13-15 November: “Woo… hoo….we’re half way there!”

Author : Mr A

Location: Cell 6B, Block D, Row 1, The Howard Springs Quarantine Resort, South of Darwin, NT, Australia

As Bon Jovi screams “Woo hoo. we’re half way there!”, from the most important piece of kit we travel with, our Bose Revolve speaker, we look forward to the second half of our sentence disappearing with the same rapidity as the first.

Cells D16B and D16A, our temporary homes

Time is a funny thing right? When there’s so little variation in your routine, so few events that punctuate the day, then it seems to zoom past because there are no reference points. Psychologists have found that the subjective perception of the passing of time tends to speed up with increasing age in humans. This often causes people to underestimate a given interval of time as they age. Well that’s my excuse, I think Catherine may have a different perception given she has been pretty much awake non stop since we arrived. Our usual strategy after a long flight is to get out and walk and get some sunlight on the skin. That approach to avoiding jet lag and ensuing insomnia is not available here and she has really been struggling with her sleep.

So what‘s new for us inmates of Cell Block D, falsely accused as we were your honour of trying to import nasty germs into this virtually COVID free country? Yes, the good news is that if we had caught anything from our fellow passengers (two now tested positive) then we would have had symptoms by now, and we haven’t. With the health protocols in place here its very likely we will be getting the ”Hell out of Howard” a week today. The ultimate milestone is when we get our final COVID-19 test on Day 12 (or day 2 as it is confusingly refereed to here, with day zero being release). If we get a negative result, it‘s an exit certificate and off to Sin City! And there will be sinful amounts of fine food and wine consumed I’m sure.

I thought for this blog a Q and A format might provide some variety, taking the most commonly asked questions from friends and sharing our answers to everyone.

Q: So, were the flights free then?

A:“Nope, the politicians seem to skip that bit when they do the “Bringing Aussies Home” announcements. For us $2,200 a head for a one way fare on a “no frills” flight (two meals, 3 films and 4 bottles of water in 17 hrs). There were a few people I understand who were means tested and supported financially.

Q: Do you have to pay for quarrantine?

A: Yes – $2,500 per head, and then your flight back to wherever is home in Australia. Again if you provide evidence of low income (under $50k) you possibly will qualify for some exemptions. Given the hordes of police, army, caters, and health workers on the ground and providing remote phone based support, they wont be making money out of that.

Q: Do you feel lucky to get back to Australia?

A: Well Australians are fond of looking at the glass as half full, very admirable, but I think this is a complex question around the rights of a passport holding citizen to re-enter their own country. In July the Australian government introduced “flight caps” to limit the number of incoming international passengers that would then have to be dealt with in qurrantine facilities. The London based, but Australian born, human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who has defended cases for entities such as Mike Tyson, The Guardian and Washington Post, Julian Assange, presidents and Tasmanian Aboriginals, has just waded in and commented “It is a serious breach if you don’t allow your people to come home, albeit with necessary quarantine. It’s a total failure of government that it can’t allow its people under whatever necessary COVID conditions to come home.” And Geoffrey knows a thing or two.

The President of the Human Rights Commission has also waded in on the issue, concerned that the flight caps “may not be meeting the obligation in article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” – calling out the many complaints they have had from Australians separated from their children because of these flight caps.

So we have mixed feelings. We understand the Australian government needed to protect the citizens already in the country, and we had been warned in March to “come home or settle in for the long term”, but not everyone was in a position to do that. For instance, we decided it was riskier to travel back than stay put in the south west of England where we knew Catherine had access to quality medical support for her airway disease, never imagining that we were to be barred from returning home. For many people with work and family commitments it was just impossible to drop everything. Now around 36,000 of them are stuck overseas. So yes we feel lucky to have made it back ourselves.

Meanwhile it seems if you have money then you just get to skip around the caps and the quarantine. The same day we landed, last Sunday, the billionaire founder of SnapChat, Evan Spiegal, landed in his private jet at Sydney airport and just skipped around hotel quarantine. You can also buy your way in to Australia when you don’t even have a passport by getting a “Business and Innovation” visa – 485 of these were granted between March and mid September this year to wealthy investors. No wonder there’s some very upset Australian citizens stranded out there waving their passports wondering what the heck is going on.

Q: Whose room is the tidiest – yours or Catherine’s?

A: To be fair, we have never been asked this question, but there has been a lot of banter between us living in our small spaces in caravans and motorhomes as to who is the source of any untidiness.

Mr A’s room
Mrs A’s room

I rest my case your honour…I understand there will be an appeal lodged by Mrs A on the grounds that she had only got up. I have shared evidence with the claimant in the form of a time stamped photograph at 12.45pm. lets see how the case progresses.


Q: How do you spend your time? (A popular question!)

A: Other than writing these blogs? Well we are not allowed out for exercise, unlike the early flights, who had two 20 minute slots allocated, plus pool time! However, incidents of Australians abusing these privileges made it to social media, and then to the police, and hence now no outside time off the balcony is permitted. So a daily walk 2 metres to the rubbish bin, and a heady 10m metres to the laundry twice a week, our only “outings”.

Rubbish bin providing a daily “excursion “ opportunity

Pilates on the deck kicks off our day to an ab screaming start. After being very disciplined in lockdown at doing this 2/3 times a week, once we were back in our tiny Truffy (motorhome), it was just impractical. So we are feeling the pain! Then we are both working on different projects. Catherine has her voluntary work for the support community she administers, as well as the research work she is running or supporting for multiple doctors and universities around the world.

For me it‘s catching up on Australian news, and reading to broaden a mind dulled for so many years by an expectation at work of only being able to answer one question. “Ando – whats the forecast sales revenue this week?”

While we we were in the UK we strictly limited our news intake intake for mental and physical health reasons. Yes – physical health as well. Research is indicating that cortisol, produced when we are stressed – for instance when watching “Doom O’Clock” (as we called the daily briefings from Boris), or the latest antics from over the Atlantic from Trump, can cause a range of health issues when elevated for long periods. For a most readable analysis of the potential impact 2020 is likely having on our mental and physical health check out this Psychology today article from last week. So we have spent little time following events over here, in fact missing the introduction of flight caps completely, and despite registering on the Australian governments SmartTraveler web site, had no communication about them.

It‘s actually been a breath of fresh air to settle back into reading the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News apps. Somehow the BBC seems to have lost its way, and I’m finding a less sensationalised news content here. Obviously steering clear of Murdoch Lies Inc. and it was such a pleasure to read about the Climate Change Bill introduced last week from our very own independent MP for Warringhah the multi-talented Zali Steggall. Olympic athlete, solicitor, mother, and all round goodness as far as we can see. Anyone who can wrest away a seat from that climate denier fool Tony Abbot, well done! For an interesting write up on the bill see The Conversations’s article from last week .

Zali Steggall – MP for the Division of Warringhah – our turf

Zali even took the time to return an email I sent her concerning the flight caps, and her office has been super helpful since. The only disparaging story you will find about her is from…..of course The Daily Lies/Telegraph, a Murdoch paper. How predicable. If you haven’t seen this brilliant clip of a former Australian prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull) lay into the editor in chief of Murdock’s evil enterprises give it a watch. Even if you’re not Australian it will give you a good sense of how battle is done in the colonies.

Q: What’s the internet like?

A: Closely related to the above question! Well it’s been hit and miss to be honest, and that really needs sorting as they plan to double the current number of people coming through Howard Springs, and if you are confined to quarters then it really is important to keep connected.

‘No Internet Connection’ all too common a message

Q: What’s the food like?

A: It depends on what your comparison point is, as always. To a meal that Catherine would cook – not great. Compared to the diet of more than 690 million people around the world who go hungry – fine. Everyone involved in this facility is clearly really trying to do their best. The caters must have a tough job. There’s currently around 560 of us on the international blocks of this this facility, we are strictly “Cyclone fenced” away from the domestic detainees, who are far less likely to be COVID positive. The food has to be packaged up and wheeled around on trolleys in the baking afternoon sun, when temperatures have been regularly over 35 degrees centigrade (95°F).

We were advised to bring our own plates and cutlery, as everything is served in take away containers with wooden, disposable utensils, health protocol I assume, or a concern sharp knives might be used by those not derailing with the isolation? These plates and cutlery have been a blessing, and Catherine insists on doing the washing up so it’s done “properly”. We also get an advance bit of Christmas cheer with our plates. Small things…small things.

A little cheer in our lives…

Q: Are you allowed to mingle with others “doing time”?

A: Well if you call a shouted conversation across 4 metres of yard while wearing a mask mingling, then a bit. However, most people are inside the majority of the day, it‘s just too hot to sit around and our balcony in sun all afternoon. There is a Facebook Group started by a detainee for Howard Springs residents, which had some very helpful content on it we checked before we arrived (like “bring plates and cutlery!) . Sadly now the keyboard warriors are out in force with some really disrespectful comments, I‘ve left it. It appears to be no longer moderated. I started a little group message with a couple of people in our block instead, and that’s been helpful I think. Its so isolating for people here with one call a day from a remote tele-health service, and that’s it.

As mentioned earlier, some of the previous residents were caught breaking health protocols, so they have really clamped down on any opportunities for mixing. The few covidiots ruining life for the many – a familiar story. Three lads were caught pushing one another around in a wheelie bin for instance, wearing no masks and close together.

Today Catherine had a knock at her door and two police officers and a guy in an army uniform asked her if she knew “the gentlemen in the unit next door”, as clearly we had been seen nipping in and out of each other rooms. They thought this row was for singles. It’s good that they are on it. I can just imagine though, some observer of us going, “What’s that old bloke doing hanging around that young shielah‘s donga ? “ I should explain a “donga” is not a body part – it’s a miner’s cabin – pre-fab – desk, bed, bathroom 🙂

The police are very assertive about mask wearing, even when there is absolutely no one else around. I was told off this afternoon as I briefly put my head out of my donga door mask free, but with it dangling in my hand ready to put on. I was shouted at (no armchair manner with this particular officer) “PUT YOUR MASK ON., ITS NO GOOD IN YOUR HANDS!”. I could have rejoined “Well, it would be no good on my face either would it as there is no one within a 20 metre radius?”. But there would be no point. I have heard there have been some very rude and even violent detainees. It would be a tough job, walking around in full kit in this heat, and must be draining even if you are acclimatised. Again I have to say what a shame it is that a few idiots just ruin it.

Well, I hope that gives you a flavour of what’s going down /up here (depending on where you are reading from, geographically), any other questions just fire them in. We have time to answer 🙂 So today is day 7, and a week today its all over, we hope. And really what’s two weeks? For hundreds of asylum seekers in Melbourne it will be 6 years since they were locked up . So yes we’re very lucky.

This is what accommodation facilities for refugees on Manus Island looked like.(ABC News)







































































































































































8-9 November: Hello from Howard Springs

Author: Mr A

Location: Howard Springs International Quarantine Facility, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

A number of my friends won’t be surprised to hear that on entering Australia yesterday I have been detained at the pleasure of the Australian government, whilst assessing my potential health hazard to a largely coronavirus free country . Oh yes, Catherine’s here as well, even she couldn’t bat her lovely eyes out of this one!

Flying over the Northern Territory on our descent into Darwin International Airport
All the processing – passport control, temperature checks, interviews, C19 test and provision of room passes all happened at the RAAF side of the airport
A mini-bus drives us to the facility at Howard Springs

For fourteen days we are locked up in a quarantine centre just outside Darwin in the Northern Territory, with the very best medical support on hand should the two tests we have had in the last 3 days prove to be wrong, and we actually have caught coronavirus from one of the 300 returning Australians on the Qantas flight, all of whom have had, like us, a pre-and post flight test. However, the breaking news is that one of our fellow passengers tested positive upon landing in Darwin, so clearly there’s room for this sneaky virus to make it through screening and into Australia. So super vigilance is required and we support the rigour of the process. We cross our fingers over the next few days I guess.

We have been given these wearable devices to monitor our temperature and heart beat which synchronises with an app on an iPad to a central team who are monitoring the output.

We do love a good gadget, as you know! This one is surprisingly comfortable

We should get an early alert if things go south. I envisage being given an electric shock from the arm band in the middle of the night and having a voice come through the iPad speaker “Alert, alert, your temperature has risen by one degree and we detect zero flatulence”, just as hazmat suited health warriors break my door down.

Let me back track though about the facility we are in. Originally a camp built to house workers for a Japanese mining company, it has been adapted to now provide a quarantine centre where at least 5,000 Australian citizens returning from overseas can be securely ring fenced from each other (each flight stays in groups) and separated from those domestic travellers coming inter-state, as they are also quarantined here.

Prisoner cell-block D – our home for the next two weeks all going well
The other side of that fence is where the medical staff and NT police hang out on their breaks, and stay while they are stationed here

It is staffed on the health side by an organisation I had never heard of, but should have, called Australian Medical Assistance Teams (Ausmat). They are drawn from state and territory health services across Australia, and have provided a rapid response capability to emergencies such as Samoa‘s measles outbreak last year, then that dramaticThai cave rescue (yes that was them!), and a host of other humanitarian efforts internationally. Now Australia needs them here in the Northern Territory to provide support as a number of these repatriation flights, like ours, are bringing in folk with the virus. It must be contained.

We had a long old day yesterday, with 16 hrs on the flight, then another four going though an admissions process , more tests etc. Finally getting to our room, we were wished a another “welcome home” from the well intentioned AUSMAT staff. Opening the doors to our little huts, it was hard to keep a smile on our face. A place less like home it would be hard to imagine..

A blue swan awaits us on the bed
A welcome pack on the desk containing hand sanitiser and snacks sits beside our medical iPad and monitoring hardware. In the corner the all important kettle, tea bags and paper cups.
A neat little bathroom with a very powerful shower

We spent what was left of the day unpacking and trying to get our internet working. In the latter matter, a day later the IT contractor running the set up here remains unsuccessful, so we have heard we might be packing and moving again tomorrow. Ah well it passes the time I guess, as long as our stay doesn’t reset at day one in our new accomodation!

It’s interesting watching events unfold here, a bit like we are in a low budget Australian dystopian movie. With police and wire fencing everywhere, hazmat outfits, and these drab, prefab huts. Last night we decided to try and sit on our balcony with our flasks of tea. The police across the “other side of the wire” were watching us intently enough to shout out “Masks on”- we pointed out we were drinking, and the reply was, “put it on between drinking”. There was not another soul about and we were at least 5 metres and two fences away from them. We are on a balcony by ourselves, but that’s what they have been told to enforce after the previous tomfoolery. There’s a YouTube video of a “rave” going on up here when residents were allowed a little more freedom. Learning from what happened in Victoria (a major outbreak that locked down the state for months was traced to a poorly enforced quarantine regime) everyone’s a little nervous, and we have to respect that. Over zealous maybe, but better be safe than COVIDed.

No crocodiles sighted yet – the police with their guns would soon see them off – just plenty of chirping geckos dashing around the lights outside our cabin, munching on insects

We just need to think about what awaits us on our release. Friends in Sydney already have been planning our social schedule for when we finally arrive back , making our mouths water and our throats dry. The food here is shall we say, adequate. We aren’t going to starve, far from it. The wastage must be enormous. Millions around the world would be grateful for three meals a day of anything. And there is no alcohol allowed at all.

The heat is a shock to our temperate climate adjusted bodies, but we have the luxury of air con, so no complaints there. And seperate rooms, as each unit is only big enough for a single bed, fridge, desk and bathroom. So Catherine gets a good night’s sleep with no “wild animal noises” as she puts it, disturbing her little needed beauty sleep. After so much time in close proximity we are enjoying some time to do our own thing. Well I am, Catherine must be missing me like crazy 🙂

We just think of the thousands of Australians who have not had the opportunity to come back. There are some horror stories out there. Friends of ours with two young boys and a flight booking for New Year’s Eve were told by their airline “the flight may or may not go”. They have given up their house rental, sold their car, and have only their suitcases. If the flight gets cancelled like many have 24 hrs before, what do they do? Others are stuck in far flung countries with overwhelmed medical systems. Its a horrible situation for so many Australians who just want to come home. Meanwhile our politicians squabble among themselves, and point fingers at each other, but other than this initiative by the Federal government, things are happening far too slowly to resolve the problem. These people have Australian passports. They are being denied access to the country that expects them to pay their taxes. Of course we need to protect Australia from importing cases, but we surely also owe a duty of care to those who remain abroad and are vulnerable there?

And so we are back in Australia. It was funny coming out of the room tonight onto the balcony for something, then literally a couple of minutes later going out again, and I couldn’t help but shout “Gee, who put the lights out!”. We had forgotten what the tropics is like. One minute its so bright you’re squinting across the deck to spot the croc, then bang, the curtains are dropped in a flash of an often intense sunset, Then it‘s pitch black. Not just darkish..its black. None of that oh so British fiddling around with evening twilight thing. Like everything else here, its distinctive, its dramatic, its Australia.

And so the sun sets on our second night in quarantine….

6 November: Our last day in the UK, walking a locked down London

Author: Mr A

Location: The Paddington Hilton, London

Its our last day in the UK. we fly back to Australia tomorrow. Rarely have we felt so conflicted. We are going to miss so much about being here in the UK, and yet we’re have so much to look forward to when we get back to Sydney after our quarantine in Darwin.

So with the day to ourselves, we decided to lace up our walking boots for one last jaunt in the autumnal sunshine. A cold snap had obliged us by providing a last chance to get rugged up, feel our cheeks cold in the wind, and smell the fallen leaves as they accumulate in piles, just urging to be kicked.

The deserted streets of London’s first day of the second national lockdown gave us plenty of elbow room to explore.

We walked from our hotel, adjacent to Paddington Station (chosen to give us easy access to the Heathrow Express in the morning) and headed over to the Thames via Hyde Park and Chelsea, admiring the rows of luxury cars that lined the mews and the boutiques all shut up.

Our walk map
As most trees are losing their leaves, some in London are already coming into bud as though spring is imminent
The quiet streets around Paddington
The Italian Gardens – built in 1860 – their fountains one of our first sights as we enter Hyde Park
A coot in the Italian Gardens
An amazing sky this morning – these are apparently altocumulus clouds, and predict fair weather
Looking down towards Serpentine Bridge
Action shot of the swan photography session
A feisty swan on The Serpentine in Hyde Park
Fabulous autumn shades in Hyde Park

Some of the cavalry even turned out to see us off, which was nice.

A little bit of training in progress
Some of these fresh faced lads looked like they should be at school
Past Imperial College, the Science Museum and Natural History Museums…the roads deserted
The Natural History Museum is a magnificent building
We even made it to Sydney sooner than expected…ah-hem….

From Chelsea we crossed over the Albert Bridge and across to Battersea Park, where we enjoyed freshly filled vegan baguettes in the rose garden.

Albert Bridge – a cable suspension bridge originally built here in 1873
The Peace Pagoda was presented to Londoners in 1984
The tennis courts are closed due to the lockdown, but some lads manage to create their own space to play
The Chelsea Bridge is relatively new, having opened in 1937 to replace a previous bridge
Crunching through the autumn leaves – a great opportunity to relive the sounds, smells and experiences of your childhood!

Then it was all the way down to Westminster Palace with armed police everywhere as the terror threat status is “severe”, before then heading back via St James Park.

Strolling along the Thames Path
Looking across the River Thames towards the Nine Elms district and the new US Embassy building (opened December 2017). It looks equally impressive internally according to the embassy website..
Vauxhall Bridge
Westminster from the Victoria Tower Gardens, the Buxton Memorial in the foreground which commemorated 200 years since the abolition of slavery

We headed back through St. James’s Park, giving Buckingham Palace a wave as we then headed back across to Hyde Park. Just under 19km (12 miles) though some of the tourist highlights of London, and hardly a soul to be seen. Brilliant.

A European white pelican in St. James’s Park – it is tinged pink in mating season. They apparently have been known to fly into London Zoo for a feed of fish before returning back to the park! There have been pelicans in the park since some were first gifted by the Russian Ambassador in 1664
Plenty of grey squirrels in St James’s Park – hiding up trees from the multitude of small dogs that love to chase them
Buckingham Palace – if the royal standard is flying it means the Queen is home – with no breeze we cannot tell which flag is hoisted
Looking down St. James’s Park Lake towards Dover House (1750s) and the London Eye peering over the trees
Such space and greenery in central London
The final walk across Hyde Park
Bathurst Mews, back in Paddington, with its cobbled streets looking frozen in time

We have had plenty of time to reflect on what we will miss and what we are looking forward to. If I had to pick the top three on each list it would be as follows:

So what will we miss? Well the majority of our “blood family” is here, on a time time zone that makes it harder to connect on line when we go back. It’s not that we have been able to actually spend heaps of time with them, given the constraints of the various restrictions we have had, but the time that we have has been brilliant.

Secondly we will miss the changes that the seasons bring. The colours, the smells, the sounds, even here in the city the autumnal colours are spectacular in the parks. The different feel you get walking in the varying temperatures and weather, the coziness of turning up your collar against a chill wind. We just feel more engaged with the natural world watching everything change.

Finally, and we have talked together about this a lot, we will miss the feeling we get of having more values in common with the Brits. The courtesy shown by drivers, or service providers, pretty much everybody has a please or thank you, or sorry in their sentence. It just feels…nice. There’s no pushing and shoving, no macho aggressive behaviour. It just feels good.

However, Australia beckons with our “adopted family” and lovely fur child, our joint number one on the list of what’s pulling us back. They have been the people who we have spent such a chunk of our lives with, in Catherine‘s case, most of her adult life. There are going to be some wonderful reunions, some long lunches and even longer dinners!

And yes it will also be lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings, there haven’t been many times we have done that over here. There’s just something so wonderful about being able to extend your outdoor time right though the dark hours especially when there’s a pile of freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters close at hand, and chilled bottle of something crisp to wash them down.

Finally, it is those great wild open deserted spaces, whether they be miles of brilliant white sand on a beach, or the endless eucalyptus forests stretching to the horizon. The emptiness is just so serene, although this year I think it will be tougher to find the quiet spots with everyone staycationing in Australia.

It‘s worrying to leave friends and family here, given the transmission rates, especially since we wont be able to easily get back should there be a problem, but we really have no good option of where to stay. So it’s on that plane tomorrow we go.

Thanks again to all our family and friends here who have made this trip, even in these tough times, so memorable. It has been such an eye opener for us to see three seasons come and go in this beautiful country. To feel the joy of reconnecting with family, and to eat properly cooked fish and chips, which is what we are about to do now as our “Last Supper” 🙂

PS. We both just heard – both negative for Covid-19 – we’re definitely off tomorrow!

Hurrah…long may it continue to be this way!

25-31 October: A “wedding week” in Brighton and an imminent return to Australia in motion

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, East Sussex, UK

Part of our mental health discipline in these trying times is to keep thinking of the benefits the pandemic has brought us. There have many, but one of the greatest was to be able to share in Catherine’s sister‘s wedding here in Brighton this week.

A pre wedding Sunday afternoon stroll after lunch up at Hollingbury Hill Fort
Uncle Mark explaining to Isabel how many years ago the Iron Age people built this fort
Queen of the golf course
Chasing around with Auntie Catherine
The sun reemerging from behind a black cloud, the rain heading out to sea for now

Helen and Stuart have been together a while, evidenced by having two lovely children Elliott (9) and Isabel (6), and five years before them of child free togetherness in the south coast seaside town of Brighton. They decided, for a number of reasons back in the summer this year, that autumn would be the right time to tie the knot. One of those reasons was undoubtedly that Catherine would be around to share the experience. Geographical separation over the last 22 years has not weakened the strong sister-bond. For me as well, Helen and Stu have been like family over those years since they first got together. Helen stayed with us when she came to Australia, and came to our wedding back in 2002. Stuart has shared many a decent glass of red over the years, and fed me some of the most memorable, relaxed, fun meals we have had on our visits back.

To see them share their continuing commitment to each other, with a close group of friends and family (only 15 allowed), that was just priceless for both of us. How they pulled off such a fabulous event given the constantly changing constraints, was a marvel! But they did. The week was full of hair and nail appts for the girls, and perhaps Stuart (I’m not sure :)), and time at their place just hanging out with the kids, and eating and eating and eating! Brighton has some fabulous places to buy deli food from, and I think Stuart must know them all! OK so the weather wasn’t always conducive to being out and about, but we wrapped up and headed out on walks with them, several times clocking up many miles along Brighton’s wet and windy seafront walking in and out from our caravan park.

Fresh from a haircut, Helen sports a stunning bouncy blow dry
Autumn colours in the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets
Arriving at the registry office, Isabel and Elliot almost upstaging their parents at the ceremony in their gorgeous outfits

The ceremony itself went without a hitch, in a gorgeous room at the local town hall. Bio-degradable confetti was thrown (against council regulations), and we all felt rebellious. The showers came and went, but Stuart’s sister, who just happens to be an awesome wedding photographer, captured some magic moments.

Catherine, mum Jenny, and half sister Elle sit together, representing Helen’s side of the guest quota
Elliot managed to smuggle in another guest, rabbit, who had not been on the invite list!
A gorgeous ceremony
Helen signing the registry
The happy couple emerge, jubilant, to a huge round of applause from well wishers outside
Jenny battles the strong wind to sprinkle the happy couple with petal confetti
Miss Isabel giggling at the fun
Half-sister Elle, Catherine, the bride Helen, mum Jenny and half-brother Alex

The long lunch that followed (at The Ivy in The Lanes) was one of the best dining experiences we have had over this side of the world. The food, the wine, the company, the context of the room itself and its decor, the staff whose smiles refused to be hidden by their masks. This was a special time, and has been filed carefully in our memories.

Terrible table selfies and lots of laughter
John, Elle and Catherine
The ladies’ toilets were rather special
The beautiful bride and bridesmaid
Miss Isabel

Feeling a little dusty the day after the wedding, we treated Helen, Stu and the kids to pizza at Fatto a Mano restaurant in Hove. As always they were great company and the food helped clear the head a little, as did the rather blowy and showery walk back to our campsite along the seafront!

A post wedding day pizza in nearby Hove
Day one of wedded bliss – Mr and Mrs Carter
Looking stormy over the West Pier ruins
More stormy weather approaching behind us
The bright lights of Brighton Palace Pier cheer up a rather grey looking scene

Saying goodbye to all our friends and family here is especially difficult this time as we prepare to leave, because we have no clue when we will be back, with the travel restrictions in place and soaring airfare costs.

We have made it onto one of the “specially facilitated” flights back to Australia. Qantas has entered into an agreement with the Australian government to run a number of these flights from London, New Delhi and J’burg. At $2,165 a head for a one way ticket, they are reasonably priced in these times of expensive airfares, and that‘s one way. A requirement for a pre-flight COVID-19 test 48hrs before our flight means that will be our first milestone to clear next Thursday in London, before hopefully boarding the flight on Saturday morning. Then its off to a hot and steamy Darwin non-stop, just under 17 hrs, with limited in-flight food and no entertainment provided.

A happy morning when we received this email!

Why Darwin when we live in Sydney? Well that‘s part of the deal with these flights. You have to complete `14 days quarantine at a special facility just outside the city. Landing at the RAAF section of the airport, and then channelled through a special process involving another test, special briefings, and then a bus ride to our quarantine centre at a place called Howard Springs, 30km south of the city. It was built in 2012 to house workers from a Japanese mining company, now serves as home for at least 14 days to incoming Australians on these special flights, as well as some domestic flights where passengers are also forced to quarantine. Australia is serious about controlling its borders.

At $2,500 a head, its another cost we hadn’t expected, plus our flight back to Sydney once we are clear, but still cheaper than the $19,500 business class airfare from Singapore Airlines that was our other option! There are economy fares around, but the tales of people being continuously bumped off them, as Australia is capping its number of incoming international passengers, put us off that uncertain route, and the ones we could find to book were not leaving for weeks. Plus we would then have been in hotel quarantine, possibly in a room without any access to fresh air. At Howard Springs we get to have some outdoor time each day. We would both struggle with being locked up in an airless hotel room.

Catherine’s airway disease means she is classed as vulnerable, so we qualified for the flight, thanks to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are administering the invites. So flying on a tightly controlled route from a health perspective made sense. The last flight from London arrived with zero cases, the ones from New Delhi only four, so we are going into a pretty low risk environment we think. However, England is going into lockdown next week, so how this will affect all these plans we have no clue!

On day 12 of quarantine we are to be tested again, and if we’re clear, then get permission to jump on the flight we have set up to Sydney on Sunday the 22nd. There may well be a glass or two of something alcoholic consumed that night and some decent food. The Howard Springs facility is dry, serves all meals in take away containers with plastic cutlery, like a two week long airplane flight! So a hug with our close friends Jenny and David, and hours of cuddling our fur child Tassie, will be the milestone we look forward to over the next three weeks.

It‘s sure going to be an interesting few weeks for many people in the UK and Europe as case numbers soar, and the US as civil unrest looks to raise its head whichever way their vote goes. Australia seems a safe haven. Our options here in the UK and Europe are limited for the winter as campsites will no doubt close, travel restrictions tighten, and the weather makes living in a motorhome though the winter increasingly impractical. So it‘s Australia we hope to make it back to. Keep your fingers crossed for us please, and maybe see you down under soon!

Happy Halloween!

13-18 October: Walking in the footsteps of my parents

Author: Mr A

Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK

It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).

Great campsite at Houghton Mill. a National trust property
My mums home growing up – the riverside town of Godmanchester
The River Great Ouse
I remember her telling me she used to swim in this river as a teenager
We even found the same pub we went to that day
A gnome outside the hotel
Cheers! Remembering Clem and Jill 💕
The Old Bridge at Godmanchester

From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!

From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.

The Church of St Swithin in Old Weston where my ‘Turner’ ancestors almost certainly attended

Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.

The salubriously named road where so many of my relatives lived – Rotton actually is from the word for Royal in old English
More mentions of ancestors at the nearby church
One of my ancestors memorialised after he died in the First World War
”You are my sunshine”

A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!

From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.

A fab night out with daughters Zoe and Hayley
Well I had to keep daughter number two company with a desert!

One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.

The newest edition to Halyey’s family – the very cuddly Belle

Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.

The Grand Union Canal in mirror-like perfection
What an avenue of autumnal delight, a few minutes walk from the city centre
A seagull soars over the barges
Perfect colour palette

We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.

Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.

I thought they were coming over!
Lynx used to be native to the UK but have been extinct here since the 1300s
Just love a bird show – now now…..this one’s a buzzard….
A gorgeous barn owl
Jacob is such a lovely lad – quick to smile and a pleasure to be with
A moment captured to treasure with Zoe and Jacob

Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.

Some were keener than other top be captured by Catherines lens. -or was it my aftershave?
Intrepid explorers off for a stomp

I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.

7-10 October: The Peak District here we come…

Author: Mr A

Location: Tittesworth Resevoir, & The Winking Man, Staffordshire, Mam Tor, Buxton and Castleton, Derbyshire, UK

The impromptu days are often the best, and our dash up to the Peak District from Shropshire was a great example of that. We drove past a large reservoir and decided it looked like a top location for a spot of lunch and a bit of a leg stretch. The weather brightened up, the forest was giving off that freshly rained on perfume. and we just had to keep walking (8.5km circuit – map).

Tittesworth Reservoir near Leek in Staffordshire
A cool start soon warms up as the sun emerges
A perfect autumnal walk
Some more signs of early autumn
A stream weaving its way through a woodland copse

Half way round and we came across a couple, one using a wheelchair, who were struggling up a steep bit of path. So we gave them a bit of a hand, and we ended up chatting and walking the rest of the way with these two absolutely delightful people. At 91 years of age, Derek was determined to get round a walk that the majority of the folk there that day clearly hadn’t attempted, ably assisted by the super strong and fit Rosie. Now I admit to never having tried to push a wheelchair up a hill, and when I did, I was even more admiring of Rosie’s prowess behind the chair!

Here they come – always smiling and ever determined
Crossing the dam wall – a peaceful outlook
Dam(n), this is a lovely walk
Looking up towards Derbyshire
The Roaches – rocks popular with climbers on the horizon
Climbing of a different kind – Rosie helps Derek up the steps while I bring the wheelchair
Finally a flat path!
Wetlands – great for a spot of birdwatching

They were such great company, and it really made our day to share theirs. We gave our farewells, and headed off to a pub we were going to park at for the night, intriguingly called The Winking Man (spelled carefully).

We were just looking at the drinks menu when I noticed one of the barmaids having an animated conversation on the phone, and glancing over our way and smiling. Odd I thought..what have I done now? it was Rosie and Derek. They had remembered the name of the pub we were going to and were ringing to buy us a bottle of wine to thank us for the help that afternoon. What a kind thought and action. In these difficult times, such gestures mean even more to us. Sometimes we do feel disconnected from community and friends. A moment like this reminds us the potential for friendship is all around us.

Thank you so much Rosie and Derek – we thought of you as we enjoyed this malbec
A foggy start to our journey up into the Peak District the following morning

The next day, with finally a rain free forecast, we headed over to do one of the Peak District’s classic walks, the circuit around Man Tor (map). I must have done this in the Scouts, we were up in that area regularly, but it was all fresh to me this time. The incredible views across a landscape so deeply green it looked unreal. Despite the cold northerly wind there were a few people about, but as usual once away from the car park the numbers really thinned out.

The cloud starts to lift, shining sun on the surrounding hills
We didn’t spend long up on top of Mam Tor
Just enough time to admire the patchwork of fields below us
The cairn on top of the Tor makes a good tripod since it is too cold and windy to use Catherine’s
Skipping off to lower ground (and slightly warmer temperatures out of the icy wind)
There has been a lot of rain here, and we’re grateful we’ve stumbled upon a dry morning for our hike
The shades of green are all encompassing
Heading down into the valley
A pair of old stone gate posts
We follow an old broken road which collapsed in a landslide. We hope nobody was driving on it at the time. It had potholes almost as big as those in Nottinghamshire roads
So much walking to be done in this area

The blemish on the day came when Catherine noticed her two week old Salomon boots were already starting to come apart at the joins, so a few phone calls later and we were off to Buxton to post them back to the retailer. Now, some towns just create a poor first impression, and then get worse. So this was Buxton. From a car park machine that made us pay a premium rate for a day (in coins) when we needed an hour, to the complete disinterest in enticing us to buy anything in the shops we visited. We tried to find somewhere that looked appealing for lunch, gave up and left and made our way over to our campsite just outside Castleton.

Breathing a sigh of relief as we leave Buxton and drive through roads that look like this

What a drive over it was, as the unfenced road wound down through the hills. Not a quiet road though. This is definitely an area to explore off peak. Even now its super busy, our campsite completely full. I can’t imagine what school holidays were like trying to get around. No wonder there seemed a higher proportion than usual of irate drivers.

The next day (Friday) was another wet one, so we decided we would just stay local. I volunteered to head into the local bakery to equip us for a bacon and egg brekky – I’m all altruism. Hot out of the oven I was sold a crusty “white bap” (how many words are there in the English language for a loaf? Even Google didn’t know that) – what a lovely start to the day.

It kept getting better, when we wandered into dinky Casterton and found four outdoor shops! A beanie and warm gloves were purchased for me. Things are cooling down here pretty rapidly, evidenced by the fact that we had several freezing hailstorms batter us. We did see though see many walking signposts through the village, a hiking mecca’s this place and somewhere we really want to come back to.

Castleton is still pretty in the rain
It’s all starting to look quite autumnal

But for today the only thing to do was to retire to one of the six pubs we noticed in the space of a few hundred metres! We got chatting to the folk on the next table, as you do in an English pub. We have so missed that. Europe was wonderful last year, but without the local language it was hard to engage.

We emerge from The Castle to bright sunshine but with the next heavy cloud forever looming

With heavy downpours predicted, and Catherine devoid of walking boots after having to return hers, we headed back to Truffy and some lazy time with music and books. Perfect..but not quite purrrrfect ….without Miss Tassie to warm our laps 🙁

This has been an all too brief dalliance with the Peak District – “We’ll BeBack”

1-4 October: Storm Alex pays us a visit…

Author: Mr A

Location: Cliff top near New Quay, mid Wales coast, Ceredigion, UK

We had picked this next camp site because of its location right next to the “Wales Coast Path:”, another long distance path with 1,600km available to put one foot in front of the other and contemplate the natural world in all its glory. Unfortunately that evening Storm Alex paid Europe a visit, and despite Brexit, thought he would cross the Channel and give the Brits a bit of what for.

Not much chance of catching any viruses on this camp site!

Well we had a rocking and rolling night, even with our hydraulic legs down and trying to anchor us, our location on the edge of a cliff in the direct path of the winds gave us a troubled night, then day, then night, then another day. For two and a half days we were confined to the 2 square metres of Truffy floor, as gusts of over 80kph blasted across our very desolate looking field. So my fellow inmate and I sucked it up and did our time in an area about the size of a third world prison cell. A good reminder of what having our freedom to roam really means.

A Friday sheltering from the rain…much tea drunk…
Our view obscured by raindrops
Our nearest neighbours look a little nervous as we emerge from Truffy!

Its now over three years since we took to the road, and became what the UK tax office defines as “vehicle dwellers’, that is people who for whatever reason primarily live in a caravan, motorhome or the back seat of their car. We have been back into our house for two 6 weeks spells, done a couple of house sits, and rented for a few months in lockdown, but we have no “home” we can access in situations like this when the weather turns rough, or lockdowns happen. Its something we have learnt to deal with, and it has changed our view, I think, of what “home” actually is. I came across this quote from a songwriter I have just started listening to, Amanda Shires. She said “Home is being content with yourself wherever you are”. I put her song “You Are My Home” on my September playlist (click here or search Spotify for ‘Mr A’s September favs’), a bit of a fun thing I started doing in lockdown to share with friends every month what we have been listening to on Spotify. As she sings in one verse:

“You are my home,

Wherever you go

Anywhere that you stand,

Is my piece of land,

You are my home.”

Amanda Shires, You are my home

And that sums it up. Wherever Catherine is, that‘s my home (it‘s just missing our beautiful Burmese Miss Tassie!).

The very lucky Mrs A

Thankfully the storm finally passed and we were able to venture out along the cliff top walk into the small sea side town of New Quay (not to be confused with the much bigger and glitzier Newquay in Cornwall). No one could accuse this one of being glitzy.

Looking north towards Aberaeron where the coastline gets a lot more lumpy
A few boats strewn on the beach behind the harbour wall. None have gone out lately due to the storm
We wonder whether there has been a special deal on paint agreed in this small town with its brightly coloured homes
Climbing up the highstreet

The setting was stunning, with the Welsh hills framing a perfectly curved bay, but the town itself was pretty down at heel, so after a very ordinary Sunday roast (looked like a school dinner) we smartly moved on back to camp and walked a little way down the coast in the other direction.

Lots of groundwater after the torrential downpours, the fields are saturated
The Wales Coast Path/Ceredigion Coast Path
A little dunnock sits on a branch surveying the world, probably having had to shelter for the past couple of days
Looking south down the coast. You can see the path winding its way over the cliff tops and valleys
The bright yellow gorse still flowering here, in stark contrast to the dark skies
Hungry birds hunting, again probably had a couple of days without food, unable to fly in the gusty winds
Shades of blue as we look to the silvery horizon

A lookout gave us 180 degree views, but the dolphins we had booked sadly didn’t show. A kestrel did though, hanging upside down intently watching for a late afternoon snack, perhaps hungry after several days of what we would think would be impossible flying conditions, even for these masters of aeronautical acrobatics.

Its such a relief to finally stretch our legs after the enforced confinement, and the Welsh Coast Path is clearly something we need to explore further!

Finally we get to see a sunset

28-30 September: Pembrokeshire coast path – walks from Caerfai Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).

Not a bad view for a couple of nights
Looking left (east) from camp

Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?

As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.

The sediments are visible on this rugged coastline
People were swimming in this little bay, without wetsuits! The water is at its warmest right now, at 15°C
Looking out over the Celtic Sea

We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!

Seal spotting on the clifftop
A pair of choughs – distinctive red beaks and legs – they particularly like insects and their larvae, so here were hunting down the crane flies that were hatching out on this warm afternoon

At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.

Porth y Rhaw Iron Age Fort
Many lightly salted blackberries were enjoyed…and the last of the wild roses blooming amongst the brambles

Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.

Delicate shades of peach and primrose flush the sky as the sun sets

Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).

St Davids Cathedral – a surprise in such a small village – at first you don’t see it, then passing under an arch suddenly it appears, huge, in the valley below you!
A magnificent oak ceiling in the great nave has carvings of castles and paired dolphins – no religious symbolism at all. The cathedral was founded by St David (then a monk) in the middle of the sixth century. It is one of the oldest episcopal sees in Britain.
Carved stone arches
Another lovely ceiling
A lovely poem about St Davids (Dewi is Welsh for David) by Welsh Poet, Siôn Aled Owen
Despite the gloomy day, a glow at sunset suggests there might be a better day ahead
Sunrise promises exciting things too
The sky is on fire

We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.

There are still showers out at sea, but the skies remain clear for us
We start off wrapped up warm, but are soon stripping off the layers
A cheerful robin sings us a beautiful tune as we pass by
More eroded rock sculptures await us at every turn

It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.

Just love the rock sculptures and colours as we enter Porthclais Harbour
Porthclais Harbour – the colours here are delicious!
A ridiculously picturesque coastline
Always take a moment to stop, breathe and enjoy where you are
Sometimes the path ahead got a little crowded, but generally all were quite good at distancing…

We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).

It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.

Where else would you sit and enjoy tea and fruit?

After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.

Playful adult seals
Look carefully and you will see a white seal pup stranded up on a rock, patiently awaiting the return of its parents for a feed
Around the corner, another seal mum is able to feed her pup as she left it accessible on the beach

We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.

Our destination, Whitesands Beach, overlooked by Carn Llidi…we decided we needed to conclude our hike by climbing this…
We look back at the coastline we have followed over the past few hours
Feeling quite pleased with ourselves – our longest day-walk yet and we still have energy to spare
Click on the map to access the walk in Strava

What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?

22-25 September: Staying low in the Brecon Beacons

Author: Mr A

Location: Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, UK

My last visit to the Brecon Beacons was as a 14 year old Boy Scout, being dropped off from an old Land Rover with two weeks‘ worth of dehydrated rations in the middle of a rain storm. The sheets of ice cold water being chucked at us continued for the next ten miserable days of thick fog, wet feet and chafed legs from the cheap, heavy ex-army surplus gear that I was wearing.

Well, some things haven’t changed. The weather is still unpredictable, making it uncertain how long it would rain for that day. But we donned our light, comfy, expensive Gortex jackets (who says money doesn’t matter?) and headed along the Brecon Canal, handily adjacent to our campsite, into the not-so-bustling Brecon town centre.

Gloomy skies withholding their burden as we walk along the tow path
Many of these narrow boats are permanent homes

We immediately injected what looked like some much needed cash into the local economy, (so many empty shops for let) and bought Catherine some new fancy dancy (read expensive) walking boots, and me some very comfy (not chafing!) walking trousers. Well, we don’t have much else to spend money on at the moment. We eat in, we drink in, we only wear walking clothes and PJ’s. We can’t fit another thing into our dinky motorhome, so there is no point shopping for anything else!

Walking has become our path to health and happiness. I’m still researching the science, but all we know is we feel better than we EVER have before (touching wood). More on this in a blog to come.

So the canal was our focus for the next day as well. There was no point in going up onto the tops with zero visibility. It seemed lots of other people had the same idea! It was a busier walk (Strava) than on the coast paths of the south-west in Cornwall. Interesting..

Walking over a viaduct over a river
Looking down at the River Usk from the viaduct

The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, to give it its correct name, and to be even more optically correct in Welsh Camlas Sir Fynwy a Brycheiniog, winds for a very picturesque 56km of its navigable length, through the south Wales countryside.

At the end we were exploring was the Brecon basin, lovingly restored by volunteers and government grants, as they increasingly realise the potential of this once neglected asset.

Canals have a particular sense of tranquility about them
A slow chug along the waterway – these guys couldn’t believe they had just been handed a boat to use without any prior experience! They appeared to be doing fine…

We stopped to talk to a couple of guys who had hired their narrow boat for a few days and were lucky to find a hire company with any availability. I had looked during the summer at a number of canals and had seen how busy they were right though autumn It’s so good to see how the UK has stepped back from the brink of letting the waterways be demolished in the 1960s, and thanks to community initiatives has restored much of the network.

Lots of local narrow boats, registered up the road

The next day brought more rain, but we were determined to not be put off getting out and about. We moved to the western end of the Brecon Beacons National Park and a pub car park in the tiny settlement of Trap. I think the pub made up for 50% of the houses there in fact. We had noticed on one of the apps we use the pub had welcomed over nighters in self contained motorhomes. The only down side that we discovered when calling the owner on the way there, she hadn’t reopened after lockdown! Ah well…another night in then!

Waterproofs were donned and a walk up to nearby Carreg Cennen Castle planned and executed (Strava) at a brisk pace to warm us up.

Carreg Cennen dates to around 1150, but there was likely an Iron Age hill fort here before that

We were accosted at the little cafe at the entrance to the castle grounds, and accosted felt like the right word to use. A very brusque lady said, “So are you going to the castle or walking round it? If it‘s the castle, then you need tickets”, looking very grumpy that we seemed to have disturbed her day. No other information was offered, so I started to say we were out for a walk, and she turned her back and stalked off. In these strange times I guess we need to make allowances for people being jittery, but given her cafe was empty, and there were two staff doing nothing, I would imagine whoever owns the place is feeling the pinch and would have wanted her to offer more details as inducement.

Entering the castle grounds and walking past the cafe

We are trying to carry on injecting our little contributions into any business that welcomes us on our travels, but a small percentage seem to be staffed by people who seem determined to drive customers away. I do acknowledge that many have no choice about where they work, and having contact with the general public right now is a risky business. This was in such stark contrast to the shop we bought our outdoor gear from (Gibb Outdoors in Brecon), where we were welcomed into the store by friendly staff, who were knowledgeable about their product, and that took no increase in risk on their part, and were rewarded with £350 of our money.

Even the sheep are looking a bit grumpy on this wet afternoon
The scenery is still wonderful, despite the rain – an ancient oak woodland on the left and ash on the right
A well maintained pathway
Shades of grey on our view as the rain continues falling
We stick to the lanes, the footpaths becoming a little muddy
Trap with one ‘p’ on the signpost for the Welsh spelling, two p’s (English spelling) on the map!
Returning to our (closed) pub

So we spent our quiet night at the back of the pub, while I anxiously ruminated about how we would be getting back up the rather steep (for little town-tyres Truffy) slope back to the road, but with plenty of right foot he romped up and we were not Trapped in Trap…I just had to say it 🙂

Only the owls hooting in the woodland behind us disrupted our sleep here

18-20 September: A weekend in West Bagborough

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Quantock Hills, Somerset

During lockdown, the tiny village of West Bagborough in Somerset had become our home, our safe little bubble. The world went crazy around us, but we just strapped on our boots and headed for the hills. While there we had got to know the owners of the local campsite, Quantock Camping.

We decided to pay them a visit on our journey between Cornwall and Wales. We arrived after lunch and got Truffy settled on to a lovely grassy pitch. Catherine cooked up one of her fab spaghetti bolognaises for us all, and the conversation and laughter flowed, with the odd bottle of wine to lubricate us. Their Great Dane, Genevieve, tended to dominate the skyline somewhat, and the odd cat or chicken made its appearance, all the usual stuff at their place! So lovely to be back among these people who welcomed us into their lives when we so needed to feel part of somewhere safe.

On Saturday morning, with some fresh eggs inside us, we once again strapped on our walking boots and headed up into the Quantock Hills, walking straight from the campsite (Strava). After leaving the village, within minutes we were enveloped in the sights and smells of the countryside we have come to love so much.

Autumn is just starting to make its presence felt, with a few leaves turning a bright gold, and some giving up to the inevitable and scattering themselves on the welcoming ground. We chose a route that would take us back to a hidden valley we had only walked through once, dissected by a perfect little bubbling stream. The last time we were here in the full bloom of early summer, now it looked and smelled so different.

Stout Lane – we have seen this change from bare branches, to buds, to full leaf, and now beginning to look autumnal
A scattering of beech leaves on the ground
After 25 minutes climbing straight up, it is straight down again on the other side of the hills
And down…last time we came here it was full of sheep with their lambs…now cows and calves enjoy this valley
The towering woodlands as we walk towards the village of Aisholt

We pressed on to the next little village, only passing a couple of other walkers on the way. Tea was supped from our flasks sitting on a bench in the churchyard. I have rarely felt so content in my life as I did at that moment. We wanted for nothing. The sun was warming our faces, a fresh Somerset-grown apple to munch on, and we headed back over the hills for a fish and chip supper with our hosts. What a perfect day.

Looking like delicate lace, the last of the flowers blooming in the woodland
A magnificent thatched cottage, the Old School House in Aisholt. Apparently it was the holiday home for Sir Henry Newbolt (a poet in the 1800s) and the house that Coleridge thought of renting – but his wife said no!
It was so warm we retreated to the shade on the hike back up hill
A perfect toadstool
Looking north across the hills
The hikers
A hill pony. They have recently been part of a roundup and all the foals have been taken away to be sold.
Early fallen sweet chestnuts and another perfect toadstool

The next day we joined our friends and their dogs (Strava) on a walk through ancient birch forest. There is hardly a sentence said between us without a laugh while the dogs romp around, Genevieve crashing though small trees like they’re not there. We got a little lost, a crumpled map was produced, ignored and good humoured debates raged about directions, But it doesn’t matter, we are all just loving being enveloped in this stunning countryside where there’s a new view around every corner, and another bed of nettles to keep you honest.

Leftover fish and chips heated up with an egg for lunch
Terry, Jane and Karen working out the next stage of our walk
Following a farm track down to the next style
Gwen looking back for mum, Karen who is lagging behind
Looking back at the Quantocks

We just made it to a pub for last orders. A beer never tastes as good as when its drunk after a walk like that. Shared with friends in a sunny garden, and brewed just up the road on Exmoor.

Cheers! A perfect chaotic scene…

Sadly we said our goodbyes, but knowing we have a safe refuge we can head back to if things go pear shaped makes all the difference to our confidence as we head off to Wales. Well, it’s only 90 minutes down the road!