1 October-13 November: The nights draw in as autumn encroaches

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton, London and Bradford-on-Tone, UK

The seasons are continuing to delight, with the last few weeks slowly reintroducing us to the sights and smells and sounds of autumn. Having been in Australia for more than two decades, we are often overwhelmed by the nostalgia triggered by the pungent aromas of leaves starting to decay, the freshness of the morning fog which lifts to present another stunning autumn day.

The grass is heavy with dew which often lasts all day long, and early morning forays into the outdoors require warm jackets as we walk behind the lingering mist of our breath. After such a warm summer our apple trees have been almost bent over with the weight of their crop, many given away to passers by at the end of our driveway, many more wrapped and stored for the coming months.

Dewy apples, dandelion clocks, spiderwebs and leaves…autumn has arrived

While the mornings are fresh and cool, the days have been unusually warm, well above average for the time of year. We certainly didn’t expect to be out in t-shirts. Even today, mid November, we have been outside in short sleeves and bare legs, the 20 degrees sunshine not quite what we anticipated for this time of year.

….is snow a thing of the past, we wonder…? Or are we really in for a very cold winter as some predict?

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Early October saw me heading over to East Sussex for a few days with my sister and her family. We had hoped to catch up with our mum for her birthday, but this year seems to be popular for striking train drivers, so we couldn’t make it over.

Instead, we visited a stunning National Trust property, Sheffield Park, where the trees were just starting to change colour. This phenomenon is something we have missed being in Australia, where you have to hunt down those European trees planted by settlers missing their seasonal changes.

Helen, Cocoa and I making the most of a sunny afternoon
Elliot gazing in wonder at the magnificent house across the lake, while Helen, Stu Isabel and Cocoa smile for a family photo

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As the past month has progressed, the mornings have got darker and we have often woken to our views shrouded in a thick fog, blocking our views and creating a view that Tassie can’t wait to get out in….and equally as fast can’t wait to get back inside from!

Our oak tree on two different mornings – you never know what you’re going to open the curtains to!

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Mid October, we had a night back in our lovely cottage in Widworthy, Devon. We were there to attend our friend Dan’s 50th birthday party in Honiton. It was a fun night, and Tassie enjoyed re-exploring her old haunt, while we had fun with old and new friends.

Giggles with Julie and Karen at Dan’s birthday party
Little miss adaptable Tassie, always up for a new adventure

Our friends Julie and Russ have landed themselves a new job looking after the holiday lets and management of the magnificent 16th century manor house, Widworthy Barton. We were very fortunate that Julie was able to offer us a tour. What a beautiful house, stunningly decorated and so many original features including a minstrel’s gallery, and library. There are some newer features too, including tennis courts and a swimming pool.

Apparently a first edition Winnie the Pooh somewhere in this library….or so legend has it…

All yours for about £4,600 a week – in its favour it does sleep up to 14 people, so just £100 a night when split between 7 couples…it would be a wonderful location for a holiday.

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I have been invited to join a walking group in our village, joining a group of ladies who also go to the pilates class we attend.

The first walk I joined them on took us along the remains of the now disappearing Grand Western Canal. This canal was meant to stretch between Exeter in Devon through to the city of Bristol, but was never finished. In total they completed 18km of canal between Tiverton and Taunton, and this section was in use during the 1800s, making use of a boat lift to shift barges between different levels of canal. A group known as the Friends of the Grand Western Canal have proposed restoring this waterway to its former glory…there is no evidence of anything happening yet.

No boats travelling up here today
Nynehead Boat Lift – considered to be one of the best preserved examples of a boat lift in the UK

Our walk also took us to the ruins of a huge Victorian textile mill, Tonedale, the largest in the south-west of England. Apparently much of the khaki material created for use in the First World War was made here, and woollen material used for coats known as serge. The building is listed and supported with grants from Historic England, and in recent years has been purchased by developers. There are plans to turn this complex into accommodation, artisan businesses, a cafe and museum.

Tonedale Mill
Stormy skies highlighted by the sunshine across the fields

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The Blackdown Hills are very accessible from home, and just a 12 minute drive saw us starting another circuit – I went first with the walking group, and while fresh in my memory, took Mark along for a hike as well. The circuit took us across fields, down lanes, across bridleways and through woodland, the views becoming ever more spectacular, the higher we climbed.

A herd of lovely ladies watch on in interest as we pass
Everyone has a dog it seems, sometimes more than one! Ranging in size from Fudge on the far left to Buddy on the far right with a pair of Ambers and a Hazel in the middle
A bit of a stream crossing to navigate – this is where walking in wellies is a good idea
Endless amazing views as we walk the 9km circuit
Hedgerows perfectly trimmed
Mr A

Beautiful shadows and multiple shades of green
Mr A admiring this view….
Perfectly ploughed fields and views stretching to the horizon
Even lucky enough to see a few wild Roe Deer on our walk

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Another weekend we decided to hike up to Culmstock Beacon. Just a quarter of an hour’s drive away from home, we started our hike from the village of Culmstock, hiking up into the Blackdown Hills over styles and across hilly fields.

Mr and Mrs A
After a bit of rain there is a great deal of mud in parts
Matching cow and leaves
Am I cute or what?
We are yet to visit this local landmark, the Wellington Monument
Dark trunks in contrast to the bright lime leaves
Autumn leaves
Mushrooms or toadstools?
Appreciating the level land on top of the hill
An eagle eye view of the surrounding country
There has been a beacon here since the mid 1500s, with this beehive-like structure designed to house a wooden beacon which lifted up through a hole in the roof and then set on fire. It is part of a chain of beacons which would have been lit to warn locals about an approaching enemy (eg the Spanish Armada)
Stormy skies approaching…fortunately we always carry waterproofs just in case!

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Mark has purchased his Christmas present early – a record deck. Of course that was just the first purchase, because then he required records to play on it. He’s been busy reliving his teenage record collection in second hand stores in Taunton and Bristol, with a few record-shape Amazon deliveries winging their way to our front door too. I think he’s done for a little while…!

New record deck…and a rare find first-pressing of a Black Sabbath album in Taunton

Tassie remains very settled, enjoying her multiple walks around the grounds and moving between sunny spots in the house throughout the day. We still look at her in wonder of the huge journey she has undertaken from Australia, taken in her feline stride.

Cuddles time with Tas

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Finishing off with a few shots from walks around our village, across the fields and around the lanes. The sun sets around 5pm now, so we are often out and about to see and admire it. Still loving our new life in Somerset.

Along the River Tone
Sunset powerlines
Looking towards our house in the distance
Five minutes walk from home

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Bradford on Tone, Somerset and London, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unicorn juice enters my bloodstream…hopefully working its magic

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

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

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

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

The moon was huge and the werewolves out in force 🙂

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

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

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

Cheers!
Even Princess Tassie got into the celebratory action!

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

Some tasty tipples tried on our tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Mrs A

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

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

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

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

Helen and I on a dog walk in nearby Preston Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are home!

Home!

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21 April-10 May: Princess Tassie-the-adventure-cat flies to the UK

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lydeard St Lawrence, Twickenham and Heathrow, UK

So much has happened since our last post, we can hardly believe it has been just over three weeks.

Our eleven weeks holiday rental in Kingston St Mary came to an end, and we moved out and into a gorgeous AirBnB in a nearby village, Lydeard St Lawrence. Around the same time as moving, our shipping container arrived from Australia – we took out one or two bits, but mostly that went straight into storage. It feels quite surreal seeing items (such as our camping car fridge) in the UK, items we only ever have associated with our travels in Australia.

Last seen on our driveway in Curl Curl, Sydney – here’s our container in Somerset!

We also have changed our car – another Mercedes but a slightly larger one with a bit more clearance for those country lanes, an issue we were finding with the GLA. Thankfully (due to some negotiation from Mr A with the Mercedes dealership in Exeter) there was no cost of changeover, and we just paid the difference with our larger vehicle.

No more grey Merc – now a flashy red number to brighten up our days

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The AirBnB we moved into next was a great find. We had wanted somewhere in the same region – not too far from the Quantock Hills, closer to Exmoor and within a village we could easily walk from, and had stumbled across a little self-contained cottage in Lydeard St Lawrence.

Given Tassie’s arrival was impending, I had enquired whether pets were allowed…and once that was confirmed, checked whether a cat would be ok. It turned out that our superhost, Cat, is a British Shorthair cat breeder, and was very welcoming of a feline visitor. Perfect! There was also parking available for both our car and Truffy, so no alternative storage required – it really was meant to be. We soon settled in.

We had been there a couple of days before it was time to head up to London for a day we we had been long anticipating – Tassie’s arrival on a flight from Sydney.

Richard has his final cuddle before Tassie heads off – and in the Sydney ’hotel’ before her first flight

She had a huge journey, leaving the loving arms of her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard on Friday morning, two nights in a ’pet hotel’ near Sydney airport, before being loaded up into a Qatar Airlines plane and flown to Doha. Once again she was offloaded and released into another ’pet hotel’.

Finally she was loaded onto another flight to London Heathrow, arriving at 7am on Tuesday morning…finally being released nearly six hours later after all the paperwork had been completed. It was such a relief to see her – and as she stepped out of her carry cage and rubbed her cheeks on my hands and started purring, we knew that she forgave us for the traumatic journey and was pleased to be back with her original servants. Princess Tassie the Adventure Cat has officially made it to the UK!

The best cuddle ever!

We must not forget to say thank you to our friend Jacky who kindly took us on a whirlwind walk around Twickenham while we waited for the call to collect Tas – a chance to stretch our legs, enjoy some fresh air and buy lunch before spending another three hours in the car.

Yes, yet another stunning spring day

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So we settled into life in Lydeard St Lawrence. It’s another pretty historical village set in the countryside between the Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. Being a conservation area, there are many listed buildings and every corner has a story to tell.

The village’s name comes in part from the church. There has been a church in the location since the year 854, and in at least partially its current form for almost 700 years, since around 1350. The church tower makes a great landmark for our return walks and cycles.

Approaching Lydeard St Lawrence and it’s old church

There are countless footpaths disappearing in every direction across the hills, and in the couple of weeks we stayed there we walked many circuits, and never the same one twice.

In one of the sandstone walls in the village, a memory of jubilees past – this plaque commemorating the Queen’s silver jubilee (this year is the platinum jubilee) sits above a spring, apparently celebrated for its medicinal qualities and has never stopped flowing

Mark and I still have our ’tourist-eyes’ on and are really appreciating the chance to just walk from the front door, drinking up the ’new’ smells and sights. Like we did with our travels in Australia, I think we are appreciating our location all the more for being away.

Views in every direction
Which way now? The trees are heavy with perfumed blossom and the roadsides sprouting with wildflowers.
Spring emerging in the woodland
Primroses surround an old lime kiln in an ancient woodland
Bluebells, celandines and more wild lfowers emerging in every location
Looking towards the Quantock Hills
A grassy bridleway between two fields
We watched three wild red deer dash out of the woods at the bottom of this field and bound away
Fields of wheat are sprouting
The quiet country lanes are fragrantly flower-lined
A Greater Spotted Woodpecker flies to a tree right in front of us, before disappearing into this hole
Goldfinches are colourful visitors to the hedgerows, rarely stopping still long enough for a photo
Goldfinch
History around every corner in the Somerset lanes

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One Sunday afternoon we took ourselves out to Clatworthy Reservoir, situated on the edge of Exmoor and just a 30 minute drive from our cottage. Mr A had picked it as our destination somewhat randomly, spotting it on the map and suggesting we take a drive.

It is a picturesque location surrounded by native woodland, and an ancient hill fort. There are a couple of hikes there, the longer 8 kilometre walk circumnavigating the water, while we took the shorter hill fort hike, spotting wildlife as we went – especially excited to spot a pair of wild Red Deer.

A picturesque valley
A Blue Tit hunting for insects in the newly burst oak leaves
Mr A hiking past the bluebells
A pair of Red Deer emerge right on cue
Very shy, they soon gallop off through the woodland

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Another outing just 20 minutes drive away was to the unusually named Wimbleball Lake, on Exmoor. Wimbleball is an International Dark Sky Reserve by night (perfect for star-gazing), but during the day a great place to walk, cycle, fish, kayak and stand-up paddle-board. Our visit was predominantly aimed at walking and bird watching.

We did a 7km return hike around some of the lake’s edge, spotting our first British Kingfisher (sadly it didn’t stop still for a photo) this year. We will keep our eyes peeled for another.

A Song Thrush hunting for worms and insects in a lawn
A Dunnock keeping an eye out
No visit is complete without a Robin!
A Great Tit perches in a hedgerow, getting ready to fly off at a moment’s notice
Wimbleball – no idea of the origin of the name – not for the lack of searching!
Mr A hiking off in to the distance

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We also had some great meals and pub garden afternoons out with our friends, Karen, Jane and Terry from West Bagborough, including a somewhat disappointing lunch at the Rising Sun, (our ’local’ while we lived in the village which was always closed because of lock-down) and a superb lunch at a nearby gastro pub-restaurant , The Barn @ Pod Shavers (apparently a pod shaver is someone who makes traditional cricket balls!).

Laughs with our friends, The Ayres – and yes, Karen has a drinking problem (as in people keep buying her drinks and she cannot keep up!)

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The landscape changes almost daily as the trees bud and these burst into bright green leaves – in a handful of days the fields have gone from being lined with bare trees to thick lush green. We are loving the almost overwhelming impact on our senses.

As the days have got warmer, we have also been out on the bikes, the quiet (mostly traffic-free) country lanes ideal for exploring….and there is always the bonus of a village pub to mark as your destination for a refreshing afternoon beverage.

A typical country lane – all single track around here and very much suited to cycling
The fresh spring colours in the sunshine are breathtaking
An unpaved track – probably more suited to horse trekking than our little e-bikes, but brings us out into some incredible views
Looking across a field of wheat

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We have had a wonderful time in Lydeard St Lawrence, made ever so welcome by our hosts (who even very kindly brought Tassie a ’welcome to the UK’ gift of treats and toys) but now it is time to move on again to our next little cottage in Devon.

Our house purchase is progressing smoothly (touch-wood!), and we hope to be moving in by the end of June. The next temporary accommodation will see us through til then.

Tassie gets to sunbathe in Lydeard St Lawrence – ironically an activity she has missed in rainy Sydney!
Tassie is settling in nicely to her British life

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

Author: Mrs A

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

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

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

Offer accepted…now let’s wait and see!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr A couldn’t resist the FlapJackery in Wells 😂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16 February-4 March: Three (yes, THREE!) named storms and settling in to our ’new’ life

Author: Mrs A

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

The UK has been naming its’ severe weather events since 2015, having taken the idea from the USA. The season commences in September, with the first major event beginning with the letter A, and then continues throughout the year (names never start with letters  Q, U, X, Y or Z), to date never going beyond the letter K before resetting in September.

Since our last post, 12 days ago, the UK has encountered Dudley (17/2 just Scotland and the North of England), Eunice (18/2) and Franklin (21/2)! Despite the dramatic news headlines you may have heard, we fortunately escaped unscathed.

Storm Eunice apporaching – source MET Office

The afternoon before the arrival of Eunice, I left Mr A in Somerset and took the train from Taunton up to London and across down to Brighton to catch up with my sister and her family there. It’s been about 18 months since we last saw one another in person, and the children are growing up so quickly.

A stormy afternoon painting – artworks from artists aged 8 to 48!

It was a lovely relaxing weekend, with walks with the dog, and just enjoying one anothers’ company – the usual pressure of trying to maximise every second eased by our migration. I even bumped into an old friend from Uni on one of our morning walks, she was coincidentally doing a run in the same area.

Cocoa racing around the hillside and an inpromptu catch up with a friend
A glorious morning with a fresh breeze
Helen and I had a lunch out in the Brighton North Laine area
Cocoa and Helen took me on a walk around Preston Park, Manor and the nearby church

The time flew by, and before long it was time to farewell Helen, Stu and the children and train it up to London to meet Mark.

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Several weeks ago Mark had read an article which talked about an upcoming exhibition at the British Museum in London; ‘Stonehenge’. Mark travelled up from Taunton on a train that had been speed-limited to 50mph (because of the potential for post-storm branches on the line) and taken twice the time it should have done, and I met him in central London.

It was a wet Sunday evening and we headed into Chinatown for duck pancakes and then a basement cocktail bar for a drink.

Glistening London – could be a painting in the making
Quiet streets on a Sunday night
We find an underground cocktail bar and discover where all the people are hiding

On Monday morning, we walked from our hotel up to the British Museum and the exhibition. We had pre-purchased our timed tickets online, but on arrival saw a long queue snaking along the road. Mark spoke to one of the security guards who recommended heading instead to the entrance at the rear of the building. We strolled around and walked in with no queue at all – good tip for future visits!

Mr A lingering by some golden jewellery

It was an excellent exhibition which made use of multimedia, sounds, lights, and videos to bring the artefacts on display to life. One of the key messages we took from ’Stonehenge’ was just how migration has always been a part of the British and continental European heritage – DNA investigations into bones of people buried beside Stonehenge show that some were born in Spain in the Pyrenees, while others were born in the UK but spent time in Spain and other countries. Many of the techniques used in the creation of jewellery, weapons and stonemasonry were developed and shared many hundreds of miles away, showing how people were likely travelling more than most of us in the past two years!

Axe heads, carvings in stone and the little known Seahenge, uncovered on a beach in Norfolk
Incredible jewellery and centre part of the Sweet Track from the Somerset Levels (dated to 3807 BCE)

We are looking forward to exploring some of the regions brought to life in this exhibition in the coming years.

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Back in Somerset, our life has been focused on trying to find a house to buy…or as time progresses without anything suitable, looking at the very uninspiring rental market. As the weeks tick by with little to go and see, we are starting to feel the pressure of finding a longer term home. Our holiday rental is all well and good, but there is a definite deadline, after which we will need an alternative place to live.

We have managed to take some time out from scouring the property listings to do some local walks and a spot of bird photography too.

A handsome Great-Tit perches artfully on a bramble
A Robin glowing in the morning sunshine
A Long-tailed tit flies down for some food left out on a log
A tiny little Tree-Creeper scurries up a vertical trunk, hunting for insects
A Jackdaw enjoying some late afternoon sunshine
Views across the Somerset Levels
Looking towards the Quantock Hills

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Despite having the typical wintry weather (including some sleet and light snow) we also have had some spectacular sunshine. We did a great 12km walk last weekend from our front door, following ancient footpaths across fields and quiet lanes.

Mr A makes a hiking friend at the start of our walk
Woodlands, fields and quiet lanes
A sunny bank of crocuses
Farm tracks double as footpaths
We climb up and enjoy fabulous views from our picnic spot in a field

We finished up our walk at our local pub, The Swan, which was just finishing up a busy Sunday lunch. The Landlord is an ex Royal Marine and several of his old colleagues live nearby, and one also employed as the pub’s chef. It’s a great atmosphere there, where everyone welcomes you like family, and Mark and I certainly feel like we have made friends already.

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This week we actually made an offer on a gorgeous property, but suspect we will be severely outbid on this occasion. It’s been the first house to really tick all our boxes – plenty of space for visitors, good energy efficiency, walking distance to a great village and pub and yet within an easy drive to Taunton train station for trips up to London. We’ll hear for sure next week after they have shown another 20 or so interested parties around.

Mid week we paid a visit to the Somerset Levels and an RSPB wetlands site – Greylake. Despite a chilly wind blowing across the water, there were plenty of people camped out in the bird hides with their spotting scopes, binoculars and telephoto lenses. We fit right in, other than the fact we don’t know what birds we are looking at! We spent an entranced hour watching Little Grebes, White Swans, Egrets and vast flocks of Wigeons (ducks) all in their fabulous breeding colours. Just magnificent. Of course, the usual woodland birds were there as well, with a lovely little European Robin posing for a photo on some brambles.

And we have takeoff! For some reason the Wigeon decide to launch themselves off in their thousands
How on earth do they find a space to fly in?
One Wigeon is tired of all the flying around and dozes on the water’s edge
An European Robin hops over to see us off

We’re finding it is increasingly important to step away from our property searching to enjoy some pure and simple nature, reminding us why we love this area. This coming weekend we have another reminder coming up – 28 members of our family will be joining us to help celebrate my birthday…and it’s not even a big one! We’ll share all the news from that in our next post 🙂

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22 January-6 February: Moving to the land up over

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia and London, UK

When people talk about going through a rollercoaster of emotions, it surely has to describe the multitude of sentiments we have gone though these past few weeks, packing up our home, farewelling longtime friends and colleagues, and walking away from the stunning, wild and unique scenery and wildlife of Australia. We have both found ourselves pushing memories and thoughts of the past quarter century to the back of our minds for fear the feelings will overwhelm and render us incapable of tackling the many tasks at hand.

Australia really has provided us with a wonderful life. We have made lifelong friends, visited incredible locations, had many special experiences. While we look forward to the next chapter of our lives in the UK, we are so thankful for the people who have enriched our lives. We had a few private farewells who gave us some wonderful meals and company to remember – with extra special thanks to Donna and Andy, and Tassie’s current foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, who went above and beyond to treat us.

A farewell picnic with some of my old work colleagues (Rosemary, Kath, Liane, Richard, Wendy, Catherine and Hamish – Mr A photographer)
Our final weekend with Jenny and David as our housemates – we joined Eveliene to help celebrate her birthday, followed by a beach walk and BBQ brunch
Champagne, white wine and seafood feast with Rosemary and Richard
The shipping container arrives and Chess Moving takes a day and a half to wrap up and pack our possessions. Our final meal at the house is a Butter-free Chicken (with roasted brussels) and a fine shiraz. Finally we departed with all our many bags, and went for a few nights into the city

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Finally, once all the shipping container was filled and our bags packed, our friend Jenny very kindly drove across town to pick us up and courier us to the Shangri-la Hotel in the city for our last few nights.

The Shangri-la Hotel was the location for one of our first dates, back in 1999. We had dressed up in our finery and visited the Blu Bar cocktail bar before attending a performance of Madam Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House.

Back in October last year, Mark had spotted that we could use our Qantas Frequent Flyer Points to book rooms, finding we had just enough remaining to cover four nights. A small sum extra allowed us to upgrade to a room with a view of Sydney Harbour – we felt we deserved it!

We checked in on Friday evening, not long after the shipping container with all our possessions had left. Emotionally exhausted, we enjoyed some champagne in our incredible 28th floor room and had takeaway Asian street food for dinner! We were asleep by 9pm.

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The following two days went by in a whirl. Friends flew up from Melbourne, drove down from Newcastle and booked into city centre hotel rooms to spend time with us. Saturday dawned hot, clear and sunny, a typical Sydney’s summer day, and we enjoyed a feast at the Sydney Fish Markets, followed by an evening at a local pub.

Catching up with friends at the Sydney Fish Market for many oysters, prawns and sashimi

Sunday we had organised a lunch at The Malaya, a bit of a Sydney institution, just for the closest members of our extended family. We had 11 friends join us for an afternoon full of laughter, tears and the sharing of funny stories and memories. When eventually the restaurant needed us to leave so they could prepare for dinner, we went to the aforementioned cocktail bar at our hotel to continue the party, and finished off in our room with fine views and dancing. It was indeed a fitting farewell to all these incredible friends who have become our surrogate family in Australia.

Tears and laughter with our nearest and dearest

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Our final couple of days were far more subdued. Taronga Zoo is located on the edge of Sydney Harbour, and a short ferry trip from Circular Quay, a five minute walk from our hotel. It was the venue for our wedding, nearly 20 years ago, and I was keen for one last visit to remember the ambience of the location. Our friends Dan and Michelle joined us their with their young daughter Darcy. They are picking up the Aussie-adventuring lead where we have dropped it and are collecting their second hand Zone caravan very soon. We chatted to them about the joys of caravanning and the potential adventures that may lay ahead for them.

A farewell to our friends…young Darcy is a little bit infatuated with Mr A!
A collection of native and non native wildlife in some of the exhibits
Looking back towards Sydney from the Zoo – seeing our hotel from a different angle

On Monday evening we were treated to a final supper with our friends Clive and Aisha. We had been determined to be alcohol-free but ended up sharing a bottle of wine and completing the meal with a cocktail! Such willpower! But all in a good cause.

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And then it was upon us, our last day as Sydney residents. I set off early to walk across town to the hairdressers, and Mr A had a walk around the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens and city. Time just flew by, and before long we were wheeling our re-packed luggage into a maxi-taxi and heading to the airport.

First time flying long haul business class – very nice indeed!

And then we were off. Did it feel emotional as we pulled up from the land and sped off through the air towards Dubai? Strangely, no. Partly I think we have cried so many tears over the past week or so it was a relief to be finally boarding the plane and partly because now our brains have moved on to the next stage, and we are feeling so excited about what lies ahead.

I think it will take us a little while to really recognise that this is not just another holiday and that we are here to live. Once Princess Tassie arrives and we have found a house to purchase I think this will all seem real, Otherwise for now it’s all a bit of a dream.

Already London has been treating us well, with some great shopping and dining opportunities and a few convivial nights out with friends and family.

Our friends Barney and Mel are the first to welcome us back with drinks and dinner in Soho
We are joined by Mr A’s daughters Hayley and Zoe, my cousin Karen and mum for a weekend in Chelsea – it has been a long 18 months between hugs
Wine bar followed by the theatre of a Teppanyaki dinner

We have more fun already planned for the next few weeks, reuniting and reconnecting with friends and family…the next adventure has begun.

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

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replete post lunch

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

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

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

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

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Back at Curl Curl Lagoon

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

And meanwhile, back at home….

Princess Tassie enjoying the sunshine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend in Newcastle, NSW with friends Chris and Karen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6-22 October: Completing the final Australian circuit

Author: Mrs A

Location: Port Macquarie and Sydney, NSW, Australia

We pulled away from our friends Phil and Libby in Brisbane, promising that this would not be the final goodbye, and we would meet again somewhere in the world. We are slowly coming to terms with the fact there are going to be quite a few of these moments in our future.

Our final farewell to Brisbane, Tassie longingly looking at Phil and Libby’s house

We had diligently completed and submitted our NSW border passes, and headed south not knowing what might be ahead of us.

A whole load of not much was the answer. Given Queenslanders have to quarantine to come back from NSW, subject to a strict approval process, very few people were heading interstate and the roads were eerily quiet. This is in absolute contrast to the wall to wall traffic we experienced last time we drove this journey in early February 2020, when it was pouring with rain to add to the treacherous frenzy.

Entering New South Wales to empty roads

It was an uneventful journey to Sydney, with a night spent in a very forgettable ‘pet friendly’ motel room in Port Macquarie, and we arrived back at our house earlyThursday afternoon. Nobody even wanted to see our border passes…I guess they assume few people want to travel to New South Covid…

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It has been three years since we spent a night in our home, and entering the place with no furniture was quite eerie. We wondered how Tassie would go at remembering it, given there have been other cats and dogs living in there with our renters over the past few years. Proving to be the most adaptable cat as usual, she trotted in with her tail held high, sharpened her claws on the bottom step of the stairs as she has done for years, and settled right on in!

Our return home essentially completes our third big ‘lap’ of Australia. The map below broadly shows where we have been since we first pulled away from our house in May 2017, covering many kilometers around this huge continent.

1. Took us from Sydney up to the Kimberley in the north-west, then across to the coast and down to Perth, back via the Nullarbor and South Australia. 2. We visited lots of areas in Queensland, then took the Savannah way over to Darwin, returning via Uluṟu,and the Plenty Highway. 3. Has taken us down through Victoria and much more of South Australia and the Riverland, then up through the Flinders Range to Birdsville, and up to the Daintree Rainforest and back.

It is hard for many people, even Australians, to comprehend the distances covered in our travels, with often three or four days of solid driving before you reach the next destination of note or even a chance to go for a walk. Accepting the distances, we have enjoyed the diversity of flora and fauna, and on this most recent trip not only saw many areas new to us, but also gave ourselves a chance to linger and revisit some of our favourite locations.

Check out www.thetruesize.com to overlay any country on top of another – here I have put Australia over Europe and the USA so you can understand a sense of scale

We now find ourselves ready to settle down for a few months, celebrating having more than one room and access to connected plumbing!

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After a night ‘camping’ on ‘self inflating’ mattresses which had been compressed for too long (ie not inflating at all!), all our possessions were delivered from storage. We clocked up 5km and 25 flights just running up and down the stairs with the delivery guys, taking in boxes and directing furniture.

Mr A and ‘Abs’ one of the delivery guys unloading a cage…meanwhile Tassie has found a lot of new places to sleep!

And we are ‘home’ for the next few months!

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We arrived in time for the final two days of Sydney’s lockdown for double vaccinated people, but that didn’t stop us joining two of our lovely neighbours, Mike and Julia, for a picnic in the park. They very kindly did the catering, and we enjoyed a great catch up with them within the lockdown rules.

Picnic in the park

Our home is located beside Curl Curl Lagoon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and we have been reuniting ourselves with the stunning location, watching the sun rise over the water and rediscovering the birdlife. We will certainly miss these beautiful mornings when we arrive in deepest darkest February in the UK, but there we will have completely different things to look forward to.

Curl Curl Lagoon at sunrise
Looking down Curl Curl beach towards Manly and North Head in the distance
Looking up the beach towards North Curl Curl

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Having got through our whole weekend of lockdown (sorry everyone who has suffered for so long!), Sydney opened up the following Monday, with shops, restaurants and bars welcoming the double vaccinated. Life has entered the phase of the next level of ‘new normal’.

Afternoon walks through the reserve rewarded us with the trills of Superb Fairy Wrens, swooping Red Wattlebirds chasing insects to feed their young, and many other signs of spring.

One of many Superb Fairywrens that call the reserve home
A Red Wattlebird and its demanding chick
A Mallard Duck on the lagoon
I even spotted a little Ringtail Possum sleeping in a broken tree
A Crested Pigeon displaying its green and purple wing feathers

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Just up the coast from Curl Curl is Dee Why, and we took a walk through the lagoon and beach there up to Long Reef on another day.

Looking towards Dee Why and North Curl Curl
Mr A
A Superb Fairywren keeps lookout on top of a bush, his turquoise feathers gleaming in the morning sun
Looking towards Manly from Long Reef
A Sulphur Crested Cockatoo munching on seed pods

Long Reef has a regular nesting pair of Nankeen Kestrels, and they were out and about hunting for mice, skinks and lizards when we were there, unperturbed by all the people out walking.

Nankeen Kestrels, focused on finding food for their brood

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Our social life has never been so busy. After 105 days of lockdown all our friends have been keen to go out, and I think we have clocked up more outings in the last two weeks than in the preceding 12 months combined!

Curries, French cuisine, modern Australian, a local gin bar and more…
More beers, wines, dinners and lunches – Tassie enjoyed nights in!

It has been a great welcome back to Sydney, and we will continue to make the most of our time over the next few months.

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And finally, some of our readers will probably know I am an artist in my spare time, primarily working on semi-abstract (meaning they look like paintings rather than photographs) landscapes.

I have decided to sell some of my work before we head off to the northern hemisphere, and have some discounted original works for sale.

If there is anything you are interested in, please let me know – I’ve uploaded some images here: https://whenthecatsaway.net/

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18-25 September: Return to the country

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kenilworth and surrounds, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia

Just when we thought our rainforest visiting days were over we decided to book in at the showgrounds in Kenilworth for a few days.

If you are unfamiliar with showgrounds (you may have noticed we have stayed on quite a few), a showground is a community run area of ground on which country shows – rodeos, livestock sales and comptitions and horse riding trials are held. Outside of major events, the land sits empty, so many towns have turned them into campgrounds, providing power and water to a number of sites as well as offering unpowered spots. We like them because they tend to be more bushy and spread out than caravan parks, and money earned from our fees goes back into improving the community facilities.

It was a breath of fresh air arriving in Kenilworth, after the frenzied school holidays crowds flocking to our Didillibah campsite, children keen to enjoy the water slides and jumping pillows on offer there. Although there were children around, mostly they were busy playing games on the oval or riding their bikes around the quiet driveways.

The overwhelming sound we first noticed was of birds in their hundreds, flocking to the flowering callistemon trees around the park. As well as Rainbow Lorikeets and Pale-headed Rosellas, there were dozens of tiny Scarlet Myzomelas, a challenge to see as they are so similar in colour to the flowers.

Bottlebrush flowers are clearly a favourite for these little red, black and white birds
Scarlet Myzomela
Hundreds of Rainbow Lorikeets flock here also to enjoy the sweet nectar
Another type of honeyeater, a Noisy Friarbird on Kniphofia flowers
Princess Tassie approved of the fine sunny weather we had here

Kenilworth is situated in a rural setting ringed by national parks and state forests in all directions, the green rolling hills reminding us somewhat of England on a fine sunny day. It sits in the Mary River valley, and the river itself runs just behind the showground.

Sunset from the campground

All this natural environment makes for a wildlife filled location and we ticked off more than 35 different species of bird just footsteps from our caravan!

A Brown Cuckoo Dove flies up from the woodland floor and eyes me suspiciously
One of several Laughing Kookaburras on the site which entertain us each evening with their cackling calls
Another Laughing Kookaburra
A Fan-tailed Cuckoo with its gorgeous bright eye

We were reminded in no uncertain terms that (despite the temperature reaching over 30 degrees centigrade on a couple of the days we were there) it is spring, and many of the birds were busy building nests, collecting food to feed young, and often in their vibrant mating colours. It is a great time to be spotting birds.

A pair of Maned Ducks have a very cute clutch of six chicks
A Blue-faced Honeyeater with a beak full of insects to feed its hungry family
Leaden Flycatcher – this one was collecting horse hair from the edge of the paddock, presumably to line a nest

In addition to the many birds around, on one walk we even spotted a large Australian Water Dragon, located where I had previously seen the ducklings. I was so worried that they were missing I checked to see whether duckling might be on the Water Dragon’s dinner list – fortunately not, they prefer insects and the odd baby mouse!

An Australian Water Dragon – this adult was about 1 metre long (nose to tip of tail). Their diet consists mostly of insects (though they will eat small mice) and they live for about 20 years

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The Mary River is about a 10 minute walk from the campsite, following a mown grass tree lined pathway which leads down to the river’s edge.

We came to this region back in 2018 when we organised a Zoner’s Muster at Kenilworth Camping, a farm camping area on the banks of this river further downstream. Back then we had paddled 4.5km in our inflatable pack rafts and had a great time with some of our Zoner (owners of Zone RV caravans) friends. So it was really fitting when our friends Phil and Libby, who had been there with us too, decided they hadn’t quite had enough of us in Noosa, and that they would drive up with their granddaughters, Ava and Hayley, for the day.

Hayley didn’t hesitate to jump in the river for a paddle, while Ava took time to learn how to skim stones. The water was definitely too shallow for kayaking and we certainly could not have managed the trip we did three and a half years ago.

Ava learning to skim stones while Hayley paddles in the shallow river

We were reminded that the river is home to more than fish, turtles and birds, when sharp-eyed Hayley pointed out a Red-bellied Black Snake slithering along the riverbank into the undergrowth. This one was just a baby – on another visit down to the water Mr A came rushing along the bank towards me ashen faced – a 2 metre long adult had just emerged from the water swiftly retreating into the reeds just centimetres in front of him. We steered clear from reeds and grasses after that!

Red-bellied Black-snake – venomous but shy unless they feel threatened

Mark and I visited the Mary River on a few occasions, every time rewarding us with new sightings – like these gorgeous Red-browed Firetails – tiny finches often heard but rarely seen.

Bath time for the flock
One very wet Firetail!

And little insect loving Red-backed Fairywrens flitting through the Casuarina trees (River Sheoaks) and grasses.

Looking magnificent in his breeding colours, a male Red-backed Fairywren
A female Red-backed Fairy Wren with not a speck of red to be seen
Red-backed Fairywren

The river is also home to many more traditional water lovers, including Little Pied Cormorants, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Herons, Dotterels and more.

White-faced Heron standing statuesque on the riverbank
A tiny pair of Black-fronted Dotterels run energetically along the sand and gravel banks

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A short 10 minute drive from Kenilworth is a small area of ancient rainforest, home to the Fig Tree Walk. The boardwalk takes visitors on a short educational trail through the forest, explaining about the trees and the lifecycle within this special environment. Mark and I visited on two occasions, the second time bringing along Libby and Phil and the kids for an explore to finish their day out.

Stunning forest – Phil must be telling me a shocking story (else I am yawning!)
Group photo (Mr A is photographer)
Yes…keep on scrolling – this is a tall one! 150 years of growing, this tree is not yet finished…we feel dwarfed amongst its roots

An attempt to portray some of the majesty of the towering trees in the forest

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Mapleton National Park is located 24km west of Kenilworth and was the location for another trip during our week. We combined a couple of walks (map), hiking the short but picturesque Linda Garret Circuit and tagging on some of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk (just shy of 60km in total – we only did a couple of kilometres each way!).

Our walk starts with a lookout with views over the Obi Obi Valley
Looking across the valley

Amazingly I spotted another Tawny Frogmouth sleeping alongside the path – these nocturnal birds are not owls or related to them. They have a wide beak rather than hooked, designed for catching moths on the fly, and their feet are not talons, rather just designed for gripping a branch, more similar to a pigeon’s toes.

Tawny Frogmouth
A tiny Brown Thornbill, one of a flock spotted flitting energetically through the undergrowth hunting for insects
Mr A surrounded by palms
A gorgeous Lewin’s Honeyeater with its crescent yellow patch and creamy yellow gape (outer edge of mouth). Lewin’s Honeyeater is named after an English artist, John Lewin, who travelled to Australia in the early 1800s to paint the wildlife. He originally called this bird the ‘Yellow-eared Honeysucker’
Loving the intricacy of these roots

The walks in this area seemed to have fewer ground-dwelling birds, perhaps because the village is so close and domestic cats and maybe even foxes have killed them. There were plenty of yellow robins flitting through the trees though, chasing insects we disturbed on our walk.

Eastern Yellow Robin
Pale-yellow Robin

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Conondale National Park is also not far from Kenilworth. Just a 20 minute drive and you reach a 4WD only track, where three water crossings deliver you to Boolumba Creek Day use area. From there you can start the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk or chose from a selection of shorter routes.

Mr A crossing one of the creek beds

We visited on a couple of occasions, loving the area rich with untouched rainforest, the constant hum of insects and chatter of birds addictive.

Mr A ready for action on one of our walks to an old gold mine shaft (map)
Not a peaceful place, the rainforest is noisy, full of bird calls and the constant hum of insects
Hard to see, a ground dwelling Longrunner bird rummaging through the leaves
A gorgeous Crested Shrike-tit flies in for a visit
Photographing birds up in the trees
A Rufous Shrikethrush
Large-billed Scrubwren