pub and yet within an easy drive to Taunton train station for trips up to London. We’ll hear for sure next week after they have shown another 20 or so interested parties around.

Mid week we paid a visit to the Somerset Levels and an RSPB wetlands site – Greylake. Despite a chilly wind blowing across the water, there were plenty of people camped out in the bird hides with their spotting scopes, binoculars and telephoto lenses. We fit right in, other than the fact we don’t know what birds we are looking at! We spent an entranced hour watching Little Grebes, White Swans, Egrets and vast flocks of Wigeons (ducks) all in their fabulous breeding colours. Just magnificent. Of course, the usual woodland birds were there as well, with a lovely little European Robin posing for a photo on some brambles.

And we have takeoff! For some reason the Wigeon decide to launch themselves off in their thousands
How on earth do they find a space to fly in?
One Wigeon is tired of all the flying around and dozes on the water’s edge
An European Robin hops over to see us off

We’re finding it is increasingly important to step away from our property searching to enjoy some pure and simple nature, reminding us why we love this area. This coming weekend we have another reminder coming up – 28 members of our family will be joining us to help celebrate my birthday…and it’s not even a big one! We’ll share all the news from that in our next post 🙂

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7-16 February: The South West of England – our new stomping ground

Author: Mr A

Location: Honiton, Devon and Kingston-St. Mary, Somerset

It was time to turn our back on the delights of Chelsea, our bank balance will be relieved! So many temptations that come at a fine price. We will never forget our time here with family and friends, and that is priceless. We were off down to Devon, to stay with our friends Karen and Dan, their twins, and their kittens. Yes we got a cat fix!

A frosty start to the day in Honiton
Cuddles with Obi….or is it Anni? They both look so similar!

We also got a vehicle fix, as our motorhome has been stored nearby, and last week was taken in for some TLC to a local garage. They had him all serviced and ready to rock.

Honiton Garage had Truffy all ready serviced for us to collect

Then we were collected by the sales exec we had been talking to since before Christmas from Mercedes-Benz Exeter and taken over to their showroom to try out a car. We had really already decided we were buying the vehicle, but wanted a test drive to just confirm what we had read in the reviews. It’s a little A-series hatchback, ideal for scooting round narrow Somerset lanes, and has a plethora of tech to make the driving experience safer and more stress free. We loved it.

The great reveal!

When I say we, this has to be a car Catherine is comfortable driving, as our last two vehicles she really hasn’t been. The Landcruiser has no height adjustable seating, and the motorhome has a handbrake even I struggle to reach down to; it is basically a lorry. So, happy wife, happy ride. She loved it, as did I. So we sorted the paperwork, and drove it back to Honiton. What a feeling. Never thought we’d have a Mercedes keyring dangling from our hands. It’s so different from our previous cars. Even my daughter said ”Never thought I’d see you in something so low profile!”, after the truck-like vehicles we usually buy. Well, we are reinventing ourselves.

After the hectic pace of the last few weeks, we decided to give ourselves a day off. Catherine and I were itching to wander around some Devon countryside with a camera and bins. Seaton Wetlands was recommended, and didn’t disappoint. It was packed with birdlife in the trees and on the river Axe that flows through the reserve. It felt really surreal once again to think that this can be our life now, wandering round these places, rugged up against a bitey wind, with a hot mug of tea in our rucksacks. It was so reinvigorating to be back out amongst our feathered friends again, and learning all the new species names thanks to a off duty warden, and the Merlin app that helps identification.

There were no shortage of friendly Robins singing their hearts out at the wetlands
Top to bottom, left to right: Dunnock, Goldfinch, Redshank, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Northern Lapwing and Blue Tit
Fresh homemade soup and sourdough at Blackberry Honey Farm on our return trip

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A day of re-packing Truffy and the Merc saw us ready to head over to our home for the next 11 weeks in Somerset. We had to find furnished accomodation while our container of worldly goods is making its way by container to the UK. Mill Meadow Eco Lodges is a development of holiday rentals on the edge of the small village of Kingston St Mary. We were so relieved to have finally made it here, after booking the accomodation months ago. So many things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. We can finally unpack. The accomodation, a cosy, well equipped, two bedroom lodge, will suit us perfectly while we get settled.

Then things just got better and better. Firstly the Indian restaurant we picked for our first home delivery absolutely blew us away with the quality of the food. Then the next day we walked round to the local pub. A 10 minute walk through the fields. I had been speaking to them to book a dinner for Catherine’s upcoming birthday weekend in March. They sounded very friendly, but in person they just exceeded all expectations. We came back for dinner and invited some people we had met when we were in lockdown nearby during 2020. We had the best evening, both to see these people again (Terry and Jane Ayre, and their daughter Karen, who run Quantock camping), and because of what the pub delivered by way of outstanding food, beer, wine and service. The Swan at Kingston just excelled at everything.

Our new view – the lake at Mill Meadow
A short walk to our local, The Swan, and a welcome back dinner with our friends Karen, Jane and Terry from Quantock Camping

A walk back through the fields in the moonlight provided a brilliant end to the evening. What a great start to our stay.

One of the magical places we used to walk to when we were here before, was to the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding Quantock Hills. No wonder it was chosen by our Iron Age ancestors to bury their dead on. I was keen to revisit, and proposed an early morning walk. Well, we were up at the top by 7am, and saw in the sunrise. Truly a majestic sight.

Cothlestone Hill at sunrise
Bobble hats and hoods don’t really work!

It didn’t matter that it was freezing cold, with an icy wind dropping the temperature even further. We have the right gear to keep warm and dry. Flipping great it was.

To see this type of woodland again just feels so right, way down in our DNA.

A wintery woodland is a novelty after the evergreen eucalypts of Australia

Another afternoon saw us exploring the local village, half hoping to bump into someone who was just putting up a for sale sign! It is going to be a huge challenge to find somewhere we really like. The local power station down on the coast is ramping up again and staff are flocking in from all over the UK and Europe and snapping up houses for sale, and rentals.

Wandering around our local village of Kingston St Mary

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Meanwhile, back in Australia, Princess Tassie is still soaking up the summer sunshine with her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, awaiting news of her flight….we both miss her so deeply. But she is being so well loved and cared for. Its just us being selfish.

Solar-cat charging up – photo courtesy of Rosemary

Hopefully the pet travel company we are using will finally get her on a flight in March, and we can start to feel like this really is our home rather than just being here on holiday again. Let’s see.

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It has been a great start to our return to the South West. Our friends Karen and Dan made us so welcome, then Jane, Terry and Karen….(yes, so may Karens!). It makes all the difference, when what we are missing the most is our friends back in Australia. Being able to pick up the phone at all hours and get hold of our family makes all the difference. The adventure has begun.

6 December- 21 January: Our last few weeks in Sydney – the long goodbye

Author: Mr A

Location: Curl Curl, Sydney’s Northern Beaches, NSW, Australia

In a few days time (February 1st) Catherine and I will be, hopefully, showing our way one tickets to a check in desk at Sydney Airport, and then boarding a plane to London. Twenty five years in Australia for me, twenty three for Catherine, so most of her adult life.

The last three months back in our house on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, have been a blur of preparations to wrap up our lives here, and prepare for new ones in England. The friendships we will leave behind are the greatest wrench. We have been spending as much time as we can, Omicron permitting, with our nearest and dearest.

Some pre-Christmas catch ups with Owen and his family
A hot and humid Christmas day with 10 of us for a fabulous feast
Giant Jenga, fine wine and the odd shot helped make for a wonderfully fun day

Catherine’s photos as usual tell the story better than I can in words.

We’ve gone out for fabulous food and wine, and stayed in for the same. Friends have come to visit for a few days, and one couple (Jenny and David) for several weeks. They have sold their apartment and are also moving country, back to New Zealand, so we have combined households. We feel so lucky to be able to spend time with friends that we know we are going to see a lot less of going forward.

A fine New Year’s Eve – oysters, prawns on the BBQ and a roast lamb
Welcoming in 2022 with a fine view of Sydney Harbour Bridge
The sparkling lights of Sydney, the booming fireworks and the smell of gunpowder will never be forgotten
Friends from Victoria come up for a tour of Sydney, allowing us to return to some favourite locations
A splash of colour and wildlife in the Botanical Gardens
Friends Michelle and David with their young pup Olive come for a walk and a refreshing beverage at a local brewery
Delicious Mexican food with our ‘flatties’, Jenny and David, in our local village, Freshwater (Freshie Mex)
Jenny and Catherine had a night away in the city – a room at the Sofitel in Darling Harbour and a night out at Hamilton (the musical)

It’s hard not to feel the sadness that comes with saying goodbye. To be honest, I’ve felt it to be quite draining. To think of all of that time over the years here that has gone into building those relationships. Then I have a call with my daughters, or see Catherine chatting to her mum or sister, and am reminded why we need to move on and start a new chapter of our story. We always took for granted that we would be able to jump on a plane to see them, now, not so much.

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Our house is mostly packed up, lots of possessions sold off or given away. It feels quite liberating to just have the “good stuff” going into our 20 foot container next week. We really don’t know under what circumstances we will be unpacking it. Into our new forever home? Or a rental while we continue to house hunt? Housing stock in the area we are looking (Somerset in the south-west of England) is pretty limited, so let’s see.

With Omicron infections rates skyrocketing here in Sydney over the last few weeks, it has been a juggle between the desire to see friends, and the need to keep healthy. We had our boosters last week, to be at peak immunity just before our flights. We are limiting our time inside any crowded areas, and keeping our catch ups with close friends to limit our exposure risk. We have some pretty important things happening when we land in London, and we need that negative test result to do them. Fingers crossed.

We are surrounded by beauty here and have been reminding ourselves with regular walks – rain or shine (got to get into training!)

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Moving to England doesn’t mean though that our wandering days are over. Quite the opposite. We have told our families to not expect us to be around for several months of the year, as we continue to explore the UK and Europe in our motorhome. You can be sure that we will be in search of winter sunshine this time next year! But hopefully some of those holidays in the sun can be shared with our respective families. Thats our goal.

So how do you sum up a whole chunk of your life lived large? I’m finding it pretty impossible. I can only thank the people who have shared their time and friendship with us over the years here in Australia, and tell you that we will miss you being in our day to day lives.

For both Catherine and I these have been amazing years. For a start, we met here, and married here. We built our careers here, and enjoyed success in very different ways. We adventured here, exploring as much as we could of this vast country. We developed new interests together here, like sea kayaking, bird watching and for Catherine capturing them on camera with her sharp eyes in beautiful detail. Then for me a spate of bike packing trips through huge tracts of wilderness. Its just been a complete blast. And I can’t wait for what comes next. It will be different for sure, and thats also good. We both have long lists of what we want to do together and separately.

For now though, its back to our packing, and as the departure day approaches, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep our stress levels down. Fine wine helps, and understanding friends. Until we meet again. Be good to each other.

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When it all gets too much, spend some time in nature – or stroking Princess Tassie…!

6-22 October: Completing the final Australian circuit

Author: Mrs A

Location: Port Macquarie and Sydney, NSW, Australia

We pulled away from our friends Phil and Libby in Brisbane, promising that this would not be the final goodbye, and we would meet again somewhere in the world. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact there are going to be quite a few of these moments in our future.

Our final farewell to Brisbane, Tassie longingly looking at Phil and Libby’s house

We had diligently completed and submitted our NSW border passes, and headed south not knowing what might be ahead of us.

A whole load of not much was the answer. Given Queenslanders have to quarantine to come back from NSW, subject to a strict approval process, very few people were heading interstate and the roads were eerily quiet. This is in absolute contrast to the wall to wall traffic we experienced last time we drove this journey in early February 2020, when it was pouring with rain to add to the treacherous frenzy.

Entering New South Wales to empty roads

It was an uneventful journey to Sydney, with a night spent in a very forgettable ‘pet friendly’ motel room in Port Macquarie, and we arrived back at our house earlyThursday afternoon. Nobody even wanted to see our border passes…I guess they assume few people want to travel to New South Covid…

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It has been three years since we spent a night in our home, and entering the place with no furniture was quite eerie. We wondered how Tassie would go at remembering it, given there have been other cats and dogs living in there with our renters over the past few years. Proving to be the most adaptable cat as usual, she trotted in with her tail held high, sharpened her claws on the bottom step of the stairs as she has done for years, and settled right on in!

Our return home essentially completes our third big ‘lap’ of Australia. The map below broadly shows where we have been since we first pulled away from our house in May 2017, covering many kilometers around this huge continent.

1. Took us from Sydney up to the Kimberley in the north-west, then across to the coast and down to Perth, back via the Nullarbor and South Australia. 2. We visited lots of areas in Queensland, then took the Savannah way over to Darwin, returning via Uluṟu,and the Plenty Highway. 3. Has taken us down through Victoria and much more of South Australia and the Riverland, then up through the Flinders Range to Birdsville, and up to the Daintree Rainforest and back.

It is hard for many people, even Australians, to comprehend the distances covered in our travels, with often three or four days of solid driving before you reach the next destination of note or even a chance to go for a walk. Accepting the distances, we have enjoyed the diversity of flora and fauna, and on this most recent trip not only saw many areas new to us, but also gave ourselves a chance to linger and revisit some of our favourite locations.

Check out www.thetruesize.com to overlay any country on top of another – here I have put Australia over Europe and the USA so you can understand a sense of scale

We now find ourselves ready to settle down for a few months, celebrating having more than one room and access to connected plumbing!

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After a night ‘camping’ on ‘self inflating’ mattresses which had been compressed for too long (ie not inflating at all!), all our possessions were delivered from storage. We clocked up 5km and 25 flights just running up and down the stairs with the delivery guys, taking in boxes and directing furniture.

Mr A and ‘Abs’ one of the delivery guys unloading a cage…meanwhile Tassie has found a lot of new places to sleep!

And we are ‘home’ for the next few months!

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We arrived in time for the final two days of Sydney’s lockdown for double vaccinated people, but that didn’t stop us joining two of our lovely neighbours, Mike and Julia, for a picnic in the park. They very kindly did the catering, and we enjoyed a great catch up with them within the lockdown rules.

Picnic in the park

Our home is located beside Curl Curl Lagoon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and we have been reuniting ourselves with the stunning location, watching the sun rise over the water and rediscovering the birdlife. We will certainly miss these beautiful mornings when we arrive in deepest darkest February in the UK, but there we will have completely different things to look forward to.

Curl Curl Lagoon at sunrise
Looking down Curl Curl beach towards Manly and North Head in the distance
Looking up the beach towards North Curl Curl

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Having got through our whole weekend of lockdown (sorry everyone who has suffered for so long!), Sydney opened up the following Monday, with shops, restaurants and bars welcoming the double vaccinated. Life has entered the phase of the next level of ‘new normal’.

Afternoon walks through the reserve rewarded us with the trills of Superb Fairy Wrens, swooping Red Wattlebirds chasing insects to feed their young, and many other signs of spring.

One of many Superb Fairywrens that call the reserve home
A Red Wattlebird and its demanding chick
A Mallard Duck on the lagoon
I even spotted a little Ringtail Possum sleeping in a broken tree
A Crested Pigeon displaying its green and purple wing feathers

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Just up the coast from Curl Curl is Dee Why, and we took a walk through the lagoon and beach there up to Long Reef on another day.

Looking towards Dee Why and North Curl Curl
Mr A
A Superb Fairywren keeps lookout on top of a bush, his turquoise feathers gleaming in the morning sun
Looking towards Manly from Long Reef
A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo munching on seed pods

Long Reef has a regular nesting pair of Nankeen Kestrels, and they were out and about hunting for mice, skinks and lizards when we were there, unperturbed by all the people out walking.

Nankeen Kestrels, focused on finding food for their brood

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Our social life has never been so busy. After 105 days of lockdown all our friends have been keen to go out, and I think we have clocked up more outings in the last two weeks than in the preceding 12 months combined!

Curries, French cuisine, modern Australian, a local gin bar and more…
More beers, wines, dinners and lunches – Tassie enjoyed nights in!

It has been a great welcome back to Sydney, and we will continue to make the most of our time over the next few months.

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And finally, some of our readers will probably know I am an artist in my spare time, primarily working on semi-abstract (meaning they look like paintings rather than photographs) landscapes.

I have decided to sell some of my work before we head off to the northern hemisphere, and have some discounted original works for sale.

If there is anything you are interested in, please let me know – I’ve uploaded some images here: http://whenthecatsaway.net/

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26 September-5 October: Concluding our ZoneRV travels with a bang!

Author: Mr A

Location: Woodford, Moreton Bay Shire, and then Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Well, what a mixture of emotions, our last week as proud owners of our Zone RV caravan. We were going to drop it off in a few days, and decided to spend our last two nights on a showground on the edge of the small town of Woodford. Surrounded by national parks, we had a few great outings where birdlife was once again captured by Mrs A’s eagle eyes (get the pun?) and her very long lens.

A couple of short walks showcased to us, for the last time, what nature has to offer in this part of the world. Dense forest with soaring trees, and the ever present calls of birdlife, both the familiar and the not so much.

Setting off on a hike
Kookaburra on the showground
An Eastern Yellow Robin eyes us curiously on a walk in D’Aguilar National Park
A Laughing Kookaburra flies into a thick vine, swinging back and forth in the sub-tropical forest
A tiny Silvereye flits through the undergrowth
A Striated Thornbill in the woodland
The wet weather plays havoc with one’s feathers
A tuneful Pied Currawong flies in
A Striated Thornbill collecting seeds on the casuarina tree
A Grey Fantail sings it’s melodious song from a nearby tree
Magnificent views across to the Glass House Mountains so named by Captain James Cook as they reminded him of the glass kilns of 1770s Yorkshire.

We had another potter around nearby Lake Somerset, a reservoir we found is home to a family of Whistling Kites.

Mother-Whistling Kite flies by
She lands on a dead tree in the water eyeing us cautiously
Two tiny chicks peer over the edge of the giant nest, awaiting their next feed
A flock of Maned Ducks flies off

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Then, with very mixed feelings, we packed up camp for the very last time, and headed down to Brisbane and our friends Phil and Libby who has so kindly invited us to stay with them while we emptied out our caravan and cleaned it ready to go to its next owners. Purely by chance, friends from my working life lived ten minutes up the road from them, so a glass of Prosecco at a local hotel with a view was called for, then off to their place for dinner.

Bubbles and Thai food with friends…and the odd gecko!

It was so great to see these guys, made even more poignant by wondering when and where we would next share a glass? I guess there will be a lot of that over the next few months as we prepare for our exit from Australia at the end of January next year.

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We settled into a week with our kind friends Libby and Phil, spending several days sorting out our caravan and boxing up all of its contents ready to ship back to Sydney. It was quite amazing how much we had crammed into the car and van!

Where did all of this stuff go? Basically the contents of a bed sit displayed here

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But it wasn’t all work, there were some very lovely evenings of fine food and wine, and many many laughs. Libby and Phil had asked our friends to join them and a couple of their friends, Daryl and Nat, for a Saturday night barbecue. Well that was a blast, as you can tell!

Phil and Libby’s house is designed for entertaining and they are superb hosts

I was self appointed barman and DJ, what could possibly go wrong?

Daryl’s Boxer dog, Dusty, is still as lovely as ever. We first met him in 2018.

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The day came when we had to drop off our caravan, an hour’s drive up the coast via the very busy Sunshine Coast motorway. Half way there an almighty explosion shocked both Catherine and I. We had had a spectacular blow out on our rear car tyre. I fought to control the rig, and managed to get us pulled over onto a very narrow bit of hard shoulder, while road trains hammered past centimetres from our window, rocking our heavy truck like a snowflake.

I quickly called roadside assistance, then climbed out of the passenger door, there was no way I could get out the driver’s side. Roadside assistance arrived in a few minutes, and we were towed off, it would have been too dangerous (and illegal) to try and change a tyre where we were.

Finishing our Zone travels with a bang!

He dropped us around the corner, where another RACQ Special Incident truck happened to be sitting. After I’d woke up the driver (yup!) he gave us a hand. We would have done it on our own, but our friends were waiting for us to handover the van and it makes it so much quicker with help.

So, two hours late, we rolled up to our drop off point, and said goodbye to what has been our Australian home on wheels for four years. The adventures it has taken us on, in so much comfort. But we need to look forward now to the next phase of our life, making a new home in the UK.

Farewelling our Zone home for the last time. It gets a new stone guard, solar panels, tyres and lithium batteries before it heads of on adventures new.

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The new few days passed in a blur, with tyres getting fixed, and car batteries, our contents being picked up, a hospital visit for Catherine and again some lovely evenings with Phil and Libby.

Phil was master cook one night treating us to this incredible roast cooked on their fire pit. What a delicious feed, and a night we will always remember as being so quintessentially Australian. A fiery sun setting over the eucalypt forest that forms a backdrop to their garden. White cockatoos screeching at apparently nothing in particular, lorikeets darting around their bird feeder. The smell of the fire, the chink of a glass, a shared belly laugh as day turns to night in between the blinks of an eye closed against the smoke.

A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo flies in for a snack from the garden
A Double-barred Finch spies seed on the bird table
A colourful Rainbow Lorikeet joins its flock for a meal
A fine campfire tended by Phil the chef, makes a delicious roast dinner
Less delicious is the orange jelly Mrs A got after her day surgery on her airway

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It was a sad goodbye as we started our journey back to Sydney, the car packed to the roof. Tassie was so displeased at being back on the road and confined she sat with her back to us for the first hour!. She had made herself so at home at Libby and Phil’s. Just look at this old poser.

Princess Tassie thought she had a new Queensland pad for a while there

So goodbye Queensland and our friends there, the people who have made this leg of our trip so memorable. Thank you for your friendship, your kindness and your words of wisdom as we garble with the transition to a new life.

Sad to say goodbye, with strong hopes we will meet again

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PS We will continue to share our travels and experiences as we return to Sydney and make the transition to our new life in Europe.

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