5-6 September: And so back to the UK!

Author: Mr (and Mrs) A

Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe

And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.

We started Europe on a high, with a few days with friends (new and old) Champagne tasting
We feasted in a farmhouse in Provence

110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.

A vineyard with a view in Barga, Italy
Magical sight of Assisi complete with friendly cats
Seafront views complete with oysters in Brittany
A little bit of history in Normandy

What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!

Plenty of English spoken with friends in La Marche, Italy
New friends made in Austria
Old connections reestablished in Germany…

We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.

From Italian hilltop villages…
….to fields of poppies….
To Lake Bohinj in Slovenia….
…and Slovenia’s Lake Bled…..
Alpine lakes in northern Italy
Incredible scenic cycleways in Austria

In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.

Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!

Diverse scenery in Austria…
Our bikes that took us for literally hundreds of kilometres
Our packrafts allowed us to get away from the crowds and see some wildlife

So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.

A bit of drive surfing to celebrate a big birthday in Italy
And another big birthday celebrated in Croatia, island hopping by boat and cycling

So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.

Red legged bees in Slovenia

Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…

18 – 23 April: An Easter to remember with friends and family

Author: Mr A

Location: Harby, Nottinghamshire and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Thursday-Saturday: We were kindly invited to stay over the first part of the Easter weekend, with friends in Harby in Nottinghamshire, a village embodying all thats good about the remnants of rural England. A good pub, a strong sense of community, roads where cyclists still feel safe to venture out on a morning in droves and endless opportunities to potter around the fields on the rights of way that make this beautiful countryside so accessible.

Woodlands filled with wood anemones

Rape-seed fields of golden yellow

A grand woodland entry along one of our cycles

Spring flowers blooming

John whizzes out of the woods after a slight diversion

Team beers at the Pyewipe Inn (the Lincolnshire name for a Lapwing!)

Team cycle on the return route

Enthusiastic Andrew

Does Stuart suit his helmet?

Warm enough to get the legs out!

Evening dinner at the local pub

Cheers!

Concluding with cheese and night caps back at the house

I was lucky enough to make friends at secondary school that have become lifelong mates, along with their wives and partners. The party begins, the catching up on our lives lived so distantly for much of the year.

Without the full team, night one hit the ground running!

It feels like we have only just left each other’s company last week. The sound of laughter, music and popping corks rings out over the usually tranquil garden of our hosts. Stunning food is served with of course wines to match. We are having an Italian theme to the party to get us in the mood for a major birthday milestone one of the group has in June, as we have organised to celebrate it together there.

Saturday lunchtime feast – incredible food, joined by Andrew’s family – Lyn, Sam and Emma

Old school mates sharing a beverage as the sun sets

Just a small one please Stuart! The famous dairy-free lasagna – verdict? Delicious!

A fabulous Barolo shared with dinner

Sun setting on Saturday night

We decide our appetites need to be sharpened by a little cycling, and off we go down a “greenway” as they are called here, that can be accessed from the village. Of course it leads to a pub, and oh…another one on the way back!

Saturday morning a short cycle ride

Mr A completes John’s off road circuit in 9 minutes

It was a merry bunch that sat down to dinner each night!

Easter SundayTuesday: All too soon it was time to bid our farewell and hit the road once again. Next stop: my daughters and grandchildren in Milton Keynes. After catching up over Chinese takeaway the first night, we kicked off with cycling from one daughter’s house (where we were parked), to the other’s house, via the extensive network of “redways” as Milton Keynes calls them, that were designed into the city’s original blueprint. It was fantastic riding with my oldest grandchild, taking his first big ride on a new bike. He did so well.

Luke bravely tackling the cycle paths, as long as nobody was too close in any direction!

Both of my daughters are moving to new houses within a few weeks of each other, so an exciting time to hear their plans and see their properties. When we come back in September so much will have changed. They all have worked so hard to make this jump to bigger homes. Very proud of them both. At their age they can afford to take some risks with big mortgages. A period of economic instability, especially in the UK, looks pretty likely.

Hayley and Phil’s new-build home…just a few more weeks and they’ll be in!

Luke playing with his cousins at a park close to Zoe and Mark’s new home

The tickle robot is chasing…

Giggling Jacob escapes the tickles

Cousins Luke and Jacob

Nine year old Lily hides cannily

Here comes the robot again…!

Sisters catching up – Hayley and Zoe

Blossom heavy trees and endless blue skies – such a great long weekend

Jacob looking rather serious

Down the slide…

Team Anderson and Team Moss ready for the cycle home

Proud dad with his daughters

Our visit also coincided with my oldest grandson’s 7th birthday. He really is maturing at a rate of knots, and in such a good way. A real pleasure to see. So a little surprise was hatched where we met him out of his first day at a new school, in Truffy, and they got to take a ride in their first motorhome. Hopefully memorable!

James waving the flag for England while Luke is beside himself with excitement

So we then bid a big goodbye to my family until we are back in September, and pointed Truffy’s nose south in preparation for our upcoming ferry to France next week.

15-17 April: A brief dalliance with Derbyshire

Author: Mrs A

Location: Dronfield and Newhaven, Derbyshire, UK

After leaving Fuller Leisure on Monday afternoon we headed north, hoping to find a spot for the night not far from where we were to have Truffy’s eye-mask (see previous post!) fitted. We’re pretty new to the travel apps for motorhoming, but both Search for Sites and CamperContact showed a pub 8 miles away which allowed free stopovers.

We headed on up there, just an hour’s drive from Gunthorpe. It was an ‘interesting’ drive with Miss Google Maps directing us down little single track lanes with blind bends…but we made it without incident. We even managed to do our first LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) fill up on the way, meaning we’re all set again for off the grid heating, hot water and cooking.

Our stop for the night was the Hyde Park Inn, a cosy pub opposite playing fields in the village of Dronfield. We called in for a drink before we settled down for the night, welcomed by the publican and locals alike.

A nice quiet stopover

We were joined by another Hymer during the night

Mr A enjoyed a local brew

On Tuesday afternoon (after getting Truffy’s thermal eye-mask fitted) we headed off on the road, leaving South Yorkshire and the surrounds of Sheffield, and heading into the Derbyshire Peak District. Despite working in Derby back in the early 1990s, other than one weekend trip, I have never fully explored this area. Mr A’s previous experience hails back to when the world was black and white and he was in the Boy Scouts.

Our first impressions were very positive – quiet winding lanes lined with dancing daffodils, stone walled paddocks full of skipping lambs.

Truffy heading off down towards his next adventure

Monyash area marker

We called into the village of Monyash for lunch, opting for delicious baked potatoes before we moved on.

Little village of Monyash

Mr A checking out the local pub

We continued on from here to our little farm stay parking spot for the night.

Wednesday morning we awoke to perfect blue skies, an ideal day for a cycle. We had selected our campsite based on its proximity to two of the Peak District’s best rail trails – the High Peak and the Tissington. Our home for two nights was Brundcliffe Farm, a working dairy farm alongside the High Peak trail.

It was a fresh start to the ride as we headed up the trail towards Parsley Hay, before moving onto the Tissington Rail Trail south. These old rail routes were turned into traffic-free walking and cycling routes back in 1971.

Heading north along the High Peak trail

Wrapped up warm as we reach the junction of the High Peak and Tissington trails

Stripping off layers as the temperatures climb from 6-16 degrees centigrade

Beautiful scenery as we ride along

Newborn lambs skipping across the fields

Continuing our ride to Ashbourne

We reached Ashbourne around midday and so set about finding somewhere for lunch. Ashbourne is a pretty market town, its roots dating back to Anglo-Saxon times (around the years 500-1000, before King Harold met his death near Hastings in 1066). Today it looks like a prosperous settlement, with classy boutiques and lovely cafes and shops.

We ate lunch in a sunny courtyard at a Mediterranean restaurant called Jack Rabbits. Mark enjoyed melted Brie on toast with a fig chutney, while I went for the home made sweet potato and tomato soup. Delicious.

Did I forget to mention the sweet potato fries? Naughty but oh so nice!

A very good soup. My only criticism is their menu is a bit heavy on the dairy products!

After a good feed we jumped back on the bikes and headed back on the trail. As it was uphill on the way back we had to make use of the motors on our eBikes – but still had to do plenty of work. It’s a pedal assist motor, so unless your legs are moving, it will not work.

Mr A passing a perfectly mowed field

Endless possibilities for walking here, with public footpaths criss-crossing the dales

Flowers galore along the path – daffodils, celandine, violets, daisies and more

I swear the buds on the trees were bursting with new leaves as we rode

This is definitely one of the loveliest cycles we have done. The scenery was spectacular and the Peak District National Park carefully manages the land through clearing to ensure there is a year round corridor of wildflowers.

The temperature climbed to 16 degrees centigrade – the warmest we’ve been in about three weeks, and we saw our first bees and butterflies along the track.

Bright yellow buttercups light up the side of this cutting

Plenty of old bridges to cycle under, built in the 1800s

Reaching Parsley Hay we saw the track continued north…we could go on and on forever!

We continued on past Parsley Hay to the next ‘station’ where we went to a local pub garden for a refreshing drink.

Our legs were aching by the time we reached Truffy, having clocked up 56km in the saddles (35 miles), and we were pleased to say we had plenty of battery left on the bikes.

This was a fabulous taster of the Derbyshire Peak District and we definitely would like to come back. There is so much to do here. Big tick from us!

12-14 April: A weekend with the HOGs in the pork pie capital

Author: Mrs A

Location: Melton Mobray and Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire, UK

When we first purchased our Hymer motorhome – back in mid November last year – we joined the Facebook group – the Hymer Owner’s Group. Our experience with the Zone (our caravan in Australia) owner’s Facebook group has been so positive, we hoped the Hymer group would be similar. We haven’t been disappointed.

We hadn’t long signed up to the group before we saw a weekend away advertised with fellow Hymer Owners Group members (or HOGs!). Knowing we would have only picked up our truck just over a week before, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get some tips and meet some other motorhome owners. We booked in.

We arrived on Friday afternoon to Eye Kettleby Lakes, an adults only caravan and motorhome park on the outskirts of Melton Mobray. Our first impression on checking in to reception was that this is no ordinary campground…it was more like a ski resort with warm log cabins decorated with modern artwork and furnishings.

We settled onto our site, with a view across fields of sheep and a lake with a large fountain…the only thing missing was the weather! With a top of 7 degrees centigrade and a bitterly cold wind, we were not encouraged to hang around outside.

The Truff-mobile looking small amongst the giants

At 6pm there was a meeting of the HOGs to welcome us all to the weekend. We chatted to a few people but didn’t join them at the pub. After the past few weeks of dinners, lunches and drinks out we decided to stop in for the evening and cook our first meal in Truffy. We felt bad being unsociable but figured we had done our social quota for the time being.

Wooly hats the order of the day at the evening catch up

Saturday morning dawned cold and we were treated to our first sight of frost in a long while. I think we were in the depths of central Australia at Uluru when we last had temperatures this low at night.

The blue sky looks far warmer than it is

We bravely decided to wrap up warm and jump on our bikes to ride into Melton Mobray. As we departed we bumped into the couple from the Hymer in the next site over, also riding their eBikes into town, so joined them for the ride.

By the time we had arrived in the town centre it felt like we had frostbite on our fingers, toes and noses, the windchill absolutely cutting. We decided to invest in a fan heater, having discovered one of our gas bottles had emptied already. A call to Fuller’s Leisure, where we purchased Truffy, advised us they hadn’t fully filled the gas tanks, something we hadn’t realised.

We had a quick look around Melton Mobray, a scoot through the market and brief explore, before heading back to camp.

Melton Mobray looking pictureque…

Melton Mobray is famous for pork pies and Stilton cheese

Most of the cycleway was via country lanes and an off road bridleway. We were not far from being back and I realised it was suddenly really hard to cycle….puncture!

Walking back pushing a heavy bike with a flat soon warmed me up, I can tell you! Mr A and our neighbours wasted no time in getting the tyre off and a new inner tube fitted, and I was back in action.

Mark’s daughter Hayley, son in law Phil and grandchildren Luke and James had also come to Melton Mobray for the weekend. They brought their huge caravan and were parked up in a brand new campground on the other side of town. Hayley and the kids came over and joined us for a hot chocolate at our campground cafe, regaling us with stories of the alpacas, donkeys and sheep at their farmyard camping area.

A herd of Hymers?

Sunset over the fishing lakes

We had an early dinner in Truffy and headed up to the pub to join other HOGs for an evening beverage and socialise. Lots of tips were shared and travel stories recounted. A lovely bunch of people.

Mr A very excited about his first pint of Old Speckled Hen in a long while

Enjoying a drop of Argentinian Malbec

Some of the HOGs we met

Sunday was another cold blustery day, so we spent the morning going through our instruction manuals before joining Hayley, Phil and the kids for a BBQ at their caravan.

All in all a great weekend – though we are feeling the novelty of cold weather starting to wear off…we wish it could have been warmer so we could have socialised more, but as it was we really enjoyed our time. We hope to meet more HOGs on the road as we travel.

6-11 April: Our UK meanderings continue

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes & Kettering, UK (phew!)

Friday-Sunday: Brighton is one of our favourite UK towns to visit, and not only because that’s where Catherine’s sister and family live. We love the quirky shops, the pubs, the long cycle paths along the seafront. It just feels vibrant and eclectic. It was also where we were going to spend our first night in Truffy the Truck, our new home on wheels. We had pre-booked a site and turned up with some trepidation for our first experience of “camping” in the UK. Wow…what a find. This place was great with huge sites, spotless facilities that even were centrally heated! Luxury…

Spot our little home 😉

Cycling past Brighton pier

We got a few things wrong though and found our feet higher than our heads when settling down in the drop down bed. No air suspension to adjust on this baby. We did however get the hot water and heating working, apparently more than some folk manage on their first encounter with a Hymer motorhome.

The weekend sped past with wonderful times hanging out with Helen and Stu and their oh so energetic kids. How these guys juggle jobs and raising these two little bundles of joy I have no idea. I was exhausted just watching breakfast unfold!

We cycled, we ran for buses, we ate our way though fabulous dinners, we laughed and we talked. As an only child these guys are the nearest I have to experiencing the joy that a good relationship with a brother or sister can bring.

Curry night with Stu and Helen

Drinks down the local pub

Cycling along the seafront – Helen and Catherine with Miss Izzy

Wild Isabel

Pensive Elliot looking for sharks

Happy days!

Adorable Miss 5

Our first artwork – courtesy of Miss Isabel, an artist’s impression of Truffy – L-R Stuart (top left), Helen, Mr A (with cap on), Elliot looking out of the window, Mrs A and Isabel. Complete with rabbit and sunshine.

Monday: All too soon we were off along the south coast to Portsmouth and a flying visit to Catherine’s half sister Elinor and her family.

Young Nelson clambering for cuddles

Miss Vivienne who simply demands cuddles

William showing Auntie C his toys

Edward munching on breakfast

Catherine and Elle

Tuesday-Wednesday: Portsmouth gets put on the list for “must come back and explore”, as we literally stopped by for dinner before pointing Truffy north and heading up to see my daughters and grandkids in Milton Keynes. We congregated in the local pub and had a lovely catch up before retiring to the car park for an overnight stay.

Just a small meal for Mr A!

Grandson Luke enjoyed his burger dinner too

There are certainly benefits to being in a fairly stubby little 6m motorhome. We also used the opportunity of being close to the huge retail centres in Milton Keynes to do some power shopping in our bid to get Truffy fully functioning as our second home on wheels. IKEA bless you for all those good value products!

We had a quick visit to the local lake, which to Catherine and I felt like we had been teleported to Siberia, with a cruel wind blowing across the water.

Cousins – will nobody look at the camera? L-R James, Lilly, Jacob and Luke

Grandson James doesn’t seem to feel the cold as he plays on the slide

We retired to behind the somewhat expansive glass of Truffy and dashed off to our next stop in this whistle-stop tour. My home town of Kettering, and the ever warm welcome of my long term friends Stuart and Karen. These guys have chosen to stay in the town they also grew up in, and increasingly unusual phenomena, but their extended family has mostly done the same, so its a strong and supportive community they are enjoying.

Thursday: A lunch had been organised to bring together my family still living in the town as well, cousins and their families. It was great to see them, and not for a funeral.

Family gathering. L-R: Derek, Diane, Derry, Lisa, Diane, Robert, Mr A

My last few visits have always been tinged by the sadness of my parents passing, Finally, a short trip to see Stuart and Karen’s daughter Laura, who had stayed with us in Australia. To see her so happy as a mum of 10 months, and getting married to the guy she met on when travelling, this was a joy for us.

Gorgeous baby Oliver – 10 months old today

Karen and Catherine

The boys: Mark, Oliver and Stuart

Stuart, Laura and Mrs A

All of our lives go through ups and downs, and to catch so many people on the up was just brilliant. It’s been a hectic 10 days since we landed, but already we have so many memories tucked away of seeing friends and family, and getting to know our new home that is going to take us on so many new adventures.

Our time in Kettering concluded with a curry in town…our third in a week!

2-5 April: Sun, rain, wind, hail, sleet and snow – welcome to the UK in springtime!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire & Hastings, East Sussex, UK

Tuesday morning started wet and cold, a shock after our first couple of days with brilliant sunshine, but it was a good day for driving. We farewelled John and Catriona and headed south, aiming for a little village in Hertfordshire, Little Gaddeston, where my cousin lives.

It was not as smooth a journey as it could have been. We did not yet have SIM cards or any internet data, so we were reliant on our in-car sat nav rather than our more trusted friend, Miss Google. Our lack of trust was justified when it kept directing us off the main roads and onto winding country lanes. I eventually found that ‘motorways’ were turned off in settings! The software was quite out of date too, with several roads missing. I managed to get onto a free wifi signal at a service centre and set up the route via Google Maps on my phone. Much easier!

Other than that, the journey was fabulous. Truffy-the-truck (our newly named motorhome) is so comfortable to drive and with fabulous visibility. We were soon parking up and joining Karen and Iain for a cup of tea before Hannah and Ella came home from school.

Half Burmese kitten Loki shining

Young Loki spying over the stairwell

Wednesday all too soon our visit was over, and after a morning debating storage solutions with Iain, drinking endless cups of herbal tea and watching Karen try out my ebike on their local hill (it got the tick of approval!), we pulled away and continued our journey south, heading to Hastings.

Iain and Mark whizz down first

Big smile on Karen’s face as she rides back down the lane
Cousins reunited

As we travelled through Kent and into East Sussex the temperature gauge dropped from 9 through to 4 degrees centigrade, and the brown looking clouds soon revealed their contents to be sleet and snow. Not far from our destination we found ourselves driving through snow slushy roads lined with white roofed houses – amazing! It’s been a long time since we have seen scenery like this.

Dramatic skies accompanying dramatic weather

Welcome to Kent!

We made it without incident to my mum’s house and parked up outside.

We had a great couple of days there, getting our first lot of kit shopping done for Truffy (we have to completely set up our new home!) as well as joining up with a local doctor. Marmalade, their young ginger cat, got lots of attention and cuddles, particularly from Mr A in the early hours of the morning (jet lag o’clock!).

On the Thursday evening we treated mum and Barry to dinner at a restaurant in Hastings as a thank you for all their help with our return…taking receipt of many parcels, sharing letters and even receiving nuisance calls in the early hours of the morning from Vodafone robots…

Mr & Mrs C

Mr & Mrs A

L’Instant Truffier Malbec – had to be our choice of wine and it was delicious too!

Friday morning we packed up Truffy again and headed off towards Brighton, with a slight diversion to catch up with a lovely lady, Karen, who has idiopathic subglottic stenosis and lives just a mile from home. I spent a good hour chatting with her – she’s a GP and is really keen to raise awareness of the disease. There will potentially be a presentation for me to do when we come back from travelling in Europe…I’ll be keeping in touch to hopefully organise that.

We were excited to finally be spending a night in our new home!

30 March-1 April: Old friends and new toys

Author: Mr A

Location: London Heathrow Airport, Harby, Nottinghamshire, UK

In September of last year whilst travelling in the US, we started to dream about spending a longer chunk of time in the UK and Europe. After months of planning we have turned that dream into a reality and stepped of the plane from Sydney into a “fresh” (a euphemism the Brits use for bloody freezing) spring day at Heathrow.

The flight had been an extra long one, delayed out of Sydney with no explanation, diverting around Pakistan airspace and dodging storms over Turkey. We choose not to spend our fixed income from super and rent on business class airfares, we see too many other things that compete for our dollars and give us more pleasure. So it was the squishy back of the plane for us. A uneventful flight except for a young fellah who had to be threatened with the police to quieten him down, and that threat was delivered on when we arrived at Heathrow with 3 burly London metropolitan police officers escorting him off for what would no doubt be an unpleasant start to his UK stay, Qantas staff taking it all in their stride. What a job these cabin crew do. Cleaning up the poor aim of guys who refuse to sit down, dealing with the unruly and the far too spoilt folks with endless complaints about the wine (no, I didn’t! – we decided to sneak in an AFD (alcohol free day) on the trip). With that drama out of the way, we finally got to end over 25 hours of plane time and step out into the arrivals hall.

We were met by a guy I have known for over half a century, since the first year of secondary school, and he had driven all the way down from near Lincoln though the night to meet us. Friendships that have spanned that amount of time take on a quality that is so different. You have seen each other through so many phases of your life, you are known intimately for what you are, good and bad. So our piles of luggage were loaded (74kg of it!) and we were whisked off for a few hours more sitting on our bottoms. Arriving at their quintessential English country village of Harby, we were both reminded of all the things we love about our old homeland. The smell in the air at this time of year is quite unique, a blend of freshly mown grass, a tang of manure, it triggered so many memories, smell being our most powerful sense.

Looking across the fields towards Harby

Glorious tulips

Beautiful spring flowers everywhere

Their house is affectionately referred to by the village as “the manor”. I remember visiting the land when they first purchased it. Since then they have turned that patch of overgrown blackberry bushes into a house you would not be surprised to see on Grand Designs. John has been in the construction industry all his life as a civil engineer, while Catriona has impeccable taste and a brother who is an acclaimed architect. A great combination! When you see your friends who have struggled through some tough times and worked their butts off to create their dream home, now enjoying the phase of sharing it with friends and family, its truly heart warming.

Blossom at dawn

Back patio and garden

The first job on the list was to collect our new e-bikes, chosen on line and never seen in the flesh. I have to give mention to the dealer who has sourced the bikes and provided such great service, OnBikes Electric Bikes – brilliant service indeed. So a busy couple of hours in our friend’s garage assembling them and we are ready for our first ride. What beauties they are don’t you think?

John helps with the assembly

From the high end e-bike producers in Germany Riese and Muller, these machines will serve in place of a second car. Taking a motorhome into town centres inevitably ends badly.

A handy shared path for our maiden ride

Having lots of fun!

Mrs A has the blue bike, contrary to this photo!

They fly along, although in the UK (as in Australia) they are limited to 25km/hr when the motor will cut out. Really that’s plenty of speed for us. Why electric? Well neither of us is good on hills for different reasons, and we just find we decide to use a bike a lot more if we know we can make the hills without arriving for dinner all sweaty and breathless. Carrying shopping also becomes easy, important when parking your only vehicle in a town centre is problematic.

A key part of the plan to travel in England and Europe relied on us having a motorhome, for a variety of reasons. If you are relying on booking accomodation that really ties you down to where and when you travel. Also you are forced to eat out all the time. You spend a good part of your time searching, booking, moving into and out of places. All those hassles disappear to a large extent if you have your accomodation with you.

So we had decided to buy rather than rent, based on the economics of the length of time we plan to tour for, and the pleasure of being an owner who can customise and kit out their home as they wish. We decided we wanted something as small as possible, but still fit a decent bathroom with toilet and shower. So we settled on a make and model we wanted and started searching, almost immediately realising that only one or two of them were coming up secondhand a year. So when one did appear last December, we took the plunge. The dealer was also conveniently close to our friends near Lincoln, who kindly went to check it out and gave the thumbs up.

Monday: So the day had finally arrived to pick it up, on April Fools Day quite worryingly! We decided to go left hand drive as we plan to spend more time in Europe than the UK, and its a manual. So a little anxious about then getting used to driving it on UK roads, we set up to view our purchase in the flesh for the first time. What a beauty he is.

Our new home!

The handover and briefing on operating it couldn’t have been more professional. We have been so impressed with how the staff from Fuller Leisure had conducted themselves with us. The modifications we had done were all done right. We wanted to be able to travel independent from powered camp sites, so have installed solar panels, extra battery, a bit of kit to accelerate charging from the alternator, USB points and converted the gas system to LPG (every country we would visit uses different bottles).

We finally drove away at lunch time, and immediately I took to driving it. It has an enormous panoramic window which gives a great view of what other traffic is up to. Positioning the vehicle on the road (its a bit wider than a car at 2.2 metres) I found easy from the left hand side. My sharp eyed co-pilot was able to help call out all clear at roundabouts and junctions. So we made it back to Harby in one piece, mission accomplished!