14-17 November: Reconnecting with the Zoners

Author: Mrs A

Location: Beechworth, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: We are extremely fortunate that on our travels around Australia, and especially since owning a Zone RV caravan, we have met some wonderful people. So we were quite excited to learn (while sheltering from wind and rain back in Scotland a month or so ago), that there was to be a Zone Owners Muster to be held in Beechworth, Victoria just after we were back in Australia, and some of our friends would be attending.

We drove south from Rutherglen, arriving in Beechworth mid morning. Beechworth is an old gold mining town, originally settled in the mid 1880s. It was in 1852 that gold was discovered in the region, transforming a sleepy rural area by 8,000 people. The gold rush didn’t last long, but fortunately a forward thinking council at the time invested in infrastructure including a hospital and gaol which lasted until the late 1990s, ensuring the continued life of the centre.

The Zone muster was held at Sambell Lake, at a caravan site there. The lake used to be an open cut gold mine in the 1800s, and during the 1920s was regenerated to create a nature reserve. As we drove in, a koala bounded across the road in front of us and swiftly clambered up a tree beside us. We then spotted our friends Diane and Mark waving enthusiastically in a crowd of other Zoners, and drove off to park up before joining them and saying hello to the others.

The late afternoon Zone catch up getting kicked off

It wasn’t a late night – I had a shocking sore throat, fighting a virus.

Sunset over the lake

Friday: Our friends Diane and Mark hired bikes at the caravan park, and the four of us set off on the Murray to the Mountains cycle trail which starts at the park. My battle against the virus had been lost in the night and I woke with a horrible head cold that gradually got worse throughout the day.

Diane, Mark, Mr A, Mrs A – ready to explore

We rode a short way along the trail, stopping when a steep downhill faced us. Already having a narrow airway and now blocked nose and swollen sore throat, I wasn’t up to cycling uphill again without a motor! Pennyweight Winery located beside the path saved the day and we called in for a tasting.

Downhill from Beechworth….
After only 5km we find the Pennyweight Winery – most of us are happy for a taste – Mark less keen as he’s more of a beer drinker…
Some tasty drops at this boutique winery

Several delicious whites, reds and fortified drops later, we bought a couple of bottles and rode back into Beechworth for lunch and some beer tasting at the Bridge Road Brewers (to make Mark happy!).

The Bridge Road Brewers

Saturday: I woke up with the full force of the cold hitting, constantly sneezing and generally feeling awful, head pounding and working my way through several boxes of Aloe Vera tissues. Mr A and Mark took off on our bikes for another ride.

My day was very subdued, while Mr A was more social and did some sorting out of our bits and pieces in the car, reacquainting himself with what we have here in Australia. Its the challenge with maintaining two mobile homes on different sides of the planet – you think you have something, only to remember its in the other hemisphere! Ah, first world problems…!

Miss Tassie enjoyed having me around to keep her company
Miss T demonstrates the best way to recover from a cold in the afternoon sunshine

I was persuaded to leave the caravan mid afternoon and have a stroll around Beechworth, Diane and Mark bravely allowing me and my germs into their car. We browsed the gold centre (plenty of gold for sale) and Mr A’s favourite type of gold, a huge traditional sweet shop.

A fabulous scrap metal sculpture of a gold panner outside the Gold centre
Mr A with a look on his face that strongly reminds me of one of his grandsons….! (Luke!)

I concluded the day with an early night, while Mr A joined the Zoners for dinner at back at the Bridge Road Brewery.

Sunday: Another fine day in Beechworth, and a turning point in my cold. I felt a little more energetic and so we jumped in the car and drove a short way out of town to the Mount Pilot Lookout – a sandstone outcrop surrounded by eucalyptus forest. We climbed up and were rewarded with magnificent 360 degrees views across the region.

You can see for miles from up here
We imagine people have climbed up to this point for hundreds of years
Taking a moment to enjoy the view
A beautiful Sunday morning
Blowing my nose for ten millionth time on the hike down!

The flies were out in force, with giant horseflies landings hungrily on our bare legs, so we didn’t hang around at the top.

We moved on to check out Woolshed Falls, once the centre of the goldfields with thousands of prospectors camped along Spring Creek. Again the flies were there to greet us, so we didn’t hang around to entertain them.

Woolshed Falls…there is still gold here for those prospectors who have time and skill to find it…
Tassie took me for a very short walk around the campground on our return

In the afternoon, Mr A, Mark, Diane and I joined another group of Zoners at Beechworth’s second brewery, Billson’s.

This brewery was quite different from the first. They are very friendly and immediately welcomed us and invited us to taste the cordial selection, while giving us a run down of the history and work they are putting into the business. We tried shots of the gin as well. Downstairs in the basement, a speakeasy bar complete with leather chesterfield sofas offered beer tasting and sales.

Who are these clowns?
Doing a little cordial and sparkling water tasting
Mark, Mark – dog with cleft lip…Apparently a Mark joke (heard this often…yawn)
Enjoying a gin with Diane and one of the other Zone owners…don’t look too closely at my sore pink eyes and nose!

Mr A also concluded he preferred the beer at this brewery, having hit a winner on his first try, compared with trying 6 different beers at the other place and not being that keen on any. He is sure to keep researching though!

We had a couple of wines around the campfire with the Zoners before another quiet and early night back in the van. We are wild things!

It’s such a shame a virus killed my energy and ability to be more social this weekend – Zone owners always tend to have so many great tips for travel and frequently have many years of travel experience to share as well. Fortunately Mr A felt well enough to be more sociable than me and has come away having learned a few things, and our existing friendship with Mark and Diane strengthened as well. All in all a great weekend, and a new virus added to my immune system!

11-13 November: Back in the Zone and off to Victoria!

Author: Mr A

Location: Nowra, Braidwood & Woomargama NSW, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia

Monday: It was time to bid goodbye to Sydney for a few weeks and hit the road. We picked an interesting time to travel with 70kmh winds, dust storms and clouds of flies that reminded us that the great Australian outdoors has many facets, and not all of them make it to the tourist brochures.

We had stored our caravan south of Sydney in Nowra and found it all cleaned and ready to go. A big thanks to Mark Daley of Caravan Cover Up for the great service. He had helped us organise some much needed body and paint work to be carried out on the Landcruiser, and also taken our bikes for service. If you need storage he’s a great option south of Sydney. He even picked us up from the station! So we found everything in working order, batteries charged and fridge on ready for supplies to be loaded.

We headed inland to Braidwood and stayed there for the night at the showground, sheltering from the fierce wind and dust storms. It was cosy though in the van and it was lovely to spend the evening with Tassie all snuggled up with us.

Miss Tassie getting back in the swing of adventuring by Zone RV

Tuesday: The next day we did a big drive down to just north of Albury on the border with Vicotoria, finding a great spot for the night in a rest area at a small settlement called Woomargama. Clean toilets and a peaceful night, that was all we needed.

The little settlement of Woomargama, home to the endangered Squirrel Glider
Our home for the night – quiet and level near clean toilets
Woomargama is nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills
An early evening stroll through the sleepy back streets
Towering gum trees
Shadows stretch across the fields
Lovely views framed by eucalyptus

Wednesday: We were keen to get back on our bike saddles, so had seen there was a rail trail leading from Rutherglen, which was also the centre of small wine region in northern eastern Victoria. That ticked two boxes for us, so we settled in to a camp site right on the edge of town by lunch time.

Miss T sunbathed in a camp chair while we got the bikes ready for a ride

Reading the Rutherglen web sites on the way down we were filled with high expectations.

…”Keep your baskets & bags empty as you will be picking up delicious treats and treasure along the way….”
….”outstanding restaurants and cafes……a perfect cycling holiday destination….”

We should have been a little more cautious in our optimism given our previous experience with these tourism pages and the reality of what often we found on the ground. We headed to the tourist information centre on our bikes, and joked as we went in that there was no cycle stands which seemed odd in this “cycling Mecca”. We were asked where we had read that it was…we said…on your web site. Looks were exchanged, and one of the ladies said she had hand drawn a map of the where the rail trail was and shared that!

We asked if any of the wineries on the trail (we had read there were “numerous world class wineries” on it) that she could recommend for lunch . She said…well actually none of them are on the trail…and as it was 2pm they would have stopped serving. We started to get an uneasy feeling of déjà-vu. We asked where in town we might eat. The second place she mentioned was a pie shop and the first turned out to be closed. She said, “well we have a great cafe here”. We had seen the sign outside “gourmet lunches served 12-3pm”, so we went though and settled ourselves down at a table. Eventually a young lady came out and when we asked for menus said “Oh we’ve stopped serving food now”…at 2.15pm.

We rode through town, and other than the pub found the pie shop the only place open. One soggy sausage roll and a pie the meat content of which a vegan would be proud of, and we left Rutherglen really disappointed.

We started riding down the rail trail, even that was a bit of let down. A long straight bit of gravel though uninspiring scenery again didn’t square with the hype from the tourist web site claims.

Ploughing into a strong headwind along the rail trail – missing our little eBike motors

We persevered into a head wind, and decided to take pot luck on a winery signed off the trail..3.5kms. We rang ahead to confirm it was open and a very cheery fellow said yes they were open and he’d love to offer us a tasting. Things were looking up, and just got better and better!

142 years of winemaking has taken place here

Stanton and Killeen winery turned out to be a real find. We worked our way though an extensive tasting list, ranging from a white variety we had never heard of (Alvarinho) to a sparkling tempranillo. They also had classic Rutherglen shiraz and both straight and blended Durif. Interestingly they had consciously moved away from growing some of the varieties that need function best in moist cool climates (like Rieslings) and instead focused on these Iberian varietals from Spain and Portugal that would be more robust in our changing climate.

Upon spotting Catherine’s camera, Rob offered us a peek around their “back stage” and we jumped at the chance. They had massive 120 year old well seasoned barrels for their many and varied fortified wines, as well as new French oak ones

Years of history can be seen from the cobbles on the floor to the old barrels
Rob shares stories of the fermenting vats
Stacks of barrels all chalked up
Some rather large barrels
A new tasting area where group visits are invited to make their own blend of fortified wine
Love the smell of these old barrels
Especially this one which contains muscat

We were then into tasting the fortified wines for which this region is globally famous. They had a luscious white port that is designed to be served chilled as an aperitif, then the smooth Tokays and muscats that make it onto fine dining menus the world over. It was also refreshing to hear that the winery was having success in the Chinese market, given how challenging others had described it to be.

We decided to pick these up in the morning rather than cycle the 10km back with them!

Despite being a little tight for space in the Zone we thought we could squeeze in a few bottles…

Rode back via the old Rutherglen Distillery ruins which date back to the 1890s
Mr A rides back to Rutherglen along the rail trail

Stanton and Killeen, you saved Rutherglen’s brand, in our minds at least, and then the next morning another gem of a find, the local butchers. There is nothing quite like a quality country town butchers. The Rutherglen Meat Co Butchery was a delight to shop in. From my years in sales, and keeping up with the research into what makes people buy, I can only encourage people who want to sell things to be as enthusiastic and sincere as this lady is about her products. She asked questions, built rapport, and offered suggestions about things to do unrelated to buying her product. Brilliant. We packed up the Zone and moved on south towards Beechworth via the winery to pick up our goodies…

1-10 November: A very warm welcome on our return to Australia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia (including La Perouse, Maroubra, Malabar, Centennial Park, Coogee and Matraville)

We landed safely in Sydney on Saturday morning, an hour earlier than expected due to favourable winds from Singapore (nothing to do with Mr A and curry eating for once!), met by our lovely friend Jenny.

Jenny and David have again kindly invited us to stay with them for the week in their apartment, while we get ourselves settled in and tasks done in Sydney.

We spent the day getting reacquainted with Miss Tassie who quickly forgave us for leaving her, given we had appointed such caring foster parents in our absence, and later on cracked open our last bottle of Champagne from our trip to Epernay in France, carefully saved and transported back around the world. We enjoyed it with some Sydney Rock Oysters – definitely some of the most flavoursome oysters we have tasted, and high on the list of things we have missed from Australia.

Cheers! Our last bottle of boutique champagne from Jacquinot & Fils, Epernay. This retails for $75 a bottle in Australia – $34 at the cellar door in France

Sunday saw the four of us strolling down to La Perouse for brunch at the Boatshed, a beachside restaurant. La Perouse is situated at the northern end of Botany Bay, named after a French navigator who landed here in 1788.

The Boatshed restaurant behind us, busy on a warm Sunday morning
Pied cormorants having a clean on the bayside rocks
Bare Island – a fort on here was built in 1885 to protect Sydney’s ‘back door’ from Russian invasion – these days you can book a tour on Sunday afternoons
Compared to what we have seen in Europe, this bridge seems relatively modern, at just 130 years old
Crossing over the bridge to Bare Island
Sydney Sandstone – the bedrock that Sydney and surrounds is built on, used to be an ancient river. It is a very durable rock, and quite distinctive for the ripples of sand and deposits that are visible in the rock. Apparently it is possible to find gold in these rocks.

Jet lag plagued us for most of the week, allowing us to see some fabulous sunrises (sadly, much of Australia’s east coast bush land is on fire, smoke streaking the skies), and try to resist afternoon naps!

Good morning Monday…5am looked like this if you slept through!
Tassie gave us some yoga tips on how to stretch out after our long flight – this manoeuvre is called ‘downward cat’…

On Tuesday morning Mr A had his eyes checked using the best equipment in Australia, again getting the all clear that his pressures remain stable. It’s always a relief to know that his eyesight has been maintained, and one less worry for us health wise.

A half hour walk from Jenny and David’s apartment on Wednesday took us down to Malabar, a beachside suburb we have never visited before. It’s a real haven away from the traffic and very picturesque, reminding us just how quickly you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city in these parts.

Clearly fishing is a favoured activity by the locals here with plenty of vessels waiting to be launched at the boat ramp
Only the thick skinned were braving the cool temperatures in the sea-pool
A reminder we are back in Australia with a snake warning
Calm waters at Malabar beach and some early morning sunbathers

There were even people swimming in the ocean there – though at 17 degrees slightly too nippy for us softies!

After a haircut later in the day, we met up with friends Clive and Aisha for cocktails and dinner at Fei Jai, a Cantonese restaurant in Potts Point.

We had a literal feast, having ordered a banquet menu, and rolled out into an Uber back home at the end of the evening, having laughed lots and had a great catch up.

Lots of smiles with our friends

Thursday morning started with a dentist visit, followed by a much anticipated appointment with our trusted financial advisor, Paul Brady, to check we could still continue to live our life of world travels. We discussed a few thoughts for the future and got some great advice from Paul. Most importantly our nomadic lifestyle can continue!

Friday saw us travelling down to Nowra, south of Sydney, to where our car and caravan are stored. We caught a train and enjoyed the 4 hour journey down the sparkling coastline. Everything appears to be all in good order, and after Truffy, the Zone looks huge! We collected the car and drove back up to Sydney.

Later that day we bussed into the city and joined our friends John and Eveliene for drinks and dinner. Again it was so lovely to catch up on all their news over some tasty food and wine.

Australian-Thai fusion at Long Chim

Feeling thoroughly spoilt by all the love from our friends, we were treated yet again on Saturday. We began the day joining Jenny as she walked a friend’s dog, Jaffa, in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Sydney reminded us that it is still spring, with cool 15 degrees temperatures and a chilly breeze – stark contrast to temperatures in the early 30s when we landed last weekend.

Mr A hugging himself to keep warm while tough kiwi Jenny stands there in short sleeves. Jaffa just loves being out for a walk
Located just 3km from Sydney’s CBD, the 360 hectares of Centennial Park are a quiet haven from the city
A peaceful grove of paperbark gums – Over the past 130 + years the park has been used as a testing ground for growing native species
A huge Morton Bay Fig tree stretches its arms, providing shelter for a whole range of species

Mr A and I have lived in Sydney for more than two decades, but still love seeing places through new eyes. We haven’t been into Centennial Park for years, and it was a great reminder of what a wonderful resource this is for Sydney’s residents.

Our friends Karen and Chris live a couple of hours’ drive north of Sydney, but as Chris was flying into the airport on Saturday morning, returning from a trip to Hong Kong, Karen caught the train down and joined us at Jenny and David’s apartment.

The six of us went for lunch back at the Boatshed, Barramundi burgers all round satisfying our hunger.

David, Karen and Chris lapping up the sunshine
Mr & Mrs A with Jenny

Later on that evening we all travelled to beachside suburb Coogee (named after an aboriginal word for ‘smelly place’ after the rotting seaweed on the beach – not so smelly these days!), for a delicious Asian meal at Sugarcane.

Feeling replete after a consistently delicious array of dishes

Sunday was our final day in Sydney for a while as from tomorrow we are going to pick up the Zone and commence a new Australian adventure, so much of the day was spent getting ourselves packed up and final washing done. We made sure we found time for a walk, and took ourselves on a 6.5km circuit through the National Park down to Maroubra Beach and looping back around via Malabar Headland.

Maroubra Beach – not seen sand like this in a long while
Walking around the headland, a couple of scuba divers in the water behind me
A Peregrine Falcon soars above us on our walk
Malabar Headland, looking south

It was a gorgeous walk, the sun shining and much warmer than anticipated. The birds were out, with a peregrine falcon soaring overhead, also joined by a white breasted sea eagle. In the undergrowth the trilling song of superb fairy wrens entertained us, just lovely.

We concluded our weekend with a meal out with our other surrogate family, Rosemary and Richard, a treat for them plus David and Jenny for all their help in looking after Miss Tassie this year and for enabling us to undertake this wonderful lifestyle. Without them, we’d still probably be working and taking that commuter bus into the city every day. We are so grateful for having precious people like these in our lives.

Special times – Din Tai Fung in Chatswood – Taiwanese food to cap off the week

24-31 October: Winter is coming…preparing Truffy for storage and our last days in UK

Author: Mr & Mrs A

Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK

Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.

The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.

We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.

A magnificent feast with dinner from Catriona and dessert from Karen on Friday night
After a day of pouring rain, Saturday night cleared to a fabulous sunset
Feeling cheery after a rainy Saturday afternoon chatting and drinking champagne, as you do
Stuart enjoying his glass of red
A little brotherly love between John and Barny

While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.

Mr A heads off down the path
Our start and end point where Doddington and Harby station once stood

Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.

Once barren sand and gravel pits, this area has been restored to provide bird, insect and other wildlife habitat
Silver birch trees are common here. These native trees were first to colonise the UK after the last ice age and are quick to grow and stabilise an area.

Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.

On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.

Truffy’s new home for the next few months

Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!

Luke getting more confident riding his bike around the quiet neighbourhood streets

I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.

We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!

Strolling along the River Ouse
Luke lapping up some grandfatherly wisdom – James less interested

That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.

My favourite daughters, Zoe and Hayley…

Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.

Off to the farm

Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.

Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.

After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.

Catherine and Jenny
Gold leaf decorated gates on the entrance to the Acadamy
Mum grew up in London but this is her first visit to the Royal Academy of Arts
There are two major exhibitions on right now – sculptures by Gormley and self portraits of Freud
Covent Garden is all prepared for Christmas with giant baubles and mistletoe adorning the marketplace
Can you spot us in the bauble?

We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.

Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707, and remains a glamorous and glitzy department store. It‘s worth visiting for the luxurious hand cream in the bathrooms alone!

Mum remembers taking cooking classes in the 1960s with a pastry chef from Fortnum and Mason, but cannot recall ever having visited the store…another first!
The wine bar is in the basement and sells a range of premium drops from around the world. Mum chose an Australian Barossa Shiraz….
An Italian Montepulciano for me…
Another first for mum – Vietnamese food in Chinatown
Some delicious dishes enjoyed…
A busy and bustling Chinatown on this fresh October Tuesday evening…London never sleeps

It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.

Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.

Grandma getting the hang of ‘selfies’
Three generations of smiles

Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.

People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.

23 October: A day of lasts in Truffy….

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bakewell, Derbyshire & Hatton, Nottinghamshire, UK

It was a finger-numbingly cold morning as we packed up and left the Chatsworth Estate and drove the short way back to Bakewell, Truffy’s thermometer reading a mere 3° centigrade. We’ve not seen temperatures that low since central Australia last year.

The forecast was for no rain, so we decided to enjoy a last cycle ride before we lock Truffy and our bikes up for the winter. Starting in Bakewell is the Monsal Trail, 14.5 km (9 miles) of traffic-free cycleway, following part of the old Midland railway between Bakewell and Chee Dale.

Parts of the UK have their half-term school holidays at present, so it was fairly busy with cyclists, despite the chilly temperatures. We can only imagine how crowded it would get on a warm summer’s day.

An old bridge dating to 1863 when the railway was first opened

The original train line ran from Manchester to London, and was closed in 1968. The railway passed into the hands of the Peak District National Park in 1980 and the trail developed.

Mr A warming up with a cup of tea

The trail follows the River Wye valley, cutting through some lovely scenery. At one point we looked down on a collection of buildings, learning these were the sites of textile mills in the 1700s. Cressbrook Mill, set up in 1782 was notorious for unsavoury work practices, specifically bringing orphaned children up from London and forcing them to work as ‘apprentices’ for little or no wages.

Showing that everything in life is somehow linked, in 1860 the owner of Cressbrook Mill, David Cannon McConnell emigrated to Queensland, Australia, and the settlement of Cressbrook is named after this area.

Cressbrook village
Cressbrook, Queensland, Australia
The Cressbrook Tunnel, opened to cyclists and walkers in 2011 after great investment
Enjoying the view through the valley

We continued to the end of the trail, tagging on a little extra ride along a quiet road along the River Wye, before turning and retracing our steps back to Bakewell.

Some of the trees have lost their leaves already, making it look quite wintry on this grey day

Back in Bakewell we treated ourselves to fish and chips. It is getting to that point in our trip where we are relishing the ‘last’ of everything – this being the last authentic chips and curry sauce this year! Mr A had mushy peas and a pickled egg too…we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

Our last cod and chips for a while…very tasty!

We left Derbyshire and drove across the country, picking up a few storage bags at Ikea in Nottingham, before driving to Hawton Waters near Newark in Nottinghamshire.

Hawton Waters has a small number of camp sites near a lake, as well as being a gold accredited storage area for caravans and motorhomes. It Is here we have booked Truffy into for the winter, so in addition to staying the night, it was a good opportunity to have a look at where he would be living for the next four months. They’ve just extended their storage facility, so if you’re looking for somewhere secure to put your van or truck, this could be an option for you.

There’s plenty of security, with two gates to get through and many 24/7 CCTV cameras as well as lots of people around. We feel very comfortable with our choice.

We found a hard standing spot to spend the night, and settled down to our last sleep in Truffy this year.

Lovely sunset at Hawton Waters

21-22 October: Into Derbyshire…

Author: Mr A

Location: Bakewell and Chatsworth House, Peak District, Derbyshire, UK

Sunday: We left our hotel in Chester behind, but not before enjoying a final long, long, shower – then heading back to our life of short showers in the motorhome or disappointing shower blocks on campgrounds. Well, it rains enough here to never have to feel guilty about water usage!

We left Cheshire headed into Derbyshire and over to the small town of Bakewell, famous for its tarts. Not the short skirt wearing variety, but the yummy decked-out-with-butter-pastry type.

The sun and blue skies are replaced with grey as we enter into Derbyshire
Stone walls and fields of sheep

We tried to set up to stay the night there, but after all this rain we couldn’t get on our ramps as they just sunk into the mud. So it was a quick tour around town instead, and some power shopping for yet more warm clothes, before heading off for the night to a campground adjacent to the estate of Chatsworth House, famous for being the filming location of Pride and Prejudice and the Colin Firth version of Mr Darcy.

Our visits to Chester and Bakewell have encouraged us to reflect on what we’ve enjoyed though about these small English towns, as we prepare mentally to leave them behind and head back to Australia. There have been a number of really standout examples of vibrant little centres like this one at Bakewell. There were so many niche stores, from cheese shops to gin emporia, and quality independent clothing stores, cosy cafes and enticing pubs, all bustling with people.

Mrs A and I often wonder what the magic formula is, why some small towns seem to flourish and others in a similar geography wither. We had some ideas from our own observations, but I’ve been doing some digging and reading up to see what the experts say . The formula seems to be the creation of what one of the global leaders in urban planning Brent Toderian termed “a sticky street” – places where people want to linger. Structural changes such as pedestrianising areas are in the hard to do bucket, but essential to make them people friendly. It’s something we always comment on when wandering around a new town or village, ‘Who wants to linger in a street with cars and lorries thundering by?‘ Then changes being made that make that environment even more attractive, with entertainment for instance, like street artists. In Chester I stopped for ages listening to a guy playing an electric violin, it was so beautiful. I meandered around even more shops and spent money.

Another key strategy bringing back to life the high streets of some towns is the independent shops selling the non-commoditised goods we don’t see on Amazon. Why would you go to a high street where most of what is on sale you can have delivered? It all seems so obvious, so what’s stopping so many councils from acting and providing leadership? I think of our own little high street in a suburb of Sydney, where several of the store owners I know are against pedestrianising the street because they are afraid business will drop! A half decent councillor with an eye on something more than feathering there own pocket (thinking of several of the ones we’ve met) would be able to show them the data and convince them. It’s just a no brainer. Once we settle back down somewhere I think I may have to have a go at local politics and stop bitching from the sideline.

So it was goodbye to Bakewell and a lovely 6 mile drive over to Chatsworth House and the camp site that was heaving at the seams, with I would guess, over a 100 caravans and motorhomes. There’s a lot of us about.

It’s nestled right next to the 1,000 acre Chatsworth Estate, with its grounds designed by Capability Brown (famous for designing landscapes that look as though they could be natural, while presenting a range of trees, colours and textures to the view).

Trees are given space to grow and spread out as well as being selected for their complimentary colouring throughout the year

Monday morning we walked through to Chatsworth House park and heard a strange noise behind us. We turned to see a herd of deer leaping over a fence. Well the big ones did, the smaller deer had second thoughts.

Chief stag literally prances through the field, jollying up his herd
The herd takes guidance on which way to jump
There is no running up, literally just jump over the fence from standing
It looks almost painful!
The younger ones struggle to get over and get a bit panicky as the adults gallop off into the woods, leaving them behind

We continued through the grounds to the grand house.

The sun breaks through the clouds, lighting up this tree like flames
Not the house – this houses a cafe as well as children’s farm
Chatsworth House
Looking across the gardens at the sculpted landscaped views

Mrs A explored the house while I inspected the cafe in some detail. My ankle was still playing up so I couldn’t really do the place justice.

The grand entrance hall is designed to make visitors gasp with giant paintings and ornate carving on every surface. The first duke was appointed in 1694 for helping put William of Orange on the throne as King of England – royal scenes are depicted.
The balconies overlook the hallway
The grand stairway up to the first level
Dating back to 150-50 BCE, this foot wearing a sandal is thought to have come from a giant Greek wood and marble statue. The right foot is at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin
Incredible stories of gods and goddesses are pictured in the murals
A disliked housekeeper was immortalised by the artist painting this ceiling, using her face on a bad God, holding scissors ready to cut the strings of life
On the first level of the house, an elaborate suite of rooms was designed specifically for receiving King William III and Queen Mary II….they never came to stay….
Chinese and Japanese vases on many surfaces
Spot the trompe-l’oeil of the violin behind the door

The house continues to be lived in by the present Duke and Dutchess of Derbyshire, and in recent years has had a substantial revamp with more than £33 million spent on it restoring the building inside and out.

The royal bedroom is hung with elaborate tapestries
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire portrayed as a goddess
A cosy looking pair of chairs by the fireplace
Bedrooms with Chinese wallpaper
The present Duke and Duchess are big fans of ceramics with many collections around the house
There are many staff to do the dusting
A more modern ceramic installation commissioned by the Duke and Duchess for this space

There is an extensive collection of sculptures and statues, and a whole room dedicated to a collection going back several hundred years.

A handsome bust of Napoleon dating to the Battle of Waterloo, 1815

In the late afternoon we took a gentle walk into the small village of Nether End nearby, and of course a cosy pub beckoned.

Walking past thatched cottages, the lovely smell of woodsmoke in the air
Lovely autumn leaves over Bar Brook which winds through the estate and the village
And a cheeky drink at the Devonshire Arms

17-20 October: Grinning like a Cheshire Cat

Author: Mrs A

Location: Northwich and Chester, Cheshire, UK

I especially look forward to catching up with friends from my university days. Like for many, going to university was a time of escape and reinvention for me, leaving a small town where it was hard to not see a familiar face, and move to the other end of the country to a small city. I left school with really only one true friend I remain friends with today, most others having gone in different life directions. Chester was a chance to start anew, make new friends who accept me for who I am.

I fell on my feet in many ways, receiving a place in halls of residence, with a corridor of lovely people. We soon became firm friends, a core group of girls we called ‘The Ladies’ Wrecked-Tangle’. We partied through our first year, then shared a house together and continued the party (inter dispersed with a bit of studying and exams) for two more years. It has been about 28 years since we all first met, and though we see a lot less of one another these days, with sometimes years between visits, it is as though we’ve never been apart. The laughter still flows, the stories and the wine. We simply couldn’t be in the country and not catch up.

Thursday morning Mark and I left Kendal and travelled into Cheshire, spending Thursday on a farm about 40 minutes from Chester. It was a cool, crisp autumnal afternoon, and with Mr A’s ankle on the mend took a stroll around the local lanes. There were plenty of birds about, squirrels scurrying up trees, collecting acorns and other nuts to store for the winter, and some quite lovely scenery.

A trout fishing lake on the farm
A couple of European goldfinches
Many great-tits along with blue tits and others
Lovely little goldfinch waiting for his turn on the feeder
Looking across the fields, looking bare after the harvest

And so after another rainy night, we pulled away and drove over to Chester, pulling into the carpark at Chester Racecourse. You can in fact park overnight at the race course in self contained motorhomes but we had decided to treat ourselves to a couple of nights in a hotel, and booked at the Holiday Inn just outside the city walls.

We had not long arrived when my friend Fiona pulled up in her car, picking me up to go to lunch. I had a great afternoon catching up with her, my first-week room mate, Vicki, and another friend, Sarah – the years falling away since our last catch up.

We ate delicious Italian food at Etalia at the Red House, overlooking the River Dee, the rain falling heavily outside while we munched on mussels, sea bass and bruschetta. No wine today though, we stuck to the water. We must be getting sensible in our old age!

So good to catch up with the girls
Back: Catherine, Vicki, Front: Fiona, Sarah

It has been about 24 years since I lived in Chester, and at least a decade since I spent any time in the city, but I was suitably impressed. The council clearly has a grand plan for the city. Chester has always been mostly pedestrianised and full of boutique shops, but now has grown to encompass art-house theatres, cinema and a wide range of cafes and restaurants within its walls. A lot of attention has been paid to maintaining the history and heritage while bringing the city into the current century, and future plans appear to encompass this theme. It feels like a prosperous city with a lot of life.

Mark returned from his afternoon ambling the streets and getting a haircut feeling positive about the city and its great upbeat vibe.

Friday night we joined my friend Emma and her husband Nick for dinner at a The Old Harker’s Arms, a buzzing and vibrant pub near the canal. Mark was beside himself with excitement on seeing that it was pie week – with literally three courses on offer! We had a fabulous evening, our first chance to get to know Nick in a more intimate group.

It had the potential to be a three pie day…but everyone was quite reserved and stuck to one!
Much laughter and back on the wine for a fun evening

We met up with Emma and Nick again for lunch on Saturday, heading into Storyhouse. This is a perfect example of how Chester is breathing life into old buildings, bringing them into the current century. Back when I lived here, this was a slightly run down 1930s cinema, but now has been redesigned and extended to encompass the library, two theatres, a cinema, restaurant and two bars. We chose lunch from an imaginative menu and ate in a room full of light and atmosphere, the walls lined with books. Books – remember them? What warmth they bring to an environment!

It is definitely worth visiting, even just to see how the interior architecture melds together the old features of staircases, pillars and walls with the newer more modern areas. The lunch menu was great, and there are plenty of shows to choose from. A fabulous cultural centre for the city.

Curved walls echo the retained 1930s features

It rained heavily during lunch, but the sun came out as we finished, so the four of us took a stroll around the walls. If you’re not familiar with Chester, it was formed as a fortress in around 60 or 70 CE by the Romans. The walls circumnavigate the city almost entirely for 3km (about 1.8 miles) and are a great way to see some of the main features of the city.

The pavements were pretty slippery with the leaves after the rain

The sun shone for us, the city gleaming in autumnal splendour. As we walked past the cathedral we watched a falconry display in the gardens – apparently they have a golden eagle, hawks and owls there.

Chester Cathedral was founded in 1092 as a Benedictine Abbey. This is where I had my graduation ceremony back in 1994
Eastgate clock – said to be the second most photographed clock in England (after Big Ben)

Eastgate stands on the original entranceway to the Roman fortress, Deva Victrix. From Eastgate you look down over Eastgate Street – some of the establishments have not changed over the years – HSBC Bank (bottom right in the photo below) was originally Midland Bank, and where I got my first student overdraft!

Chester’s getting ready for Christmas, with lights strung up across every street. It seems green is this year’s theme. They are all apparently energy efficient LED lights, and will be switched on 14 November, two days before the big Christmas market.

Looking up Eastgate Street

We continued around the walls, past the Roman Gardens. Here are displayed fragments of Deva Victrix unearthed during excavations in the late 1800s. Included are the remains of bathing houses, mosaics and pillars.

Chester’s Roman Gardens

We continued around with the River Dee our next location. From here you can cross the river and walk across the other bank, or back in our student days, drink strawberry daiquiris in the sunshine (happy hour only!).

The water is flowing fast over the weir after all the rain
The old Dee Bridge – originally built in the late 14th century, it has been amended over the years to cater for increased traffic

We continued our circuit, finally passing the castle (dating from 1070) and finally the racecourse and back to our hotel via a tour of Truffy.

We met back up with Emma and Nick early evening at a wine bar on Watergate Street, Corks Out. They had an interesting selection of wine from around the world, and a policy of keeping a step ahead of the supermarkets in sourcing interesting tipples. The bar’s located in a 13th century crypt, which adds to the atmosphere.

Cheers! Successfully persuaded Emma not to drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!

We concluded our evening at Ruan Orchid, a delicious Thai restaurant – definitely highly recommended, but book in advance. It’s a boutique venue with authentic Thai food, and deservedly popular.

It was a brilliant visit and we’ll definitely be back again. After all this time it was great to be reminded what a friendly, vibrant little city it is, with so much to see and do, especially when it allows us spend some precious time with longtime friends. Farewell Chester, we will return!

13-16 October: Goodbye Scotland…hello England

Author: Mr A

Location: Whitelee Wind Farm, Scotland & Kendal, Cumbria, England, UK

We decided to make a dash down south and get some miles driven while my ankle was preventing me from being very active. Leaving Scotland behind felt OK, because we know we will be back. It felt weird being back on multi lane roads again, surrounded by traffic. We’re going to miss the brooding silence of Scotland’s relatively sparsely populated countryside.

We saw that the UK’s largest wind farm, at Whitelee just south of Glasgow, was on our path south and had an overflow car park that allowed overnight parking. So we pulled up just before the visitor centre closed and had a wander around the extremely well presented exhibition. Wind power is blowing hot (he he ) right now in Scotland, not a surprise to us given the weather we’ve experienced! Apparently they are now generating twice as much power as they need to keep Scotland lit up like a jock with his kilt on fire.

The location of Whitelee, about 30 minutes south of Glasgow

We retired to Truffy suitably impressed, and were looking forward to a final quiet night in Scotland. Well it was not to be, for me at least. I was woken at midnight by a car driving past then parking quite close to us. There were no other motorhomes there, we were on our own in the middle of a moor, with only 216 wind turbines keeping their lofty but impersonal watch over us. Another car pulled up, and clearly some sort of deal was going on between the vehicles. I peered out of a crack in our blind. Voices got louder, and I was on full alert as one of the guys wandered down towards us, smoked, stared our way, then wandered back to apparently clinch his deal. That car left then an hour later and another arrived! It was a sleepless night for me, while Mrs A blithely “purred” (ladies like here don’t snore apparently) through the comings and goings. In seven months of camping in UK/Europe its my first experience of not feeling safe. Not a bad average. However, I guess it only takes one wrong un…but at 4am finally all was quiet and I got some fitful sleep.

The morning after looking peaceful after all the activity of the night before

The next day, a rather bleary eyed I piloted us down the motorways towards the Lake District. We ended up at a caravan park on the outskirts of Kendal, branded as the “gateway to the lakes”.

Kendal in Cumbria

Walkers amongst you will be familiar with the world renowned product from this town, Kendal Mint Cake. A sugar rush to fire you up on those long walks, and favoured by Sir Edmund Hilary on his first accent of Mount Everest, and still going strong. It has a really almost overpowering mint flavour, and smell, as our strongest sense, has probably kept customers coming back for more to rekindle memories of past happy hours spent rambling. My theory anyway..

It’s a nice quiet park and we once again fell asleep to the sound of rain pattering on the roof. Will we be able to still doze off so easily on our travels around drought ridden Australia? We spent the morning doing some catch up FaceTiming with friends over there. Without this channel to keep in touch I think we would have second thoughts about socially isolating ourselves in the way we have travelling like this.

My ankle felt well enough today to try a bike ride into town. Purely by accident we found a vegan cafe which served dairy free scones that were a real treat for madam, and blood orange tea. It was a lovely cosy place, and once again my brain flicked to thinking how we will miss things like this when we head back. Getting rugged up and then ducking in from the cold to a pub or cafe. There’s something very primitive about feeling protected in the modern equivalent of a cave. We love that in the motorhome as well. Shutting out the weather, without feeling guilty about not being out there doing something in the sunshine. It’s lovely to experience these changing seasons.

The little bikes get a workout
Although the scones contain no eggs, milk or butter they taste rather delicious!
Our cycle route took us south of Kendal and up around the surrounding hills
Looking west towards Morcambe Bay
Looking down across the small town of Kendal
Stramongate Bridge dates from 1794 and has parts of a 17th century building embodied within it
The River Kent
Dating from 1232, Kendal Parish Church sits on the banks of the River Kent and is a grade 1 listed building.Its on the site of an earlier church dating back to the year 850.

The next day we decided to stay on at Kendal, Catherine had had a poor night with sinus pain and the drugs she was taken had kept her awake most of the night. A low level of physical activity characterised our morning, punctuated by egg and bacon sandwiches listening to the rain pattering on the roof. Thank goodness for my Kindle app and a great read.

In the afternoon the sun peeked out nervously, and we decided to see how my ankle would hold up to a walk into town. It did, and a return to our vegan cafe was the incentive. Chocolate and beetroot cake was selected my madam, and apparently I had to….SHARE…even writing the word brings a little shiver of horror. Anyway, share I did and it was delicious.

Thumbs up to the Waterside café bistro
Kendal shopping area is bustling
It is market day so of course we picked up some fresh vegetables

I was then persuaded to hobble up the castle, they’re always on the top of hills of course, but it was a fine autumnal day and the view of Kendal nestled into the valley was fabulous. By the time we made it back to camp we had walked just over 8km (5 miles)…it seems my ankle is on the mend.

Gorgeous autumn colours
Kendal Castle – originally built as a base from which to fight off Scottish invaders
The castle is ruins today, but was a grand home in its heyday, the residence of the Parr family. Lady Katherine Parr became the last of Henry VIII’s wives
The townspeople in the mid 1500s ransacked the castle for bricks, windows, fireplaces and other features to put in their own homes. I wonder where all those are now?
The late afternoon sun bathes the hills in golden light
Autumnal Kendal

12-13 October: A taste of Scotland’s east coast

Author: Mrs A

Location: Helmsdale, Dunrobin Castle (Golspie), Fortrose and Eaglesham, Scotland, UK

We woke up to an unusual phenomenon in our pub carpark – sunlight streaming through the windows. Excited, we packed up and drove down to the harbour for a look around the tiny fishing village of Helmsdale. Although sunny, it was a fresh 7°centigrade, so we still wrapped warm, but really appreciated the break in the heavy cloud and showers and the drop in the wind.

Helmsdale fishing harbour – apparently salmon is common here
A beautifully calm morning
The birds were happy too – this little European Robin hunting for insects around the fishing gear
As well as a pair of Rock Pitpits

We were unsure how long the fine weather would last, the best forecast being to look out of your window and see what’s happening! So we turned south and followed the coast a short way to Dunrobin Castle, a stately home that has been continuously inhabited (and still is) for the past 700 years.

The route south was extremely picturesque

One thing we noticed immediately as we drove was the slight change in vegetation, with more shrubs and small trees along the road, something that has been absent from our views since we were on the isles of Skye and Harris/Lewis, and even there they were rare.

Apparently Scotland used to be covered in far more woodland, but over the past 300 years has experienced a lot of deforestation – so much that now only 4% of Scotland has trees. Much of the clearing was for sheep grazing, deemed fear more profitable than trees, and then there were the Victorians who bought up great swathes of the highlands to use for hunting grouse and deer – they burned the hills to discourage trees and encourage heather, far easier for hunting. And finally, there are all the grazing animals – the sheep, cattle and deer themselves, all loving to chew on a seedling tree, ensuring it will never make it to fully grown.

As we turned into the driveway at Dunrobin Castle, we saw trees galore, lined up welcoming us towards the grand house.

Welcome to Dunrobin…many royal carriages have driven this same path over the centuries
Our one room home (ok 2 including the bathroom) versus the 189 room castle

Mr A with his sore sprained ankle settled down with a cup of tea and a good book while I jumped out for an explore. The castle was not yet open to visitors, so I headed into the adjoining woodland, following paths and stairways through the mossy trees, enjoying the delicious autumnal aroma of decaying leaves, and the gentle rustle of the sea breeze through the beech trees.

It feels forever since we walked through woodland

Next I followed a path which wound steeply down past the castle, leading to the seafront. Dunrobin Castle looks out at the North Sea, eerily calm on this Saturday morning.

This has been home to the Sutherland Clan since the 1300s – home to Earls and later the Dukes of Sutherland
Looking up at the stately home from the beachfront…you certainly know your place as a peasant when seeing a house like this
No sand on this beach, but a calm bay from which to launch a boat, and some coastal walking tracks for those not hobbling on sore ankles

The castle has been amended over the centuries, with the architect of London’s Houses of Parliament amongst others who have influenced its design. It looks to me like a French Château – and would not seem out of place along the Loire Valley.

The exterior of the castle and grounds having piqued my interest, I checked Mr A was ok, before buying my ticket for an explore inside. The grand entrance hall with its roaring open fire is very welcoming.

A comfy seating area covered in the Sutherland tartan invites visitors to warm up by the fire

Unlike many historical buildings and castles, this house did not feel sterile and cold, museum like. Instead it was set up to feel like a home, as though you were a guest invited to stay, admire the little trinkets and souvenirs saved over the centuries.

Walking up the stairs you first enter a hallway and then a billiards room. You can almost hear the clink of whiskey glasses being enjoyed over a game or two in the room. A little typewriter written poem framed in a corner caught my eye:

The Batchelor’s Wish

One female companion to soften my cares

Two thousand a year to support my affairs

Three dogs and a gun when to sport I incline

Four horses and chaise to indulge me and mine

Five jolly companions with whom to make merry

Six dishes each day with six glasses of sherry

Seven beds in my house for my friends at their leisure

Eight somethings or other to add to their pleasure

Nine pounds in my pocket when cash I require

These favours are all that on Earth I desire, and a

Passport to heaven when from Earth I retire.

Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, 1778

I wonder what the equivalent bachelor’s wish would be in 2019? And I wonder what the somethings or other are….?

I moved on through to the dining room, set up with the family silver all ready for a fine dinner party for 10.

A cosy dining room, wood panelling and artwork setting off the gleaming silver

On next to the music room, beautiful ornate ceilings and perfectly cared for showcases full of gifts, donations and collectables from throughout the centuries.

The music room

I was tickled to spot a slipper once belonging to General Garibaldi and left behind after a visit. I can imagine some excited maid trotting up to the Duke to present this, before getting it mounted to display in a cabinet! It has to be the first slipper I have seen on display in a long while…

The attention to detail in each room is unlike anything you would see today – the coats of arms, the polished brass cats presenting the fire, the immaculately dust and soot free marble fireplaces.

These polished brass cats are on each fireplace
Pictures depicting Italy are in many rooms, a country the family travelled to frequently. Tapestries adorn many of the walls, alongside family portraits and those of visitors to the house.
Hunting was clearly a favoured sport, with deer heads on the walls around the hallways, mounted on plaques naming the shooter, and here in the library, fierce looking lion and tiger skin rugs on the floor…rather uncomfortable to look at today, but part of history all the same.
This room was decorated in the 1960s in recognition of Queen Elizabeth II visiting – the tapestries on the wall were commissioned especially for the occasion.
The green and gold bedroom
From the outside the castle appears to be of one design, but when you glimpse the interior courtyard you can see the different towers and bricks used
The night nursery – furniture all brought from Italy

In the older part of the castle we came across the Seamstress’s Room, also known as ‘the haunted room’. Nobody living today has seen or heard the ghost here, but stories go back to the 1500s. The story goes that in the 15th century the Earl of Sutherland captured and imprisoned a beautiful young woman from a rival clan, with plans to marry her. She tried to escape by climbing down a rope of sheets, but the Earl on discovering her trying to escape, swiped the sheets with his sword and she fell to her death.

In more recent times, footsteps have been frequently heard in another part of the castle, when there are no people present…so they have a ghost with no story, and a story with no ghost…

The Seamstress’s Room – Hoped to capture an apparition in my picture, but I can’t spot anything. Can you?
Looking out of the windows you can see out to sea across the formal gardens
There are falconry displays in the summer months – finished for the year at the end of September so not for us this time.

There is also a museum on site containing many collections from over the centuries, swords, more hunting trophies and other trinkets, but I felt I had left Mr A long enough, so missed it out and returned to Truffy so we could be on our way.

The landscape continued to evolve as we headed south, with our first agricultural farming for a while, all with a fabulous backdrop of cliffs and woodland.

New colours entering our landscape
One of many flocks of birds we spotted practicing their formation, readying for flying south for the winter….

Our destination for the night was a caravan park near the small settlement of Fortrose, on the banks of the Moray Firth, across from Inverness. Unlike Dunrobin Castle the wind was whistling across the water, making it quite fresh. We hibernated in Truffy for the afternoon while a machine did our washing.

Truffy has a front row seat for sunset, and the waves on the beach soothe us to sleep
Sunset over Fortrose

Sunday morning was clear and sunny, and the wind had dropped off to make it a rather pleasant temperature. We decided to move on our way however, with the wet weather forecast to return.

Before we left the area we drove up to Chanonry Point, home to a lighthouse and also a favoured feeding place for seals, bottle nosed dolphins and porpoises.

The lighthouse looking magnificent in the early morning sunlight
Mist across the water at dawn

As soon as we pulled up I spotted a dorsal fin, either a dolphin or porpoise, but it soon dipped under the water and didn’t reemerge. It was a seal we saw most of, as it popped its head out of the water and gave us all a good look on the shore before dipping under and chasing breakfast.

That floating log in the foreground is in fact a seal

We stayed a short while to watch the seal, before heading off. As predicted, the fine weather didn’t hang around, and it wasn’t long before we were back in familiar rain. A good driving day, we decided, and another opportunity for Mark to rest his ankle.

We drove a good 320km (200 miles) to just south of Glasgow, spending our final night in Scotland for this trip on the UK’s largest wind farm, Whitelee near the village of Eaglesham. We hoped to have a peaceful night’s sleep on the carpark here, in an area well known for badgers, owls and other wildlife.

Whitelee Windfarm at dawn on Monday morning…

9-11 October: North Scotland

Author: Mr A

Location: Kinlochbervie, Durness and Helmsdale, Highlands, Scotland

Wednesday: We continued our jaunt up the west coast of Scotland, on yet another wild, wet and windy day. Its actually hard to imagine seeing these hills with blue skies, I just don’t think it would it would look right.

Our first treat of the day was having sight of our first large wild mammals in the UK. A trio of deer ran across the road and sloshed their way over the moor, but not before giving us an inquisitive look as if to say “What on earth are you doing voluntarily out in this weather? We have no choice!”.

A beautiful hind crossed in front of us and stopped on top of the hill for a good look
A couple of stags crossing the highlands in hot pursuit
They dashed in front of us and easily leaped this fence

One of the absolute joys of motorhoming is the ability to stop on any levelish piece of ground and produce an amazing lunch in the middle of nowhere. Today was another feast with perfectly poached eggs (you know when the yolk just flows over your toast in an ooze rather than a flood ….or even worse, horror of horrors, won’t flow at all) and locally caught and honey smoked salmon. A freshly brewed Pukka fennel tea rounded it off.

We decided we really should don the rain gear and head out to stretch the legs. Driving around Loch Assynt, we spy a “Catherine-size” dinky castle alongside. We just make it to the ruined pile of rocks as yet another rain squall belts sideways at us. We retreat to Truffy and continue on our way up the west coast.

An old ruin of an 18th century house across Loch Assynt
On Loch Assynt, Ardvreck Castle sits proud, Built 1590 by the Clan MacLeod it has witnessed many battles and important moments in history
The heavy rain transforms the cliffs into dozens of thundering waterfalls
And view after view opens up in front of us as we drive

My co-pilot has identified a stop over at the small fishing village of Kinlochbervie, where the community has put in some motorhome services right on the edge of the harbour. Check out our view for the night!

A million dollar view for the equivalent of $30
Spot Truffy across the bay

It’s interesting how some communities see the potential for bringing a bit more cash into town, and others just put up “no overnight parking” signs. There really isn’t a lot to spend your money on in town though. A Spar corner shop and a pub. It will do us nicely.

The community differentiates their home town as being the most northerly port in Scotland, and apparently was shortlisted by the Oxford Dictionary as a definition of remote. Well by UK standards I would agree, but by Australian standards, it’s practically next door to everything, with a good mobile signal, shop, pub, fishing port, 240 power, sewerage system, surfaced roads…and only 60 miles to the nearest decent supermarket. Call that remote?

A busy fishing port sending their catch all over the UK

Thursday: Kinlochbervie to Durness

We had another wild weather night of howling wind and lashing rain, but were tucked up tight, and in the grey light of morning we were off along the top of Scotland.

Amazing light as the sun breaks through the clouds…
Couldn’t decide which image worked best….! So included both
Truffy showing his mean and moody side
First glimpse of the North Atlantic Ocean in the distance

We needed to get out for a stomp as the forecast was only “light showers and moderate winds” (a good one for Scotland!). We parked up at Durness Golf club, who’s claim to fame is being the most northerly golf course on the UK mainland, and also the furthest north we would be going on our trip this time.

It was a fabulous walk, one of the best so far, along the towering cliffs of this wild and (relatively!) remote coastline. Now I’m colour blind, but could even recognise that we were somewhere quite special. Check out these shots from my camera wielding maestro of the lens.

We were the only hikers on this 12km circuit
Tea break in the dunes
Beautiful colours and patterns in the rocks which are among the oldest in the UK
The crashing surf and white sand beaches contrast with the dark rock
Mrs A setting off along the coast
Some bits of the path were narrow and quite steep
Fabulous beach worthy of Western Australia with some rare sunshine glimmers
Continuing our track around
Ruins of an old school – in its heyday it had 45 pupils but lost most of those during the Highland Clearances (a period between 1750 and 1860 when people were moved off the land when it was deemed more profitable for sheep grazing)
The sun breaks through towards the end of our walk
Ruins of an old church…
Spot Truffy in the distance? 11km (7 miles) is the longest we’ve walked before breakfast in a while! We’re relieved to be back, a bacon and egg sandwich is calling our names…

In the distance we heard a huge boom, and I had remembered reading that there’s an island off shore that has the misfortune to be around the same size as an aircraft carrier, so becomes target practice for our and our Allies’ armed forces. It’s quite funny reading that there’s a “conservation society” formed to “protect” the island’s flora and fauna. Nothing the odd massive bomb can’t put right I hope!

Back at Truffy we (I use that term loosely) knocked up the usual cracking lunch from on board supplies, and headed off to find a park for the night. We thought it was going to be the cutely named Smoo Cave Hotel, but the landlord was having a bad day when I asked if it was OK to park overnight and come and have dinner (or I looked a bit rough round the edges after a few days off the grid) and so we made other plans. The pub cat, meanwhile, was far more welcoming and our first Scottish feline to come and say hi.

This little tortoiseshell girl cannot get enough cuddles

Before we moved on, we checked out the cave the pub was named after. Smoo Cave was a haunt of Vikings, smugglers, murderers, and general nefarious carrying on, it was quite a geological as well as cultural marvel.

The picturesque way down to Smoo Cave
At 50ft (15.24 metres) high, this cave boasts one of the highest sea cave entrances in the UK
Entrance is free, but there are often tours – not on this occasion – cancelled due to heavy rain (ha ha)
A river thunders down through the roof of the cave in a roaring waterfall

Interest assuaged, we left Durness and found another car park with a view. The rain lashed down, a familiar pattern, thank goodness we have a motorhome that doesn’t leak, unlike some we read about on our forums.

Our fabulous view of Ceannabeinne Beach

Friday: Durness to Helmsdale

We had a longish day of driving ahead, as we planned to point Truffy’s nose south and head down for east coast though a wonder-world of massive peat bogs, apparently the thickness of a double decker bus! Now that will keep a few home fires burning for a while.

Weaving around yet another stunning loch, and past some old lime works
Our daily sighting of a stag…

We needed to find a service point to dump waste water, take on fresh, and empty the loo. Unfortunately whilst carrying said toilet cassette, I didn’t notice the gravel slope, my ankle rolled and I fell down in an ungainly heap, but at least with the presence of mind to batt away the rather full toilet which was bouncing around near my head!

We called in to a doctor’s surgery in the village. The doctor had just gone home for the day, but drove back in to see me – it’s not a big village, but even so, pretty good service. He assessed and said there was no need for an x-ray, just tendon damage, strapped me up and off I went, limping like an old crock!

Before long we turned right and off the North Coast 500, heading south-east. I think our windscreen wipers are going to be worn out by the time we leave Scotland, although it sounds like its not much better in England. It was a wet drive, and although we stopped briefly to check out the Forsinard Flows, an RSPB wetland area. I stayed indoors with my foot up, while Catherine headed out. She returned after 20 minutes looking cold and wet having seen no birds, and we pressed on.

Pulling away from Forsinard
A spectacular drive through the River Helmsdale Valley, there was rain, sun and rainbows…

We had an overnight destination in mind, the Bannockburn Inn, featured on one of our apps as being “motorhome friendly” and encouraging free overnight parking in exchange for buying dinner. Well this one actually was friendly, from the moment Catherine walked in and was treated by the landlady like a long lost friend. She was from Brighton mind…and the evening just got better with the best fish and chip supper we’ve had on the trip…and curry sauce and mushy peas, washed down with some local gins. Apparently gin is very good for repairing tendons…

The Bannockburn Inn – recommended for delicious food and a wide selection of Scottish gin