Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK
It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).
From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!
From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.
Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.
A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!
From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.
One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.
Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.
We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.
Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.
Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.
I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.
Location: Caerfai Bay, St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK
A short drive along this magnificent Pembrokeshire coast brought us to our new home for the next three nights, high up on the cliffs overlooking the calm waters of St.Brides Bay. By lunch time a bag of washing is done and hung out, an egg and bacon brunch (well it was Sunday) laid down to fortify us for a hike along the coast (walk link).
Do we turn left or right? This was the toughest decision of the day. Left won out and we headed east along our first chunky section of the Pembrokeshire Coast path. At 299km long, this is another tremendous asset that has been hard fought for over the years by community groups negotiating with hundreds of landowners to get a continuous path for all to enjoy. This path also connects with the 1,400 kilometre Welsh Coast Path. Could you ever run out of walking destinations in the UK?
As we headed out along the cliff top, it became immediately evident that nature is clearly still in charge here, with massive land slips, deeply eroded bays, and plants and trees shaped by the wind.
We watched a seal in the clear water far below us hunting for lunch, its shining spotty white belly briefly exposed when coming up for air before resuming the chase. Mrs A then spotted a bird rare to the UK, with only around 300 breeding pairs, a member of the crow family called a chough. So excited, she emitted a (unusual for her) squeal of delight!
At our turn round point we looked out over an unusual topography, and with a bit of help from Dr Google, realised we were looking at the highly eroded remains of an Iron Age fort (so around 2-2,500 years old). You cannot escape from the deep history that is everywhere around you in this country. Even at the westerly edge of the British Isles, the waves of invasions, rebellions, migrations, assimilations, and recurring nationalism, are evident all around us. We can feel this is going to be a rewarding foray into a country we both know so little about.
Well, with the sun going down behind the off shore islands, it was time to retrace our steps along the cliff top and settle in for another night of splendid social isolation in Truffy.
Our second day here was less energetic, with drizzly rain and very poor visibility. It was a short walk up the road from the campsite to the UK’s smallest city, St Davids. A quick look at the cathedral for Catherine, where the bones of the patron saint of Wales (yes…St David) are buried (walk link).
We felt a little cheated at the lack of opportunity to turn right along the cliff after yesterday’s poor weather, so seeing a better forecast, and seeing such a glorious dawn, we headed out early (for us) in the other direction.
It became obvious after an hour‘s walking that this was a stretch of path that was something special, with dizzyingly stunning views. So I called the campsite and booked us in for another night. This is the joy of travelling off peak – the flexibility to be spontaneous when everything doesn’t have to be booked weeks in advance.
We just didn’t want to stop walking. Looking at the map, we saw we would be heading out along a peninsula that would bring us quite close back to St Davids, so we agreed to keep going and take a chance we could get a bus or taxi into the village (oops, city).
It was glorious weather, Pembrokeshire was showing off her early autumn glory. The bracken was turning a more golden brown, the heather flowers were largely gone, the remaining blackberries plump and almost over ripe, but especially with no lunch or breakfast with us, absolutely delicious. A small apple each was all we had with us, but what a spot to sink our teeth into them.
After a few hours we had only seen a couple of other walkers, then a couple told us there were seals around in the next bay. Their plaintive calls echoed around the cliffs, mums calling to their pups and vice versa.
We watched them for ages, spellbound as they occasionally seemed to look up at us on the cliffs above them. “What are they staring at?” framed in a bubble over their flickering whiskers.
What a perfect day. We walked, we talked, we laughed, and we gazed in wonderment. What more can you ask?
Location: Tavistock, Okehampton and Dartmoor, Devon,
Having time to learn has been one of the great joys of retirement. We have found ourselves, in our three years on the road, improving our understanding of the world around us. Its history, geology, flora, fauna, macro and micro cultures. What a privledge, and we don’t want to waste that opportunity. Take this week for example. we took another walk from our campsite, and came across an old arsenic works from the early 20th century. That led to a bit of reading up about mining more generally in this area, and all of a sudden this whole new chapter in my learning journey opens up.
So we had seen the signs around Tavistock designating it a World Heritage site, but hadn’t really understood why. Its all about the mines.
I have also wondered how this little island I once called home got to be so important for a while on the world stage (Noah Harare in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” was the most readable explanation I’ve read on that) and the role mining played in Britain’s rise to fame I hadn’t really appreciated.
The archaeological record shows a history of taking ores from stream beds and turning them into something useful since the mid Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago. In this area, it was mainly tin and copper, thanks to its abundance given a specific geology where mineralisation had occurred. I was definitely asleep in my history and chemistry lessons, as I hadn’t remembered that by adding small amounts of tin to copper – hey presto— you have bronze, an even harder metal. Although the first evidence of this process has been uncovered in Turkey over 5,000 years ago, first evidence so far in UK was a 1,000 years later. It has been postulated even as a reason the Romans invaded to get their hands on Cornish and Devon tin. By the 12th century there was over 60 tons of tin ore recorded as being mined out of Dartmoor and the surrounding area.
This mining activity has so shaped the landscape and made an unique contribution of the area we are exploring that in 2006 it was awarded World Heritage status, as the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. The 18th and 19th century saw deep mines (over 1500 feet at Morwhellan) for tin and two thirds of the world’s copper, as well as half the world‘s arsenic production. Mining machinery built in this area was sold around the world and become one of the drivers of the Industrial Revolution. Another piece in the puzzle of understanding this country’s history put in place.
So it is a with different eye that we can walk around this landscape, admire its rural beauty, and now appreciate its role on the world stage.
Just imagining the children, some as young as 9, their graves in the local churchyard, climbing down into these mines, sent shivers down our spines, even on this baking hot day. I think of my grandchildren at that age now, and how their world is so different.
One unintended benefit for us of this historical landscape is the abundance of old railways that the far sighted Devon Council has converted to rail trails. I had read about one called the Granite Way that started around 15 kilometres from our campsite. So off we rode, the excitement of the wheels rolling somewhere new never dulls.
We cycled through some pretty hilly terrain, with liberal use of the pedal assistance provided by our bikes. Would we have chosen to ride to the start without battery support? I doubt it. It added over 30 km to the trip, with another 36km return for the rail trail to come. But knowing we could “flatten the hills” a bit we rode it (Strava link).
We are so glad we did. The ride took us through an unfolding landscape dotted with churches with commanding views, Norman castles, and some very enticing looking pubs.
But we pressed on to the welcome more level tarmac of the Granite Way. I had seen pictures from various blogs of the highlights of this route, which is part of the much longer “Coast to Coast” route through Devon (Plymouth to Ilfracombe) , but was still taken aback when we rounded a corner and this restored viaduct came into view.
It was great seeing so many smiles from other cyclists as well, clearly enjoying the day. Even a couple of lycra clad road warriors smiled, unheard of in Australia! It is so relaxing to be away from the threat of cars, and just to be able to take in the view without constantly checking mirrors and worrying if you will be come one of the many accident statistics where bike meets car. Cyclist rarely comes off better! Touch wood, so far, we have experienced really respectful road sharing behaviour from car drivers. The only near accident was when we were pedestrians and a road cyclist came hammering around a blind bend in a village and nearly took Catherine out!
As we reached the end of the trail in the small town of Okehampton, we spotted a family from our campsite who has just ridden the trail with their three boys, one of whom was only five! Brilliant. A long pub lunch while our batteries charged back up, and we rode back, catching them up and riding the return rail trail leg with them. It was so inspiring to hear their story. The two highest mountain peaks in England and Wales have bagged by these little guys, when one was only four!
They don’t posses tablets, and haven’t asked for them. Life in their home town of Newquay seems busy enough with swimming, surfing, riding and hiking. There are many different ways to parent, and I’m sure not an expert, but seeing these young guys’ confidence and interest in the world around them as we shared a bottle of wine with mum and dad, I filed that observation away.
Leaving our campsite in Dorset, it was just a hop skip and a jump into Devon, the adjoining county. Our next destination was a campground near Tavistock in Devon, just north of Plymouth.
We first became aware of The Old Rectory, Camping and Caravan Park when we were desperately looking for a place to live, just before Easter. The nephew of Declan (the campground owner), knows someone we know, as he contacted us via Facebook and suggested we park up here. As it turned out we were able to find and rent Honeysuckle Cottage in West Bagborough instead, and the rest is history.
Still, we had taken note of this location, surrounded by interesting hikes and cycleways, and nestled a short way from the tors and moors of Dartmoor, and had decided to book in for two weeks. What a great decision!
The weather has been variable since we arrived, with temperatures similar to winter in Australia (daytimes at 16-18 degrees) with a good dose of rain and drizzle ranging to a hot and humid late 20s the past couple of days.
Our first impression of Tavistock was of a grand, good looking town, with its central square centred around its Pannier Markets. These were purpose built in the 1850s by the 7th Duke of Bedford using money made from the local copper and asbestos mining operations. The river was re-routed to allow for this building and the square (Bedford Square). There are still markets held here every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The sunshine of our first day was not set to last, so on Tuesday morning we decided we would cycle into town and have a good look around. Our campsite, The Old Rectory is just out of town, but we managed to ride in with only a short distance travelled on roads.
Diverting down a narrow farm track, we soon arrived at the Tavistock Canal. This picturesque area is now primarily a footpath (bikes tolerated with care), but has an interesting history dating back to 1817. It links to the River Tamar and Morwellham Quay, and was used to transport goods for shipping. These days it’s home primarily to waterfowl, but the excellent craft involved in building this watercourse is still holding strong.
We had a good explore around town on our bikes, the rain holding off enough for us to enjoy a picnic of Cornish Pasties (a vegan one for me – one of the benefits of this latest food trend is dairy-free goodies!) and a hot chocolate.
Wednesday dawned grey, but the rain continued to hold off, so we donned our walking boots and decided to hike to see the aforementioned Morwellham Quay (Strava link). Our campground is located in the hamlet of Gulworthy, on the edge of a huge network of mountain biking and hiking tracks known as the Tamar Trails. The trail network is open for all to use, with maps around detailing which are for walkers only versus shared with bikes.
This whole area is part of the Cornish and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site – protected along with the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Tamar Valley was home to numerous successful copper mines in the 19th and 20th centuries.
We made it down to Morwellham Quay, the site of what used to be a busy bustling port – shipping copper to Swansea to be smelted, and receiving other goods such as coal from Wales. Today it’s a museum, with carefully restored mining artefacts and (when there is no Covid), theatre and exhibits depicting life for the mine workers and their families.
Mark had read that the pub, The Ship Inn, had just reopened its doors to the public, and spotting empty benches and an open door, checked to see whether they were serving yet. It was 11.30am, but yes indeed, two half pints of a locally brewed beer were soon drawn and we enjoyed those sitting outside on the cobbled streets.
It was very quiet on this afternoon, just a few people camping in the nearby field, and none of the usual attractions open. We explored what we could around the quay, all very interesting and somewhat hard to imagine with the river not looking deep enough to cater to much more than small pleasure boats, much less the huge ships required to transport goods.
The following day was wet and drizzly, our location high up on the edge of Dartmoor meaning we were surrounded by cloud and fog. We caught a bus into Tavistock to have a look around the Pannier Markets and shops. It’s such a shame the experience has been tainted by this virus. Masks have to be adorned, the market stalls have been halved to allow for social distancing, and people are somewhat on edge. I think the whole experience of not being able to see peoples’ faces has tainted perceptions. A visage hidden behind a mask can look threatening and unfriendly and sadly that is how we were treated in a few of the stores. We didn’t spend long in town, stopping only for lunch in a cafe and returning to Truffy earlier than anticipated.
Friday morning we woke early for us (before 7am!) as fine weather was promised and we had an exciting day planned.
We cycled to the next village of Gunnislake and caught the train from there into Plymouth.
Face coverings are required on trains, and I didn’t much fancy wearing a hot mask for the best part of an hour. I experimented with my scarf, which worked quite nicely.
Neither of us can remember ever visiting Plymouth before and were both impressed on arrival. It was a short cycle from the train station down to the front, adorned with magnificent hotels with incredible views.
We explored around the Barbican area, a buzzing harbourside suburb
We had an explore around the foreshore, enjoying the authenticity of the port buildings and fish markets, not simply providing sights for tourists. When the storm hit, we ducked into a pub to find lunch.
Sated, we set off on our way back to Tavistock. We rode along National Cycle Route 27, following a section known as Drake‘s Trail, named after Sir Frances Drake, the famous Elizabethan seafarer. The track is a 33km (21 mile) route which winds through riverside fauna, forest and through part of Dartmoor National Park.
It was a great day out, and we left Plymouth keen to visit again. It is such an interesting city – with islands, forts, and a lot of history to explore. It’s on our list for a longer trip in the future.
A hot day dawned on Saturday so we had a chilled out day. Next month I have been invited to present at an online conference (for the Patient Centred Outcomes Research Institute – PCORI) about conducting research via the rare disease support group I run, so worked on my biography and presentation, while we caught up with the washing before the next rain arrives.
Can the world really take this opportunity for a once in a generation change for the better? Will more people begin to travel by electric car or instead work from home, and those with shorter distances to work jump on a bike (or e-bike) or walk instead? Can this cleaner air and quieter environment we’re enjoying be more permanent?
It seems the UK hopes so. Breathing in air pollution, particularly from diesel engines (nitrogen dioxides) and micro particles (PM2.5 – from brake pads being applied and wear and tear of tyres), is responsible for contributing to an estimated 9,500 deaths per year. The worst affected areas are unsurprisingly around London and the south-east of England, and the cleanest in the north of Scotland.
Since the lockdown began, some areas of the UK have already seen a 70% increase in cycle journeys. Mark and I have certainly been enjoying our 5km (3mile) each way ride to our local shops. And we have mentioned time and time again over our period here how much we are enjoying this clean air.
Selfishly, as people who enjoy being more in touch with the world the way cycling allows, we wholeheartedly support this approach. We would also relish the clean air that comes with more electric vehicles and bikes on the road.
The announcement of a £2 billion package to encourage cycling and walking – including pop up bike lanes, cycle and bus only streets, requirements for councils to create safer streets is also welcomed. If only we saw something like this in Sydney. Our friends there already have mentioned noticing an increase in air pollution, and the lockdown there is not yet fully lifted. I for one have often been deterred from cycling in Sydney because of the lack of safety on the roads. It’s so encouraging seeing the humble bike being one of the answers to getting the country moving again here.
Electric vehicles should help with reducing pollution too. The top two cars sold in the UK last month were both electric, with plans for increased numbers of charging points to support this in the future. I know that Mark and I would definitely go electric with our next vehicle, with Mr A already getting excited about the Tesla Model Y SUV. In contrast, the two best sellers in Australia were big Toyota gas guzzlers, with distance often blamed for the slow adoption of electric.
Less traffic means less noise of course, which for us, is one of the most stressful elements of city life. I read an article the other day which revealed the impact of city noise on birdsong with our feathered friends in city locations found to be singing at higher pitch to be heard over traffic (when compared to their country cousins). They also have been heard to sing faster and shorter songs.
With the lockdown still firmly in place, we have continued with our regular walks around the neighbourhood, traffic slightly increasing as people choose to travel further afield for walks, but still not too bad.
We’re still enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the country as the season progresses, waking up in the morning to birdsong and the little cries of lambs.
We did a fabulous e-bike ride in the last week as well, not long in distance (only 30km/18.6 miles) but very steep – and yes, before you say it, you do have to work hard even with a motor on your bike! (Strava link here)
Looping north through a couple of villages, we climbed up over the Quantock Hills, closer to the coast than we have ever been. Here, the heather and grass covered tops are fairly free from trees, but with the usual Exmoor Ponies and horse trekkers about.
The trees reemerged beside the road as we reaped the reward of a wonderful long downhill towards the village of Over Stowey.
Nether Stowey Castle was next lived in by the lord of the Manor of Stowey, who then abandoned it in the mid 1400s. Much of the stone from the original buildings was used to build what is now a grand manor house in the village, Stowey Court, the lord’s new home.
Not much remains of the castle other than a grass covered mound and ditch, but you can see the wonderful views they would have enjoyed.
Friday 8 May was VE (Victory in Europe) day, when Germany’s forces surrendered unconditionally to the allied forces, marking the end of World War II. This time last year we were in Reims in France, watching a rather sombre ceremony in the pouring rain.
This year was different all together. No marches, or ceremonies of remembrance, but still the bunting decorated the village and there were some socially distanced celebrations.
As we enter our eighth week here, the lockdown looks to continue for some weeks (or months?) more. The good news for us is that there are now slightly lifted restrictions which will allow us to drive to get out and about for our outdoor exercise. It looks like we might be able to see a little more of the immediate region while we are here after all.
We decided to go ahead with our Vienna trip even though the medical conference that Catherine had been invited to speak at had been postponed . Covid -19 cases are pretty much non existent in Austria so far, and life continues with a degree of normality that has been comforting. Toilet rolls and hand sanitiser are on the shelves of supermarkets, and there’s hardly a mask to be seen. The streets are still vibrant with locals catching up over coffee and those wonderful Viennese pastries. The tourist hordes are missing, and of course that’s fabulous.
On our walk round the city we started to see the beauty in the architecture here. Voted the world’s most liveable cityten years on the trot, we wandered past the Sigmund Freud museum, as the father of psychoanalysis lived and worked here for much of his life. Countless grand buildings house the concert halls, palaces and universities that dominate this classy, urbane and clearly prosperous city.
In three days we haven’t seen anyone begging on the streets, or people sleeping rough. The locals dress with style, chic scarves tossed over shoulders draped in smart winter jackets. Trams whiz along broad streets lined with an eclectic range of up market shops. This is a city with panache, and we love it.
The first night we met three of the senior cardio thoracic surgeons who had driven the establishment of the conference. They had invited us out to meet and greet, very kind given their punishing workloads. As usual I had that swelling of admiration for Catherine as she has positioned herself to help so many women suffering from the same disease as her self through the Facebook support group she established. Now with over 4,000 members it is literally a lifeline of knowledge and emotional support for them, and recognised as such by the world leading medical practitioners who work in the field.
The next day (Mrs A’s birthday) dawned with blue skies and crisp temperatures. What a pleasure for walking around. First stop was to see if we could get tickets for the opera at the main state theatre on Saturday, and we did. Opera in Vienna, a bucket list item for us. A plethora of restaurants and cafes line the pavements. We chose one on the river Danube that dissects the city. A lovely lunch of chicken soup (Catherine is fighting a cold) and a glass of the local white wine for which Austria is famous, Gruner Vetliner. It has really become a favourite of ours with its smooth elegant bouquet. In fact Vienna is the only city in the world that grows significant quantities of grapes within its city boundaries, housing around 350 vineyards. This is our kind of town! Great food, quality wine, and a relaxed vibe. There always seems to be time for the locals to have a coffee!
Catherine’s birthday dinner had been venue had been recommended by her key contact here. Dr Tom’s a super busy in demand doctor, but he finds the time to even book it for us, and what a superb choice it was. Croatian seafood was the focus, and after a melt in the mouth octopus entree we had talbot and succulent veggies baked in a big casserole type dish swimming with juices that cried out for bread to mo it up. I obliged…several times. We are definitely leaning towards being pescatarians these days, with an ever decreasing amount of meat finding its way onto our plates in the eating choices we make.
We were a little nervous about the bill, as the fish prices were by the kilo and we hadn’t worked it out, but pleasantly surprised with a total of just shy of €90 (150 AUD), and this included aperitifs and a bottle of wine. Good value indeed. Budget worries are likely to feature in our plans given we are watching our investment portfolio, the returns from which fund our travel, get wiped by the market drops due to the virus. Ah well let’s see. It’s out of our control.
We wandered these city streets for four days, clocking up according to our iPhones over 43 kilometres of walking. It’s been an absolute delight with no real agenda we just leave our hotel and wander where our fancy takes us.
Then it‘s our last night here and time to enjoy the opera at the main state concert hall. The Wiener Staatsoper is a massively grandiose affair and we felt so privileged to be there, dwarfed by the 1,709 seat renaissance building. The opera was Manon, not one we had seen before or knew anything about, but that didn’t stop us immersing ourselves in the pageantry and incredible musical artistry.
We leave with unfinished business here, always a good sign, there was so much we still wanted to do. Cycle down the Danube, visit some wineries, listen to classical music on a summers evening in the square sipping an Aperol spritz. Let’s see…
Location: Tweed Heads and Yamba, New South Wales, Australia
We left our friends in Noosa with heavy hearts. This roaming lifestyle means we have no clue when we will see them again. Good friendships survive distance, but are renewed with proximity. It has been a fantastic week but now we its time to head south towards Sydney.
Firstly though we needed to collect our home away from home from the manufacturer, Zone RV in Coolum, where they had serviced it. It was all ready and waiting for us, well, until they noticed our solar power wasn’t working. They immediately threw a sparky at the problem, found the fault, fixed it, and we were on our way. Great service from Zone RV. It’s a good feeling to see a company that has worked so hard to bring innovation into this traditional industry survive the ups and downs of a highly competitive and crowded market.
Our destination for the night was a riverside camping park at the small town of Tweed Heads. We really didn’t see much of it. By the time we had unpacked all of our gear from a week‘s stay, cleaned and reorganised the van it was late afternoon, and, as we found out when we went for a walk along the river bank, mosquito o’clock!
We returned indoors to relish our first air conditioned sleep since before Christmas. Lovely…
Our next stop was the coastal settlement of Yamba, famous for its prawns, delivered to the docks almost daily by the local trawlers. We arrived in time for lunch and followed the advice of a friend who grew up here and headed to Beechwood Cafe, just around the corner from our campsite.
Local sardines and prawns were accompanied by super fresh salad sourced from Grafton. Expensive for lunch, we felt, at $65 for the two of us, but it was great quality.
Times will be tough for businesses like these, with bookings to Australia from international visitors already down 10% on last year as a direct result of the bushfires. That’s an estimated $4.5bn loss to tourism related businesses. Even the local oyster farmer had suffered financially from the fires, his oyster beds having been damaged by burnt trees falling and sweeping his beds away. Small businesses like these need our support – and we we’re happy to oblige with an order for two dozen!
We loved Yamba so much our planned two night stay turned into five! There’s so much to do here, with stunning surf beaches, meandering, sheltered waterways for boating, great cycling paths, and…the Best-Fish-and-Chips-in-Australia. I know…not a big call given the mediocre standard of most, but these from Yamba’s Fisho (suitably Australian name) were truly sensational. Washed down with a new favourite white grape of ours, Alvarinho, from a winery we visited in Rutherglen (Stanton and Colleen). We have found it to be a perfect partner for seafood.
Unfortunately we have both caught colds, again, that’s right – just after we’ve recovered from the flu. It’s been a bit of an ordinary trip this time from a catching-every-virus-going perspective. Anyway, after some restful days with short walks in the relative cool of the later afternoon (anything less than 30°C is a bonus it seems nowadays!), we decided to venture out on the water for a paddle. What a great day we had.
While the Clarence river stretches for a bend short of 400km, we managed to cover 4% of those..so many more to explore one of these days. We saw several sea eagles and kites cruising what seem to be a healthy waterway, judging by their success rate at finding fish snacks.
When we took a ferry over to the small settlement of Iluka on the other side of the river mouth, dolphins were doing their jumpy thing right alongside the boat, busy hunting fish of their own.
We stayeded in Iluka for a few hours, riding though some rain forest, chased by mossies, then emerging on this fabulous beach. It would be hard to run out of things to do here over a holiday. But Sydney calls and we must finally drag ourselves away from this watery paradise.
The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.
Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.
The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.
From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.
At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.
In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.
Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.
We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.
Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.
Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.
We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.
A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.
Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.
We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.
Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.
We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.
Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.
We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.
Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.
There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.
Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.
Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?
Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!
PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!
Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.
The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.
We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.
While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.
Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.
Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.
On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.
Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!
I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.
We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!
That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.
Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.
Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.
Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.
After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.
We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.
It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.
Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.
Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.
People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.
Location: Bakewell, Derbyshire & Hatton, Nottinghamshire, UK
It was a finger-numbingly cold morning as we packed up and left the Chatsworth Estate and drove the short way back to Bakewell, Truffy’s thermometer reading a mere 3° centigrade. We’ve not seen temperatures that low since central Australia last year.
The forecast was for no rain, so we decided to enjoy a last cycle ride before we lock Truffy and our bikes up for the winter. Starting in Bakewell is the Monsal Trail, 14.5 km (9 miles) of traffic-free cycleway, following part of the old Midland railway between Bakewell and Chee Dale.
Parts of the UK have their half-term school holidays at present, so it was fairly busy with cyclists, despite the chilly temperatures. We can only imagine how crowded it would get on a warm summer’s day.
The original train line ran from Manchester to London, and was closed in 1968. The railway passed into the hands of the Peak District National Park in 1980 and the trail developed.
The trail follows the River Wye valley, cutting through some lovely scenery. At one point we looked down on a collection of buildings, learning these were the sites of textile mills in the 1700s. Cressbrook Mill, set up in 1782 was notorious for unsavoury work practices, specifically bringing orphaned children up from London and forcing them to work as ‘apprentices’ for little or no wages.
Showing that everything in life is somehow linked, in 1860 the owner of Cressbrook Mill, David Cannon McConnell emigrated to Queensland, Australia, and the settlement of Cressbrook is named after this area.
We continued to the end of the trail, tagging on a little extra ride along a quiet road along the River Wye, before turning and retracing our steps back to Bakewell.
Back in Bakewell we treated ourselves to fish and chips. It is getting to that point in our trip where we are relishing the ‘last’ of everything – this being the last authentic chips and curry sauce this year! Mr A had mushy peas and a pickled egg too…we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!
We left Derbyshire and drove across the country, picking up a few storage bags at Ikea in Nottingham, before driving to Hawton Waters near Newark in Nottinghamshire.
Hawton Waters has a small number of camp sites near a lake, as well as being a gold accredited storage area for caravans and motorhomes. It Is here we have booked Truffy into for the winter, so in addition to staying the night, it was a good opportunity to have a look at where he would be living for the next four months. They’ve just extended their storage facility, so if you’re looking for somewhere secure to put your van or truck, this could be an option for you.
There’s plenty of security, with two gates to get through and many 24/7 CCTV cameras as well as lots of people around. We feel very comfortable with our choice.
We found a hard standing spot to spend the night, and settled down to our last sleep in Truffy this year.