4-7 October: A wander through the south-west on my bike…

Author: Mr A

Location: Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, UK

After months of blue skies and less wind than Prime Minister’s question time, I decided to head off for a few days on a cycle tour when England copped its first storm of the Autumn season. Oops. Didn’t I read the forecast? I did…but I thought I should reacquaint myself with the ”joy” of riding in the full gamut of weather England can throw at you. I also like exploring in the off seasons, so, “Toughen up!” I thought. In a reluctant nod to the forecast and that most camp sites were shut for the off season, I ditched my plan to carry camping gear at the last minute, and went for the pub/B &B option.

So in summary, how did the trip work out? Well, with the glass half full perspective, I saw some new-to-me areas of south-west England that are staggeringly beautful, proved that the solo cycle touring model works on an e-bike (something I was concerned about with range anxiety!), and had my view of the kindess of strangers totally reaffirmed. That latter point is particularly crucial given I did hit a few speed bumps. Read on…and laugh with/at me.

🐾🐾

The trip itinerary was ”flexible”, I had a clear diary for five days. I didn’t even make any accommodation bookings, making the assumption, erroneously it turns out, that in October, away from the coast, not school holidays, how hard could it be to find a room? So of I toddled into the dawn of a Somerset morning with the vague plan to ”Ride towards Lands End”. I was going south and west, with the aim to end up finishing my trip in a town with a direct train line back to Taunton, then a short ride back to our place.

Somerset is a very rural county, and I rode on that first day through tiny villages and hamlets, undisturbed by 4g coverage. Never travel here without offline mapping tools. I rode through green corridors, with tall banks and hedgerows to either side of the narrow lanes, and sometimes this turns into a tunnel. A tunnel taking me back in time I felt, as another little hamlet would emerge around a corner, with the odd car parked on the tiny streets the only reminder I was still in the 21st century.

High banks on these Somerset lanes
Has time stood still in these little hamlets?

It’s pretty hilly in the south west of the UK, a mantra I would repeat to myself over the next few days, so I was happy to come across my first town after a couple of hours riding to top up my bike and tummy battery. A much needed breakfast of champions, and a mains plug socket for the bike, as all this kit I was carrying, plus my not insignificant weight, were giving me a lower cycling range than expected.

Rider battery recharge

The lovely ladies at the Old School Cafe in the small service centre type town of Tiverton (code for…it’s a bit ugly and you wouldn’t go for for any other reason!), made me very welcome, despite my dripping clothes and muddy boots. Yes, I had been treated to what the locals call ”Devon Sunshine”. Traditionally the climate down here is a bit wetter than other parts of England. Although this year we were in drought though like the rest of the country, so the rain is much needed. Despite lashing out on the best wet weather gear money can buy, I was soaked from sweating and a bit of water ingress. There will be a section at the end on my wet weather and other gear for those interested.

Much needed rain made the riding ”interesting” in places

I had at least done some research on the next town with any chance of accommodation, and that was another 55 kilometres ride, and more importantly, over a lot of bumpy bits (it’s hilly down the south west, remember!), so I was committing. It was going to be a big day, but I felt good, and the Devon Sunshine had stopped and been replaced by…well…”mizzle”. Even though Google won’t let me type that word without autocorrecting, it is in the Oxford dictionary, and such a lovely word. One that evokes the experience just through saying it. Thats called Onomatopoeia by the way. You see, you’ve learnt something already. For our non-English resident readers, mizzle occupies the continuum between rain and mist. You don’t notice its raining, you just get really wet.

It’s clearly not a fashion shoot!

I pushed on. Unfamiliar with the area, I saw another cyclist coming the other way and shouted over to ask him a question about the best route. He pulled up. He had a couple of small bags on his bike, so I asked where he was heading. Now we could run a competition until Christmas 2023 on his answer, and I guarantee no one would win it. Istanbul. He’d left home that morning, first day of his trip. Will was raising money for a charity I’d never heard of, Andy’s Man Club. They were set up to provide support to men who are in need of mental health support. Will Thurgood had lost a good friend to suicide, and at the funeral heard of this charity. As a keen cyclist he thought, ”I’ll ride to Istanbul and raise money and awareness”. And indeed he has started well on that quest.

Will Thurgood is off to Istanbul

It’s at moments like that, I know one of the reasons I love cycle touring so much. The unexpected encounters on the road that just make you think about your own life through getting inspiration from others. I find riding solo helps these encounters. I’m more alert to a conversation opportunity, and people seem to be keener to engage, rather than interrupting a pair or a pack. Will rode on, and I watched him go with the utmost respect. Strangers whose lives momentarily intersect. In a car you’re isolated, on a bike its easy to start up a conversation. And I regularly do.

Behind that mist lurks the mass of Dartmoor..I’m going up!

More hills loomed, with the huge mass of Dartmoor dominating my vision and thoughts, as I knew I had that treat in store at some stage on this trip. Now I should interject here and explain that for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure to ride a loaded up electric bike, which is a heavy bike to begin with, it’s not a moped. You need to pedal, and get various levels of assistance of your choosing, from none (downhill mode!) up to Sport (make yourself unpopular mode with the manual brigade option). But there isn’t a “stop peddling and go up hills” option. So I arrived at my destination, the small town of Okehampton, completely exhausted with 1100 metres of climbing having taken its toll on legs that hadn’t been doing any training. Ok, so I had found my limit loaded up. I had been out with camping gear in September on a two night trip, but had done a lot less climbing.

Finally arriving after 1100 metres of climbing that day

I staggered into the hotel that I had called the day before to check if they could store my bike and asked if they had availability, Yes and yes the nice man said. Did I need to book? No, he said, its very quiet at this time of the year. So I arrived to be told, no room at the inn. There was only one other place in town, a brand whose mere mention brings shivers (of a bad kind) down the spine of the British travelling public. Wetherspoons. I walked through the bar trying to find the hotel reception, negotiating a large group of absolutely hammered lads staggering around at 2.30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Eventually I found someone to ask about a room, although she looked like I had just woken her up. I’m not kidding when I tell you it took the receptionist a good 10 minutes to wind up the old desktop and stab what seemed like 300 keys before announcing yes, they had a room left. She almost seemed disappointed she now had to check me in. She asked my mobile number three times, asked me to spell out my home address twice. I gritted my teeth. They did have bike lockers she said. After 10 minutes trying to open and store my bike in one, I decided the engineer who designed them must have had a wicked sense of humour, or who had been knocked over and injured by a cyclist! Jeez. Another couple of tourers turned up with their bikes and a smug air of ”We’ve been here before, we know how to do it”. I watched as they wrestled, and swore, and had their bikes fall out and bite them. So it was my turn to be smug, as I gave in and folded down my handlebar stem. In it went in then like a breeze. How you would get full size bikes in them remains a mystery to me.

Finally. I staggered up to my room, trying to not breathe in the smell of cheesy feet that oozed out of the hallway carpets. The room looked OK, so I walked in, and fell over. There was a crater under the carpet that would have swallowed a small dog. In fact, when I bent down to look at the floor, it did smell like in fact a dog had been there and never left.

I started unpacking to get my devices charging, searching for the bag containing the various power leads that I carefully packed in one of my panniers, and had now mysteriously dematerialised. Uh oh. I had pulled out my iPhone cable at some point during my morning’s ride, and noticed a few minutes later that in my stupor I had not fastened back up the pannier top. My charging cables bag must have leapt out and grabbed the brief opportunity to become road-kill. I phoned the ”Broad Oak House, Level 1 Emotional Support” hotline (Catherine). I was ready to give up the trip. I thought the chances of finding all the cables I needed in this remote little desert of electronics was slim. I mean, with barely any phone coverage (one bar of 3g in the town centre), why would people have phones? But no, I learnt on this trip that there may not be a bakery, butcher, greengrocer etc, but there’s always a phone shop. I could scrape by on what, for an eye watering price, they could sell me.

I ate in the restaurant downstairs, once again there were blind drunk folk staggering round, and they were good enough to share some of their pints all over my clothes. Great.

Lesson 1: Don’t trust nice young men from Okehampton who say you don’t need to book. The compromise between not being locked in to an itinerary and being in a Wetherspoons, is to book somewhere nice 24 hrs ahead. Good learning.

Lesson 2: Before recommencing riding, rotate my head like a meercat, checking carefully all bag fastenings! Sigh…

🐾🐾

I packed up in the morning and headed towards the scary bike lockers. I opened the door to the outside world to be nearly bowled over by a tremendous gust of wind and driving rain. Oh. One of those days that would be another ”valuable learning experience“ in how to ride in proper English weather. I set off. After being blown all over the road, and I’m no lightweight, l called into the emotional support line again, also doubling as weather research, as I had no 4g signal. (Why do people even need smart phones in the south-west?). Catherine had a good look at the weather reports, and could see the next couple of hours were going to be grim, but if I could get through that phase, then it was clearing up a bit.

So this is how I found myself sitting in an old pill box type shelter, by the side of rail trail. Or from the smell inside, it was actually a toilet without a sign announcing it as such. Tree branches came whirling past the open windows. The rain pelted down. Time for a Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate I thought, thanks to a recent purchase of lovely little stove. I have three now, Catherine reminds me with that Paddington Bear hard stare she has perfected when providing ”feedback” on my outdoor gear buying habits. In under a minute from pulling it out of my pannier (a pannier I immediately close), it is assembled and boiled a steaming mug to replenish the spirits, which as at this point are flagging somewhat. Don’t believe the nice young man from the outdoor shop either, when he says, “This coat will keep you dry”. It’s impossible when you are heating up through exercise, even the most breathable of waterproof membranes will have you damp. Add in some time, and leakage through bits you can’t seal around your face and remain breathing, and you’re going to be wet. But at least not that cold.

A much needed hot chocolate moment sheltering in my pill pox

Well, my forecast hotline was spot on, and the wind eased to just below a level I could ride in without becoming airborne. So off I went, once more into the breach. I rode through stunning countryside in the green and glistening heart of Devon. Little villages that surely didn’t look much different from when the French came over to wipe the floor with us at the Battle of Hastings, then built their imposing Norman castles across this landscape.

🐾🐾

Made it..third county in three days

All was going so well, and I arrived at what I thought was going to just be a quick lunch in Launceston, just over the border into Cornwall, a top up of batteries and belly. I plugged in my iPhone and up came an error message that said “Moisture has been detected in your charging port. This could take several hours to clear before you can recharge”. Oops. But the nice young man from Apple said my iPhone 11 was waterproof? Surely Apple wouldn’t lie to its customers? According to their website “An iPhone 11 can be submerged in 13 feet of water for up to 30 minutes before risking damage”. You’d think I would have noticed laying deep underwater for half an hour, but apparently not. I imagine somewhere in their tiny T’c and C’s it says ”Avoid riding for four hours in proper British weather”. Anyway. I was stuck. No phone. No navigation. Try buying a paper map nowadays.

Here’s the part where the kindness of strangers gets reaffirmed for me, starting with manager of the cafe I had chosen to park myself in to make a plan, apologising profusely for dripping everywhere. Liberty Coffee, it was called, in case you’re passing through. She welcomed me to my own little area in the hallway where I could drip to my hearts content and even park my bike next to me. Time to reach out to ”Practical Catherine” for some emotional counselling and top tips from Dr Google on drying out phones. Put in a bag of rice and leave for up to 24 hrs seemed to be the go. Advice and directions were sought and off I went to buy those.

By the time that was done, the afternoon was marching on and I was going to need a place to stay in town, and lose half a day off my trip. I headed to the Library for working wifi, then Tourist Information centre for hotels. How long everything takes without a working smart phone! The Eagle House Hotel was the only place with a room. I rushed round and walked up to the front door all excited at the prospect of a nice hotel, and was confronted with a battered front door with peeling paint. First impressions anyone?

First impressions didn’t tell the whole story: The Eagle House Hotel, Launceston

It didn’t fill me with confidence, but how wrong can first impressions be? I later found out from the owner the reason the door was like that due the lack of any tradespeople, or doors, as both had been an order for six months! Supply chain kinks and labour shortages be dammed. Lovely staff – kindness again – even allowed my bike in my room to keep me company. Think I looked in a pretty sad state.

I pulled my phone out of the bag of rice and tried the charging cable. Next problem – the charging cable wouldn’t fit – bunged up with soggy rice no doubt. Off I rushed to the phone shop. There’s always a phone shop isn’t there? Another nice young man produced a tool designed for the purpose of cleaning out the ports, and bingo, a phone that charged once again. I shall be treating any terms like ”waterproof” with a pinch of rice in the future.

Back at the hotel I happened to see a sign to the ”cocktail bar”. Having low expectations from my last night’s experience in the darkest depts of Wetherspoons, I came round the corner to be blown away by a wonderful bar. A gorgeous balcony overlooking the valley, ideal for more summery weather, and a very perky barmaid (personality wise I mean, Catherine), who mixed me up a fantastic negroni. There was even a custom-made ball of ice containing a flower and herbs from the owner’s garden. I had a chat with Rebecca, the owner, to get the story on the place. She and her husband are local farmers and decided they didn’t want to see the loss of the hotel (it was headed towards demolition by the looks of it). They bought it five years ago, and told me they have spent longer as hotel owners in COVID restrictions than out of them. It clearly needs a lot of work, but I wish them all the best. Had a wonderful dinner, the only person in the dining room.

Best Negroni ever! Complete with home grown flower in the ice ball

🐾🐾

I had decided I needed to abandon the lofty goal of Land’s End on this trip. With a half day of riding lost to phone issues, and a train strike on Saturday, I had to rethink. My criteria was to head for a railway station with level access. Stairs and e-bikes are not happy companions. Plymouth came up trumps. A bit of retracing my steps, then it was up, and up to the wild open moorlands of Dartmoor. I was just thinking, “I’m going to get to Plymouth early”, as a horse rider coming the other way shouted out, ”Road closed ahead, long detour up over the moor”. Mmmm. Keeps you on your toes, this cycle touring lark. I had already chewed through one battery, so thankfully pulled out the spare (from Catherines bike) and settled in to another climb.

What a beautifully stark and evocative place. We had ridden some of Dartmoor before, but that was okay. It has a lot of wild space to offer a hiker or a rider. I met one car coming across, no one else. I finally dropped down off the moor to find a rail trail that would lead me straight into Plymouth. I powered along this fabulous route (Drake’s Trail), that we had also ridden before, but that didn’t matter, it is gorgeous and traffic free.

On top of Dartmoor and a glorious morning

🐾🐾

So that was it, a well earned beer at my hotel in Plymouth, a lively pub with great rooms overlooking the harbour. Off to the station, loaded up the bike into his little spot, and remarkably smooth and cheap trip back to Taunton and was home, weary but fulfilled.

Made it to Plymouth
A well earned beer at my home for the night on the harbour in Plymouth
A fitting end to the trip as the sun goes down over Plymouth Harbour

More cycle touring in the south-west of England is definitely in my future. If we invest in two more batteries, then perhaps with Catherine. I want to get up on Exmoor in the spring with my tent. See more of the west coast of Cornwall, there’s just so much, and a limited amount of time where it will be within my prowess. Carpe Diem.

🐾🐾

Gear Locker (for those interested)

Bike: Reise and Muller’s Tinker. It partially folds (stem and bars), handy for those bike lockers! Has 20 inch wheels with tryres wide enough to deal with gravel. A belt drive so no gears to maintain, and built in lights front and rear. We’ve been thrilled with the build quality. In this case we got what we paid for. A high quality, reliable, well thought through ebike.

Wet weather gear. Jacket: Arc’teryx is the brand, a Canadian company producing high end outdoor gear I’ve come to really rely on. Have the over trousers to match. A new addtion on this trip were a pair of waterproof over-mitts from Extremities, with normal cycling gloves underneath. Just kept off the chill and super light and pack up small. Very pleased with the combo.

Boots: Also from Arc’teryx – very comfy for riding and hiking, super lightweight. My feet still get wet though. I think unavoidable when you’re riding and trousers lift up and water gets over the top of the boots. But my secret weapon, again first time out, a pair of Extremities waterproof socks underneath. Kept my foot dry, and not too sweaty and smelly either. A result.

Stove: the new acquisition, from MSR a Windburner. Such a great design for just heating up water when you’re mixing with dehydrated food, or just hot drinks. Light, simple to set up and really compact. It will be out with us on winter hikes for sure.

Panniers: I look like an Ortlieb advert. A pair of the dirt rider side rears, a seat pack, handlebar roll and front bag for bits. All kept everything bone dry. All stayed put. Shame they dont have an automatic closure!

Clothes: nothing really worth highlighting other than my Icebreaker, merino wool jacket. I’ve had it now for at least 12 years, and its still going strong. The weight to warmth and packed size ratios are amazing.

🐾🐾

1-30 September: It’s all go here!

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

Goodbye wall, hello doorway…

🐾🐾

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

🐾🐾

11 May-9 June: A hideaway in the Devonshire hills and making memories with family

Author: Mr A

Location: Widworthy, Devon, and West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

We got so lucky! A friend of a friend has let us let us stay in their stunning little cosy retreat in the depths of the lush and rolling hills of the central Devon countryside. It really is quite a find. Beautifully fitted out, with a fabulous view, we couldn’t have beeen happier. It’s only one room, but that includes a big kitchen with loads of storage, which flows into the lounge, and bedroom (super king bed!) plus a luxurious bathroom. It has actually worked so well for the three of us. And then there’s the view…awesome.

The little cottage with the two skylights at the bottom is where we are
Tassie has been acclimatising to the new scenery and smells too
There are regularly wild Roe Deer around the property – this young lady spotted in the field below where we are living

We also got lucky with storage for our motorhome at the bottom of the road, in the car park of the local manor house (Widworthy Barton), with permission from the caretaker of course. We were parked outside the manor house unloading and he came over to talk to us. I thought I was going to be told off for parking there, but no, after a chat, he offered us a spot, protected by CCTV and just a short way from where we were to live for the coming weeks. What more could we ask for?

🐾🐾

Let me first explain where exactly we have landed. We are pretty much slap bang in the middle of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs in the local parlance). The one to the north of us is the Blackdown Hills, a relatively small area less than 25km’s in any direction, and yet full of a network of footpaths. Check out this screen shot from the Ordnance Survey map, and these are just the walk routes they have pulled together.

We are a 15 minute drive from the small town of Honiton down the bottom of this map.

To the south of us is the East Devon AONB another largely rural area of rolling hills criss-crossed with walking and cycling routes.

We are staying where that blue dot is towards the top of the map. It is not even in a village, a scattering of houses up a single track no through road. There are a couple of properties past us, so we may have three or four vehicles a day break the constant birdsong.

You can walk miles just from the front door – as long as you don’t mind hills, stunning scenery and wildlife… and no other people!
Sunset on our little lane

We are both strangers to this part of Devon, and we had imagined it would be heaving with tourists, but no. Get away from the few main roads that traverse it and we can cycle for ages on tiny B roads without coming across another car. Plenty of tractors though!

A stone bridge on our ride down to Seaton

The World Heritage area of the Jurassic Coast is a 20 minute drive to the south of us, and we have had several days out exploring walks and villages along this picture perfect coastline. Weekends and school holidays it is busy of course, but avoid those, as we can, and it’s just a serene part of the world.

Agriculture dominates the landscape, as it has done for thousands of years, and in particular the dairy industry, which produces some of those iconic products like Devonshire cream. I need to stay well away from that, my tummy is already benefiting from the exploration of other local goodies like the craft breweries that are everywhere, the cideries, and those oh so tempting Devon pasties.

Final rays lighting up the meadow opposite our house

🐾🐾

It’s hard to imagine that we will ever feel we have ”done it all” here, there’s just such a variety of landscapes, a plethora of walking and cycling opportunities. But it is the people that have made it so special. We invited the owners of the property we are staying in, and the mutual friends who introduced us, over for a welcome BBQ. Brilliant. They both have twins and there was a lot of laughter, making us feel so at home and relaxed here.

We hosted our friends Karen and Dan, their boys Sonny and Oliver, and our next door neighbours, Russ and Julie and their daughters, Beth and Mazie, for a BBQ – our ’housewarming’!

🐾🐾

We have walked from our front door half a dozen times now and are still finding new routes, helped by the Komoot app, which shows all the footpaths and bridleways, and enables easy planning of walks. For instance, I randomly picked Dalford, a little village 10 minutes drive away, and Catherine used Komoot to put a fabulous walk together. So yes, it was raining for most of the walk, but that didn’t bother us in the least. We have good gear which keeps us mostly dry, and it wasn’t cold. The greens in the landscape just get even deeper, everything sparkles. We just love it.

The 8th Century Tuckers Arms has a great reputation for its food
A creative use for a disused telephone box
Stepping away from the village, it gets rural very quickly
Old stone bridge over the River Yarty
The river doesn’t always have a bridge!

🐾🐾

Another trip out and it was the short drive down to the Jurassic Coast and this simply breath taking scenery, to a place called the Golden Cap, which is just over the county boundry in Dorset.

The clifftop walk goes through National Trust land
Even the cattle appreciate the magnificent view
Top of the Golden Cap, looking towards Worthing
A chance for a breather to enjoy the view
A patchwork of fields spread out in front of us, and traditional thatched cottages are still a novelty for us

🐾🐾

Another coastal jaunt took us into the popular resort town of Lyme Regis, but despite its fame as the centre of this fossil rich coast, we easily found a park, and explored the cute shops. One of the many things we are enjoying here is the variety of retailers. One shop for instance sold nothing but fossils. Catherine wanted to donate me 🙂

Less than half an hour drive and we are at Lyme Regis
Historical buildings, shops full of fossils and plenty of cream teas on offer

🐾🐾

We also had some family time. My two daughters came with their families to West Bagborough, the small village in Somerset that sparked this whole change of country. Hayley and her husband and two boys Luke and James, brought their (massive!) caravan down and stayed on a site owned by friends of ours. My other daughter Zoe, her husband Mark and daughter Lily and son Jacob, we put up in a lovely 400 year old local bed and breakfast.

Grandsons Luke and James were keen to adopt Granddad’s love of hat wearing and borrowed a couple of Tilly
Hats for the week
Leading the posse on a hike through the countryside
The Quantock Hills and West Bagborough
A morning out to Dunster Castle
In the castle grounds – a family photo – L-R – Jacob, James, Luke, Hayley, Mr A, Zoe, Lily and Mark
Exploring Dunster Castle grounds
And the sun comes out in Dunster!

It was quite a week! Not all smooth sailing, but some great memories in these photos. There was definitely some learnings for me in organising events like this with my family. I left the week though having got to know my grandkids a lot better. All part of the jounrey we are on.

🐾🐾

The Queen’s Jubilee weekend rolled around, and excuse to catch up with Karen, Sonny and Oliver again. and then also with the mutual friends for a walk along the South West Coast Path from a town called Beer. I felt right at home there!

🐾🐾

One of the delights of being here is being able to meet up with friends I’ve known since school. Andrew was in the same class as me, and his wife Lynne, we have been able to see only occasionally over the years. Now we can say “Let’s have lunch next week!” We met at a country house owned by the National Trust called Stourhead, and enjoyed a gentle stroll around the gardens. Serene!

Stourhead Gardens with Andrew and Lynne

🐾🐾

There has been so much more, but mostly we have been continuing to ready ourselves for the move. During this period we exchanged contracts on our new home!!!. We will complete on the 30th of June, 5 months to the day from when we left Australia. We are very happy with what we have found, You’ll have to wait until we move in for more details, as things could still go wrong. But it looks good. Deposit is paid, and we are busy researching what we want to do to make it our forever home. It will be a huge lifestyle change for us after all this travelling, and before that, city living in Sydney. We can’t wait for this new chapter!

🐾🐾

1-20 April – Spring is in the air!

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

Jane and Terry…been so kind to us

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🐾🐾

7-16 February: The South West of England – our new stomping ground

Author: Mr A

Location: Honiton, Devon and Kingston-St. Mary, Somerset

It was time to turn our back on the delights of Chelsea, our bank balance will be relieved! So many temptations that come at a fine price. We will never forget our time here with family and friends, and that is priceless. We were off down to Devon, to stay with our friends Karen and Dan, their twins, and their kittens. Yes we got a cat fix!

A frosty start to the day in Honiton
Cuddles with Obi….or is it Anni? They both look so similar!

We also got a vehicle fix, as our motorhome has been stored nearby, and last week was taken in for some TLC to a local garage. They had him all serviced and ready to rock.

Honiton Garage had Truffy all ready serviced for us to collect

Then we were collected by the sales exec we had been talking to since before Christmas from Mercedes-Benz Exeter and taken over to their showroom to try out a car. We had really already decided we were buying the vehicle, but wanted a test drive to just confirm what we had read in the reviews. It’s a little A-series hatchback, ideal for scooting round narrow Somerset lanes, and has a plethora of tech to make the driving experience safer and more stress free. We loved it.

The great reveal!

When I say we, this has to be a car Catherine is comfortable driving, as our last two vehicles she really hasn’t been. The Landcruiser has no height adjustable seating, and the motorhome has a handbrake even I struggle to reach down to; it is basically a lorry. So, happy wife, happy ride. She loved it, as did I. So we sorted the paperwork, and drove it back to Honiton. What a feeling. Never thought we’d have a Mercedes keyring dangling from our hands. It’s so different from our previous cars. Even my daughter said ”Never thought I’d see you in something so low profile!”, after the truck-like vehicles we usually buy. Well, we are reinventing ourselves.

After the hectic pace of the last few weeks, we decided to give ourselves a day off. Catherine and I were itching to wander around some Devon countryside with a camera and bins. Seaton Wetlands was recommended, and didn’t disappoint. It was packed with birdlife in the trees and on the river Axe that flows through the reserve. It felt really surreal once again to think that this can be our life now, wandering round these places, rugged up against a bitey wind, with a hot mug of tea in our rucksacks. It was so reinvigorating to be back out amongst our feathered friends again, and learning all the new species names thanks to a off duty warden, and the Merlin app that helps identification.

There were no shortage of friendly Robins singing their hearts out at the wetlands
Top to bottom, left to right: Dunnock, Goldfinch, Redshank, Goldfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Northern Lapwing and Blue Tit
Fresh homemade soup and sourdough at Blackberry Honey Farm on our return trip

🐾🐾

A day of re-packing Truffy and the Merc saw us ready to head over to our home for the next 11 weeks in Somerset. We had to find furnished accomodation while our container of worldly goods is making its way by container to the UK. Mill Meadow Eco Lodges is a development of holiday rentals on the edge of the small village of Kingston St Mary. We were so relieved to have finally made it here, after booking the accomodation months ago. So many things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. We can finally unpack. The accomodation, a cosy, well equipped, two bedroom lodge, will suit us perfectly while we get settled.

Then things just got better and better. Firstly the Indian restaurant we picked for our first home delivery absolutely blew us away with the quality of the food. Then the next day we walked round to the local pub. A 10 minute walk through the fields. I had been speaking to them to book a dinner for Catherine’s upcoming birthday weekend in March. They sounded very friendly, but in person they just exceeded all expectations. We came back for dinner and invited some people we had met when we were in lockdown nearby during 2020. We had the best evening, both to see these people again (Terry and Jane Ayre, and their daughter Karen, who run Quantock camping), and because of what the pub delivered by way of outstanding food, beer, wine and service. The Swan at Kingston just excelled at everything.

Our new view – the lake at Mill Meadow
A short walk to our local, The Swan, and a welcome back dinner with our friends Karen, Jane and Terry from Quantock Camping

A walk back through the fields in the moonlight provided a brilliant end to the evening. What a great start to our stay.

One of the magical places we used to walk to when we were here before, was to the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding Quantock Hills. No wonder it was chosen by our Iron Age ancestors to bury their dead on. I was keen to revisit, and proposed an early morning walk. Well, we were up at the top by 7am, and saw in the sunrise. Truly a majestic sight.

Cothlestone Hill at sunrise
Bobble hats and hoods don’t really work!

It didn’t matter that it was freezing cold, with an icy wind dropping the temperature even further. We have the right gear to keep warm and dry. Flipping great it was.

To see this type of woodland again just feels so right, way down in our DNA.

A wintery woodland is a novelty after the evergreen eucalypts of Australia

Another afternoon saw us exploring the local village, half hoping to bump into someone who was just putting up a for sale sign! It is going to be a huge challenge to find somewhere we really like. The local power station down on the coast is ramping up again and staff are flocking in from all over the UK and Europe and snapping up houses for sale, and rentals.

Wandering around our local village of Kingston St Mary

🐾🐾

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Princess Tassie is still soaking up the summer sunshine with her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, awaiting news of her flight….we both miss her so deeply. But she is being so well loved and cared for. Its just us being selfish.

Solar-cat charging up – photo courtesy of Rosemary

Hopefully the pet travel company we are using will finally get her on a flight in March, and we can start to feel like this really is our home rather than just being here on holiday again. Let’s see.

🐾🐾

It has been a great start to our return to the South West. Our friends Karen and Dan made us so welcome, then Jane, Terry and Karen….(yes, so may Karens!). It makes all the difference, when what we are missing the most is our friends back in Australia. Being able to pick up the phone at all hours and get hold of our family makes all the difference. The adventure has begun.

6 December- 21 January: Our last few weeks in Sydney – the long goodbye

Author: Mr A

Location: Curl Curl, Sydney’s Northern Beaches, NSW, Australia

In a few days time (February 1st) Catherine and I will be, hopefully, showing our way one tickets to a check in desk at Sydney Airport, and then boarding a plane to London. Twenty five years in Australia for me, twenty three for Catherine, so most of her adult life.

The last three months back in our house on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, have been a blur of preparations to wrap up our lives here, and prepare for new ones in England. The friendships we will leave behind are the greatest wrench. We have been spending as much time as we can, Omicron permitting, with our nearest and dearest.

Some pre-Christmas catch ups with Owen and his family
A hot and humid Christmas day with 10 of us for a fabulous feast
Giant Jenga, fine wine and the odd shot helped make for a wonderfully fun day

Catherine’s photos as usual tell the story better than I can in words.

We’ve gone out for fabulous food and wine, and stayed in for the same. Friends have come to visit for a few days, and one couple (Jenny and David) for several weeks. They have sold their apartment and are also moving country, back to New Zealand, so we have combined households. We feel so lucky to be able to spend time with friends that we know we are going to see a lot less of going forward.

A fine New Year’s Eve – oysters, prawns on the BBQ and a roast lamb
Welcoming in 2022 with a fine view of Sydney Harbour Bridge
The sparkling lights of Sydney, the booming fireworks and the smell of gunpowder will never be forgotten
Friends from Victoria come up for a tour of Sydney, allowing us to return to some favourite locations
A splash of colour and wildlife in the Botanical Gardens
Friends Michelle and David with their young pup Olive come for a walk and a refreshing beverage at a local brewery
Delicious Mexican food with our ‘flatties’, Jenny and David, in our local village, Freshwater (Freshie Mex)
Jenny and Catherine had a night away in the city – a room at the Sofitel in Darling Harbour and a night out at Hamilton (the musical)

It’s hard not to feel the sadness that comes with saying goodbye. To be honest, I’ve felt it to be quite draining. To think of all of that time over the years here that has gone into building those relationships. Then I have a call with my daughters, or see Catherine chatting to her mum or sister, and am reminded why we need to move on and start a new chapter of our story. We always took for granted that we would be able to jump on a plane to see them, now, not so much.

🐾🐾

Our house is mostly packed up, lots of possessions sold off or given away. It feels quite liberating to just have the “good stuff” going into our 20 foot container next week. We really don’t know under what circumstances we will be unpacking it. Into our new forever home? Or a rental while we continue to house hunt? Housing stock in the area we are looking (Somerset in the south-west of England) is pretty limited, so let’s see.

With Omicron infections rates skyrocketing here in Sydney over the last few weeks, it has been a juggle between the desire to see friends, and the need to keep healthy. We had our boosters last week, to be at peak immunity just before our flights. We are limiting our time inside any crowded areas, and keeping our catch ups with close friends to limit our exposure risk. We have some pretty important things happening when we land in London, and we need that negative test result to do them. Fingers crossed.

We are surrounded by beauty here and have been reminding ourselves with regular walks – rain or shine (got to get into training!)

🐾🐾

Moving to England doesn’t mean though that our wandering days are over. Quite the opposite. We have told our families to not expect us to be around for several months of the year, as we continue to explore the UK and Europe in our motorhome. You can be sure that we will be in search of winter sunshine this time next year! But hopefully some of those holidays in the sun can be shared with our respective families. Thats our goal.

So how do you sum up a whole chunk of your life lived large? I’m finding it pretty impossible. I can only thank the people who have shared their time and friendship with us over the years here in Australia, and tell you that we will miss you being in our day to day lives.

For both Catherine and I these have been amazing years. For a start, we met here, and married here. We built our careers here, and enjoyed success in very different ways. We adventured here, exploring as much as we could of this vast country. We developed new interests together here, like sea kayaking, bird watching and for Catherine capturing them on camera with her sharp eyes in beautiful detail. Then for me a spate of bike packing trips through huge tracts of wilderness. Its just been a complete blast. And I can’t wait for what comes next. It will be different for sure, and thats also good. We both have long lists of what we want to do together and separately.

For now though, its back to our packing, and as the departure day approaches, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep our stress levels down. Fine wine helps, and understanding friends. Until we meet again. Be good to each other.

🐾🐾

When it all gets too much, spend some time in nature – or stroking Princess Tassie…!

26 September-5 October: Concluding our ZoneRV travels with a bang!

Author: Mr A

Location: Woodford, Moreton Bay Shire, and then Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Well, what a mixture of emotions, our last week as proud owners of our Zone RV caravan. We were going to drop it off in a few days, and decided to spend our last two nights on a showground on the edge of the small town of Woodford. Surrounded by national parks, we had a few great outings where birdlife was once again captured by Mrs A’s eagle eyes (get the pun?) and her very long lens.

A couple of short walks showcased to us, for the last time, what nature has to offer in this part of the world. Dense forest with soaring trees, and the ever present calls of birdlife, both the familiar and the not so much.

Setting off on a hike
Kookaburra on the showground
An Eastern Yellow Robin eyes us curiously on a walk in D’Aguilar National Park
A Laughing Kookaburra flies into a thick vine, swinging back and forth in the sub-tropical forest
A tiny Silvereye flits through the undergrowth
A Striated Thornbill in the woodland
The wet weather plays havoc with one’s feathers
A tuneful Pied Currawong flies in
A Striated Thornbill collecting seeds on the casuarina tree
A Grey Fantail sings it’s melodious song from a nearby tree
Magnificent views across to the Glass House Mountains so named by Captain James Cook as they reminded him of the glass kilns of 1770s Yorkshire.

We had another potter around nearby Lake Somerset, a reservoir we found is home to a family of Whistling Kites.

Mother-Whistling Kite flies by
She lands on a dead tree in the water eyeing us cautiously
Two tiny chicks peer over the edge of the giant nest, awaiting their next feed
A flock of Maned Ducks flies off

🐾🐾

Then, with very mixed feelings, we packed up camp for the very last time, and headed down to Brisbane and our friends Phil and Libby who has so kindly invited us to stay with them while we emptied out our caravan and cleaned it ready to go to its next owners. Purely by chance, friends from my working life lived ten minutes up the road from them, so a glass of Prosecco at a local hotel with a view was called for, then off to their place for dinner.

Bubbles and Thai food with friends…and the odd gecko!

It was so great to see these guys, made even more poignant by wondering when and where we would next share a glass? I guess there will be a lot of that over the next few months as we prepare for our exit from Australia at the end of January next year.

🐾🐾

We settled into a week with our kind friends Libby and Phil, spending several days sorting out our caravan and boxing up all of its contents ready to ship back to Sydney. It was quite amazing how much we had crammed into the car and van!

Where did all of this stuff go? Basically the contents of a bed sit displayed here

🐾🐾

But it wasn’t all work, there were some very lovely evenings of fine food and wine, and many many laughs. Libby and Phil had asked our friends to join them and a couple of their friends, Daryl and Nat, for a Saturday night barbecue. Well that was a blast, as you can tell!

Phil and Libby’s house is designed for entertaining and they are superb hosts

I was self appointed barman and DJ, what could possibly go wrong?

Daryl’s Boxer dog, Dusty, is still as lovely as ever. We first met him in 2018.

🐾🐾

The day came when we had to drop off our caravan, an hour’s drive up the coast via the very busy Sunshine Coast motorway. Half way there an almighty explosion shocked both Catherine and I. We had had a spectacular blow out on our rear car tyre. I fought to control the rig, and managed to get us pulled over onto a very narrow bit of hard shoulder, while road trains hammered past centimetres from our window, rocking our heavy truck like a snowflake.

I quickly called roadside assistance, then climbed out of the passenger door, there was no way I could get out the driver’s side. Roadside assistance arrived in a few minutes, and we were towed off, it would have been too dangerous (and illegal) to try and change a tyre where we were.

Finishing our Zone travels with a bang!

He dropped us around the corner, where another RACQ Special Incident truck happened to be sitting. After I’d woke up the driver (yup!) he gave us a hand. We would have done it on our own, but our friends were waiting for us to handover the van and it makes it so much quicker with help.

So, two hours late, we rolled up to our drop off point, and said goodbye to what has been our Australian home on wheels for four years. The adventures it has taken us on, in so much comfort. But we need to look forward now to the next phase of our life, making a new home in the UK.

Farewelling our Zone home for the last time. It gets a new stone guard, solar panels, tyres and lithium batteries before it heads of on adventures new.

🐾🐾

The new few days passed in a blur, with tyres getting fixed, and car batteries, our contents being picked up, a hospital visit for Catherine and again some lovely evenings with Phil and Libby.

Phil was master cook one night treating us to this incredible roast cooked on their fire pit. What a delicious feed, and a night we will always remember as being so quintessentially Australian. A fiery sun setting over the eucalypt forest that forms a backdrop to their garden. White cockatoos screeching at apparently nothing in particular, lorikeets darting around their bird feeder. The smell of the fire, the chink of a glass, a shared belly laugh as day turns to night in between the blinks of an eye closed against the smoke.

A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo flies in for a snack from the garden
A Double-barred Finch spies seed on the bird table
A colourful Rainbow Lorikeet joins its flock for a meal
A fine campfire tended by Phil the chef, makes a delicious roast dinner
Less delicious is the orange jelly Mrs A got after her day surgery on her airway

🐾🐾

It was a sad goodbye as we started our journey back to Sydney, the car packed to the roof. Tassie was so displeased at being back on the road and confined she sat with her back to us for the first hour!. She had made herself so at home at Libby and Phil’s. Just look at this old poser.

Princess Tassie thought she had a new Queensland pad for a while there

So goodbye Queensland and our friends there, the people who have made this leg of our trip so memorable. Thank you for your friendship, your kindness and your words of wisdom as we garble with the transition to a new life.

Sad to say goodbye, with strong hopes we will meet again

🐾🐾

PS We will continue to share our travels and experiences as we return to Sydney and make the transition to our new life in Europe.

If you usually find our stories on a Facebook group and you still want to follow our adventures, please click below and fill in in your email address – our posts will come straight to your inbox!

15-18 September: Preparing to sell our beloved Zone RV caravan – another migration milestone coming up

Author: Mr A

Location: Diddillibah, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

As we prepare to sell our lovely luxury apartment on wheels, the Zone RV caravan, a service was required. Off down the coast we went, saying goodbye (for now) to Noosa and the friends who live there. We had booked a couple of nights at a new caravan park on the Sunshine coast, at somewhere fairly challenging to pronounce called Diddillilbah, which we soon morphed into Diddely-squat, which was a bit unfair as it was quite a decent site with large pitches and a nice restaurant in the park itself. But not really our cup of tea, purely functional, we prefer being out in the bush more. But our caravan service was scheduled just round the corner with the marvellous Suncoast Caravan Service. Our friends who used to work at our caravan manufacturer, Zone RV, both work there now. The power couple of the Sunshine Coast Caravan Industry, Marsha and Rhys Gehrke.

Its a serious business getting a van serviced 🙂

Our home was handed our home over to these capable hands, and we spent the day based at our caravan site in our Oztent Screen-house (wonderful bit of kit!). Tassie is not a fan though, I think she senses we want her to settle in there so with perfect feline logic does the opposite. Instead she based herself on her sheep’s wool futon in the car with the windows open! We took it in turns to head out for bike rides and food.

We picked our van up that night, with new bearings and other stuff I have no idea of the function of, all fixed up and ready for a lucky owner to snap up when it is advertised.

Our luxury ‘Surry Hills apartment’ on wheels

The caravan park was a good base to cycle from, with a mostly traffic free route along the Maroochy River.

Boats on the Maroochy River
Maroochy River
Ancestors (Cash & Davis, 2016) – a tribute to local timber workers, when the river was a conduit for the industry intertwined with a recognition of the local Aboriginal history.
Chambers Island – a conservation reserve linked to the land by a footbridge
Walking over to Chambers Island – and no I’m not scratching my bottom!
They like their brightly coloured boats on this river!

The next morning we had a catch up with friends we knew from Sydney who had moved up to the Sunnshine Coast a few years ago (Peter and Valerie). Always a pleasure with these guys, and what a breakfast spot! It was interesting to hear about how they had gone about integrating into a new community, something we are working out how we will do when we move.

Concluding a fine breakfast at Mykies by the Bay

That night was another catch up with Rhys and Marsha and their family. That was a cracking dinner at the campsite restaurant I have to say. Rhys and Marsha are going to be selling our van for us (all enquires to Marsha please via: Marsha.gehrke AT gmail.com). I just didn’t think there was much point towing a van that was built on the Sunny Coast, is registered there as well, and has a specialist like Rhys who knows this brand inside out on hand to do any upgrades a customer might like. Whereas Sydney is still locked down, so a harder environment to sell it in. So let’s see how it goes. It means we will be emptying and cleaning the van at our friends’ house up here next week, then shipping the contents back to Sydney.

Of course no plan will necessarily survive contact with the enemy, in this case lockdowns, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that the border with NSW just holds the virus back another two weeks. Catherine has an important medical procedure at a Brisbane hospital on the 5th of October, which is likely to be cancelled should lockdowns come.

Talking about lockdowns, and lockouts in the case of people trying to return home across Australian state or international borders, there’s something I feel very strongly about I want to air to anyone who is willing to read on while I mount my soap box.

I am appalled at the lack of compassion being shown to Australian citizens who are trying get permission to return to their home state, when celebrities and the well heeled seem to be able to come and go as they please. Every week I read of another case where someone has been denied permission to go home, and it’s always the poor and powerless, it would seem. This story documents two contrasting examples of how are travel rules are being so differently applied, and turned my stomach over once again.

This is an Australia that I am increasingly not recognising as the one I fell in love with and pledged my citizenship vows to. The country that was proud to say they looked after each other, with a hearty dose of egalitarian mateship. Yet around our friends I see nothing but kindness and compassion for others, and usually amongst those we meet around the campsites. So is it just some of our politicians, driven by what they think will make them popular amongst their voters on the next morning’s news cycle, who give so little weight to those in need? Or is the lack of humanity within our the leadership of our institutions who have to implement their policies, and who seem to encourage so little discretionary compassion from their staff? I don’t know. But it doesn’t make me proud to be Australian when I read these tales of suffering, and then read about another celebrity given an apparent free pass to roam at will. And don’t get me started on our treatment of refugees! Not much evidence of compassion there either.

Soapbox dismounted, but if you feel as I do, why not let your MP know (you can find out who and how best to contact them, here), if you are an Australian citizen. I have regularly communicated with our Federal member, and her office has encouraged me to keep feedback coming. Mind you, she is an independent! And a compassionate voice in our parliament.

If we just keep quiet, our political leaders will think they have a free pass.

Zali Steggall: Federal Member for Warringah (our home base on the Northern Beaches of Sydney)

Thank you for reading. Soapbox dismounted.

6-8 September: A great start to the week: birding, dolphin watching and deep blue skies.

Author: Mr A

Location: Tin Can Bay, the Fraser Coast, Queensland

We have had a great couple of days in an out of the way little coastal settlement with the unique name of Tin Can Bay, located on the Fraser Coast a few hundred kilometres north of the state’s capital Brisbane.

Unfortunately the origin of the town’s name seems to be unclear, but likely a corruption of what the traditional owners called things that grew there (tin-kung – a coastal vine). For us it is has a been a lovely quiet spot with walks along the beautiful coast, and of course a few birding opportunities in this area which is part of a RAMSAR wetland . We’ve walked both days following the Tin Can Bay Foreshore Bird Walk, with detailed signage following nearly ten kilometres of unspoilt coastline lined with paperbark and gum trees, that went right down to the edge of the crystal clear waters of the Great Sandy Strait.

A Sacred Kingfisher on the marina alongside Griffin and Schnapper Creeks
Coastgard boats along the creek side marina
Looking up the river
Mangroves at low tide

This would be a great place to get the kayak out, as finally we are finally south of the area where crocs are a hazard. Just swap that disappearing water hazard though for sharks stingers and stonefish (nasty) which are all still there waiting for the unsuspecting tourist, but in a kayak, you’re good. Unfortunately the wind was up and it was walking only.

Many lovely views framed by mangroves
A brief pause along the pathway
More lovely views
Stripes on the sand as the tide gently goes out
A female Scarlet Myzomela
Brown Honeyeater on a Grevillea
You can just see this Brown Honeyeater’s tongue as it stretches towards the flower
Rainbow Bee-eaters hunting for insects along the coast
A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo nesting in a tree hollow
A Little Corella nesting in another hollow

It was hard walking along this pristine coast, with blue skies and mid-twenties temperatures, to not think how much we will miss places like this when we move back to the UK early next year. But on the other hand, when I Googled the history of Tin Can Bay, there’s almost nothing, very different to what our future holds in the northern hemisphere. The original inhabitants of this Fraser Coast area have lived in it for thousands of years, and I’d love to know more about their lives, but sadly it’s still almost completely inaccessible to us white fellahs, and I really don’t want to read about another set of massacres, because that’s what there was.

One pretty unique attraction that Tin Can Bay has that it’s one of the few areas where wild dolphins come into to the beach to be hand fed.

I wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea of humanising wild creatures like this, and sure enough one Google search turns up this report from Action For Dolphins that claims (from a review of the research on the topic) that it leads to changes in behaviour where the dolphins become more aggressive towards other dolphins and humans, also reducing their maternal care time (which may account for the high death rate at the Money Mia feeding site we have been to in Western Australia?), and a number of other issues.

But I’m pretty sure there are also contrary points of view, with records of human-dolphin interactions in these parts for thousands of years. We decided to go along and be educated.

A humpback river dolphin swims in to see us
Smile for the camera! These teeth are made for fish eating
Mother and daughter swim in to join in the session

While these dolphins are fed small amounts of fish each morning (3kg per animal), this is a small fraction of the 15kg they need to consume daily and ensures they are not totally reliant on humans to survive. We gave them two small fish each.

The dolphins are so gentle, it is hard to believe they are wild
To see the video of the feeding click here

It’s my birthday this week, the sun is shrinking, and I am content as I gaze at this beautiful landscape, and enjoy the lack of crowds and the fresh air.

Motto for the week – enjoy the moment 🙂