19-24 October: Feeling autumnal in the south-east of England

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).

Setting off along a lane

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.

The Devil’s Bridge

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.

The Alford Arms was doing a roaring trade on this Monday lunchtime
Karen and Catherine – more than four decades of friendship

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.

The intrepid walkers
Cousins – still the same two little girls who used to play together on family occasions growing up
Looking out towards Ashridge, hidden behind the trees
Beautifully disguised in the woodland copse, this pair of does certainly spotted us long before we spied them

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.

Mr A enjoying the sunshine in a sheltered nook, where my grandparents used to picnic too. He had just had his eye pressures checked and all is healthy – great news!
A picnic lunch on the seafront
Ladybirds were out in force on this sunny afternoon
St Leonards Gardens, originally part of a farm in the 1700s
Mum and Barry have a rest and enjoy the view
The sunlight in the leaves lights up the park
North Lodge Pay Gate was built in the early 1800s ,when St Leonards on Sea was being developed around a burgeoning tourism industry

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.

One minute until the next train and I am the only person on the platform

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.

Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith sits alongside a quiet haven in London, the Margravine Cemetery a peaceful green space
The fearless grey squirrels rule the roost in the cemetery
Pretending to be a tree trunk

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!).

19-29 July: South-East England adventures

Author: Mrs A

Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Braintree, Essex, St Leonards-on-sea, and Rye Harbour, East Sussex, Lancing, West Sussex, Portsmouth, Hampshire

A whirlwind of emotion accompanies our travels as we finally have in person visits with family around the country. Following a busy three days in Milton Keynes with Mark’s daughters and grandchildren, we continued our journeys around England, gradually travelling south over a ten day period.

A busy 10 days travelling between 5 locations

Sunday night was spent with my cousin Karen and her family in Little Gaddesden where we were treated to a magnificent roast dinner and delicious wine, as always very generous with their time and company, with many laughs enjoyed.

Feeling very short with my cousin Karen’s daughter Ella shooting up over the last year, now towering over us both!
Butterflies and flowers in. Karen and Iain’s garden

It was just a flying visit, and by lunchtime the following day we were back on the road, driving to Essex and our friends Mel and Barny.

Laugher and stories in the summerhouse at the end of Mel and Barny’s garden

We were privileged to be the first guests in their nearly finished new home set in picturesque countryside, plenty of bird life and a rail trail at the end of the road. Their young working cocker puppy, Bertie kept us all on our toes with his endless energy and demand for tummy tickles and despite having spent the weekend moving in, Mel and Barny somehow found the energy to whip up a delicious salad and BBQ steak dinner. A great evening was spent with them and was over all too soon.

Barny mastering the BBQ, helped by Mr A’s observation of course…young Bertie meeting the local horse,

After leaving Essex, our next stop was Sussex, off to see my mum for a couple of nights. The weather continued to be absolutely glorious, the sun shining and showing off Hastings’ sea front in its best light, the sea like a mill pond lapping on the pebble beaches.

Mum and I strolled along the seafront to Hastings Old Town
Brightly coloured huts on the pier, not yet open for business
Changing huts on the beach picking out the colours from the sky
Mother and daughter – I still have my ‘lockdown hair’!
Hastings Pier
Strolling back along the 1930s Bottle Alley

The following day Mr A decided to take himself off on an ebike ride adventure, while I joined mum and her husband Barry on a trip to nearby Rye Harbour. Rye Harbour is a little peaceful village situated near the mouth of the River Rother, a short drive from Hastings. Seals are often seen fishing in the estuary here, and there are numerous working fishing boats that moor alongside the jetties.

On the other side of the river is popular sandy beach, Camber Sands, which on this warm, summer’s day was packed with visitors, despite the ongoing Covid-19 distancing restrictions. In contrast, our walk around the nature reserve was politely distanced and peaceful.

Fishing boats in the River Rother estuary at Rye Harbour
All boats registered in Rye start with the letters RX
Look carefully at Camber Sands and you will spot the crowds along the beach

Our walk took us along paths winding around the salt marsh, a site of special scientific interest providing habitat for a wide variety of birds and insects, many quite rare.

Mum and Barry take a few moments for a water break

The walk followed the coast, the pebble and shingle beaches lined with old weathered wooden groynes, designed to help protect the land and marshes behind the beaches from erosion from the sea.

Mother – daughter time
A very level walk around the wetlands

It was a lovely afternoon out, clocking 8km (Strava link) and plenty of fresh air. That evening, Mum treated us to a delicious Indian meal at Flavours of India in Hastings. It‘s our second visit there and the food has been consistently excellent.

Our Hastings visit was capped off by a delicious Indian meal

We farewelled mum the following morning, and drove to Brighton. It was a very exciting day for me – finally I was going to the hairdressers! I spent a warm afternoon wearing a mask and disposable plastic cape – not the usual luxury experience, but such a relief to get a good cut after all this time.

With somewhat shorter and neater hair, I called in to see my sister Helen briefly, before catching a train along the coast to the village of Lancing where Mr A had parked Truffy at a campground.

The following morning, Mr A and I jumped on our bikes and went for an explore. Lancing is a coastal village just 20 minutes on the train from Brighton. It has a cycleway which follows the coast for some miles which is easily accessible from the campsite.

A local fishing boat sits at the top of the shingle beach
Fresh local scallops purchased for lunch

We returned back to camp in time for my sister Helen to arrive with a car full of camping gear and children. Niece and nephew Isabel and Elliot soon found the playpark while Helen, Mark and I were joined by another camper to erect her tent in the increasingly strong winds. Perfect kite flying weather!

The tent is up!
Isabel having adventures on the playpark
Elliot having fun
Mr A suggesting the wine should be opened
Elliot and Isabel find a good use for the strong winds

The following day was somewhat of a wash out with the strong winds continuing but now accompanied by driving rain. Helen’s fiancé Stuart came to join us for lunch, after which they decided to abandon camping and go home for the rest of the afternoon and evening, leaving us to shelter in Truffy and watch Netflix!

The sun returned on Sunday morning and our fair-weather campers returned to take down their tent and join us for breakfast. They made up for wimping out of Saturday night‘s camping by providing the most delicious bacon from their local butcher, contributing to a brilliant full English breakfast.

Four empty plates thank you very much

After our brunch feast we felt the need for some exercise and so rode out to the nearby Widewater Lagoon, a nature reserve along Lancing seafront that attracts a variety of bird life, including osprey on occasion. It used to be part of the estuary of the River Adur many centuries ago. It has been artificially maintained with a shingle bank separating it from the sea, and a pipeline designed to replenish the water from the English Channel during the summertime.

The strong winds continued, much to the delight of the many wind and kite surfers along the coast. It was hard work cycling into the wind, especially for the children – Isabel struggling along on her scooter and Elliot by bike. We ducked off down to a beach to shelter and hunt for shells and sea-glass with the children. Helen treated us all to ice creams before we farewelled one another and returned to our respective homes for a break from the wind.

Kite surfers all the way along the coast towards Worthing
I teach Isabel to hunt for sea-glass amongst the shingle
Isabel finds a surprise finger painting on the sea defences
Elliot
Wild seas today
Appreciating sister time after being apart for so long

Leaving Lancing on Monday morning, Mark and I made a stop in the village of Arundel to pick up some goodies for a BBQ and have a brief look around. Truffy enjoyed his regal parking location outside the castle.

Truffy outside Arundel Castle

From Arundel, we drove to see our friends Nick and Laura at their home just outside Chichester. For a short time back in March we thought we might be living in their house during lockdown, but they ended up managing to fly back from Australia and of course we found our cottage in West Bagborough. They booked a lovely country restaurant for lunch, the Crab and Lobster, and we enjoyed sharing lockdown stories over a delicious seafood feast.

Lovely company and food at the Crab and Lobster, Chichester

It was a short hop from there to our next location, the Churchillion Pub in Portsmouth which allows motorhome stopovers as long as you stop in for a drink and/or dinner.

We were collected by my brother-in-law John, who whisked us a short way to their house for a glass of wine and a catch up. It was the first time meeting our new niece, Iris, who was born just before Christmas. Mark introduced nephews Edward and William to his ‘Robot Tag’ game which is guaranteed to reduce little boys to shrieks and giggles as they attempt to escape the tickle monster.

Our night behind the pub was not as peaceful as we had hoped, with two incidents of car alarms going off and seemingly a motorcycle race roaring past us for several hours. We decided to move to the street outside my sister Elle and John’s’s house the following night.

Before that, however, more adventures were ahead. One of Mark’s old school friends, Andrew, lives just a stones throw away, and drove over with his mountain bike so we could ride around the coast of Portsmouth together (Strava link).

We had arrived in cloud, so Tuesday morning’s sunshine was welcomed and revealed this view of Portsmouth from outside the pub
An ever changing route around Portsmouth
A peaceful flowery path separates us from the road
Old mates
The Spinnaker

We had a great day out, picnicking in some rose gardens, and finishing up back at the pub mid afternoon. Farewelling Andrew, we drove down and parked up by Elle and John’s house.

Baby Iris is in good form, loving to have a giggle with her daddy
One of their gorgeous cats, Vivienne, is happy to find a lap to chill out on
Another sister photo
Nephews Edward and William will sleep well after their fun and games in the garden
Iris
Much laughter throughout the evening

We had a fun evening with them, a delicious BBQ and flowing gin and wine.

The past few weeks have provided exactly what we have been missing – the simple things, breaking bread with friends and family, laughing until you cry and your sides hurt. They say you cannot choose your family, but fortunately we have been blessed with family (and friends we consider as family) who are likeminded and enjoy a laugh as much as us – the perfect tonic!

14-17 March: Being world travellers in a Covid-19 world

Author: Mrs A

Location: London and Little Gaddesden, UK

Life is becoming quite surreal, yes more so than usual! As the coronavirus takes hold globally and ever increasing measures are put in place to help protect health systems and patients, our travel life is certainly not going as we expected.

Mr A and I went our separate ways on Sunday, him heading up to Doncaster to get a new levelling system fitted on Truffy (means we can travel with a washing machine instead of giant ramps, and getting us level each night will be much easier). I meanwhile headed south to stay with my cousin and her family in Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire.

Bumping elbows instead of hugging, administering hand sanitiser at every opportunity and washing hands for a good 20 seconds, we are doing as much as we can, but one is all too aware of the invisible enemy out there. Every cough is quickly smothered with an excuse, a lack of fever or breathlessness appreciated. I had an element of anxiety that I might be introducing our invisible enemy into the healthy household, despite not having knowingly been in contact with anyone with Covid-19. They too had the same fears with my cousin’s daughter Ella still going to school.

My reason for heading south was a doctor’s appointment in London. I’d had some unusual blood test results earlier this year, so was off to see a specialist at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. Until the morning, I was neither sure whether the appointment was still happening, nor whether my mum would still take the train up from Hastings to meet me there.

It turns out, both happened. With unfamiliar trepidation I caught a train down to London, careful to disinfect everything I came into contact with – the touch-screen ticket machine, the arm of the seat I sat in. There was hardly another person on the train.

An almost deserted platform at Berkhamstead station

Mum and I met at Hampstead tube. It felt very strange only to do a very brief and careful hug after not seeing each other since November, but with both of us in high risk categories (mum over 70 and me with an airway disease) we were being ultra cautious. Mum spent the first 20 or so years of her life in the Hampstead/Gospel Oak area, so this was a real trip down memory lane for her.

A catch up over a drink at a local pub
Coffee for mum, soda water for me and lots of hand washing!
Lovely spring colours belying the cautious overtones

It was a beautiful spring day, blue skies and a gentle breeze, the air clear and the streets not crowded. We strolled up as far as Hampstead Heath and enjoyed the views over the city, life going on with new leaf buds fit to burst, daffodils bobbing in the breeze and blackbirds singing in the trees. You cant help but wonder whether mother nature has her own plans for saving the planet by wiping out the cause of so much damage…let’s hope not!

Whitestone Pond – mum recalls skidding across this with her sister when it froze over during winter
Mum remembering her time at Hampstead Heath
Flowers frame our view of central London

We enjoyed delicious vegan lunch in a bright little cafe then it was down to the hospital.

Delicious food at Ginger and White cafe
Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead

An hour later and we were off, catching the number 24 bus to Camden Road, the same route mum used to take to work when she lived in London, BC (before Catherine!).

It is expected that soon over 70s will be asked to completely avoid any social contact. This may well be the last time I see mum in person for weeks, or even months, but it is worth it to keep her well and safe. We farewelled and headed home on nearly empty trains, repeating the regular sanitising and social avoidance.

It’s a tough time to be travelling. Watching people in France in a two week lockdown makes us wonder what we are in for. Our family is so close, and while we would love to spend time with them, it looks like we might have to keep our distance. Our plans remain forever fluid as we adjust them by the moment, hoping that one day this will be just another experience we lived through and survived.

24-27 April: Heading back down the country

Author: Mrs A

Location: Ivinghoe, Bucks, Little Gaddesden, Herts & London UK

Tuesday: Leaving Milton Keynes we headed south, travelling just half an hour to reach our next destination. We settled for the night at a farm in the hamlet of Ivinghoe Aston, close to the rolling hills of the Chilterns. The evenings here are light until about 8.30pm, allowing us a chance to go for a stroll.

Ten kilometres (about 6 miles) later we had crossed beautiful countryside via a bridleway and had explored the village of Ivinghoe. We even managed to pop into the local pub for a quick drink before heading back for dinner.

A bee swarm in the apple orchard at our farm-stay

Many workers surrounding their queen

Quiet lanes in Ivinghoe Aston

Dandelions line our pathway as we walk

Hard to resist a pub with a good reputation

Old cottages in Ivinghoe – few with parking

Mr A strolling through the village of Ivinghoe

Mr A swears a half pint goes down much faster than half-a-pint within a pint

Truffy, outstanding in his field…

Wednesday: The following morning we departed and drove up to Ivinghoe Beacon. Ivinghoe Beacon is a hill standing 233 metres above sea level. It sits within the Ashridge Estate and is managed by the National Trust, but it has great significance historically. In the past, this location was used to send signals from and was also a fort during the Iron Age (around 800 BCE). More recently it has appeared in Harry Potter and Star Wars movies… For us though, it was a spot to enjoy lunch and a few cups of tea as we sheltered from the blustery cold wind and showers. A good day to be behind glass, as we say!

Fabulous views from the beacon

A couple of long distance walks/cycles start from this point

Truffy with dramatic skies

Eventually there was a break in the weather and we drove a short way down the hill towards Dockey Wood. This woodland is famous for its incredible display of bluebells, and my cousin Karen had let me know they were in full bloom after the warm Easter weekend.

We had only driven a few minutes and we spotted a carpet of purple by the side of the road. We quickly pulled over and went in for an explore. It was incredible, and unbeknownst to us, we were in the quieter less visited woodland area – the main display (and crowds) we found were just down the road where the official car park was.

Mr A wanders through the sea of blue

Just breathtaking – set off by the bright green new leaves

A mass of purple

Dizzy with the delicate perfume of the bluebells, we headed on down to our home for the next three nights, parked up on a farm track close to my cousin and her family in Little Gaddesden.

Before long a taxi arrived to take Mr A, my cousin Karen, her husband Iain and I into nearby Berkhamstead. There we caught up with my old school friend Jo and her husband Stuart for a beverage at a local wine bar, The Berkeley. From there we enjoyed a fabulous Thai meal at The Giggling Squid – delicious food and probably the best Thai we have tried in the UK so far.

The years flash on by with nearly 30 years of friendship

Much laughter – L-R: Stuart, Karen and Iain

Mr A finds himself beside a nude….

Thursday: After a relaxing night’s sleep, Iain gave Mr A and I a lift up to the cafe in Ashridge Estate so we could catch up with an old friend of mine from way back, Amanda. We last met up when she was visiting her sister in Sydney Australia, more than 15 years ago. It was great to see her, and we had a stroll through the woodlands, admiring yet more bluebells.

Footpath windings through the wild flowers

Amanda caught between two Andersons

Old friends reunited

Mr & Mrs A – (incidentally, I left my lens cap on this tree trunk, in case you find it!)

Walking back to Karen & Iain’s house via Ashridge House

Mr A and I walked back to Karen’s house through the estate, spotting many deer and enjoying the sunshine as we went.

We’d been back a few moments and I was back in the car with Karen off to visit my aunt while Karen took my uncle to the doctors. It was just enough time for a cup of tea and a tour of the house and garden before heading back for the evening.

Mrs A with auntie Pam and uncle Brian

Friday: Mr A and I hitched a lift into Berkhamsted when Karen was dropping off her daughters, Hannah and Ella to school. From there, we caught a train into London – Mr A heading off to do some shopping, while I went to Hammersmith and Charing Cross Hospital to take part in a focus group about the major airway surgery I had there back in 2014.

After the group I caught up for an hour with Jacky, a lovely lady with iSGS I have met through the support group I run, before heading back across town to meet up with Mr A, and some more friends at a pub near Warren Street.

L-R: Karen, Mrs A, Mr A, Martin, Karen’s sister, Chris

It was a fun catch up, with Martin (who was best man at our wedding 17 years ago) plus friends from Australia, Karen and Chris, who are staying with Karen’s sister near Greenwich.

It wasn’t a late night though, we were back on the train to Berkhamsted by 6.30pm and back tucked up in Truffy for the night by 9.30pm. A great end to the week.

Saturday: It was time to say goodbye to Karen and Iain and the girls, and continue our journey south. We really appreciate the hospitality we’ve been shown by the whole family.

L-R: Ella, Ryan, Merryn, Karen, Iain, Hannah, Mrs A

Mr A and I are both are loving rekindling old friendships and making new friends on our travels, and particularly cherish the time such as this with family who are also good friends. I hope we are leaving each time with stronger relationships and a better understanding of one another and look forward to spending more time together when we’re back from our European travels.