1-30 September: It’s all go here!

Author: Mr A

Location: Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London, UK

September was a busy month for us, hosting family and other visitors at our place. Catherine kicked things off with her Dad and his wife Sue arriving from New Zealand. It was the first time Catherine had seen him for over three years. Then her half brother Alex joined us and all were there to share in my birthday celebrations.

Catherine and Richard
Richard and Sue joining us for a walk through the village and down to the river
All ready to go walking but sadly rain stopped play up on the Quantock Hills
Mr A’s birthday celebration at our favourite Italian

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Then my eldest daughter Zoe also came for a weekend. I dont think we have ever spent a weekend together like that. It was very special. We had talked for a while about walking a bit of the South West Coast Path together, after both reading The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn and being really moved by it.

Zoe and I on the Coleridge Way, part of our 9km circuit walk
Mrs A standing on a log so she doesn’t look so little! Great views over Porlock Marsh and Bay, the eastern coastal part of Exmoor National Park
An ancient woodland pathway
The South-West Coast Path winds along the back of the beach
In 1996 a tidal surge driven by Hurricane Lili caused the land to flood here, killing these trees

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Catherine’s half-sister Elle and her family also joined us for a few days including fun at the Somerset County Show. Now, when I say fun, that can encompass many things in Somerset, we are learning. So a spot of ferret racing barely made us blink. Yes, the kids loved it, we loved it, and possibly the ferrets!

Scotch Eggs, craft beer and local cider, fairground rides, alpacas and the all important ferret racing at the Somerset County Show
Sweet William
Iris is mastering the art of posing for photos
Skimming stones down at the river, meeting the local Shetland Ponies, marshmallows toasted on a campfire in the garden…a jam packed weekend!
Catherine and Elle

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Family weren’t the only visitors in September. We also had the crew from my school days. Stuart and Karen, John and Catriona, all came for a couple of nights, and as usual we went hard on the first one with a lovely long dinner out at what has become our go to restaurant, Villa Verde in the village of Rockwell Green. The early hours of the morning found us dancing round our dining room! Grow up? Never….

Dinner with the gang – many laughs were had, wine bottles opened and….
…Limoncello shots to finish….!

My buddy Andrew joined for the next day and joined us for a head clearing walk on the beautiful Quantock Hills. This group of friends has been my rock through my whole life, and I love ‘em to bits :).

The picturesque Quantock Hills
Walking from Crowcombe Gate
The whole motley crew – Catriona, John, Andrew, Stuart, Karen, Mr and Mrs A

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Finally on the visitors front, we had Percy, the peacock, who the village adopted after he escaped from a very cramped cage at a local farm. As autumn comes here, his tail fathers have been lost (well we found one that has pride of place now in a vase), and he has taken to resting up on our patio in the sun. Tassie, our Burmese, looks on with horror, and a speech bubble can almost be seen on her expression saying, “Wow, weird place this village!”

Percy doesn’t mind a little bit of seed, but is more than happy to hunt for his own in the garden

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September has also seen us exploring our local area, both hiking and kayaking. Exmoor is just up the road, and Catherine plotted a few great little walks, including one around a reservoir up in the hills. I don’t think there’s any danger we will run out of local hiking trails. We really have landed on our feet here…hah hah.

After all of the hot dry weather the cooler, damper day is a relief
Clatworthy Reservoir is looking a little low after all the dry weather
None of the rowing boats are out for fishing today
Just an 8km circuit for this hike, but a few hills

Another walk started from a tiny settlement, Bury, where we started and finished from a medieval packhorse bridge.

A 9km circuit walk across Exmoor from the little village of Bury with its medieval packhorse bridge and ford
Greens of every shade on our picturesque riverside walk section, following the River Haddeo
Juvenile Pheasants – bred for shooting
The novelty of these oh so green paths still hasn’t worn off
As we walk up river the white water increases
Ancient stone walls are a haven for a multitude of shade and damp loving plants
Old stone steps guide us up onto the moorland
Quintessential Exmoor – a fine spot beside a trig point to enjoy a picnic
Autumnal colours of Exmoor National Park

On another occasion we tagged on an exploration of the River Exe estuary to a visit to a stone mason, and found a great selection of birdlife and some fabulous scenery – we hope to come back here one day. It’s well known as a fertile fishing ground, and there were plenty of Little Egrets catching fish. As always, we were told; ”Oh you should have been here earlier, there was an Osprey catching fish here”…but obviously nothing for us to see!

Yachts at Turf Lock
Seeking new fishing grounds
Got one!
Chasing off the competition
Bar-tailed Godwit, Little Egret, Buzzard, Blackbird, Mute Swan and Black-headed Gulls galore

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Then it was turn of our arms to get a workout, as we paddled across an area called the Somerset Levels, which we live on the edge of. With 160,000 acres at an average height of only a few metres above sea level, its is one of the flattest and most flood prone areas in the UK. It also home to rare species of birds, and our kayak gave us glimpses of some of these thanks to Catherine’s big lens. We weren’t sure how good the kayaking was going to be in the UK. How wrong could we be, certainly with the kind of weather we have had this autumn. So another tick in the move country (and hemisphere!) box for us.

Kayak inflated and ready to launch
A Grey Heron takes off across the river
A Sandpiper crosses the water in front of us
A pair of Mute Swans take flight
A Great Cormorant sits up in an oak tree
A Common Buzzard keeps an eye on us from a fence post….
Buzzard decides to take flight…
The River Tone – just us and the birds

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But it is not all visitors and playtime. We have been busy planning modifications we want to make to the house, and already have started on one project, converting a room used by the previous owners as an office (only accessible through the garage!) to….a bar. Yup, we are getting a whole new extension to our kitchen, having had a wall knocked down creating access to the room directly from it. Planning permission is in for bifolds to be installed as well, to open up the view. Much work to do but its great to get started on making the house our own.

Goodbye wall, hello doorway…

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Catherine also as been working, doing her voluntary advocacy work, talking at conferences, contributing to research papers, managing an ever growing support group (approaching 6,500 members now!) and meeting fellow sufferers of the rare disease she has. She also manages to find time to do some paid work for a company in Australia. A right powerhouse she is, also squeezing in a flying visit to her cousin, auntie and uncle somewhere in that mix.

A long awaited (postponed from 2020) presentation at a Speech and Language Therapist and ENT conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
A flying visit to Catherine’s cousin Karen, aunt and uncle Pam and Brian, followed by a lunch with three ladies in London

Thank goodness for our easy rail connection here from Taunton. Well, when they aren’t on strike, or have leaves on the line, dead sheep, kinky rails, strong winds, overhead power failure, or the many other reasons we get given for delays. It’s not especially reliable, but mostly gets us there more easily than by car when London is the destination.

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What about me then? Well, not too much to tell amongst the flurry of visitors. I have kicked off volunteering in the local community shop though, and they want me back for a second go. I know, surprised me as well 🙂 I did go along to the local Morris dancing club night, given my philosophy is to give things a go.

If you don’t know what Morris Dancing looks like, then this will give you a clue – men in white dancing with hankies and silly hats – ancient tradition has these folks blessing harvests and welcoming in Spring amongst other things…

Well, let’s just say I gave it go, and leave it there.

We are really loving the community here, never having felt part of one before, given we’ve mainly lived in larger towns and cities. I think we will always be ”the Australians at the Brodie’s place” (our previous owners), but that’s fine. One resident was telling us about ”The new people at The Old Schoolhouse”. It later emerged they’d lived there five years.

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Change seems to happen slowly here. For instance, I can’t believe how attached every government department is to sending letters! Yes, actual snail mail. They seem to take pride in taking as a long as possible to enact a process. I started applying for my Government pension at the end of August. By the end of September I had made 23 phone calls, and finally received an application form for it through the post on the 29th. I said to one call centre operator, ”But can’t you just send me one from your computer?”. ”Ooooh no”, she says, ”That’s a whole other department that do that”. All part of the charm? Sometimes. Other times its all just frustratingly slow 🙂

And while we are on the idiosyncrasies of this country, none were more evident then when we saw the nation mourning the loss of it’s Queen. One bloke even got arrested (later released) for holding a sign that read ”I didn’t vote for you”, referring to the new king.

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral – a moment in history watched remotely

In the land that reveres its tolerance of free speech, I realised there are some very touchy subjects, and the monarchy is definitely one. I even saw local councils around us have cancelled food festivals where small businesses show case their wares. Apparently they are not appropriate at this time”, to quote the council minutes. Very strange.

There is much to learn. Best done by listening and keeping quiet and trying to keep my eyebrows under control 🙂

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bradford on Tone, Somerset and London, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unicorn juice enters my bloodstream…hopefully working its magic

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

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

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

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

The moon was huge and the werewolves out in force 🙂

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

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

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

Cheers!
Even Princess Tassie got into the celebratory action!

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

Some tasty tipples tried on our tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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11 July – 5 August: Summer heats up and tests the immune system!

Author: Mr A

Location: Milton Keynes, Bradford-on-Tone, London, UK

I write this from my ”Isolation Wing” in the the new house that is rapidly becoming a home. COVID-19 struck me down. How? Well..here’s my side of the story. We were in London again (I think we need shares in Great Western Railway!) for Catherine’s kick off immunotherapy treatment to try and tackle her subglottic stenosis.

A superb Spanish meal out the night before
And a rather large Gin and Soda for madam (mostly soda!)
And a delicious pint for me
Catherine’s first immunotherapy infusion – an excuse to spend a few hours sitting in a chair

I encouraged madam to go clothes shopping, usual uphill battle, and volunteered to travel across London to collect the right size from a different store.

I walked 18kms that day, one of the many pleasures actually of being here, exploring the big city. I most likely caught it somewhere then because two days later I have sore throat, aches and pains and I’m down with the plague.…so it’s Catherine’s fault! 😉

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Anyway, there are definitely worse places to do my time in bed, with my own private ensuite and kitchen! Catherine even ran a fan at my door so my dirty germs wouldn’t pollute the house. Seriously, it’s really important we keep her safe as her airway is already declining since the last op, six weeks ago.

In the brief window between London and Covid, our friend Andie and his daughter Rosie came to visit…and yes, that is a pair of faggots in the local pub….

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It wouldn’t feel right without a hospital appointment in the week. I had to cancel mine at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital in London, which was supposed to be today. I could wait another 8 months for my NHS appt (been waiting 4 already), but by then who knows what mess my eyes will be in. There are 30,000 vacancies currently in the National Health Service in the UK. Well, Catherine is certainly getting more than her fair share of those scarce ENT staff!

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Backing up to pre my COVID isolation, I went gadding up to Milton Keynes again, responding to a request for help from daughter number two, whose hubby away again and she is at work. A few school runs and pick ups, a walk in the woods, a lovely birthday meal out with the whole mob for daughter number one. It ticked a lot of boxes.

Granddad and James, grandson number 3 on one of many school pick ups/drop offs
Hayley and Zoe with their dogs, Blossom and Belle
Birthday girl Zoe
Son-in-law Mark (good name!), granddaughter Lily and grandson Jacob watch on as mum blows out her candle

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The same daughter (Hayley) then brought her two boys down to stay with us a few days later. Apparently, according to the boys, a highlight was going packrafting down the local River Tone (stream at the moment with lack of rain!). A few laughs, a few tears, the usual.

Breakfast of champions at one of our local eateries, Sheppy’s Cider Barn – they also sell good cider!
A huge creamy hot chocolate for those who already had breakfast at home!
Luke and James
A short walk along the river to our launching spot
Hayley overseeing the activities
What activity? A lot of lazing around!
And meanwhile in our garden…yum! Fresh raspberries

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We continue to kit out the house, with lots of couriers turning up with furniture and bits and pieces. really enjoying the process. Even found ourselves supplier to help us with some modifications, more on those when we get further down the track.

I just feel so good about this place, its rural views, its land size (I’d dig a moat if I could!) and how the house is laid out, with a few minor changes coming up. We know we were so lucky to find it, and really enjoying starting to have friends as well as family come and stay. The house can start to build some memories for us.

My favourite spot is under the old oak tree. Camping chair, bottle of wine, and even joined by local friends three times now! The times they are a changing.

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

Author: Mrs A

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

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

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

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

Helen and I on a dog walk in nearby Preston Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are home!

Home!

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1-20 April – Spring is in the air!

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane and Terry…been so kind to us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5-31 March: Spring brings precious family time, bad news and (tentatively) most excellent news

Author: Mrs A

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

The past four weeks have whizzed by, with both of us spending time with our families, which has been an absolute pleasure after so long apart. We have started our time here as we mean to go on! But I am going to start with the excellent news.

Last Saturday lunchtime we went to see a house in the village of Bradford-on-Tone. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are currently living, and a small village of about 600 residents. The agent had hand picked us for the first viewing after reading our buyer’s profile, describing our desire for a house with plenty of light, preferably in a village community but not a housing estate. We asked for something that had a high graded EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) which would mean cheaper running costs, and a newer or recently renovated house not requiring too much work. It ticked so many boxes. We made an offer and it was accepted the same day.

Offer accepted…now let’s wait and see!

Now, while this is exciting and we celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco at our local pub, this deal’s not done until the fat lady sings. In the UK, the sales process is excruciatingly slow, with the average house exchange completed in four months. An accepted offer also doesn’t mean a certain sale, either – the seller can change their mind at any time, and there is always the risk of another buyer swanning in and offering more. It’s a horrible process!

I will refrain from sharing more details of this property until we feel more secure.

Lunch at The White Horse, potentially our new local in Bradford-on-Tone – HUGE portions!
The River Tone – there’s a long distance walk – The West Deane Way, which follows this river for part of its 45 mile circular route

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Our last post was written just prior to a long awaited weekend to celebrate my birthday and that of our friend Karen (‘surrogate sister’ and long suffering childhood friend!) who also joined us with her family. We had organised everything at the end of last year, booking two lodges at Mill Meadow to house everyone for a weekend of festivities. So much could have gone wrong, and yet nothing did – everyone stayed healthy and all went as planned. Fabulous cakes were provided by a local baker, Wizz, and we had a party in the skittle alley at our local pub, The Swan.

L-R from top: Catherine and Jenny (mum), Catherine’s cake, fur nephew, Cocoa, Phil cooking up a breakfast storm, Helen (sister #1) trying out her bowling skills at the skittle alley, Hayley (daughter #2) enjoying the hot tub, Ian not in fancy dress (cousin), Catherine and mum in Aussie fancy-dress, and Catherine and Elle (sister #2)
A spring hike with some of the family members – L-R – William (nephew #3), John with Iris (niece #2), Elle, Alex (brother), Edward (nephew #2), Catherine with Elliot (nephew #1), Helen, Stu with Isabel (niece #1)
L-R from top: Helen and Isabel enjoying the hot tub, the three witches, Zoe in Aussie fancy-dress, the Fields around us, CAKE!, Elliot (nephew #1), Catherine, Dan, surrogate sister Karen, and Mr A, Iris (niece #2) in yellow, and finally Isabel (niece #1) in koala fancy dress
Catherine, Karen and Jenny on Cothelstone Hill with an icy wind

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The following weekend, Mr A drove Truffy (our Hymer motorhome) up to Milton Keynes to spend some time with his daughters and grandchildren, the spring temperatures rising and bringing us blue skies and sunshine.

More lovely spring weather in Milton Keynes for some dad and grandpa time. James (grandson #3) seems to have mastered Connect-Four!
Mr A, Zoe (daughter #1) and Hayley (daughter #2)

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House hunting has been an all encompassing activity during the week, with daily pouring over the property apps and visiting the agents in person in the hope we might make an impression and be alerted to a suitable property ahead of the pack. It had begun to get us down, the uncertainty of our future living circumstance with an ever approaching deadline for moving out of our holiday accomodation, something that hasn’t gone away, despite our accepted offer on a property.

When there were no properties to visit, we broke up our weeks with visits to local regions. WWT Steart Marshes were our destination on one occasion. A unique scenery of wetlands stretching out towards the Bridgewater Bay and the River Severn Esturary.

Who’s the most beautiful Mute Swan of all…?
A Kestrel hovers over the marshland, having spotted lunch
Buzzard are a fairly common sight around here, this one kindly flying past within shot of my camera
A rather handsome Eurasian Moorhen
Spotting and photographing equipment

On another occasion we headed to the city of Wells via an RSPB wetland site, Ham Wall, near Glastonbury. It was a really magical place. The birdlife was prolific, with tame robins eating out of our hands, Grey Herons, Teal, Marsh Harriers, and a special visit from a Red Kite. This particular fly-by felt like a spiritual portent – Mark’s father was part of the RSPB team in 1989 that was responsible for the reintroduction of Red Kites to the UK. It was as though Clem Anderson was visiting to register his approval.

A magnificent Red Kite
A Marsh Harrier circles over the wetlands
Super-friendly Robins
Who are you calling a Great Tit?
Song-Thrush

Wells is a historical city with a magnificent cathedral and a palace surrounded by a moat. It is often referred to as the smallest cathedral city in the UK…this is in fact wrong (points to anyone who can name the actual smallest city). We had an explore before returning home – plenty to see there on a future visit.

Mr A couldn’t resist the FlapJackery in Wells 😂

Another bird trip took us to RSPB Swell Woods – home to many little woodland birds, and the exciting location of my first decent photo of a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Left from top: Coal Tit, Wren, Tree Creeper Right from top: Chaffinch, Great Tit, Robin and Blue Tit

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I had an appointment with my specialist in London for my airway stenosis. I didn’t expect it to go well – my regular peak-flow tracking has shown an overall decline, pretty much since we sold our house in August last year. My appointment confirmed this – my airway was too closed up to treat without significant risk in day surgery, so they booked me in for an operation in 12 days time. At least I will be breathing easy again – it is the first operating theatre visit in nearly three years, which is a good thing.

The last time I was truly breathing well was before the sale of our house in Australia…a perfect example of how stress impacts health

I caught the train down to Brighton to drown my sorrows and put this news behind me with some time with my sister, Helen and her family. Mum also joined us for a pizza lunch and sunny afternoon at Brighton seafront to celebrate Mother’s Day a week early.

A stunning, sunny spring weekend in Brighton with much healing laughter
A giant pizza and family lunch
“Goodbye Auntie Catherine”

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Back in Somerset, last week we had a visit from friend Barny and his young working cocker spaniel, Bertie. We did a couple of good walks and of course a couple of visits to our local pub.

Drinks at The Swan at Kingston – chefs Mickey Finn and Fran – and finally, lamb number 9 (one of two!) who wouldn’t let me go and had to be picked up to stop it from being terrorised by Bertie-dog!
Pure joy = a cocker spaniel with a ball in a field

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It has been an amazing month – writing it all down reminds us of how much we have seen and done. While the white-knuckle ride of emotions associated with searching for a home to live in has been somewhat exhausting, it has thankfully been counteracted with quality time and great memories made with our families.

April will bring new adventures and challenges, with plans already including cat-sitting a pair of kittens, my operation, more time with family, moving out of our holiday-house and into an Airbnb, and one long awaited event we are quite anxious about – the arrival of Princess Tassie the adventure cat, from Australia. The emotional turbulence is not over just yet!

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23 October-5 December: Friends, wildlife, packing, selling and a shock visit to hospital

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

Time has just flown since we returned from our travels, and no, we have not just been spending the summer lazing by the pool (as our property agent suggested!). Untangling 25 years’ of life in Australia is as involved as you might imagine!

Over the last month we have calmed down our social life a little so we weren’t out every night, and installed a little more balance. Every day we manage to take a small step towards our move across the world, while bing kind to ourselves as well, with breaks and walks.

We have been carefully assessing our possessions and consolidating, selling things of value (farewell to our beloved double fibreglass kayak and Mark’s Surly bike), and giving away things of lesser value (various pieces of camping kit, a multitude of Australian power extension leads and plugs and more). I have become quite adept at using Facebook’s Marketplace, with most things snapped up within minutes of advertising them (as long as there is no charge!). It is certainly preferable to putting things into landfill.

We have broken up our days with outings to local areas of natural beauty, finding it a great way to turn off those stress receptors and think about something else. We have of course enjoyed a few catch ups with friends along the way.

Current day Sydney is quite different to the one we left behind. Lockdowns and a huge increase in working from home has meant the CBD is incredibly quiet, our old favourite lunchtime haunts sitting largely empty with greatly reduced menus. It is so sad. Meanwhile, the suburbs are busy, with rarely a quiet time in the neighbourhood cafes and the car parks straining to keep up with the amount of traffic.

Last week saw me off to see my Otolaryngologist here in Sydney for some more injections in my airway, to treat my iSGS. It didn’t quite go as planned. A laryngology fellow who was training with my doctor ended up causing a bruise and some bleeding which resulted in inflammation. Later that night it got particularly swollen and mostly blocked my airway – we ended up taking a drive in the early hours of the morning to the nearby hospital emergency department.

Thankfully after being admitted to hospital for two days of treatment and observation, the swelling decreased, and I was allowed home to continue my recovery. For a moment there I thought I might not make the flight back to the UK after all! I’m pleased to report my breathing has since gone from strength to strength, so finger’s crossed it stays like this so I can avoid an operation before we fly….just 8 more weeks!

I’ve shared some photos of our past month’s adventures below – feel free to whizz through them if it all gets a bit overwhelming!

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Curl Curl Lagoon – our local park just footsteps from our front door, and a great place to wind down with nature….

A White Faced Heron captures a Yellow Bellied Three-toed Burying Skink (that’s a mouthful!)
The Skink tries valiantly to escape, but becomes dinner in a snap
A Magpie Lark sitting on its mud nest over the lagoon
A characterful female Superb Fairywren – what she lacks in blue she makes up for in attitude
She leaps from her bough to snatch a snack mid air
A Silvereye sings melodiously from the top of a tree

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Dee Why – a walk and dinner with friends Bill and Olga

Making our way along the cliff top
One of the resident Peregrine Falcons swoops over, calling loudly
A pair of Peregrine Falcons
Stunning views out to sea
Catherine and Olga enjoying dinner
Mr A and Bill
A final evening view towards Longreef

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Curlew Camp Artist’s Walk, Mosman, Sydney – a new walk to us! Just down the road from where we were meeting friends for lunch and close to where we got married (Taronga Zoo)

A lounging lizard? An Eastern Water Dragon up on a tree
Mr A picking his way along through the bush
The story of the camp

Lunch at The Fernery, Mosman, with friends Andy and Donna

Replete post lunch

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Long, lazy lunch with friends in Manly at Busta (Italian restaurant)

Love how all the heads are on different angles! L-R Aisha, John, Eveliene, Clive, Mr A, Mrs A
John and Eveliene excited to be out after a long lockdown!

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Long Reef headland – a few beaches up the coast from where we live

Looking back along the beaches towards Manly
Sooty Oystercatcher digging up pipis
Not just oysters!

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Back at Curl Curl Lagoon

A Dusky Moorhen protects her young brood
A newly hatched fluff-ball looking rather vulnerable
A pair of New Holland Honeyeaters
A pair of Superb Fairywrens
Pacific Black Duck

And meanwhile, back at home….

Princess Tassie enjoying the sunshine

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Manly Dam – just 11 minutes from home and a stunning bushland haven

Brush Turkey roosting in a tree
Eastern Water Dragon
Little Wattlebird
An angry freshwater Yabbie (lobster) emerges from the undergrowth
Brown Thornbill
Eastern Whipbird
Eastern Whipbird
Olive backed Oriole
Curl Curl Falls – last visited with mum!

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Bronte with friends Jenny and David – just around the corner from my first ever accomodation in Sydney back in 1999!

Champagne on the balcony, braving a stiff breeze
Dinner at Sugarcane in Coogee

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Rainy morning walk around the Narrabeen Lakes, about 20 minutes up the coast from home

A gorgeous non-venomous Diamond Python passively makes its way through the undergrowth
Variegated Fairywren
Good little hunter…some sort of black insect on today’s menu
A tiny seed-eating Red-browed Firetail
A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo emerges from her nest hole
Juvenile male (non breeding) Fairywren

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Weekend in Newcastle, NSW with friends Chris and Karen

Drinks at Styx Brewery
Hiking in Glenrock State Conservation Area
Karen and Chris
Views down to Dudley Beach
Mr & Mrs A
Gin (and Absinthe) tasting at Earp Distilling Co
Gin cocktails and nibbles platters
Sunday morning in historic Morpeth
Wine tasting and lunch at Boydell’s

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A grey Saturday morning’s kayak on Sydney Harbour with friend Cindy

Cindy hired a kayak from The Spit
Our Advanced Elements inflatable double kayak’s maiden voyage on Sydney Harbour

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Warriewood Wetlands – a rainy afternoon walk, 25 mins drive from home

Who doesn’t love a Laughing Kookaburra?
Great weather for ducks
We have waited a long time to spot one of these, a Bellbird

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A hospital room with a view, herbal tea and healthy food…if only I could breathe and eat at the same time! Unexpected two days at the new Northern Beaches Hospital…

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Breathing improving – a walk along the coast from North Curl Curl to Dee Why…

Australian Kestrel on top of the surf club roof is an auspicious welcome to the walk
A humid, misty day, the lizards and skinks were out in force soaking up the warmth
A pair of Red-whiskered Bulbuls – not native to Australia – descended from those introduced in the 1880s
Magnificent Peregrine Falcon on the cliffs. They mostly feed on feral Rock Pigeons and Silver Gulls – they’ve been clocked swooping at 300km/hr!
Superb Fairywrens don’t mind the mist – no wind means it’s a great time to sing

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Morning walk through Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden, Terry Hills

Eastern Yellow Robin
Variegated Fairywren
Golden Whistler
Spider for lunch – yum! Golden Whistler
Pacific Koel – a migratory cuckoo that is a noisy summer bird
Pacific Koel

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If you have made it this far down the page, then thank you! Will try to leave it less time before our next post!

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28 August-3 September: Dashing down the north Queensland coast!

Author: Mr A

Locations: Innisfail, Ingham, Townsville, Bowen, Glendale, Claireview, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia!!

We’ve covered a lot of ground (for us) over the last five days, only staying one night at each place, which makes it tiring for all, but especially Tassie who doesn’t get her usual 17 hours deep sleep in per day. Gee can that cat sleep! But we had a few bookends of dates that were fixed, so not much flexibility unfortunately.

After leaving the Atherton Tablelands, it was a winding road dropping down to the coast, plenty of warm brakes, to the small river side town of Innisfail. We had arranged to meet up with the editor of the Freemason NSW and ACT magazine that I’ve written a couple of articles for, and Catherine has provided the all important visual images. No I’m not a mason, but a good friend is, and had asked if we could write something about our travels for them. We did and it must have gone down OK as they asked for another, which is being published shortly. I’ve really enjoyed writing for them, just delightful people, and made it very easy to work with. We have seen these people give so much back into their community through this organisation.

A cup of tea in a local Innisfail cafe

Our destination for the night was once again the town of Ingham, home of the TYTO Wetlands, which will visited for the fourth time! Just an amazing diversity of birdlife here and a credit to the individuals who provided the leadership to establish it. We read an account of one of of these, John Young, who recently went back to see how it had developed. What a justifiable sense of pride he had for his role in creating what has become a huge draw card for this lovely little town. Catherine managed to catch some great photos, as usual 🙂

Our set up beside the wetlands
An Agile Wallaby watches us from across a lake
Spring is in the air with birds pairing up, like these Spoonbills
Australasian Grebe – not a chick as it looks, but a non-breeding adult
The water lilies are blooming
Forest Kingfisher
Bower’s Shrikethrush
A Green Pygmy-Goose
Brown-backed Honeyeater building a nest over one of the lakes
A Brown-backed Honeyeater
The Crimson Finches were munching on seeds in the grass
Mistletoebird (female) looking rather wet in the drizzle
Broad-billed Flycatcher

It was then on down to Townsville the next morning, as I had an appointment with an Ophthalmologist for my biannual battery of eye tests. They were measuring to see whether the recent pressure spike I experienced had done any damage to my field of view. I am still waiting for a comparison to my previous checks from my doctor in Sydney, but at least my pressures are back down thanks to the double dose of eye drops. I can only implore again to anyone reading this in middle age, especially if there is a history of glaucoma in the family, to get your pressures checked regularly. Sight can deteriorate so quickly. Mine did.

Then the following morning it was off down the coast again to a bush camp just inland from Bowen. We had stayed here on the way up, and quick wander around the property once again rewarded with a few bird sightings. The owner is renowned for her lovely damper, cooked over the fire, but torrential rain knocked that on the head! So once again it was off in the morning for another big day in the saddle driving south. Queensland is big, really big.

Blue-faced Honeyeater
Around 1,100km (nearly 700 miles) driven in 7 days

Another bush camp was our stop the following night, just north of Clairview. We like these places, not too busy, space to wander around, and a bonus here was the owner was cooking lamb shanks that night. Yum…not a meal we would tackle in the caravan, so something different for us.

Red-winged Parrot
Little Friarbird hunting for caterpillars in a gum tree
Little Friarbirds

We made it down to just north of Rockhampton, staying at yet another bush camp run by the most delightful lady (Robyn) who insists on laying on snacks in her “girl cave” for all the campers. She said she just enjoys meeting her campers and hearing their stories. A short walk around the property also gave Catherine a few sightings. I tried with my binoculars and spotting scope but too quick for me. The scope is great for more stationery habits like on wetland. Flitting around in dense woodland, not so much.

A fine view from our campsite
A Laughing Kookaburra and a couple of female Red-backed Fairywrens
Big skies from the top of the hill

Once again we were on the road early, as we had a date with a fridge repairer, the super helpful Clint from Chiltech. We had been unable to get the temperature down sufficiently, but a ten minute clean of our condenser with his compressor was all he thought it would take to fix it. And he was right. Clint’s the man if you in his area just north of Rockhampton, and no six gun required!

Blasting the dust particles off the condenser

A short trip into Rockhampton city centre to one of our least favourite campsites was next, adjacent to a busy main road with dated facilities, but it is within walking distance of what we rated last time we came as our best dining experience in regional Australia. Trufusion delivered again, preceded by excellent haircuts from Katie Lauren.

Pre-dinner Margaritas went down a treat

It feels so special to go out to dinner somewhere nice, and especially so given how much of the country is in lockdown. We know we have been very fortunate travelling in areas that have not been affected by lockdowns. Next month we are going to back in Sydney, and then all that ends!

3-6 August: Happy and healthy in far-north Queensland

Author: Mr A

Location: Townsville and Ingham, Far North Queensland

A short drive south and a caravan park we have been to before on the edge of Townsville. Its a matter of the best of bad options, but thats not unusual for caravan parks when you are near are bigger towns and cities. They are always popular, so high demand seems to drive a culture of poor standards. But we have our own little world when we shut the door, and we are only here to get some jobs done. However, the Ross River does flow past the site, and we jumped on the bikes for a late afternoon ride.

A 12km cycle along the Ross River in the late afternoon – just the ticket

As we were riding I had a revelation. I‘ve suffered from osteoarthritis in my hand for nearly 10 years. Some days were worse than others, and on the bad ones it was so painful I struggled to change gears and use the brakes on my bike. And I suddenly noticed as we we were riding, I had no pain! Thinking back I realised it had been weeks since I’d had any bad days! The only thing that’s changed has been my diet. On April 1st I decided it was time to make some changes. Overweight, high cholesterol, high calcium, it was time to change those things. I cut out bread, pies, sausage rolls, chips and cakes. So basically all the staple food groups consumed on the road! We had also been doing the no food between 8pm and noon the next day routine, but that hadn’t made much difference that I had noticed. My hand still hurt and I was still gaining weight.

But substituting a big bowl of salad, with quinoa, pumpkin or sweet potato, for my usual sandwich or pie, that’s changed everything.

To be pain free – oh what a relief. And to lose 4.5 cm off my tummy – I’m now half way to getting out of the overweight classification. I’ve read about people “curing themselves” from arthritic pain by diet changes, but was sceptical. Now I’m a believer. Osteo just doesn’t go away for no reason, it just steadily gets worse. And nothing else is different other than my diet. I also just got another set of blood test results and my “bad” cholesterol was way down and glucose tolerance the same. Basically I’ve shifted from a fat-old-one-handed-bloke-on-his-way-to-a-heart-attack, to a less-fat-old-bloke-who-might-be-around-to-see- his-grandkids-buy-him-a-beer 🙂

Now I have to crank up my morning work out to get some muscle tone back – but someone always claims the yoga mat, for some “downward cat” moves, in slow motion.

“Thanks Dad!”

Townsville has been pretty productive for a city stop over. An Ear Nose and Throat specialist appointment for a blocked ear. A visit to a barbers for me and another set of blood tests, and a catch up for Catherine with one of her fellow iSGS sufferers, who lives locally.

A Townsville local who belongs the support group Catherine runs for people with Idiopathic Sub-glottic Stenosis (iSGS)

We took a drive out to the “Townsville Town Common”, and no, it isn’t anything like what an English person conjures up when they hear that phrase, its actually a massive area of beautiful wetlands on the edge of the city. We didn’t get many great bird sightings, but a lovely place to wander around.

Looking towards the coast – not too many birds willing to be spotted here
Crimson Finch in a eucalyptus tree
Looking out towards the Pinnacles National Park
Australasian Grebe
The butterfly and the ant

We even fitted in a wild (for us) night out on the town – some pre-dinner drinks then a decent Indian meal with a bottle of wine mostly finished between us.

A smile I will never get tired of

But it was time to move on and we headed, once again, back up the Bruce Highway north, to our favourite wetlands at Ingham – the TYTO wetland. The Ingham Visitor centre was our first stop for a permit to camp in the RV park at the back, a credit to the town, the staff there so knowledgeable and helpful.

A few hours wandering around the TYTO wetlands once again brought a richness of birdlife into our respective lenses. Catherine capturing hers on these glorious photos, me looking up close on my scope and wondering at the beauty of these creatures. I love the fact that we can get so “close” but without disturbing them.

Eastern Great Egret
Brown Honeyeater
Northern Fantail
Wandering Whistling Ducks
Australian Darter
Green Pygmy-goose

We also got some great tips from the Information Centre staff that there were a couple of delis in town, with a great boardwalk to wander along to get to them. With low expectations (we have seen many a place labelled as a deli that seemed to qualify as they sold two types of pies!), but these were the real deal. Apparently a large Italian population is still in the area from when they were attracted here by the government being offered large parcels of land to “improve”. This usually meant ripping down pristine rain forest and planting sugar cane. And of course we know Italians are serious about the quality of their food.

Boardwalk into Ingham – what a lovely way to connect the town and the wetland

Even the fish and chip shop across the road from our campsite is a gourmet version, with Tasmanian oysters ($30 a dozen, mind!) and home pickled local octopus, and spring rolls stuffed with local mud crab! They were all delicious! Wild Local Prawns its called- call in if you coming through Ingham please

Greeted with a friendly smile

A business trying this hard to deliver a quality product deserves the encouragement of your custom :).

We concluded our visit with a final look around the wetlands before we moved on. Ingham, you will be fondly remembered.

As always, a few Forest Kingfishers present on the wetlands
A Yellow Honeyeater surveys its domain in the early morning sun
You can’t see its belly, but possibly a Red Bellied Black Snake sunbathing after a cool night
It was a long snake…about 2 metres (more than 6 foot) and classed as ‘dangerously venomous’. Thank goodness for long zoom lenses!
A Brown Honeyeater in full song
A Red-backed Fairywren…with red berry
A female Red-backed Fairywren
Female Rufous Whistler
Olive-backed Oriole
Red-browed Firetail
Top left clockwise: Female Red-browed Firetail, male Crimson Finch, Comb-crested Jacana, Australian Grebe, Forest Kingfisher, Willie Wagtail

26 July – 2 August: Enjoying some of the World Heritage wonders of far north Queensland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Paluma Range National Park, Mutarnee, Balgal Beach and Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Having decided to stick around in Mutarnee for a few more days, we took a drive down to Balgal Beach, a nearby coastal settlement. There was listed a Golf and Country Club that served lunches, so we thought we would drive over and check it out. When you hear the words ‘Country Club’ you have visions of fine seafood platters, delicious wine and gourmet menus, with stunning views over landscaped grounds…but what was actually on offer was pretty basic pub grub in a rather ordinary setting. We decided not to have lunch there, and instead drove down to the riverside for fish and chips.

Balgal Beach is a very sleepy village, mostly consisting of holiday houses and two caravan parks. There is one small shop which is also a fast food outlet, and it’s here we ordered fish and chips and enjoyed them on a shaded deck overlooking the river. As with everywhere on the coast in far north Queensland, there were crocodile warning signs, but nothing to be seen. That was until I spotted what looked like a small stick, about 60cm long, making its way across the river from the opposite bank. The staff at the cafe confirmed my suspicions – it was a young crocodile! Nobody was game to dangle their fingers in the water to entice it closer, otherwise I would have a nice (or gruesome) photo to share with you here!

We ate fish and chips at the cafe on the left of this creek, and watched a juvenile crocodile (about 60cm long) swim across towards us!

It’s quite a picturesque location, but we felt we would probably be bored here for a few days – the presence of crocodiles means no kayaking, and other than the beach there is no walking here. A lovely spot to visit though, and only half an hour from our camp at Mutarnee.

Mr A gazing wistfully out towards the Coral Sea
We had a walk along the sandy beach.

Balgal Beach looks out towards the Palm Islands Group. Great Palm Island is where First Nations people were forcefully placed after being removed from their homeland across Queensland between 1914 and 1971. It is estimated there are at least 43 tribal groups represented now, predominantly descendants from tribes on the (now) sugar-cane growing land between Bowen and Cape York (the top of the east-coast of Australia). The island was considered a penal colony, with First Nations and Pacific Islander people placed there for ‘wrongdoing’ – often just being on land that had now been ‘allocated’ to someone else.

Rattlesnake Island is used by the Royal Australian Air Force for bombing practice, survival courses and live firing training.

Before long it was time for our day-trip into Townsville, about a 50 minute drive south, for Mark’s eye test. This was a critical test, and the cause of much anxiety over the past two weeks.

To recap, Mark has Glaucoma. This is an eye condition where high eye pressures can cause permanent damage to the nerve which connects the eye to the brain, at worse resulting in irreversible loss of sight, at best resulting in some injury to the optic nerve. He also has Pigment Dispersion Syndrome – this is another contributor to pressures rising, where pigment from the back of his iris can flake off, blocking the fluid drains.

It’s important he gets his eye pressures checked on a regular basis as changes in pressure are painless with no outward signs they’re happening. If caught quickly enough, eye drops can reduce the pressure and repair injured optic nerve cells – once the cells die, they cannot be revived (though there are positive early signs in stem cell research with mice, we’re not quite there yet). Our visit to Townsville was to see whether the extra drops he has been applying over the past two weeks have made any impact on the pressure.

With a great deal of relief, Mark emerged from the optician with a big smile on his face – yes, the eye pressures have returned to normal levels. Hopefully disaster has been averted. More specialist tests are needed in coming weeks to check his peripheral vision and overall eye health, but for now we can breathe easy.

We continued to enjoy our afternoon birdwatching sessions with Bob and his wife Olive on the campground. Paluma National Park is less than five kilometres from the caravan park and is the southern most point of the World Heritage listed Wet Tropics of Queensland. As such the birdlife continues to be prolific. Almost daily there was a new bird to be seen we had not spotted before. In the birding world these are known as ‘lifers’ – ie first time you’ve seen them in your life!

Spangled Drongo overlooking the camp
Spectacled Monarch – a gorgeous little songbird, sometimes seen flitting through the vines in the forest searching for insects (a ‘lifer’!)
White-browed Robin

Bob and Olive have really got to know the birds over their six weeks camped here, and noticed particular ones become braver over time. Take this Noisy Pitta for example. They are usually heard but not seen, living in the forest and foraging in leaf litter. But this little chap has become brave and now dashes out to find its food around the palm trees.

Noisy Pitta – they particularly like insects, worms and snails

Tiny little birds like these Lovely Fairywrens are more likely to be heard than seen as they hop energetically through the undergrowth searching for insects.

A pair of Lovely Fairywrens
A tiny Lovely Fairywren – these only live in northeastern Australia

Back at Midge Point I had seen my first juvenile Olive-backed Sunbird, a tiny yellow honeyeater. I was pleased this time to spot the adults, the male with his brilliant yellow tummy and deep blue throat and chest, and the bright yellow female.

Olive-backed Sunbird – this is the male with his metallic blue chin and chest
A female Olive-backed Sunbird

At night, the sounds of croaking and insects takes over from birdsong, our proximity to Crystal Creek meaning there are tree-frogs and cane toads joining the usual chirruping geckos. Each night I had heard a particularly repetitive frog-like (or electric car-locking) sound coming from the trees. Bob enlightened me – it was a Nightjar. He invited me to join him in a spotting that night.

I have to admit, I don’t accept nighttime invitations from all 83 year old men, but I trusted Bob’s intentions were good, and at 9.30pm we were outside in our nightclothes with cameras and torches. Bob had a recording of another Nightjar which he played, and seconds later we were being swooped. The Nightjar settled on the ground at the edge of the forest and we crept over for a look.

This is a Large-tailed Nightjar apparently. The whiskers either side of its beak are there to help it consume its favourite food, moths, aiding in widening its gape. During the day, Nightjars sit on the floor like this or low down in trees in the forest, their plumage keeping them well disguised amongst the leaf litter. It was an absolute privilege to see such a special bird up close, even just for a minute. We turned off the light and our bird flew off to make its ‘ chonk, chonk, chonk’ sound and continue its evening hunting.

A Large-tailed Nightjar – these are nocturnal birds, most often heard in the early evening and early morning when they hunt for insects. They spend their days roosting on the forest floor like this, disguised amongst the leaf litter.

On one particularly warm afternoon, we decided it might be a good idea to head up into the cool of the national park. We wound our way up the precipitous road to Little Crystal Creek. This bridge was built in 1930s depression period as part of a bid to provide employment. The winding road itself, follows what was originally an Aboriginal pathway up into the hills.

LIttle Crystal Creek Bridge

Despite being mid-winter, it was about 30°C on the lowlands, but a more comfortable 25°C up in the hills beside the water and under the trees, especially as any cloud gathers above the range, instantly giving some respite from the sun. We had an explore up and down the creek.

Plenty of refreshing pools here to cool off warm feet.
A great location just to relax and listen to the sound of water falling
Serenity
Ancient rainforest

The TYTO wetlands at Ingham were another morning out for us. Despite having visited already, we saw completely different birds this time – not surprising given there are 250 different species resident. The four-metre saltwater crocodile is apparently still at large, but we didn’t spot it. If only the birds could talk!

A Forest Kingfisher kindly sits close to a bird-hide for me to photograph
Look at that smile! A Saw-shelled Turtle pops up from under a lily pad to say hello
Left from top: Red-browed Firetail, Black-fronted Dotterel, Yellow Honeyeater. Right from top: Pair of Forest Kingfishers, Crimson Finch
A pair of Pacific Black Ducks
Stunning water lilies – much easier than birds to photograph as they never fly away!
Beautiful views out across towards Girringun National Park
Left from top: A White-gaped Honeyeater shares berries with its chick, A male Sunbird with its glistening blue throat. Right from top: a Brown Honeyeater, a Little Pied Cormorant, a Rufous Whistler
Clockwise from top left: Australian Darter, Crimson Finch, Maned Duck, female Red-backed Fairywren, Swamp Wallaby,

We farewelled Bob and Olive with a platter of nibbles and drinks towards the end of the week, as Olive was heading back to Townsville for her final infusion of chemotherapy. We’ll keep in touch with them for sure – they have a wealth of knowledge and are a lovely couple.

Over our final few days we ensured we continued the afternoon tradition of feathered friend spotting, and added a few more beauties to our list.

Left from top: Northern Fantail, Grey Fantail, Varied Triller Right from top: Yellow Honeyeater, Red-backed Fairywren, White-browed Robin, Silvereye
My friend the Rufous Fantail – met him on several occasions – a very personable chap
Some of the many faces (and bottoms) of Rufous!
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater
A Mistletoebird – amazing how it consumes the fruit
A Bar-shouldered Dove picking seeds from the grass
A Dusky Myzonella (Honeyeater) drinking nectar
Clockwise from top left: male Figbird, very cute pair of White-browed Robins, Great Bowerbird, White-throated Honeyeater and female Figbird

Our time here just flew. By the time we were packing up to head to our next destination of Townsville, we had spent 11 nights in this area – other than spending time with friends, the longest we had stopped in one place since our lockdown in the UK last year! There is just so much to see and explore here if you are interested in nature and beautiful scenery. Definitely one for your list.