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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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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