13-15 August: Making it onto Dartmoor

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tavistock, Devon, UK

Our fabulous 66km ride out to Okehampton and back left us curious to tour more of this stunning area, in particular to explore Dartmoor National Park. It is the largest area of open space in the south of England, and has been shaped by centuries of human activity.

First though, we got some unexpected news. I had emailed an old work colleague from Australia, who, I recalled in the depths of my memories, had moved to Devon from Sydney several years ago. We weren’t sure where in Devon she was living, but given we are here until the end of the month, we thought it might be possible for us to pay her a visit and learn more about her new life on this side of the world. Her response was just as surprised as ours – she had moved to none other than Tavistock!

We jumped on our bikes and cycled over to her house via the Tavistock Viaduct. The viaduct is pretty much all that remains from the old railway which ran through here and closed in the 1960s – now turned into a short 2km walking and cycleway through a cool leafy reserve and offering fabulous views over the town.

Lovely and cool in the reserve, with its waterfalls and stream running alongide the path
Refreshing waterfalls on the 2km long Viaduct Walk (and cycleway) in Tavistock
The characteristic white and grey slate of the houses in Tavistock
Looking over town, with the tall tower of Tavistock Parish Church in the centre
The River Tavy goes through the middle of town, and alongside The Meadows (Tavistock Park)

We joined Mary for cold drinks in the garden and proceeded to ask her lots of questions. It was a lovely afternoon and helped us understand more about the decisions behind a big and brave move back around the world after more than 20 years living in Australia.

Old friends in new places – Mary and Catherine used to work together in research – Mary is now a yoga teacher

Thunder storms rumbled around us but we remained dry, with the rain fortunately holding off until we were back holed up in Truffy.

Mary had given us some advice on where to start a walk, and despite continuing wet weather forecast, we were keen to get out on the moors. We drove a short way out of Tavistock and parked up behind a pub, The Dartmoor Inn. We decided to book in for lunch after our walk.

First though, we had to work up that appetite. A lane beside the pub led us directly onto Dartmoor, a completely different scenery to the bright green fields and farmland we have been used to. We decided to take a walk up to Widgery’s Cross up on Brat tor. This was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and is the tallest of all the crosses on Dartmoor, made from slabs of granite. A tor is the name given to peaks topped with rock, most frequently granite. Dartmoor National Park has more than 160 tors.

Look carefully in the distance you can just about see the cross on top of Brat tor
Heading off to conquer our first tor
Enjoying our first taster of the moors
Hill ponies are one of the many hardy types of horse found on Dartmoor – this pair were clearly used to seeing people walking past
A very young Hill Pony foal is clearly not used to people yet…we chuckle at his tail which is more like a dog’s than a horse’s at this young age
Giving the calf muscles a workout on this steep uphill climb

As we climbed up the hill, the ‘Devon sunshine’ descended around us, with swirling cloud obscuring the views and settling thick around us. We clambered up the rocky tor, and sat at the base of the cross enjoying a cup of tea.

Widgery’s Cross
Where’s our view?
A break in the cloud gives us a glimpse of another tor across the way
The vibrant shades of yellow and magenta in the gorse and heather

At just over 5.5km (Strava link), this was not a long walk, but a great taster of what’s potentially on offer for us on Dartmoor. We are certainly hungry to see more in the future.

Our lunch at the Dartmoor Inn was a wonderful surprise. The new owners have only been there 12 months, but in that time spent several thousand pounds renovating the interior and bringing the menu up to date. We opted for two entrees each – crab salad and scallops for myself and a roasted tomato soup for Mark, followed by scallops as well. Absolutely delicious and accompanied by some fabulous wine options – just one glass for myself and half a beer for Mr A.

Head chef and co-owner Jay Barker-Jones popped out to chat as we finished our meal – explaining his food philosophy and dreams for the pub. We wished them every success – the food quality is definitely in line with Jay’s training in Michelin starred restaurants around the UK. We would say this meal has been the most outstanding of our visit to the UK so far.

Bonus fact for travelling folks like us – they welcome motorhomes to come and park up for the night, as long as they’re dining there that evening. If you’re travelling this way, I would definitely take up that offer and enjoy more than just one glass of wine!

The Dartmoor Inn

9-13 August: Exploring North Devon

Author: Mr A

Location: Tavistock, Okehampton and Dartmoor, Devon,

Having time to learn has been one of the great joys of retirement. We have found ourselves, in our three years on the road, improving our understanding of the world around us. Its history, geology, flora, fauna, macro and micro cultures. What a privledge, and we don’t want to waste that opportunity. Take this week for example. we took another walk from our campsite, and came across an old arsenic works from the early 20th century. That led to a bit of reading up about mining more generally in this area, and all of a sudden this whole new chapter in my learning journey opens up.

The good thing about living on top of a hill, is that there are lots of great views and always a downhill start to hikes…the return is another story….

So we had seen the signs around Tavistock designating it a World Heritage site, but hadn’t really understood why. Its all about the mines.

I have also wondered how this little island I once called home got to be so important for a while on the world stage (Noah Harare in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” was the most readable explanation I’ve read on that) and the role mining played in Britain’s rise to fame I hadn’t really appreciated.

The archaeological record shows a history of taking ores from stream beds and turning them into something useful since the mid Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago. In this area, it was mainly tin and copper, thanks to its abundance given a specific geology where mineralisation had occurred. I was definitely asleep in my history and chemistry lessons, as I hadn’t remembered that by adding small amounts of tin to copper – hey presto— you have bronze, an even harder metal. Although the first evidence of this process has been uncovered in Turkey over 5,000 years ago, first evidence so far in UK was a 1,000 years later. It has been postulated even as a reason the Romans invaded to get their hands on Cornish and Devon tin. By the 12th century there was over 60 tons of tin ore recorded as being mined out of Dartmoor and the surrounding area.

This mining activity has so shaped the landscape and made an unique contribution of the area we are exploring that in 2006 it was awarded World Heritage status, as the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. The 18th and 19th century saw deep mines (over 1500 feet at Morwhellan) for tin and two thirds of the world’s copper, as well as half the world‘s arsenic production. Mining machinery built in this area was sold around the world and become one of the drivers of the Industrial Revolution. Another piece in the puzzle of understanding this country’s history put in place.

So it is a with different eye that we can walk around this landscape, admire its rural beauty, and now appreciate its role on the world stage.

Pretty muddy pathways in parts after the heavy rain
Nice and shady on many of the Tamar Trails
Took a picnic and enjoyed this view from a bench
Arsenic Mine

Just imagining the children, some as young as 9, their graves in the local churchyard, climbing down into these mines, sent shivers down our spines, even on this baking hot day. I think of my grandchildren at that age now, and how their world is so different.

A mine with a view – it was hot up here and reminded us of Australia…many of the miners from here emigrated to mine in Australia once these dried up – transferring their experience to gold mining
Relishing the cool shade once more as we start to hike back to camp

One unintended benefit for us of this historical landscape is the abundance of old railways that the far sighted Devon Council has converted to rail trails. I had read about one called the Granite Way that started around 15 kilometres from our campsite. So off we rode, the excitement of the wheels rolling somewhere new never dulls.

More than a kilometre of climbing – in spite of the motors we felt the effort of this ride

We cycled through some pretty hilly terrain, with liberal use of the pedal assistance provided by our bikes. Would we have chosen to ride to the start without battery support? I doubt it. It added over 30 km to the trip, with another 36km return for the rail trail to come. But knowing we could “flatten the hills” a bit we rode it (Strava link).

We are so glad we did. The ride took us through an unfolding landscape dotted with churches with commanding views, Norman castles, and some very enticing looking pubs.

The Church of St Michel de Rupe built in the 1200s sits on top of Brent Tor
Lydford Castle was a prison and courthouse built in 1195. It sits beside a field with the remains of a Norman ringwork castle
Cells and great views visible from the castle

But we pressed on to the welcome more level tarmac of the Granite Way. I had seen pictures from various blogs of the highlights of this route, which is part of the much longer “Coast to Coast” route through Devon (Plymouth to Ilfracombe) , but was still taken aback when we rounded a corner and this restored viaduct came into view.

Checking out the views
Not too busy on this Wednesday afternoon
Looking out over Dartmoor

It was great seeing so many smiles from other cyclists as well, clearly enjoying the day. Even a couple of lycra clad road warriors smiled, unheard of in Australia! It is so relaxing to be away from the threat of cars, and just to be able to take in the view without constantly checking mirrors and worrying if you will be come one of the many accident statistics where bike meets car. Cyclist rarely comes off better! Touch wood, so far, we have experienced really respectful road sharing behaviour from car drivers. The only near accident was when we were pedestrians and a road cyclist came hammering around a blind bend in a village and nearly took Catherine out!

As we reached the end of the trail in the small town of Okehampton, we spotted a family from our campsite who has just ridden the trail with their three boys, one of whom was only five! Brilliant. A long pub lunch while our batteries charged back up, and we rode back, catching them up and riding the return rail trail leg with them. It was so inspiring to hear their story. The two highest mountain peaks in England and Wales have bagged by these little guys, when one was only four!

Doom Bar Amber Ale, brewed in north Cornwall is rather a tasty drop
Despite being a rail trail there is a gentle slope here…and not all these bikes have gears! Kudos to 5 year old Duke managing the 35 km return route on his little bike

They don’t posses tablets, and haven’t asked for them. Life in their home town of Newquay seems busy enough with swimming, surfing, riding and hiking. There are many different ways to parent, and I’m sure not an expert, but seeing these young guys’ confidence and interest in the world around them as we shared a bottle of wine with mum and dad, I filed that observation away.

3-8 August: Moving on from Dorset

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tavistock and Plymouth, Devon, UK

Leaving our campsite in Dorset, it was just a hop skip and a jump into Devon, the adjoining county. Our next destination was a campground near Tavistock in Devon, just north of Plymouth.

We first became aware of The Old Rectory, Camping and Caravan Park when we were desperately looking for a place to live, just before Easter. The nephew of Declan (the campground owner), knows someone we know, as he contacted us via Facebook and suggested we park up here. As it turned out we were able to find and rent Honeysuckle Cottage in West Bagborough instead, and the rest is history.

Still, we had taken note of this location, surrounded by interesting hikes and cycleways, and nestled a short way from the tors and moors of Dartmoor, and had decided to book in for two weeks. What a great decision!

The weather has been variable since we arrived, with temperatures similar to winter in Australia (daytimes at 16-18 degrees) with a good dose of rain and drizzle ranging to a hot and humid late 20s the past couple of days.

Our first impression of Tavistock was of a grand, good looking town, with its central square centred around its Pannier Markets. These were purpose built in the 1850s by the 7th Duke of Bedford using money made from the local copper and asbestos mining operations. The river was re-routed to allow for this building and the square (Bedford Square). There are still markets held here every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The Tavistock Town Hall on Bedford Square

The sunshine of our first day was not set to last, so on Tuesday morning we decided we would cycle into town and have a good look around. Our campsite, The Old Rectory is just out of town, but we managed to ride in with only a short distance travelled on roads.

Diverting down a narrow farm track, we soon arrived at the Tavistock Canal. This picturesque area is now primarily a footpath (bikes tolerated with care), but has an interesting history dating back to 1817. It links to the River Tamar and Morwellham Quay, and was used to transport goods for shipping. These days it’s home primarily to waterfowl, but the excellent craft involved in building this watercourse is still holding strong.

Mr A riding along the Tamworth Canal
On this moist morning the dark trunks of the beech trees stand out like sculptures
The path takes you beneath the Shillamill Viaduct – opened in 1890 to carry trains across the valley..

We had a good explore around town on our bikes, the rain holding off enough for us to enjoy a picnic of Cornish Pasties (a vegan one for me – one of the benefits of this latest food trend is dairy-free goodies!) and a hot chocolate.

Wednesday dawned grey, but the rain continued to hold off, so we donned our walking boots and decided to hike to see the aforementioned Morwellham Quay (Strava link). Our campground is located in the hamlet of Gulworthy, on the edge of a huge network of mountain biking and hiking tracks known as the Tamar Trails. The trail network is open for all to use, with maps around detailing which are for walkers only versus shared with bikes.

Mark heading off along a track which was once a railway carrying copper to the port

This whole area is part of the Cornish and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site – protected along with the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Tamar Valley was home to numerous successful copper mines in the 19th and 20th centuries.

You can see the line of raw copper in this stone near one of the old mines
Restored old mining buildings

We made it down to Morwellham Quay, the site of what used to be a busy bustling port – shipping copper to Swansea to be smelted, and receiving other goods such as coal from Wales. Today it’s a museum, with carefully restored mining artefacts and (when there is no Covid), theatre and exhibits depicting life for the mine workers and their families.

Mark had read that the pub, The Ship Inn, had just reopened its doors to the public, and spotting empty benches and an open door, checked to see whether they were serving yet. It was 11.30am, but yes indeed, two half pints of a locally brewed beer were soon drawn and we enjoyed those sitting outside on the cobbled streets.

A half pint of the very tasty Morwell Quay Ale enjoyed

It was very quiet on this afternoon, just a few people camping in the nearby field, and none of the usual attractions open. We explored what we could around the quay, all very interesting and somewhat hard to imagine with the river not looking deep enough to cater to much more than small pleasure boats, much less the huge ships required to transport goods.

Exploring more restored mining memorabilia
On this sleepy afternoon it is hard to imagine the busy port this once was
The rain kicked in on our return walk, but I still managed to pick some fresh blackberries to go with my dairy-free ice cream!

The following day was wet and drizzly, our location high up on the edge of Dartmoor meaning we were surrounded by cloud and fog. We caught a bus into Tavistock to have a look around the Pannier Markets and shops. It’s such a shame the experience has been tainted by this virus. Masks have to be adorned, the market stalls have been halved to allow for social distancing, and people are somewhat on edge. I think the whole experience of not being able to see peoples’ faces has tainted perceptions. A visage hidden behind a mask can look threatening and unfriendly and sadly that is how we were treated in a few of the stores. We didn’t spend long in town, stopping only for lunch in a cafe and returning to Truffy earlier than anticipated.

Friday morning we woke early for us (before 7am!) as fine weather was promised and we had an exciting day planned.

Our view up on the hill at sunrise, looking down at the misty valley below

We cycled to the next village of Gunnislake and caught the train from there into Plymouth.

Gunnislake is the end of the line

Face coverings are required on trains, and I didn’t much fancy wearing a hot mask for the best part of an hour. I experimented with my scarf, which worked quite nicely.

Still covered, but much airier than a tight fitting mask

Neither of us can remember ever visiting Plymouth before and were both impressed on arrival. It was a short cycle from the train station down to the front, adorned with magnificent hotels with incredible views.

A sparkling Friday morning
Beautiful scenes from Hoe Park
Hoe Park and hotels with commanding views

We explored around the Barbican area, a buzzing harbourside suburb

Perfect reflections in the marina – an approaching thunder storm making for dramatic colours
The cobbled streets and cafes of Plymouth’s Barbican area
Looking out towards Clovelly Bay – a ferry goes across to here

We had an explore around the foreshore, enjoying the authenticity of the port buildings and fish markets, not simply providing sights for tourists. When the storm hit, we ducked into a pub to find lunch.

Sated, we set off on our way back to Tavistock. We rode along National Cycle Route 27, following a section known as Drake‘s Trail, named after Sir Frances Drake, the famous Elizabethan seafarer. The track is a 33km (21 mile) route which winds through riverside fauna, forest and through part of Dartmoor National Park.

Mark cycling along the River Plym estuary, home to many birds
The half way marker
More threatening skies as we ride across the edge of Dartmoor

It was a great day out, and we left Plymouth keen to visit again. It is such an interesting city – with islands, forts, and a lot of history to explore. It’s on our list for a longer trip in the future.

A hot day dawned on Saturday so we had a chilled out day. Next month I have been invited to present at an online conference (for the Patient Centred Outcomes Research Institute – PCORI) about conducting research via the rare disease support group I run, so worked on my biography and presentation, while we caught up with the washing before the next rain arrives.

29 July – 2 August: A dalliance with Dorset

Author: Mr A

Location: Moreton, Weymouth, Bridport and Charmouth, Dorset

Arriving at our next campsite, another Camping and Caravan Club site, it was becoming “normal” to have to wait in the motorhome and be given a list of all things you couldn’t do because of the restitutions designed to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But the sun was shining and we tried to cast aside our concerns, deciding to catch the train into the nearby seaside resort of Weymouth. Not a place either of us had recalled visiting before when we lived in England, but the wow factor on this blue sky day was huge.

We walked around the old harbour area, I’m always fascinated by them, and not just because that’s always where the cafes and restaurants are (although that does perk me up), but its the history that seeps out off the buildings. What tales they could tell.

One of the loveliest harbours we have visited
On this stunning morning it could have been the Italian Riviera
A working fishing fleet

This town just had both of us gawking at it loveliness. It seemed to have just a great balance between feeling like a working harbour, and a place you would love to holiday in. It wasn’t until afterwards that we read it was the first place to record the Black Death arriving in 1348!

Extensive marina filled with glistening yachts
Fishing boats moored up alongside the jetty
Working fishing boat
Pleasure boats
A lovely coast walk, with views out towards Swanage

Once we moved around the edge of the harbour, walks opened up along the coast. The South West Coast walk for instance stretches for hundreds of miles in either direction from here.

Picture perfect
The bridge opening up to allow the yachts to head out to sea
We decide to treat ourselves to lunch at Rockfish

But our tummies told us it was time to pick a lunch spot, and after chatting to one of the locals, who turned out to be a London chef with a holiday house in town, we went to the restaurant he recommended. It was our first “flash” lunch since Sydney in February. It was so perfect, until they messed up the order and brought Catherine a dish that contained dairy. But once the error was pointed they were mortified, and wouldn’t let us pay for a thing! What exceptional service.

Some places just have a great vibe about them, and this was one of them. I even managed to get my eyes pressured checked on the spot – and all was well – a great relief.

Where in the world are we?

Every time we looked up and out at the sparkling ocean, we had to remind ourselves that we hadn’t been transported to some mediterranean resort. Well until you looked at the people wandering around – definitely Brits!

Pedestrianised town centre…

Next stop on the Dorset whistle stop tour tour close to the small town of Bridport. We had managed to find a space on a Caravan and Camping Club farm site. These are great places for us, with just a water tap, somewhere to empty your toilet waste, and on this one, mains power.

We could walk right from the site out onto the hills, and ended up doing an 18k circuit.

Walking alongside picturesque countryside
Lunch on top of a hill with panoramic views
No other people but a lot of friendly cows
Views down towards Charmouth and Lime Regis
A full body workout on this hike!
Following ancient pathways criss crossing the countryside
More friendly locals
The sea is tantalisingly close on this hike
Is this an extinct volcano we wonder? Apparently not – a sandstone hill and a local icon
Poppies
The trusty secateurs come in handy
The footpaths are certainly not well used – we have to tramp our way through plenty of undergrowth to work our way back

A little stiff, the following day a we pumped out a 39km cycle up through enough hills to give us decent workout, even with our batteries. People seem to think an electric bike is like a moped. You just twist the throttle. Some of them are. Ours are whats called “pedal assisted” – you get a little help – but you still need to work.

A quiet little bridleway keeping us away from the traffic as we explore across country
Fabulous views, our reward for all the uphill riding
Looking down at the little town of Charmouth, the English Channel glistening like diamonds in the sunshine
Catherston Leweston – and the grandest entrance gateway we have seen in a long while – apparently leading to an 18th century manor house

We then had the pleasure of a long, fast downhill into the small seaside town of Charmouth, heaving with school holiday visitors, but with almost no tourist development. The few cafes there were had massive queues for the standard fried fare. As usual we were relieved to have brought a picnic and a flask of tea.

Charmouth – looking west towards Lyme Regis
Charmouth – looking east towards Weymouth

This is a part of England‘s south coast that we will come back to and explore more, ideally when its not peak season. It has ingredients we love – walking cycling, and enticing pubs. Hopefully it will at least be when we can actually get in to a pub spontaneously and not have to book – as we were told we needed to at the one place we tried. Testing times.

Sun sets on our final night in Dorset…for now….
Truffy…out standing in his field (again)….

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!

13-19 July: Charging around…

Author: Mr A

Location: Bristol, Worcester (Gloucestershire), Gunthorpe (Nottinghamshire), Swinethorpe (Lincolnshire), Harby (Nottinghamshire), Kettering (Northamptonshire) and Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire)!

Yup..a lot of charging around the last couple of weeks, after so many months going nowhere!

Caroline and Ian cooked us a tasty chilli-con-carne at their home near Bristol

We left Bristol early, fortified with last night’s delicious chilli-con-carne served up by Catherine’s cousin Ian and wife Caroline, and dashed up to Worcester where our e-bikes were booked in for a service.

These guys at On-Bike have been an absolute delight to deal with both in the sales process and now with their excellent after sales service. They are so busy at the moment they have had to shut the shop to the public three days a week to give themselves a chance to build up more bikes ready to be shipped around the country to eager customers. It’s great to see them doing so well after years of hard work building the business up.

While the bikes were being given some remedial work, so was I, in the form of a much needed haircut! Catherine had been trying to keep me presentable, but it was time for a barber’s shop.

Most of the shops were open, and it was our first chance to have a wander around anything order than a supermarket since Vienna in early March. We found the experience a little daunting, not being able to try clothes on for instance, but I ended up with a pair of hiking trousers from my favourite clothes store, Rohan.

Worcester has rejuvenated in recent years with investment in pedestrianised areas

Worcester has put a lot of effort and money into its town centre over the last few years, and yet retained these beautiful facades.

The Hop Market Hotel – dates to the turn of the 20th century

That same afternoon we drove up to Nottinghamshire as we had booked our motorhome in for some work the next morning… or so I thought. We called in to drop off our old batteries, to find I had messed up the dates and we were due Thursday not Wednesday! I had organised our whole program as soon as lockdown was lifted in a frantic morning of phone calls to campsites and friends, and just got it wrong. So we had a day up our sleeve

We had decided to stay in the car park of a pub just over the road from them, the Unicorn at Gunthorpe, set in a lovely position by the river Trent. Unfortunately that‘s where the loveliness ended. We had a very sub standard meal, barely edible. The entrance we had come in by was deserted when we were trying to leave it, not a soul in sight, but the young lady on the door made us walk all the way round the pub, squeezing past tables of diners, to go out the “designated exit”. The next day I asked if there was anyone who was interested in our feedback and was told to fill out an on-line form. I asked again if there was anyone locally who had cooked the meal last night or who managed the pub who would like to hear, and was told again, fill out the on line survey. So I guess not. There are many pubs that no doubt that won’t survive this pandemic, Some it will be sad to see go, others not so much.

We took ourselves off for a walk along the river. What a tranquil escape from the network of busy roads that surround it. I am currently reading a history of the canal network in the UK, and now look at these river roads in a new light. For so many years they were the arteries that pumped the trade of heavy goods and raw materials around the country.

The Trent is England’s third longest river, and enabled goods produced in the industrial heartland of the Midlands to be transported down to the sea ports on the Humber estuary. The UK has over 2,000 miles of navigable waterway, and there are some future adventures right there me thinks.

Fabulous light at sunset
We spotted a curry house with great reviews along here , noted for future visits….
Truffy’s pub stay behind the Unicorn – those levelling legs are coming in handy
The path alongside the river goes for miles

In the late afternoon sun we drove over to see our friends up the road on the border of Lincolnshire, having booked at a campsite we had seen modestly signposted near their village many times but never actually visited. Well, we were in for a treat! What a hidden gem this was.

Camper UK Leisure Park had superb facilities (which were actually open, most are not). These guys had recently built a whole load of lovely wooden chalets and just opened them only for the very next day forced to close them under lockdown, so it was great to see the park busy once again. It should be a good season for campsites in the UK with most people staycationing. Hopefully they can recoup the losses from the spring and early summer to stay in business.

It was another early for us (before 7am) start, especially with a few too many wines under our belt from drinks with our friends the night before, and back to Gunthorpe and our motorhome dealer, Fuller Leisure. They had a loan car waiting for us, a spirited little Mini which I really enjoyed driving after the not so nimble Truffy. We had been suggested a visit to Belvoir Castle to fill our day while they worked on our vehicle. Off we went and had a decent enough wander round the country surrounding this impressive pile.

Many glimpses of the castle as we walked around, looming over the treetops
No steep hills on this hike
A view across the countryside to the village of Belvoir – pronounced ’beever’…

Looking at its history it was no surprise to see that what you see today is not really a castle, but a copy of one, rebuilt in “Gothic Romantic Revival” style, that for me just screams fake and cashed up, from one of the richest landowners in England the Dukes of Rutland.

We collected Truffy, hoping his warped bathroom door had now been fixed. Next we headed down to Northamptonshire (our third county that day!) and my hometown of Kettering.

Its a bit of ritual when visiting our friends there to head out for a curry, and what a feast this was. The Royal Bengal is an example of how well a dining experience can still be delivered under the current restraints. Superb food, attentive and friendly service, working espcially hard to make sure Catherine‘s dairy intolerance was catered for.

Dinner at The Royal Bengal in Kettering with Stuart and Karen Bonham

The following morning we enjoyed a much needed hangover breakfast in the garden, joined bymy great friend and second cousin Derry. His family own and run the care home that both my parents were so well looked after in. It has been a super stressful time for all of them as they navigate this pandemic. What heroic work has been done in this industry, and so poorly supported by, what sounds like, an incompetent county council. The people who work in these care homes, and their residents, deserve better.

Then we were off to Milton Keynes for a weekend with my daughters and grandies. This was the first time I had been able to see them since leaving the UK last year. What a brilliant weekend we had. Dinner Friday night at a lovely pub, excellent food and service once again, and a really good catch up with these two young chips off the very old block

Delicious pub dinner in Milton Keynes with the girls, including vegan cheese cake for Mrs A!

Then we had a short post dinner drive out to our campsite for the weekend near Buckingham. A field basically, with fresh water and a toilet dump point. No power, but with our new batteries the whole 12v system is now working really well. A bit of sunshine into the solar panels and we left with more power in the batteries than we arrived with. At £20 accomodation cost for two nights, we were happy!

Saturday morning saw Hayley (daughter number two) arrive with her boys Luke and James. Kites were flown, chases were had around the field, just perfect.

Hayley had acquired a new member of the family just before lockdown, the very photogenic Belle, a bichon frise puppy, and she enjoyed the new sights and smells of this farmland retreat.

Hayley had also spotted there was a winery not far away, so carted the boys back to MIlton Keynes, collected her sister and dashed back (she’s a dynamo!). Well this was my first sampling of English wine, Catherine has beaten me to it on a previous trip and was very positive. The winery had some good reviews (Chafor Estate) and we constructed our own tasting, sampling four of their wines. It was just lovely to do something like this with my daughters, especially since for Zoe it was her first opportunity to do some wine tasting.

A rosé, two whites and a red coming up… 3/4 got our vote….
Clover lined vineyards
Outdoor tasting room amongst the vines

The next morning we packed up and headed back into Milton Keynes and Zoe kindly hosted us for brunch. She takes after us in being a doting feline servant, to the stunningly coloured Simba. Then it was off to the park. Zoe lives right next to one of the many beautiful green corridors that wind their way through Milton Keynes. We saw red kites soaring overhead, and admired the way this new town has so matured since it was home to me 30 years ago.

So with the whole family in tow now, there was more chasing around and eventually…I wore them out!

Young ginger tabby, Simba, feeling proud it is a two mouse day…so far….
A red kite soars over the park behind Zoe and Mark’s home
Granddad Mark is required to play endless hours of robot tag with Luke and Jacob

It has been a hectic week, with more to come, but the joy of finally being able to reconnect with family and friends just so rewarding. It‘s hard to know how we divide our time up between our families, but it is definitely Catherine’s turn next!

6-12 July: Our love affair with Somerset continues

Author: Mrs A

Location: West Bagborough, East Quantoxhead, Mendip Hills, Somerset, UK

It was hard not to feel a little sad and apprehensive at our impending departure from West Bagborough, and the weather didn’t help either, with its chilly breeze and drizzly rain. With a little sunshine forecast for Monday afternoon we forced ourselves out of the house and down to East Quantoxhead for a walk.

We just love the scenery down there, and we had the whole area to ourselves. The wind was rather chilly, but when the sun came out and you were in a briefly sheltered spot you could have imagined it was summer!

Bridgewater Bay looking wild and windswept
Common Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
Teasels with a view
One very empty beach – all ours!

The beaches here might not have the squeaky fine white sands of Australian shores, but they are far more interesting. The tide goes out a long way here, revealing fossil filled rock pools, petrified forests, attracting herons and other fish-loving birds. The pink and mauve striped sedimentary rocks look like magnificent sculptures.

Mr A climbs up to see the St Audries Bay waterfall
The waterfall is little more than a trickle just now
Signs of times past in an old wall slowly being taken by the sea
Remnants of times when goods were transported by water
Our path – so much more we have yet to see
Nobody else here! We could hardly believe it
Literally can see the layers that make up this land here, raw and exposed
A perfect newly hatched tortoiseshell butterfly dries its wings in the breeze
Our final lingering glance at this stretch of coastline for a while
The 14th century church sits alongside medieval barns and the Court House – a grand mansion built nearly 800 years ago. The village is steeped in history

Our week was then largely spent making preparations to head on the road – getting Truffy packed up (it is amazing how everything somehow fits back in to him!), and returning the cottage to its former state, ready for the next holidaymakers to arrive.

We had some farewell drinks and fish and chips with our friends down at Quantock Camping, their site now bustling with visitors enjoying the luxury of personal toilet blocks, and also were invited for some wine and nibbles with our landlady, Jennifer.

Suddenly Friday morning was upon us, and we packed off our final bits and pieces, and hit the road.

Our first stop was the village of Cheddar in Cheddar Gorge. This is located in the southern Mendip Hills, and riddled with limestone caves. In the early 1900s a complete human skeleton was found in one of the caves here which was carbon dated as being about 9,000 years old.

This is also, of course, the location which first made Cheddar cheese – with documented evidence of its particular recipe going back to the 12th century. Apparently the caves in the gorge are the perfect temperature and humidity for maturing the cheese.

On our visit however, the caves and the museums showing the evidence of first humans were closed due to Covid-19, so we donned our hiking boots and took to the hills instead (Strava link).

Our circuit walk around the Cheddar Gorge valley

The climb up from the valley floor was rather steep, but once up on top we were rewarded with magnificent views, easily able to see the Quantock Hills and all the way down to Minehead.

A steep hike up to the gorge walls rewards us with some impressive views
Sitting on the edge of the gorge
The steep walls and caves are popular with climbers

We climbed along the top of the cliffs, enjoying the fabulous views and fresh air. Up on the cliff walls, delicately picking their way along the greenery, are a number of Soay Sheep. They are brown in colour (and rarely, patched with ginger!) and live here accepted as a feral flock. The sheep are native to islands off the coast of Scotland, and were released here in the early 90s, these days appreciated as lawn mowers, keeping the undergrowth in control.

Originally we intended to make a circuit around the other side of the gorge, but the primary access point, Jacob’s Ladder, was closed for repairs. Instead we wound our way back to the village down the road.

We later drove back up through here in Truffy – steep gradients and blind bends made for a lovely drive
A magnificent stone amphitheatre

Back in the village, a few of the local shops had recently opened to visitors – most importantly, the Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company. They still mature some of their cheddars in the caves, and Mr A could not resist a tasting.

Some of the very mature cheeses were quite stinky
A couple of unique purchases made – this is not your usual supermarket cheddar

Our destination for the night was the village of Priddy. Unlike the massive distances we are used to travelling in Australia, this is just 54km (33.5 miles) from our former cottage in West Bagborough – practically a day trip! We settled ourselves in for a peaceful night.

Saturday morning saw us pulling back on our walking boots and following a trail I had plotted on a new app I am using, Komoot. It’s a free app that allows you to plan and follow walking trails – I marked a 15km (9.5 miles) circuit (Strava link) from our camp to the village of Wookey Hole and back via Ebbor Gorge.

Our fabulous walk had us avoiding busy roads and was 90% across footpaths

In contrast to our Quantock Hills walks, the fields here were lined with stone walls, often with steps leading us up and over. The stone slabs were frequently shining from centuries of hands and feet.

Mr A climbs up the stone steps
We utilised many walkways including a pub tour – this one was the Monarchs Way which follows the escape route of Charles II after the battle of Worcester in 1651. It goes for 615 miles (just under 1000km) and is the longest inland footpath route in England
Gleaming fields of corn dotted with red poppies – we’ve still not seen a field of poppies like the ones in Italy last year (Umbria – see post here)
These are soldier beetles – as children we used to call these maters as they’re constantly copulating! It made me laugh to see an article referring to the same in The Times (headline: Nature: how the hogweed bonking beetle made a name for itself)
More incredible views – the hill in the centre is Glastonbury Tor, which we visited a few weeks ago
Heading down into Wookey Hole

Crossing fields with wonderful views we eventually began heading downhill into the village of Wookey Hole. The village centres around the Wookey Hole Caves, in which tools have been found dating back to the Palaeolithic times – around 45,000 years ago. As a child, I visited this area as part of a school trip – my memories limited to the Witch of Wookey Hole – a stalagmite that looks vaguely like a human who has been turned to stone.

Despite the caves being open, the thought of being trapped with crowds of people underground was not too appealing, so we headed to the local pub in search of lunch.

Mr A speeding up as he spots that lunch has just started at the pub
A red admiral butterfly savouring the last buddleia flowers in the pub garden

After half a pint and a sandwich in the pub garden we had to muster up the energy to head back to camp, knowing there would be a steep uphill. Our route took us to Ebbor Gorge Nature Reserve.

Mr A reads about the neolithic history within this gorge

The limestone gorge is very lush, with moss covered walls dripping with water. Like Cheddar Gorge, this is also popular with climbers and we passed a few as we hiked up.

Interesting colours where different mosses and lichens grow
Picking our way up through the gorge
A cluster of mushrooms growing on a rock

Upon reaching the top we found ourselves a quiet patch of field for a well deserved rest and drink of water.

Chilling out and enjoying another great view
A peacock butterfly on blackberry flowers

After two days hiking with rather steep climbs, we decided to do a somewhat tamer walk on Sunday (Strava link).

The diversion to the pub wasn’t quite on our circuit, but worth the effort!

Like the Quantock Hills, the Mendip Hills were a hotbed of activity back during the Bronze Age (and way before). Not far from our campsite are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds, known as barrows. These were created between 2200 and 1100 BCE, and originally were to be found all over the UK. Many were destroyed as towns built up, but a few survived.

The Priddy Nine Barrows are now protected, set in farmland. Having been here for between 3 and 4,000 years, it is not surprising to read they have been raided in the past, with a reverend during the 1800s making notes about his finds, which included amber and blue beads, cups, an arrowhead or spear and of course bones.

The mounds are not hard to spot in the field
The locals are custodians now…
There’s a great view from the top of the mounds
The cows like to climb up for a view as well
A herd of cows on two of the barrows

We continued our walk passing more barrows, the warm afternoon sun just perfect. Its the kind of weather where you could walk forever.

Foxgloves still flowering alongside the fields
Our path took us through what looks like marshland, but no water to be found – most drains through the limestone into underground streams

We wound our way over styles and walls, making our way back towards the main village of Priddy. The landscape is quite interesting here, often looking like it has been carved out by a raging river or moist marshland, but without the liquid which shaped it – changes likely caused by sinkholes and underground streams.

This whole area has an incredible history, The Romans were active here with evidence of diggings for lead. Being on top of limestone, there are also many caves, with maps showing a whole 16km network winding under the village.

Another wall conquered!

Given the pubs are now open, we found ourselves wandering through the village to our local – the Queen Victoria. They had rigged up fencing to ensure people only enter through one location, where we had to use alcohol hand gel and share a name and phone number before proceeding. Once in, we were allocated a red-tableclothed bench to sit at and our orders were taken. Half a cider each and a packet of ready salted crisps were then delivered to a blue-tableclothed table, and we had to collect them ourselves. Payment was by contactless card at arms distance. All very Covid-safe, but not quite the pub experience of old!

Cheers!

We stuck to the one drink before wandering back to camp for the evening.

Truffy in his natural habitat – doing well

It has been a brilliant commencement to our travels, which we began with great trepidation. So far we have found that people are mostly being sensible about distancing and staying healthy. We have quite a few people and places to visit in the coming days and weeks and now feel a little less nervous about our upcoming adventures.

26 June – 5 July: Emerging from (this?) lockdown

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Porlock Weir & Bridgewater Somerset, Honiton, Dorset, UK

This Friday we will be pulling out the driveway of our Somerset hideaway to once again hit the roads (click here for our planned upcoming locations). Our feelings are very mixed. We are looking forward to seeing family and friends, many of whom we’ve not had the opportunity to see yet in the flesh, but moving on from our protected little bubble will bring new risks as we move into areas of higher infection in the midlands in particular and interact with a wider number of people.

A reporter for the Guardian has spent the last couple of weeks driving around Britain interviewing people coming out of lockdown. We resonated with some of the themes that emerged. For instance, a determination to retain a focus on mental and physical health. For many people who have retained their positivity during lockdown they have credited this to regular exercise, and better eating and sleeping habits. We similarly are pleased with the amount of exercise we’ve been doing, and determined to not lapse back into sedentary ways when we are on the road.

Easier access to restaurants and pub grub is going to make it more of a challenge to continue the relatively healthy eating regime we have maintained, cooking almost all of our food from scratch. I take zero credit for this, other than being an appreciative consumer.

We have also been protected in this rural bubble from the noise and air pollution that many of Britain’s more urban environments suffer from, and we are going to find it a shock to return to the real world of heavy traffic and smog.

Fog not smog on a drizzly end of June morning….

But move on we must, and we have been busy trying to get our home on wheels ready to face the rigours of the road. Our main problem was that we lost all our 12 volt power, so no taps would work, no internal lights, the whole system was dead. We also noticed a very rotten egg type smell when we were working in there. Of course I was immediately blamed…but protested my innocence, and for once was proved guiltless. We did some research and eventually discovered that a dead battery if put under charge gives off a pungent aroma, as a precursor to then exploding!

We were lucky to find a local auto electrician to help us, everyone is so busy in lockdown fixing people’s vehicles that have been left idle. The guys at AD Auto-Electrical near Bridgewater were brilliant, quickly finding a wire on our alternator had been chewed though, presumably by mice when he had been left all alone on a farm in storage over the winter. They soon repaired it, then popped a couple of new batteries in, our motor home dealer, Fuller Leisure, agreeing to foot the bill even though strictly we were out of warranty. Good lads.

Super neat workshop and excellent service with a smile

We also managed to assess and repair some minor stuff ourselves, thanks to Catherine’s love of problem solving and a much more practical bent than my own. I did manage to fit a Heads-Up Unit to display speed directly onto the windscreen. It was so hard to read from the dashboard dial. It has worked very well so far, with no need now to take my eyes off the windscreen to make sure I am keeping under the multiple speed limits we constantly drive through. with speed cameras lining the roads.

We took an afternoon off jobs to walk another section of the South West Coast Path. We started from the small settlement of Porlock Weir, a small harbour with a documented use going back over 1,000 years. It wasn’t hard to imagine the regular waves of Danish and Irish invaders sailing up to the little jetty, with intentions ranging from trade to plunder.

A picturesque harbour village on the edge of Exmoor
When the tide is out there is no leaving this harbour
An old WWII pillbox slowly being swallowed by the beach

We spotted a little sign advertising local oysters, not a produce we expected to see in the western reaches of Somerset, so we plunged in to sample half a dozen.

Apparently a community initiative in 2013 led to Porlock Bay Oysters being the first oyster farm to achieve the top “Class A” certification in England and Wales. Another causality though of the closing of pubs and restaurants, they now have over 30,000 oysters plump and ready for eating, with their customers only just opening up. As with many businesses affected by lockdown, they are flexing their business models and trying to find new channels to market. In this case selling direct to the public. We loved our sample, easily beating for taste and texture the ones we tried in Normandy, although Scottish shellfish still sits up there for us.

Tick of approval from us! Yum!

The coast path led us up a steep track through woods smelling that unique pungent aroma you get from trees recently soaked with the showers that have persisted the last few weeks.

A young robin guides us along our pathway
The heavy grey clouds threaten rain, while the water is eerily still
A squirrel hides along side the path, pretending not to be there

We started to notice the remains of old walls and bridges, we learned later this is all that remains of the once grand coastal retreat for the first Lord Lovelace, married to the daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Not much remains of the once grand home, but what does certainly created an atmospheric backdrop to our wander.

Interesting green walled pathways
Tunnels and turrets make this like walking through a fairytale landscape
Mrs A tries out a stone seat set in the wall alongside the path

One of the Lovelace family also designed a grand gatehouse, which has been restored and sits over the entrance to what is now a quirky tourist attraction – a scenic toll road that winds its way a few miles along this beautiful stretch of coast. Our slightlly plump Truffy wont be fitting through that arch!

The toll booth with is thatched roof makes an interesting landmark
Hydrangeas line a picturesque stream alongside the toll road

This little walk was full of surprises. Next came England’s smallest parish church in the tiny village of Culbone.

The church and its font are more than 800 years old
Not many pews in here, and they look like you would get splinters!

Unfortunately we had run out of time and had to retrace our steps. Another place on the list to come back to, sometime in our unknown future…

The tide had come in while we were out walking
More storms approaching

Back at our little cottage which sits in the grounds of the rather grand main house, we had organised a bit of a celebration for the owner. Jenny had just had built a little folly in the garden. Well, not one to miss an opportunity for a decent glass in these stunning gardens, I suggested it should have a grand opening. With her friend down to stay for the weekend, our host concurred and a very pleasant evening was had gazing our over the Somerset countryside this property has such commanding views of.

We declare this folly open! Mr A joined by Julie, Jennifer, Billy-Boy and Mrs A
The sun going down over the hills

We also took a trip over the nearby Blackdown Hills to the small town of Honiton to visit a long-time friend of Catherine’s and her family. So many families have experienced tragedy thanks to this virus, and theirs was no exception, so it was an afternoon of laughter mixed with tears, with a very long and thoughtfully prepared lunch culminating in a dairy-free sponge cake, just so Catherine could join in and enjoy it. We also got a much needed feline fix from their gorgeous cat Worcester.

Karen and Worcester relaxing in the summer house

We were then able to return the favour when they came over to our place. We were treated to freshly baked scones, with jam and cream – our first cream tea this year – hopefully not the last!

Dan and Karen are joined by Sonny and Oliver – about to celebrate their 9th birthdays
Team photo by the pool – nobody braved the chilly waters this week though!
Tickles with dad

We also managed to celebrate the opening of pubs on the 4th July by popping down our nearest local for a couple of pints. It was great to see how hard they had worked to flex their arrangements, building a new outdoor bar, counting heads coming in to make sure there was sufficient room to keep our distance, taking down phone numbers for their participation in the Covid-19 track-and-trace scheme and lots of new outdoor seating and cover. Well done to the Farmers Arms.

Beer and pork scratching….what’s not to love?!

So as we start to pack up the cottage its hard to not feel nervous about what awaits us, but it‘s time to go. Saying goodbye to this welcoming community, and hoping one day we can work a return to this little slice of paradise into our travels.

17-25 June: Counting down our final weeks in West Bagborough

Author: Mrs A

Location: Watchet, West Bagborough, Dulverton, Somerset & Putsborough, Devon, UK

June continued its mixed weather with two days of solid rain. forecast. We took advantage of the final dry day for a little while and drove down to Watchet to walk some of the coast walk, intending to go to a town intriguingly called Blue Anchor.

It was an overcast day so there were few people about, and we saw nobody on the walk, which followed the cliff top with lovely views.

Looking along the coast towards Minehead
The former site of Daws Castle
Cinnabar moths covering the thistles in the meadow
Warren Bay – another fossil filled beach

We walked as far as we could along the coast before reaching a coastguard barrier – not far beyond this the cliff had collapsed into the sea, apparently happening in early March. The diversion inland didn’t really appeal with the impending storms, so we made it a short walk and returned to Watchet – just 6.5km. Blue Anchor remains a mystery for now!

With extra time up our sleeves, we decide to drive over to Dunster again, to have a better look at the town. Mr A was also hoping the Rohan outdoor gear shop was open, now that clothes stores had been given permission to serve customers again, but unfortunately this store remained closed.

The old yarn market
The closest we could get to Dunster Castle with the building and grounds closed to visitors
Built predominantly in the 15th century, the Priory Church of St George also has 12th and 13th century work within it

Tuesday’s downpour arrived as scheduled. Fortunately I was busy helping with a medical research project which took up a lot of my time, and Mr A delved deeper into investigating his family tree, unearthing new names and histories on his mother’s side.

During a break in the wet weather we had an impromptu visit from two of the friends we have made here, Karen and Jane Ayre who run the caravan park down the road. During lockdown they have been training a young pony, Vinnie, which will eventually be sold to a family for a young child to learn to ride. He’s quite small and very gentle, and even Mr A (who has a fear of horses) was brave enough to give him a stroke.

Vinne hasn’t yet learned that eating with a bit in one’s mouth just is not done!
Karen and Jane on their pony training walk

After a couple of days of enforced rest we were itching to get out and about again. So on Friday decided to jump in Truffy and head back over to Exmoor and the small town of Dulverton.

Mr A navigated the narrow lanes brilliantly, barely flinching as we squeezed between old stone houses and parked cars as we found our way to a parking spot beside the eighteenth century Marsh Bridge on the outskirts of town.

We set off on a circuit walk (Strava link), following the River Barle into town.

A nice big parking spot for Truffy alongside the river
Following the River Barle – it’s quite swollen and fast moving after all the rain
The greens are extra vivid after a good watering
Mrs A
Looking down at Dulverton from the footpath
Crossing over the 18th century bridge into town
Little cobbled streets need a little weeding
Another view of the oldest medieval bridge on Exmoor
We take a different path on our return route, and spot a sign directing us to a hill fort
We wound our way up the hill through the woods
Not much left to see here now, but this was the fort, otherwise known as Oldberry Castle back in the Iron Age (around 3,000 years ago)

The showers dissipated totally by the weekend, allowing us to get out for a muddy walk locally on Saturday. Again, the colours seemed all the more vibrant for being freshly watered.

Amazing skies at the back of West Bagborough

We were just walking up through the village on our way home, when we noticed a couple of our neighbours having socially-isolated drinks on their front lawn. We were invited over to join them, and soon our plans for making curry and relaxing with Netflix were out the window.

Neighbours Ian and Caroline keep ducks, and I get some cuddle time with a little duckling

My cousin Ian and his family, Caroline, Emilia and Leo, drove down from Almondsbury for the afternoon on Sunday. We were so excited to see them – not only the first family we’ve seen since mid March, but the first time I have seen them in six years! I am sure we all looked older, but especially this children – I have not met Leo before, and Emilia was a baby in a high chair last time!

Thankfully the rain held off so we enjoyed Father’s Day cake and tea in the courtyard before a short stroll around the village and surrounds.

Emilia and Leo are well versed in posing for photos it seems
Great chance to catch up and share stories
Emilia decides the water is a little too fresh…they both change into wetsuits and have fun in the pool
All too soon it is time to say goodbye with plans afoot for another catch up soon…

It was a fun afternoon, but as we waved them farewell, we took note to ensure we don’t have sore heads next time we encounter excited children!

On Monday we took our bikes exploring around some of the local villages and lanes – there are some incredible buildings around here. One of them, multi-million pound Denzel House has just been sold to a London-based electronics importer apparently – as we rode past ogling, we saw several people working on improvements to the grounds.

The overall ride was lovely, and we took in the whitewashed village of Stogumber which sounds to me like something you’d chop up and serve in salad. Apparently the name is derived from Stoke (meaning dairy farm in old English) and the surname Gunner (presumably the owner of the dairy?).

The local pub is doing fish and chips and a two pint take-out
The white cottages look brilliant against the blue skies
Love riding down these green tunnels

It was while we were our riding that we heard the welcome news from Boris announcing that from 4 July campsites could open (as well as pubs, hairdressers, other holiday accomodation and so on – as long as they are ‘Covid-secure’). I say welcome, but it comes with mixed feelings. The opening up means returning to the stress of finding a place to stay, potentially mingling with other people, and leaving our new friends in this haven within the Quantock Hills. I for one have a little bit of nervousness about what the coming weeks will bring.

So this week the chaos began, the mad dash to try and find campsites with space for us in locations we would be interested in visiting. I would liken it to trying to find tickets to see The Rolling Stones, with everyone selling out almost immediately and if you’re lucky you get the last two on offer. Although unlike getting tickets to one band, we have to go through it again and again booking up the coming few weeks.

We gave ourselves a break on Tuesday afternoon to head back to the western Quantocks, and parked Truffy up by Crowcombe Gate, taking our second walk in this area.

The heath and bracken looked healthy and lush after the rain, and most of the soil well drained. We admired the views we have seen from many angles over the past three months, never tiring of that magical feeling this area brings.

Can you spot Truffy? Outstanding in his field…
Such a stunning area – we will miss these walks
The heather is starting to bloom, looking spectacular
Few trees dot the area, and those that do could tell many tales
Loving this region
Still the odd puddle around

Wednesday promised to be a hot day, with temperatures climbing up in to the early 30s. We decided that cycling would be the coolest activity (other than swimming in our pool, and who wants to spend the day doing that?!), so we found a cycleway by the coast so we might enjoy some sea breezes and perhaps a dip in the water.

We drove to Barnstaple in Devon and parked up. Our intention was to ride the Tarka Trail in the other direction, towards Woolacombe. Off we set on off-road cycle lanes, which soon turned into country lanes (Strava link).

Mark cycles alongside the River Taw
A gold finch collects feathers to line a nest

The path’s signage was a bit misleading, and soon we had to ask for directions from a couple of other cyclists. We soon realised that the Tarka Trail was no longer following old rail tracks, but now had become the Sustrans route 27 cycleway, which shared narrow country lanes with cars. We found ourselves pulling off regularly to let vehicles past, but people were friendly and grateful, not aggressive towards us.

As always, we were pleased for our electric motors, with some decent gradient hills along our ride, especially in the heat.

Looking down over to Croyde Beach

Our destination for the day was Putsborough, the quieter and less commercialised end of Woolacombe Beach. The coast walk comes along here, and by the looks of it would be spectacular and ever so quiet.

The car park and sole café was doing good business, but once you were on the beach people were well spread apart with plenty of social distancing (quite unlike the newspaper headlines for that day!).

Our first view of Putsborough and Woolacombe beaches

I left Mr A on a bench with the bikes and went for a stroll across the sands and a paddle in the water. It is a perfect beach for children with warm rock pools and soft sand of the ideal consistency for sandcastles. The water wasn’t that cold considering we are in the UK (though I didn’t go in for a swim – the water is between 15-19°C!).

Pickwell Manor up on the hill behind the beach has commanding views
The green cliffs reach down to the sand

The ride back to Barnstaple was equally lovely, with plenty of water drunk.

Mr A cruises up a hill
Fields of corn on our cycle home
Back on the riverside trail

Fish and chips from our favourite chippy in Taunton (Sea Bass Fish and Chips) were our reward for our efforts, enjoyed in Truffy at the side of the road. Perfect!

And so on Thursday we decided to make a concerted effort to get all of our bookings locked in for the next few weeks. Priority had to be seeing family, as it seems crazy we haven’t even seen Mark’s daughters and the grandchildren since October last year.

After a lot of phone calls, messages and waiting for websites to work, we have confirmed the following locations which will take us up to September. Phew!

Let us know if you want to meet up at any of these locations!

We know this has missed out a few people, but we don’t leave the UK until early November, so hopefully will have an opportunity after the summer craziness!

10-16 June – Time accelerates in lockdown?

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Glastonbury, Exmoor & East Quantoxhead, Somerset, UK

We have both commented that the weeks and even months we have been in lockdown seem to be flashing past. I was puzzling about this and remembered reading something about how the perception of time accelerates as we get older. So that may account for why I am expereincing this phenomenon, you chuckle, but how about the “child bride” Catherine, as my friends endearingly have called her?

So here’s my take. One of the reasons that older people do experience the passing of time differently (well documented if you fancy going down that rabbit hole – start at the Wikipedia page) is that for them (“us” if you insist), new events are in shorter supply. We have seen it and done it. Our brains find it no effort to process those routine events, so as we pay less attention time appears to pass more quickly.

In lockdown for us, and I suspect many others, the days pass with little differentiation in activity, and it‘s all low stress, so the brain doesn’t engage too much in deciding which flavour of Pukka tea to have this morning. or do we turn right or left out the gate on our walk today.

However, the last week has brought two new activities into our lives. A book club and family genealogy. One of the things I really miss in lockdown is just shooting the breeze with friends, often over a glass of something. Digital catch ups for me are always more stilted, lacking the comfortableness of being able to pause and reflect, and gauge from body language how the other parties are reacting. Often the subject of conversation is books or article one of us has read, so after starting a particularly good read I decided to float the idea of an online book club amongst these friends. We had our first Zoom based hook up. Given the constraints of the medium it seemed to work for us.

The book chosen was the new best seller from Rotger Bregman, Humankind. Essentially it is an analysis of our basic nature, is it kind or is it cruel? It offers fascinating revisionist history on events and phenomena we thought we knew and understood.

Our inaugural book club read – want to join us? Read up to part 3 and join our next discussion on Friday 26 June

The other new activity that has helped time slow down a little and provide new stimulus, has been researching my family tree. Inspired by cousins of mine and Catherine. Catherine’s cousin Karen has been able to trace back theirs, to the the 1700’s in Orkney. Her family history is full of talented artists, rich merchants and military leaders. Some even have dedicated Wikipedia pages.

In contrast my ancestors (that I’ve tracked so far), have not broken out of the abject poverty of farm labouring, crammed into boarding houses with other families (16 of them in one case) except for a great grandad and uncle who both ran fish and chip shops, which perhaps explains my fascination for a well cooked plate of this English fare. More on this as our respective stories unfold.

I have never shown the slightest interest in my family history to date, I am ashamed to say, but whatever brain chemistry clicked into place during lockdown I’m so glad it did. I’m finding it hugely interesting and so grateful for the discretionary time to tackle it.

However, it hasn’t been all indoor sports, and our usual diet of walks only briefly held back by more typical changeable weather. We decided to check out Glastonbury, famous for its namesake the Glastonbury Festival, which isn’t actually held near the town, and that pretty much says it all. We found it an uninspiring, slightly run down place full of New Age nonsense shops (sorry but.. really…), however the local bakery did catch my attention!

A pasty and vegan sausage roll coming up thank you very much

The pubs were all still closed, but one caught Catherine’s eye given its distinctive facade. It turns out to be the oldest in south-west England.

The George and Pilgrim Hotel dates back to 1439 and is apparently the oldest pub in the south-west of England. The carvings over the door show the coat of arms of Glastonbury Abbey and those of King Edward IV.
Glastonbury Market Cross dates to 1846

We quickly donned our boots and escaped the thundering lorries that sadly hadn’t yet been routed out of the High Street in this town and dashed up the hill that rises up over the flat surrounding countryside of the Somerset Levels. Glastonbury Tor is a natural hill emanating of erosion, although a lot of twaddle has been written by New Age “scholars” about the function of the terraces that wind up its steep slope. I’m not going to even credit them by repeating what they say. The actual archaeology of the site does though remain clouded in the mists of the Neolithic though, like so much of our history from that period. For us it was sufficient to sit with our mugs of tea and quietly contemplate the fabulous 360 degree views.

A robin welcomes us to the base of Glastonbury Tor
Climbing up – short and sweet but rather steep
St Michaels Tower – all that remains of a church built here in the 14th century
Stormy skies surround us, but it remains dry where we are
Looking towards the south-east, enjoying a cup of tea
The Tor is a fabulous viewing point, and shrouded in legend, myth and mystery
Walking back towards town

With the novelty of inclement weather, we did an afternoon’s drive around the lanes and villages of Exmoor, our first excursion to this area. While it was a little too wet and cold to do too much walking, we did enjoy the sights, and managed to find a cute little deli in the village of Dunster that we’re sure to return to.

More rain on its way
The Deli in Dunster – only been open a few months, and most of that time we’ve been in lockdown – selling lots of local produce – we picked up some local cheese and cider

One walk that will forever remain in my mind from this week was the coastal ramble that forms a very tiny part of the “English Coast Path” (how did they think of that one?). I had no idea England had a path all the way round it..and it doesn’t…yet. When completed, in theory this year (in practice I doubt it, with the competition for funding in the recession that is going to hit the UK hard) it will be 2,795 miles in length (around 4,500 km).

Currently, various sections are open (click here for more details) and conveniently one of them is on our doorstep. I think this area must be one of the most well served in the world by long distance trails for walking and riding, quite amazing and a credit to the foresight of several governments, and the popularity here of getting out into this beautiful countryside.

We started our walk from a car park at East Quantoxhead, a small settlement a little way back from the coast. It was our first time on a bit of grass since we had our awning fitted in March, so much to the amusement of our fellow car park neighbours we rolled it out to check all was working.

Truffy looking lovely with his new awning out

Looks pretty good, however it‘s a reminder of our aborted plan to have spent the summer cruising through the hot climates of Spain and Portugal. We quickly roll it up again and put that thought behind us.

Marvelling at the wonderful views, yet again
The grasses gleam as we walk towards the coast

We wandered up to the cliff edge and gazed down the coast. I really can’t remember such a heart lifting view. We overhead a fellow walker exclaim “It looks more like a picture than real life”, and he wasn’t wrong.

The pebbly beach was pretty busy as there was a car park close, but as usual once again, no more than a 10 minute walk from the reach of a car and the population thins out to a spattering of smiling fellow trampers.

Looking along the coast towards Minehead
The rock platform at East Quantoxhead
Apparently lots of reptile fossils are to be found here if you look hard enough
A small ammonite fossil on the rock platform

Wild flowers, including orchids, were everywhere, the Quantock Hills, providing a stunning backdrop. No wonder this was the first place in the UK to be given a classification of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Anacamptis pyramidalis – Pyramidal Orchid
Far from the madding crowd…
A large ammonite fossil built into a garden wall

So we think our time here is drawing to a close, our little cottage is rented from July 12th, so we have to be out by then, but there’s no date yet for campsites to reopen, so that‘s introducing some challenges to our forward planning! Fingers crossed the government gets its new guidelines for them out in time, but its looking less likely I think.

A showery day gives us a break for a 8km walk around the hills
The sun brightening up the recently watered meadows
Fresh wild roses in the hedgerows attract many bees
Tine to speed up home as the next downpour approaches
Raining over Exmoor
The path ahead is clear…through this field at least!