Author: Mr A
This article first appeared in Freemason (click to download), June 2020, pages 32-35.
Author: Mr A
This article first appeared in Freemason (click to download), June 2020, pages 32-35.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Heathrow Airport, London, UK
After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.
Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.
Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.
Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!
Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….
Author: Mr A
Location: The Paddington Hilton, London
Its our last day in the UK. we fly back to Australia tomorrow. Rarely have we felt so conflicted. We are going to miss so much about being here in the UK, and yet we’re have so much to look forward to when we get back to Sydney after our quarantine in Darwin.
So with the day to ourselves, we decided to lace up our walking boots for one last jaunt in the autumnal sunshine. A cold snap had obliged us by providing a last chance to get rugged up, feel our cheeks cold in the wind, and smell the fallen leaves as they accumulate in piles, just urging to be kicked.
The deserted streets of London’s first day of the second national lockdown gave us plenty of elbow room to explore.
We walked from our hotel, adjacent to Paddington Station (chosen to give us easy access to the Heathrow Express in the morning) and headed over to the Thames via Hyde Park and Chelsea, admiring the rows of luxury cars that lined the mews and the boutiques all shut up.
Some of the cavalry even turned out to see us off, which was nice.
From Chelsea we crossed over the Albert Bridge and across to Battersea Park, where we enjoyed freshly filled vegan baguettes in the rose garden.
Then it was all the way down to Westminster Palace with armed police everywhere as the terror threat status is “severe”, before then heading back via St James Park.
We headed back through St. James’s Park, giving Buckingham Palace a wave as we then headed back across to Hyde Park. Just under 19km (12 miles) though some of the tourist highlights of London, and hardly a soul to be seen. Brilliant.
We have had plenty of time to reflect on what we will miss and what we are looking forward to. If I had to pick the top three on each list it would be as follows:
So what will we miss? Well the majority of our “blood family” is here, on a time time zone that makes it harder to connect on line when we go back. It’s not that we have been able to actually spend heaps of time with them, given the constraints of the various restrictions we have had, but the time that we have has been brilliant.
Secondly we will miss the changes that the seasons bring. The colours, the smells, the sounds, even here in the city the autumnal colours are spectacular in the parks. The different feel you get walking in the varying temperatures and weather, the coziness of turning up your collar against a chill wind. We just feel more engaged with the natural world watching everything change.
Finally, and we have talked together about this a lot, we will miss the feeling we get of having more values in common with the Brits. The courtesy shown by drivers, or service providers, pretty much everybody has a please or thank you, or sorry in their sentence. It just feels…nice. There’s no pushing and shoving, no macho aggressive behaviour. It just feels good.
However, Australia beckons with our “adopted family” and lovely fur child, our joint number one on the list of what’s pulling us back. They have been the people who we have spent such a chunk of our lives with, in Catherine‘s case, most of her adult life. There are going to be some wonderful reunions, some long lunches and even longer dinners!
And yes it will also be lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings, there haven’t been many times we have done that over here. There’s just something so wonderful about being able to extend your outdoor time right though the dark hours especially when there’s a pile of freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters close at hand, and chilled bottle of something crisp to wash them down.
Finally, it is those great wild open deserted spaces, whether they be miles of brilliant white sand on a beach, or the endless eucalyptus forests stretching to the horizon. The emptiness is just so serene, although this year I think it will be tougher to find the quiet spots with everyone staycationing in Australia.
It‘s worrying to leave friends and family here, given the transmission rates, especially since we wont be able to easily get back should there be a problem, but we really have no good option of where to stay. So it’s on that plane tomorrow we go.
Thanks again to all our family and friends here who have made this trip, even in these tough times, so memorable. It has been such an eye opener for us to see three seasons come and go in this beautiful country. To feel the joy of reconnecting with family, and to eat properly cooked fish and chips, which is what we are about to do now as our “Last Supper” 🙂
PS. We both just heard – both negative for Covid-19 – we’re definitely off tomorrow!
Author: Mrs A
Location: Portsmouth, Hampshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK
We left Brighton and made our way along the coast to Portsmouth, arriving in time to tune in our little TV and listen to Boris’s Saturday afternoon address of the nation. Except the 4pm address was delayed to 5pm….then the 5pm to 6pm….and the 6pm to…who knows when, because by then we were sipping our first gin and tonics with my sister Elle and brother in law John! They prepared a delicious spaghetti bolognaise and which we enjoyed with the usual sprinkling of funny stories, laughter and some rather delicious red wine.
After dinner we heard confirmation of the announcement – the UK is to go into a countrywide ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as of Thursday the 5th November. All non-essential shops are to close, and foreign travel is banned. Thankfully the Australian Embassy in London countered that to confirm that the repatriation flight we’re on is still going to leave on Saturday, and that we are exempt from that rule.
All too soon it was Sunday morning and we said farewell, pointing Truffy’s nose westwards to a campsite just outside Honiton in Devon.
It was our final chance to use the services, clean out the toilet thoroughly and basically get Truffy ready for storage.
On Monday we were welcomed to our friends’ Karen and Dan house, where we tackled the final washing requirements and they were very conveniently having a new part of their loft boarded…just in time for us to avail ourselves of a small portion of space for Truffy’s soft furnishings and a few bits and pieces we aren’t taking back to Australia. We are so grateful to these generous friends for their welcome help – conveniently located just 15 minutes drive from where we are storing our motorhome.
Over the next three days, we prepared Truffy for winter – draining out the tanks, blowing out all the water from the pipes, and after our last storage experience, setting up some mouse bait stations in the hope we can save some of our wiring from nibbling teeth!
Finally it was time to store Truffy. We awoke to a crisp, clear morning and a fabulous view over the frosty white rooftops of Honiton and to the fields beyond. The perfect farewell memory for this stunning part of the UK. The autumn trees were positively glowing as we drove along empty roads to the storage place and parked Truffy up for the last time.
We both felt rather sad driving away. Although this year didn’t bring us the travel adventures we initially expected, we have had some incredible times these past few months, reconnecting with our homeland, watching the seasons change and relishing all the weathers and temperatures that come hand in hand with them.
While we don’t know when we will be able to return we do at least feel comfortable that Truffy’s in safe hands and will hopefully not be in too bad a shape when we eventually return.
Stepping onto an empty train platform at Honiton, followed by a nearly empty train to London, we were reminded that these are strange times, with more to come. This is the first day of the UK’s second Covid-19 lockdown.
Our first step along the way to getting back to Australia was to get a Covid-19 test done. This was included in the price of our ticket with the results being sent simultaneously back to us as well as Qantas sometime in the next 48 hours. Getting a negative result means we can board the plane on Saturday morning…hopefully sooner than that given our flight leaves in a little more than 36 hours’ time!
We caught a taxi to Fenchurch Street where the testing centre was located. It was all very casual and ramshackle, nothing like the NHS centre I had attended for a test two weeks ago. We were called in to be tested one by one, sat in a chair in a tiny cupboard-like office, beside a bin overflowing with cardboard boxes and used tissues. Definitely not the most hygienic testing facility – we both left feeling slightly violated and with the distinct impression we had been placed in more danger of being exposed to the virus than we have in any of our previous weeks of travel.
We left and caught a very quiet tube train from the city to Paddington Station where we checked into the Hilton Hotel for the next couple of nights. Thanks to the lockdown, there is no eating out at a restaurant tonight – just an UberEats delivery in our room.
We have one final day left in the UK before we fly, and with few shops open and nothing left to do or prepare, there’s a lovely sense of freedom about the day ahead. A chance to just breathe and enjoy London for its outdoor spaces and cool temperatures before our upcoming time in Darwin’s 34°C quarantine.
Author: Mr A
Location: Brighton, East Sussex, UK
Part of our mental health discipline in these trying times is to keep thinking of the benefits the pandemic has brought us. There have many, but one of the greatest was to be able to share in Catherine’s sister‘s wedding here in Brighton this week.
Helen and Stuart have been together a while, evidenced by having two lovely children Elliott (9) and Isabel (6), and five years before them of child free togetherness in the south coast seaside town of Brighton. They decided, for a number of reasons back in the summer this year, that autumn would be the right time to tie the knot. One of those reasons was undoubtedly that Catherine would be around to share the experience. Geographical separation over the last 22 years has not weakened the strong sister-bond. For me as well, Helen and Stu have been like family over those years since they first got together. Helen stayed with us when she came to Australia, and came to our wedding back in 2002. Stuart has shared many a decent glass of red over the years, and fed me some of the most memorable, relaxed, fun meals we have had on our visits back.
To see them share their continuing commitment to each other, with a close group of friends and family (only 15 allowed), that was just priceless for both of us. How they pulled off such a fabulous event given the constantly changing constraints, was a marvel! But they did. The week was full of hair and nail appts for the girls, and perhaps Stuart (I’m not sure :)), and time at their place just hanging out with the kids, and eating and eating and eating! Brighton has some fabulous places to buy deli food from, and I think Stuart must know them all! OK so the weather wasn’t always conducive to being out and about, but we wrapped up and headed out on walks with them, several times clocking up many miles along Brighton’s wet and windy seafront walking in and out from our caravan park.
The ceremony itself went without a hitch, in a gorgeous room at the local town hall. Bio-degradable confetti was thrown (against council regulations), and we all felt rebellious. The showers came and went, but Stuart’s sister, who just happens to be an awesome wedding photographer, captured some magic moments.
The long lunch that followed (at The Ivy in The Lanes) was one of the best dining experiences we have had over this side of the world. The food, the wine, the company, the context of the room itself and its decor, the staff whose smiles refused to be hidden by their masks. This was a special time, and has been filed carefully in our memories.
Feeling a little dusty the day after the wedding, we treated Helen, Stu and the kids to pizza at Fatto a Mano restaurant in Hove. As always they were great company and the food helped clear the head a little, as did the rather blowy and showery walk back to our campsite along the seafront!
Saying goodbye to all our friends and family here is especially difficult this time as we prepare to leave, because we have no clue when we will be back, with the travel restrictions in place and soaring airfare costs.
We have made it onto one of the “specially facilitated” flights back to Australia. Qantas has entered into an agreement with the Australian government to run a number of these flights from London, New Delhi and J’burg. At $2,165 a head for a one way ticket, they are reasonably priced in these times of expensive airfares, and that‘s one way. A requirement for a pre-flight COVID-19 test 48hrs before our flight means that will be our first milestone to clear next Thursday in London, before hopefully boarding the flight on Saturday morning. Then its off to a hot and steamy Darwin non-stop, just under 17 hrs, with limited in-flight food and no entertainment provided.
Why Darwin when we live in Sydney? Well that‘s part of the deal with these flights. You have to complete `14 days quarantine at a special facility just outside the city. Landing at the RAAF section of the airport, and then channelled through a special process involving another test, special briefings, and then a bus ride to our quarantine centre at a place called Howard Springs, 30km south of the city. It was built in 2012 to house workers from a Japanese mining company, now serves as home for at least 14 days to incoming Australians on these special flights, as well as some domestic flights where passengers are also forced to quarantine. Australia is serious about controlling its borders.
At $2,500 a head, its another cost we hadn’t expected, plus our flight back to Sydney once we are clear, but still cheaper than the $19,500 business class airfare from Singapore Airlines that was our other option! There are economy fares around, but the tales of people being continuously bumped off them, as Australia is capping its number of incoming international passengers, put us off that uncertain route, and the ones we could find to book were not leaving for weeks. Plus we would then have been in hotel quarantine, possibly in a room without any access to fresh air. At Howard Springs we get to have some outdoor time each day. We would both struggle with being locked up in an airless hotel room.
Catherine’s airway disease means she is classed as vulnerable, so we qualified for the flight, thanks to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are administering the invites. So flying on a tightly controlled route from a health perspective made sense. The last flight from London arrived with zero cases, the ones from New Delhi only four, so we are going into a pretty low risk environment we think. However, England is going into lockdown next week, so how this will affect all these plans we have no clue!
On day 12 of quarantine we are to be tested again, and if we’re clear, then get permission to jump on the flight we have set up to Sydney on Sunday the 22nd. There may well be a glass or two of something alcoholic consumed that night and some decent food. The Howard Springs facility is dry, serves all meals in take away containers with plastic cutlery, like a two week long airplane flight! So a hug with our close friends Jenny and David, and hours of cuddling our fur child Tassie, will be the milestone we look forward to over the next three weeks.
It‘s sure going to be an interesting few weeks for many people in the UK and Europe as case numbers soar, and the US as civil unrest looks to raise its head whichever way their vote goes. Australia seems a safe haven. Our options here in the UK and Europe are limited for the winter as campsites will no doubt close, travel restrictions tighten, and the weather makes living in a motorhome though the winter increasingly impractical. So it‘s Australia we hope to make it back to. Keep your fingers crossed for us please, and maybe see you down under soon!
Author: Mrs A
Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Hastings, East Sussex and London.
After a lovely morning out with Hayley and the boys, we said goodbye to them and drove a short way south to my cousin’s house in the village of Little Gaddesden. It’s getting to the point now that we are constantly saying goodbye, not knowing whether we will be stopped from seeing family because of Australia’s restrictions on people leaving the country, or by local lockdowns. It is heart wrenching either way.
A lovely relaxed evening with Karen and Iain ensued, a delicious Sunday roast and some fine wine consumed. Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, so Karen, Mark and I set off on a walk (map of our route).
Little Gaddesden is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), most notably the Ashridge Estate, the location of Ashridge House, a magnificent mansion built in the 1800s on the site of an old priory built in the 1300s.
We followed a Roman road (known locally as ‘spooky lane’ with several reports of ghosts and witchcraft links) which was sunk by the third Earl of Bridgewater some time in the 1600s to allow his wife to travel in a carriage down the road hidden from the peasants. The green brick walls covered by winding tree roots and ivy certainly looked mysterious.
Footpaths wind their way through the countryside in every direction, the vibrant colours of autumn catching our eyes. We walked across fields and down lanes, our ramble finding it’s half way point conveniently at a gastro pub in the lovely old village of Frithsden.
After a delicious lunch, we looped back around via a restored ancient woodland and the Ashridge Estate, spotting a couple of shy does in the bushes near Karen’s house. They were members of a large herd of fallow deer living wild around here, descendants of deer originally introduced during the 13th century for hunting and venison.
Tuesday morning saw us once again saying our farewells as we pointed Truffy’s nose further south to East Sussex to spend some time with my mum.
We had a relaxing few days there, making the most of a sunny afternoon for a stroll around St Leonards.
On Friday morning Mark and I caught a train up to London. Mark went off to have a look around the outdoor shops while I caught a tube across to Hammersmith to have some more injections in my neck, always a joy!
London was eerily quiet, being in Tier 2 of the alert levels (high), many people were staying away from the public transport and working from home.
Charing Cross Hospital (not anywhere near Charing Cross Station, interestingly enough!) also had few people around as I found my way to the ENT outpatient clinic, had my temperature checked (35.8°C) and waited for the team to be ready to see me. The procedure went as planned, with some great news – there is no sign at all of any scarring in my trachea – I am 100% open! That’s the first time that has happened since 2016.
It was hard to celebrate however, as my vocal cord was temporarily frozen by the local anaesthetic and I had no voice, but I made my way back across London to reunite with Mark and head back to Hastings.
Fish and chips from the local chippy concluded our time in Hastings, and after lunch the next day (voice back working, to Mark’s chagrin!), we farewelled mum for a few days and travelled a short way across country to Brighton… It is the start of an exciting week – my sister’s getting married (Covid-19 style!).
Author: Mr A
Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).
From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!
From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.
Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.
A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!
From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.
One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.
Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.
We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.
Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.
Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Harby, Nottinghamshire UK
We checked out of Castleton and drove through showery weather to our friends John and Catriona in the village of Harby, just south of Lincoln. We arrived mid afternoon and after cups of tea and stories told, ambled over to their village pub for a pre-dinner drink.
It’s been a while since we last sat across a table with friends, and although those Zoom sessions are wonderful, nothing beats the connection of an in-person conversation, the more spontaneous banter and laughter that comes with it. We had a fun night with fine wine and delicious food, concluding with dancing around the lounge as all evenings should!
The following morning we went out to RSPB Langford Lowfields (map) for a stroll. The area is common of the Nottinghamshire landscape, with a former sand and gravel pit turned into wetlands. Although much of the work has been done relatively recently, the location has already attracted a wide variety of birds.
The reserve sits alongside the River Trent and a roaring weir. You definitely would not have wanted to fall into this, with its whirlpools and churning waters. It is known as the Devil’s Caldron and claimed the lives of 10 soldiers in 1975 who unwittingly went over this weir during a night exercise. Cromwell Weir is now roped off in response to this, preventing any further tragedies.
We ambled down to an area of the wetlands not usually open to visitors, finding a huge tree trunk. The story accompanying it was quite impressive. We were surprised the tree trunk is not better protected.
Catriona went back home to get tucked into an afternoon of tennis on the TV, while John, Mark and I went to nearby Doddington Hall to buy goodies for lunch.
We had another delicious meal whipped up by Catriona on Sunday night before saying goodbye to our friends on Monday morning.
It was so fortunate we got to enjoy our time there while we did – on Tuesday a three tier system of protective Covid-19 measures was put in place across the UK, and by Wednesday their region was put into tier two, forbidding the meeting of non-household members indoors. This virus continues to throw spanners in the works of our ever fluid plans, but so far we seem to be just a day or so ahead of it! Phew!
Author: Mr A
Location: Tittesworth Resevoir, & The Winking Man, Staffordshire, Mam Tor, Buxton and Castleton, Derbyshire, UK
The impromptu days are often the best, and our dash up to the Peak District from Shropshire was a great example of that. We drove past a large reservoir and decided it looked like a top location for a spot of lunch and a bit of a leg stretch. The weather brightened up, the forest was giving off that freshly rained on perfume. and we just had to keep walking (8.5km circuit – map).
Half way round and we came across a couple, one using a wheelchair, who were struggling up a steep bit of path. So we gave them a bit of a hand, and we ended up chatting and walking the rest of the way with these two absolutely delightful people. At 91 years of age, Derek was determined to get round a walk that the majority of the folk there that day clearly hadn’t attempted, ably assisted by the super strong and fit Rosie. Now I admit to never having tried to push a wheelchair up a hill, and when I did, I was even more admiring of Rosie’s prowess behind the chair!
They were such great company, and it really made our day to share theirs. We gave our farewells, and headed off to a pub we were going to park at for the night, intriguingly called The Winking Man (spelled carefully).
We were just looking at the drinks menu when I noticed one of the barmaids having an animated conversation on the phone, and glancing over our way and smiling. Odd I thought..what have I done now? it was Rosie and Derek. They had remembered the name of the pub we were going to and were ringing to buy us a bottle of wine to thank us for the help that afternoon. What a kind thought and action. In these difficult times, such gestures mean even more to us. Sometimes we do feel disconnected from community and friends. A moment like this reminds us the potential for friendship is all around us.
The next day, with finally a rain free forecast, we headed over to do one of the Peak District’s classic walks, the circuit around Man Tor (map). I must have done this in the Scouts, we were up in that area regularly, but it was all fresh to me this time. The incredible views across a landscape so deeply green it looked unreal. Despite the cold northerly wind there were a few people about, but as usual once away from the car park the numbers really thinned out.
The blemish on the day came when Catherine noticed her two week old Salomon boots were already starting to come apart at the joins, so a few phone calls later and we were off to Buxton to post them back to the retailer. Now, some towns just create a poor first impression, and then get worse. So this was Buxton. From a car park machine that made us pay a premium rate for a day (in coins) when we needed an hour, to the complete disinterest in enticing us to buy anything in the shops we visited. We tried to find somewhere that looked appealing for lunch, gave up and left and made our way over to our campsite just outside Castleton.
What a drive over it was, as the unfenced road wound down through the hills. Not a quiet road though. This is definitely an area to explore off peak. Even now its super busy, our campsite completely full. I can’t imagine what school holidays were like trying to get around. No wonder there seemed a higher proportion than usual of irate drivers.
The next day (Friday) was another wet one, so we decided we would just stay local. I volunteered to head into the local bakery to equip us for a bacon and egg brekky – I’m all altruism. Hot out of the oven I was sold a crusty “white bap” (how many words are there in the English language for a loaf? Even Google didn’t know that) – what a lovely start to the day.
It kept getting better, when we wandered into dinky Casterton and found four outdoor shops! A beanie and warm gloves were purchased for me. Things are cooling down here pretty rapidly, evidenced by the fact that we had several freezing hailstorms batter us. We did see though see many walking signposts through the village, a hiking mecca’s this place and somewhere we really want to come back to.
But for today the only thing to do was to retire to one of the six pubs we noticed in the space of a few hundred metres! We got chatting to the folk on the next table, as you do in an English pub. We have so missed that. Europe was wonderful last year, but without the local language it was hard to engage.
With heavy downpours predicted, and Catherine devoid of walking boots after having to return hers, we headed back to Truffy and some lazy time with music and books. Perfect..but not quite purrrrfect ….without Miss Tassie to warm our laps 🙁
This has been an all too brief dalliance with the Peak District – “We’ll BeBack”
Author: Mrs A
Location: Aberaeron, Wales and Stiperstones, Shropshire, UK
Determined to try and hike more of the Wales Coast Path, we left New Quay and drove a short way up the coast to just north of Aberaeron, a small holiday town. The worst of Storm Alex seemed to have now passed, and we thought it would be good to see a new area. Unfortunately the weather continued to rage against us, and as we pulled up at a coastal car park, the wind was howling and the rain driving hard at an angle straight off the sea.
We warmed up some soup on the stove and watched as determined dog walkers braved the elements, leaning into the wind with their hounds, only to return sodden shortly later, and bundle themselves and their wet mutts into cars and drive off. It didnt look appealing.
We studied the weather forecast for the coming week, the radar showing a slow moving front of rain hanging over the whole of Wales for the foreseeable future. We could see a lot more indoor time ahead if we didn’t change our plans.
So we looked at the map. At the western edge of England, bordering Wales, was a little known (to us) county of Shropshire. In many ways, all we knew of Shropshire was what it is not: not quite Wales, not quite the North, no cities, no motorways, no coastline. This landlocked county seemed to be quite the antidote to a wet and windy Welsh clifftop, and an ideal spot to regroup and plan our next week.
My eyes were immediately drawn to one area – the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). An area full of walks and views (if the weather is good). I found a pub with good reviews that allowed motorhomes to park overnight, located in a tiny village. We pointed Truffy’s nose east and hit the road.
Before long, we pulled into the carpark of The Stiperstones Inn in the village of Stiperstones. We popped our heads into the lounge bar, and were greeted by a welcoming masked smiling face, a roaring log fire and a menu listing several interesting dairy-free meals. Perfect! We booked in for dinner, seated by the flames, enjoying our first decent meal out in a long time.
Stiperstones is named after rock formation on top of the hill that overlooks the village. The nature reserve is covered in silvery grey quartzite rocks, shattered into distinctive jagged tors and surrounded by a jumble of rocks that were broken up by continuous freezing and thawing during the last ice age. Chatting with Sophie, our lovely barmaid, she told us where best to start the hike up.
“Walk down to the dingles, and take the right dingle all the way up.” We were intrigued!
So after a peaceful night’s sleep in the pub car park, we walked down the road to find the dingles. Not to be confused with dangles.
You’d have thought we were the only people up there, but no, there were other nutters braving the wild and unpredictable weather. The first people were a group of geography students with their teacher, learning about the geology of the area on a field trip. Then we came across two more couples walking dogs through the deluge of sideways rain, wind and fog. In all cases, each party laughed at the predicament in which we found ourselves. Mad dogs and English folk.
Strangely, we loved the erratic elements. The fog swirling around, obscuring the views, before suddenly clearing to reveal a far off hillside or field highlighted by a break in the cloud, bright sunshine making the greens almost fluorescent in the surrounding gloom. And it is all about wearing the right clothes. We layered ourselves up in fleeces, waterproof trousers and coats, hats…and changed as necessary to suit the conditions.
We gradually climbed back down off the hills, opting to take quiet lanes on our return walk to the pub. A great taster of the area.
We admit being very tempted by returning to the pub for lunch beside that roaring fire, but we decided to pack up and move on to our campsite for the night.. There our little Aldi fan heater was put to work drying everything off before another peaceful evening.