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!).
Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.
The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.
We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.
While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.
Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.
Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.
On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.
Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!
I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.
We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!
That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.
Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.
Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.
Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.
After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.
We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.
It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.
Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.
Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.
People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.
Tuesday: We arrived in Hastings mid morning and Mark was off into town right away on his bike for an eye pressure test…the first since before we headed to Europe in May. Thankfully the results were great – his eyes stable and healthy – such a relief. Meanwhile, I got busy tackling the washing mountain, pleased to be able to hang it out in warm sunshine and a gentle breeze.
After a light lunch with mum, Mark and I jumped on the bikes and rode into town, taking a flask of herbal tea with us. We called into Waterfalls, a local tea room and gift shop with a fabulous home cooked menu to pick up cakes (they always have a dairy and gluten free options available along with their ‘normal’ ones) and continued our ride.
My sister and I used to always take our bikes out along Hastings seafront, loving the exhilaration of riding in the fresh salty air, the promenade offering a safe haven from the cars. These days it is a designated cycle-pedestrian shared path, so we don’t have to feel guilty for riding along. We headed to Hastings’ Old Town. This area of Hastings was mostly built prior to the 1760s (before bathing in the sea and drinking sea water(!) was made popular for health reasons).
Hastings has been home to fishermen (fisherpeople?) for more than a thousand years. These days there are 25 fishing boats at The Stade, making it the largest land-based fleet in the UK…needless to say the seafood in Hastings is deliciously fresh, and there’s a wide variety to choose from.
We rode to the extent of the seafront, an area called Rock-a-Nore. Here we could see right along the coast looking towards Dungeness in the distance, albeit with a chilly autumn breeze off the sea. There we enjoyed our tea and cake before heading deeper into the Old Town. Hastings Old Town is split almost in two, with All Saints Street (being headed by All Saints Church) being traditionally the home of the poorer residents, the fishermen’s cottages and workers in the fishing industry, and the St Clement’s Church area being the better off, wealthy area of Old Hastings. These days both have their charm, with the older housing on All Saints Street being in different states of repair, and many houses dating back to the early 1500s.
Like many of the French towns and villages we have visited, Hastings Old Town used to have a wall as defence against attack from the French. It fell into disrepair and was pretty much all gone by the 1800s. There are still several pubs in the old town, many of which have interesting historical takes linked with them. One of the pubs on All Saints Street (The Stag Inn) has a tunnel linking its cellars to a cave in the cliffs, where smuggled spirits were brought in from France (or pirated from ships attacked in the English Channel).
A brief ride down George Street, still decked out in rainbow flags from the fourth Hastings Pride (25 August) and we headed back home for the evening.
Wednesday morning looked very wintry in comparison to Tuesday, with heavy grey skies and drizzle. It would have been easy to stay indoors and do not much but instead mum, Mark and I headed back to the Old Town by car for more of an explore on foot. It was very cold and windy there so we didn’t linger on the seafront, instead ducking off down High Street, long been the hub of the town (originally known as Market Street). Today it is still full of little interesting shops, old antiques alongside gift stores and delis.
I follow the Hastings Old Town Appreciation Group on Facebook and a few weeks ago I had seen my friend Emma mentioning a 1066 Hastings Gin sold in Penbuckles Delicatessen where she works part time. We decided to call in. What a great deli! This is the type of location we dream of finding, packed full of produce from local farms and businesses, ranging from cheeses, wines, milk, jams, pickles, sauces, cakes and savouries. They have a real focus on the environment, minimising waste and utilising biodegradable products where possible.
It was a cappuccino for mum, a 70% dairy free hot chocolate for me and a white hot chocolate for Mr A, accompanied by a vegan pastry roll and a St Leonards Pasty. All delicious. And we mustn’t forget the gin tasting – we tried samples of the 1066 Hastings Gin and also the award winning Haswell Gin. Both very tasty with and without tonic. We bought a bottle as a gift for friends…hopefully they’ll let us taste a drop!
We bought some cockles (boiled molluscs in vinegar) from the fish market on our way back to the car and headed home for the afternoon.
Mr A waved goodbye and headed off for the first time driving Truffy without his co-pilot. He’s off to catch up with some old friends from Australia who have moved back to the UK, before heading off on biking adventures with some more friends this coming weekend…I’m sure he’ll be back soon to share more about that!
Location: Brighton, Hastings and Newhaven Ferry Port, East Sussex, UK
Saturday-Sunday: Before heading to Continental Europe, we spent our final weekend in Brighton with Catherine’s sister Helen and her family. London-on-Sea, as it is jokingly known locally, served up its usual eclectic way with everything from fine dining to a wonderful greasy spoon cafe for brunch.
Then it was time to head along the coast to Hastings and Catherine’s mum, Jenny.
Monday: Catherine and Jenny visited her nearly 97 year old grandma, good genes on that side of the family at least!
A few more lovely home cooked meals from Jenny, and a chance to get some last minute tasks ticked off before we head over the English Channel on Thursday.
Tuesday: Jenny took us over to Hastings Country Park for a short walk and some fresh air, another place of great memories for Catherine.
Later in the day, Catherine took me on her and her sister’s favourite after school activity, a ride down to the beach and along the coast. It was a cold day, but the sun shone and Hastings showed us her good side.
It’s an interesting mix here of demographics, with everyone from a scattering of celebrities, and working class housing estates. If feels an authentic town, with the largest beach based fishing fleet in Europe still bringing in the delicious fish and cockles that we just had to sample.
So many memories from Catherine, shared with me, and it does draw you even closer together understanding someone’s childhood, as I had shown her mine in Kettering.
Wednesday: Now it’s our last day in the UK, with a ferry across to France early tomorrow. I few nerves on my part as I keep running through all the things we need to have sorted. Catherine as ever the calm one, thank goodness.
We are parked up at Newhaven Ferry Port for the night. Little Truffy is dwarfed next to his bigger HGV cousins all waiting for the 9am ride across the Channel to Dieppe. What adventures await us in France?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
It was just a 90 minute drive from Bulahdelah up to Port Macquarie, so we were pulling into our campsite by lunchtime. We’d decided to head for a caravan park because the washing mountain was building up, plus there are a few days of wet weather forecast.
We were last in Port about 5 years ago, that time in our Ultimate camper trailer with the kayak and two eBikes. As we drove into town, familiar sights gradually reminded us of our last visit and the Hastings River oysters we had enjoyed. Ah yes, the oysters! Sadly none found today – something to save for tomorrow!
After a couple of loads of washing were done (remember our washing machine only takes 2kg!) and lunch consumed, we jumped on the mountain bikes for an explore. We are parked about 20 metres from part of the Macquarie coastline shared pathway, and so followed our noses for a while, eventually arriving at the Settlement Point river ferry. Checking Google Maps I could see we could cross the river and continue our cycle on the other side, potentially crossing back over via another ferry. Mark checked with a nearby local who confirmed the other ferry was indeed running, and off we went.The other side of the river was much quieter, with hardly a car on the road. We passed more oyster farms and beautiful white gum trees, before reaching the next ferry about 6km later.While the afternoon was bright and sunny, we noticed that the sky to the west was looking very dark. A quick look at the weather forecast listed a whole load of warnings, including for severe thunder storms, large hail and strong winds…we whizzed back to the campground to make sure windows were closed and the awning was secured. Of course, no inclement weather eventuated, just a hot cloudy humid evening. Still it was a good 18km ride, and got the blood moving after a few days of not much activity.
I’m actually hoping we get some rain tomorrow. Our lovely friends Donna and Andy (expert sourdough chefs) will be pleased to learn we are intending to try baking another loaf. Everything is prepared, and kneading hands are at the ready…wish us luck!
Sunday morning in London saw Helen and I enjoying another cooked breakfast to see us on our way, as we washed the sheets and towels, took out the rubbish and generally turned Owen’s apartment back into a pre Slater-Sister residence. We decided to head back down to the pool for a final dip, sauna and steam before heading off to Victoria Station and catching the train down to Brighton.
Helen’s fiancé Stu met us at the train station, along with my nephew and niece, Elliot and Isabel, and took us back to their home. Elliot wasted no time advising me that I was staying in his bedroom, while Isabel was busy ensuring I became well acquainted with all her princesses and toys in her room.
Soon it was bedtime for the kids, and time for me to head out to meet Claire, a friend since uni days – around 25 years – gee we are getting old! We tried for a pub dinner but nobody was serving, so opted for a local Italian and a bottle of Chianti. A great catch up and laughs had as always. It may be a long while between drinks, but it sure never feels like it!
Monday 18 September
Distance walked: 4.5km
I was woken bright and early by an excited nephew and niece, getting ready to head off to pre-school and school. I observed Helen and Stu whirlwind around and get themselves ready for work and the kids fed and dressed and out of the front door. I have no idea how they manage it every day – it is organised chaos, but seems to work. I had to go back to bed for a nap after they’d gone!
I caught the train along the coast to Hastings, met by post-art class mum at the station around midday. I was pleased I brought along my winter clothes, as it was no warmer than about 14 degrees centigrade, with looming black clouds in the sky. Mum and I went for toasted panninis for lunch, only emerging once the hail and rain was easing.
We did a little shopping and then headed back home for a relaxing rest of the day.
Tuesday 19 September
Distance walked: 5.5km
A bright sunny day greeted us, so mum and I decided a walk was in order. We drove into Hastings and strolled along to Hastings Old Town.
George Street was still full of flowers, despite the autumnal day, and as always the pubs brought back good memories of days gone by. It was a bit too early for a pint in the Pump House!
We strolled up through All Saints Street before turning and walking along the seafront to the pier for a cup of tea.
After a bite for lunch we decided to head over to Tusker House, the home where my 95 year old grandma resides. It was great to surprise her sitting in her chair, and see her face light up and say “Ooh, it’s Catherine from Orstralia!” in her terrible Australian accent. So pleased she still knows who I am. The conversation was a little repetitive, but I think she enjoyed our visit…probably long forgotten now. Lots of the other dementia patients all seemed to think I was one of their relatives too – at one point it was like day of the zombies with several shuffling oldies trying to hold my hand or stroke my hair! Arghhh!
Mum and I needed a vodka on our return home to recover.
A relaxing evening ahead with pork ribs for dinner.