Twelve months ago on the 2nd of the 2nd 2022 (a hard to forget date, even for me), we stepped off a plane from Sydney and showed our passports at Heathrow Airport. We had one way tickets…a fairly committing thought I can tell you.
Reflecting back, we’ve come so far, even my grand-kids recognise me! Old friendships have been rekindled, and new ones are forming. Toasts have been made to a new life. Oh and we found the house of our dreams in one of the most rural counties in England…where A roads are few and far between, and B roads look a lot like goat tracks…Somerset…we love you. Its been a wild ride, but we’ve settled now and love it.
Our village is starting to feel like somewhere we belong, and can really craft a new identity in. Everyone here has been so kind and welcoming. We recognise faces in the street , and in turn are recognised. That feels good. I help out in our community-owned shop on a Saturday morning and that’s got me known among some of the regulars, the ones who cross the street when they see me coming (to the other side!).
Catherine has started to bed herself into the community, joining in Pilates at the village hall, producing a flier for the shop, and taking herself off in a small women’s walking group she was invited to join.
Catherine has also landed (another) voluntary job as photographer for the Somerset arm of a charity called CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) – you’ll find her photos on their website and Instagram (@cpresomerset). We signed up to help with their litter pick-up initiative, and have used our kits to clean up the lane where we live.
Oh but what about the weather you say? Well maybe we are still in the honeymoon period, but the long dark nights of this winter have been an opportunity to get the log burner cranked up, pour ourselves a nice glass of red, and chill out, which in my case means reading and music, and in Catherine’s writing documents for her support group or research papers she is contributing to. Now there are already signs of spring, with snowdrops and daffodils poking their heads out of our lawn and borders. Well …where the squirrels and badgers haven’t dug up the bulbs we carefully buried, little buggers!
Our village did experience some local flooding, but not on our property which seems very well drained, and we don’t actually feel like we had many days of rain. We have been getting out and about no problem. There were certainly more than a few muddy walks, with some requiring wellies, but we have enjoyed them all. Just need to have the right gear.
We have also been able to borrow our new neighbours’ dog Ralph, and take him for a romp, and give him back muddy 🙂
We even walked out over the fields for a Sunday lunch at a local pub last week, that just felt so good. When I look back over January and February, I really have many happy memories created outdoors and in.
We haven’t had too many visitors, a nice break after the last summer’s rush just after we had moved in, but Catherine’s half brother Alex came and stayed locally and did a great walk with us.
Then a couple of friends from Australia did an overnight in between family visits. We certainly miss our friends in Australia, but our life needed to move on to adventures new.
Catherine has been able to spend so much more time with her family, having another weekend in Brighton with her sister and family, then to Hastings, to farewell her grandma.
We both also have had several trips into London for specialist medical support, which when the trains are running has been dead easy! So not very often…
We are also setting ourselves up to get out riding this spring. We both have new e-bikes, ones that will cope with the potholes, mud and gravel a little better, and that’s just on the main roads! I’m also planning some more multi-day bike tours. Exmoor and Dartmoor beckon. A lot to look forward to.
Our home is also taking shape. We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now, and have finished most of the major internal modifications we wanted to do, and kitted ourselves out with furniture, blinds etc. We’ve really enjoyed it, and I’m not sure why its felt different doing it here, but it has. In our last house we landscaped the garden, then stopped. Perhaps deep down we knew it wasn’t going to be our forever home, whereas this one feels like it will be. So next will come the garden, starting with the hard landscaping. We’ve chosen our provider and mapped out a design for a new patio, then it will be the shrubs and adding more privacy with trees. If we have another summer like the last one, it will get a good work out.
So that’s us. Happy in our country bubble, just keeping fingers crossed about our respective health, and enjoying each day we have in this fabulous corner of the country.
After months of blue skies and less wind than Prime Minister’s question time, I decided to head off for a few days on a cycle tour when England copped its first storm of the Autumn season. Oops. Didn’t I read the forecast? I did…but I thought I should reacquaint myself with the ”joy” of riding in the full gamut of weather England can throw at you. I also like exploring in the off seasons, so, “Toughen up!” I thought. In a reluctant nod to the forecast and that most camp sites were shut for the off season, I ditched my plan to carry camping gear at the last minute, and went for the pub/B &B option.
So in summary, how did the trip work out? Well, with the glass half full perspective, I saw some new-to-me areas of south-west England that are staggeringly beautful, proved that the solo cycle touring model works on an e-bike (something I was concerned about with range anxiety!), and had my view of the kindess of strangers totally reaffirmed. That latter point is particularly crucial given I did hit a few speed bumps. Read on…and laugh with/at me.
The trip itinerary was ”flexible”, I had a clear diary for five days. I didn’t even make any accommodation bookings, making the assumption, erroneously it turns out, that in October, away from the coast, not school holidays, how hard could it be to find a room? So of I toddled into the dawn of a Somerset morning with the vague plan to ”Ride towards Lands End”. I was going south and west, with the aim to end up finishing my trip in a town with a direct train line back to Taunton, then a short ride back to our place.
Somerset is a very rural county, and I rode on that first day through tiny villages and hamlets, undisturbed by 4g coverage. Never travel here without offline mapping tools. I rode through green corridors, with tall banks and hedgerows to either side of the narrow lanes, and sometimes this turns into a tunnel. A tunnel taking me back in time I felt, as another little hamlet would emerge around a corner, with the odd car parked on the tiny streets the only reminder I was still in the 21st century.
It’s pretty hilly in the south west of the UK, a mantra I would repeat to myself over the next few days, so I was happy to come across my first town after a couple of hours riding to top up my bike and tummy battery. A much needed breakfast of champions, and a mains plug socket for the bike, as all this kit I was carrying, plus my not insignificant weight, were giving me a lower cycling range than expected.
The lovely ladies at the Old School Cafe in the small service centre type town of Tiverton (code for…it’s a bit ugly and you wouldn’t go for for any other reason!), made me very welcome, despite my dripping clothes and muddy boots. Yes, I had been treated to what the locals call ”Devon Sunshine”. Traditionally the climate down here is a bit wetter than other parts of England. Although this year we were in drought though like the rest of the country, so the rain is much needed. Despite lashing out on the best wet weather gear money can buy, I was soaked from sweating and a bit of water ingress. There will be a section at the end on my wet weather and other gear for those interested.
I had at least done some research on the next town with any chance of accommodation, and that was another 55 kilometres ride, and more importantly, over a lot of bumpy bits (it’s hilly down the south west, remember!), so I was committing. It was going to be a big day, but I felt good, and the Devon Sunshine had stopped and been replaced by…well…”mizzle”. Even though Google won’t let me type that word without autocorrecting, it is in the Oxford dictionary, and such a lovely word. One that evokes the experience just through saying it. Thats called Onomatopoeia by the way. You see, you’ve learnt something already. For our non-English resident readers, mizzle occupies the continuum between rain and mist. You don’t notice its raining, you just get really wet.
I pushed on. Unfamiliar with the area, I saw another cyclist coming the other way and shouted over to ask him a question about the best route. He pulled up. He had a couple of small bags on his bike, so I asked where he was heading. Now we could run a competition until Christmas 2023 on his answer, and I guarantee no one would win it. Istanbul. He’d left home that morning, first day of his trip. Will was raising money for a charity I’d never heard of, Andy’s Man Club. They were set up to provide support to men who are in need of mental health support. Will Thurgood had lost a good friend to suicide, and at the funeral heard of this charity. As a keen cyclist he thought, ”I’ll ride to Istanbul and raise money and awareness”. And indeed he has started well on that quest.
It’s at moments like that, I know one of the reasons I love cycle touring so much. The unexpected encounters on the road that just make you think about your own life through getting inspiration from others. I find riding solo helps these encounters. I’m more alert to a conversation opportunity, and people seem to be keener to engage, rather than interrupting a pair or a pack. Will rode on, and I watched him go with the utmost respect. Strangers whose lives momentarily intersect. In a car you’re isolated, on a bike its easy to start up a conversation. And I regularly do.
More hills loomed, with the huge mass of Dartmoor dominating my vision and thoughts, as I knew I had that treat in store at some stage on this trip. Now I should interject here and explain that for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure to ride a loaded up electric bike, which is a heavy bike to begin with, it’s not a moped. You need to pedal, and get various levels of assistance of your choosing, from none (downhill mode!) up to Sport (make yourself unpopular mode with the manual brigade option). But there isn’t a “stop peddling and go up hills” option. So I arrived at my destination, the small town of Okehampton, completely exhausted with 1100 metres of climbing having taken its toll on legs that hadn’t been doing any training. Ok, so I had found my limit loaded up. I had been out with camping gear in September on a two night trip, but had done a lot less climbing.
I staggered into the hotel that I had called the day before to check if they could store my bike and asked if they had availability, Yes and yes the nice man said. Did I need to book? No, he said, its very quiet at this time of the year. So I arrived to be told, no room at the inn. There was only one other place in town, a brand whose mere mention brings shivers (of a bad kind) down the spine of the British travelling public. Wetherspoons. I walked through the bar trying to find the hotel reception, negotiating a large group of absolutely hammered lads staggering around at 2.30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Eventually I found someone to ask about a room, although she looked like I had just woken her up. I’m not kidding when I tell you it took the receptionist a good 10 minutes to wind up the old desktop and stab what seemed like 300 keys before announcing yes, they had a room left. She almost seemed disappointed she now had to check me in. She asked my mobile number three times, asked me to spell out my home address twice. I gritted my teeth. They did have bike lockers she said. After 10 minutes trying to open and store my bike in one, I decided the engineer who designed them must have had a wicked sense of humour, or who had been knocked over and injured by a cyclist! Jeez. Another couple of tourers turned up with their bikes and a smug air of ”We’ve been here before, we know how to do it”. I watched as they wrestled, and swore, and had their bikes fall out and bite them. So it was my turn to be smug, as I gave in and folded down my handlebar stem. In it went in then like a breeze. How you would get full size bikes in them remains a mystery to me.
Finally. I staggered up to my room, trying to not breathe in the smell of cheesy feet that oozed out of the hallway carpets. The room looked OK, so I walked in, and fell over. There was a crater under the carpet that would have swallowed a small dog. In fact, when I bent down to look at the floor, it did smell like in fact a dog had been there and never left.
I started unpacking to get my devices charging, searching for the bag containing the various power leads that I carefully packed in one of my panniers, and had now mysteriously dematerialised. Uh oh. I had pulled out my iPhone cable at some point during my morning’s ride, and noticed a few minutes later that in my stupor I had not fastened back up the pannier top. My charging cables bag must have leapt out and grabbed the brief opportunity to become road-kill. I phoned the ”Broad Oak House, Level 1 Emotional Support” hotline (Catherine). I was ready to give up the trip. I thought the chances of finding all the cables I needed in this remote little desert of electronics was slim. I mean, with barely any phone coverage (one bar of 3g in the town centre), why would people have phones? But no, I learnt on this trip that there may not be a bakery, butcher, greengrocer etc, but there’s always a phone shop. I could scrape by on what, for an eye watering price, they could sell me.
I ate in the restaurant downstairs, once again there were blind drunk folk staggering round, and they were good enough to share some of their pints all over my clothes. Great.
Lesson 1: Don’t trust nice young men from Okehampton who say you don’t need to book. The compromise between not being locked in to an itinerary and being in a Wetherspoons, is to book somewhere nice 24 hrs ahead. Good learning.
Lesson 2: Before recommencing riding, rotate my head like a meercat, checking carefully all bag fastenings! Sigh…
I packed up in the morning and headed towards the scary bike lockers. I opened the door to the outside world to be nearly bowled over by a tremendous gust of wind and driving rain. Oh. One of those days that would be another ”valuable learning experience“ in how to ride in proper English weather. I set off. After being blown all over the road, and I’m no lightweight, l called into the emotional support line again, also doubling as weather research, as I had no 4g signal. (Why do people even need smart phones in the south-west?). Catherine had a good look at the weather reports, and could see the next couple of hours were going to be grim, but if I could get through that phase, then it was clearing up a bit.
So this is how I found myself sitting in an old pill box type shelter, by the side of rail trail. Or from the smell inside, it was actually a toilet without a sign announcing it as such. Tree branches came whirling past the open windows. The rain pelted down. Time for a Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate I thought, thanks to a recent purchase of lovely little stove. I have three now, Catherine reminds me with that Paddington Bear hard stare she has perfected when providing ”feedback” on my outdoor gear buying habits. In under a minute from pulling it out of my pannier (a pannier I immediately close), it is assembled and boiled a steaming mug to replenish the spirits, which as at this point are flagging somewhat. Don’t believe the nice young man from the outdoor shop either, when he says, “This coat will keep you dry”. It’s impossible when you are heating up through exercise, even the most breathable of waterproof membranes will have you damp. Add in some time, and leakage through bits you can’t seal around your face and remain breathing, and you’re going to be wet. But at least not that cold.
Well, my forecast hotline was spot on, and the wind eased to just below a level I could ride in without becoming airborne. So off I went, once more into the breach. I rode through stunning countryside in the green and glistening heart of Devon. Little villages that surely didn’t look much different from when the French came over to wipe the floor with us at the Battle of Hastings, then built their imposing Norman castles across this landscape.
All was going so well, and I arrived at what I thought was going to just be a quick lunch in Launceston, just over the border into Cornwall, a top up of batteries and belly. I plugged in my iPhone and up came an error message that said “Moisture has been detected in your charging port. This could take several hours to clear before you can recharge”. Oops. But the nice young man from Apple said my iPhone 11 was waterproof? Surely Apple wouldn’t lie to its customers? According to their website “An iPhone 11 can be submerged in 13 feet of water for up to 30 minutes before risking damage”. You’d think I would have noticed laying deep underwater for half an hour, but apparently not. I imagine somewhere in their tiny T’c and C’s it says ”Avoid riding for four hours in proper British weather”. Anyway. I was stuck. No phone. No navigation. Try buying a paper map nowadays.
Here’s the part where the kindness of strangers gets reaffirmed for me, starting with manager of the cafe I had chosen to park myself in to make a plan, apologising profusely for dripping everywhere. Liberty Coffee, it was called, in case you’re passing through. She welcomed me to my own little area in the hallway where I could drip to my hearts content and even park my bike next to me. Time to reach out to ”Practical Catherine” for some emotional counselling and top tips from Dr Google on drying out phones. Put in a bag of rice and leave for up to 24 hrs seemed to be the go. Advice and directions were sought and off I went to buy those.
By the time that was done, the afternoon was marching on and I was going to need a place to stay in town, and lose half a day off my trip. I headed to the Library for working wifi, then Tourist Information centre for hotels. How long everything takes without a working smart phone! The Eagle House Hotel was the only place with a room. I rushed round and walked up to the front door all excited at the prospect of a nice hotel, and was confronted with a battered front door with peeling paint. First impressions anyone?
It didn’t fill me with confidence, but how wrong can first impressions be? I later found out from the owner the reason the door was like that due the lack of any tradespeople, or doors, as both had been an order for six months! Supply chain kinks and labour shortages be dammed. Lovely staff – kindness again – even allowed my bike in my room to keep me company. Think I looked in a pretty sad state.
I pulled my phone out of the bag of rice and tried the charging cable. Next problem – the charging cable wouldn’t fit – bunged up with soggy rice no doubt. Off I rushed to the phone shop. There’s always a phone shop isn’t there? Another nice young man produced a tool designed for the purpose of cleaning out the ports, and bingo, a phone that charged once again. I shall be treating any terms like ”waterproof” with a pinch of rice in the future.
Back at the hotel I happened to see a sign to the ”cocktail bar”. Having low expectations from my last night’s experience in the darkest depts of Wetherspoons, I came round the corner to be blown away by a wonderful bar. A gorgeous balcony overlooking the valley, ideal for more summery weather, and a very perky barmaid (personality wise I mean, Catherine), who mixed me up a fantastic negroni. There was even a custom-made ball of ice containing a flower and herbs from the owner’s garden. I had a chat with Rebecca, the owner, to get the story on the place. She and her husband are local farmers and decided they didn’t want to see the loss of the hotel (it was headed towards demolition by the looks of it). They bought it five years ago, and told me they have spent longer as hotel owners in COVID restrictions than out of them. It clearly needs a lot of work, but I wish them all the best. Had a wonderful dinner, the only person in the dining room.
I had decided I needed to abandon the lofty goal of Land’s End on this trip. With a half day of riding lost to phone issues, and a train strike on Saturday, I had to rethink. My criteria was to head for a railway station with level access. Stairs and e-bikes are not happy companions. Plymouth came up trumps. A bit of retracing my steps, then it was up, and up to the wild open moorlands of Dartmoor. I was just thinking, “I’m going to get to Plymouth early”, as a horse rider coming the other way shouted out, ”Road closed ahead, long detour up over the moor”. Mmmm. Keeps you on your toes, this cycle touring lark. I had already chewed through one battery, so thankfully pulled out the spare (from Catherines bike) and settled in to another climb.
What a beautifully stark and evocative place. We had ridden some of Dartmoor before, but that was okay. It has a lot of wild space to offer a hiker or a rider. I met one car coming across, no one else. I finally dropped down off the moor to find a rail trail that would lead me straight into Plymouth. I powered along this fabulous route (Drake’s Trail), that we had also ridden before, but that didn’t matter, it is gorgeous and traffic free.
So that was it, a well earned beer at my hotel in Plymouth, a lively pub with great rooms overlooking the harbour. Off to the station, loaded up the bike into his little spot, and remarkably smooth and cheap trip back to Taunton and was home, weary but fulfilled.
More cycle touring in the south-west of England is definitely in my future. If we invest in two more batteries, then perhaps with Catherine. I want to get up on Exmoor in the spring with my tent. See more of the west coast of Cornwall, there’s just so much, and a limited amount of time where it will be within my prowess. Carpe Diem.
GearLocker (for those interested)
Bike: Reise and Muller’s Tinker. It partially folds (stem and bars), handy for those bike lockers! Has 20 inch wheels with tryres wide enough to deal with gravel. A belt drive so no gears to maintain, and built in lights front and rear. We’ve been thrilled with the build quality. In this case we got what we paid for. A high quality, reliable, well thought through ebike.
Wet weather gear. Jacket: Arc’teryx is the brand, a Canadian company producing high end outdoor gear I’ve come to really rely on. Have the over trousers to match. A new addtion on this trip were a pair of waterproof over-mitts from Extremities, with normal cycling gloves underneath. Just kept off the chill and super light and pack up small. Very pleased with the combo.
Boots: Also from Arc’teryx – very comfy for riding and hiking, super lightweight. My feet still get wet though. I think unavoidable when you’re riding and trousers lift up and water gets over the top of the boots. But my secret weapon, again first time out, a pair of Extremities waterproof socks underneath. Kept my foot dry, and not too sweaty and smelly either. A result.
Stove: the new acquisition, from MSR a Windburner. Such a great design for just heating up water when you’re mixing with dehydrated food, or just hot drinks. Light, simple to set up and really compact. It will be out with us on winter hikes for sure.
Panniers: I look like an Ortlieb advert. A pair of the dirt rider side rears, a seat pack, handlebar roll and front bag for bits. All kept everything bone dry. All stayed put. Shame they dont have an automatic closure!
Clothes: nothing really worth highlighting other than my Icebreaker, merino wool jacket. I’ve had it now for at least 12 years, and its still going strong. The weight to warmth and packed size ratios are amazing.
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!
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
Mark had not long left our driveway, and my sister and niece arrived from Brighton to join me for a few days.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
Location: Diddillibah, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
As we prepare to sell our lovely luxury apartment on wheels, the Zone RV caravan, a service was required. Off down the coast we went, saying goodbye (for now) to Noosa and the friends who live there. We had booked a couple of nights at a new caravan park on the Sunshine coast, at somewhere fairly challenging to pronounce called Diddillilbah, which we soon morphed into Diddely-squat, which was a bit unfair as it was quite a decent site with large pitches and a nice restaurant in the park itself. But not really our cup of tea, purely functional, we prefer being out in the bush more. But our caravan service was scheduled just round the corner with the marvellous Suncoast Caravan Service. Our friends who used to work at our caravan manufacturer, Zone RV, both work there now. The power couple of the Sunshine Coast Caravan Industry, Marsha and Rhys Gehrke.
Our home was handed our home over to these capable hands, and we spent the day based at our caravan site in our Oztent Screen-house (wonderful bit of kit!). Tassie is not a fan though, I think she senses we want her to settle in there so with perfect feline logic does the opposite. Instead she based herself on her sheep’s wool futon in the car with the windows open! We took it in turns to head out for bike rides and food.
We picked our van up that night, with new bearings and other stuff I have no idea of the function of, all fixed up and ready for a lucky owner to snap up when it is advertised.
The caravan park was a good base to cycle from, with a mostly traffic free route along the Maroochy River.
The next morning we had a catch up with friends we knew from Sydney who had moved up to the Sunnshine Coast a few years ago (Peter and Valerie). Always a pleasure with these guys, and what a breakfast spot! It was interesting to hear about how they had gone about integrating into a new community, something we are working out how we will do when we move.
That night was another catch up with Rhys and Marsha and their family. That was a cracking dinner at the campsite restaurant I have to say. Rhys and Marsha are going to be selling our van for us (all enquires to Marsha please via: Marsha.gehrke AT gmail.com). I just didn’t think there was much point towing a van that was built on the Sunny Coast, is registered there as well, and has a specialist like Rhys who knows this brand inside out on hand to do any upgrades a customer might like. Whereas Sydney is still locked down, so a harder environment to sell it in. So let’s see how it goes. It means we will be emptying and cleaning the van at our friends’ house up here next week, then shipping the contents back to Sydney.
Of course no plan will necessarily survive contact with the enemy, in this case lockdowns, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that the border with NSW just holds the virus back another two weeks. Catherine has an important medical procedure at a Brisbane hospital on the 5th of October, which is likely to be cancelled should lockdowns come.
Talking about lockdowns, and lockouts in the case of people trying to return home across Australian state or international borders, there’s something I feel very strongly about I want to air to anyone who is willing to read on while I mount my soap box.
I am appalled at the lack of compassion being shown to Australian citizens who are trying get permission to return to their home state, when celebrities and the well heeled seem to be able to come and go as they please. Every week I read of another case where someone has been denied permission to go home, and it’s always the poor and powerless, it would seem. This story documents two contrasting examples of how are travel rules are being so differently applied, and turned my stomach over once again.
This is an Australia that I am increasingly not recognising as the one I fell in love with and pledged my citizenship vows to. The country that was proud to say they looked after each other, with a hearty dose of egalitarian mateship. Yet around our friends I see nothing but kindness and compassion for others, and usually amongst those we meet around the campsites. So is it just some of our politicians, driven by what they think will make them popular amongst their voters on the next morning’s news cycle, who give so little weight to those in need? Or is the lack of humanity within our the leadership of our institutions who have to implement their policies, and who seem to encourage so little discretionary compassion from their staff? I don’t know. But it doesn’t make me proud to be Australian when I read these tales of suffering, and then read about another celebrity given an apparent free pass to roam at will. And don’t get me started on our treatment of refugees! Not much evidence of compassion there either.
Soapbox dismounted, but if you feel as I do, why not let your MP know (you can find out who and how best to contact them, here), if you are an Australian citizen. I have regularly communicated with our Federal member, and her office has encouraged me to keep feedback coming. Mind you, she is an independent! And a compassionate voice in our parliament.
If we just keep quiet, our political leaders will think they have a free pass.
Location: Mackay, Midge Point, Queensland, Australia
One of the tricker bits of planning when you are of “no fixed abode” travelling long term like we currently are, is managing to get health care. Getting an appointment with a GP can be hard enough, let alone seeing a specialist. It takes some forward planning given how busy most of them are, but you also have to take what you can get. This drove our trip into Mackay, plus a service for the Landcruiser.
Poor Mackay, it really doesn’t have much that is drawing tourists in, so the travellers keep charging up the Bruce Highway. We stayed in a small caravan park outside of Mackay, and drove into town to get our jobs done. Service on the 200 Series Landcruiser, a big one, the 160,000, and not a single issue once again. What a great car this has been. Toyota have sure got reliability nailed. Our day livened up when unbeknown to us some friends we had met through our common Zone RV ownership (a recurring theme!) had seen from our blog that we were heading their way, and we caught up for lunch. One of the unintended benefits of writing a blog! We do miss being physically separated from our friends, so a meet up like this is a big bonus for us. If you see us coming your way give us a shout.
Unfortunately my two medical appts, one for an ear problem and the other for my long term issue with complications from glaucoma , weren’t as joyful. I have to now see an ENT specialist somehow for my ear problem, and start taking additional eye drops to calm my interocular pressure readings. Glaucoma affects nearly 2% of the population, and can lead to blindness if not treated, so make sure you get those pressures checked regularly. I lost around 30% of my vision in one eye over a period of ten days during a particularly bad episode years ago. There is some anecdotal evidence that eye pressures can spike when you have heightened levels of anxiety. Its one of the reasons I left my sales career early. I had a stent fitted and they have been good since – until now. What’s changed? Well, we have some major life decisions to make over the next few months, and this has been giving me some sleepless nights. I am a bit of a “worrier”.
Out of any problem comes a learning opportunity, or so the mantra goes. I did “phone a friend” who has been into meditation, and we have certainly seen some profound and positive changes in him as he returned to the discipline, so ‘Why not give that a go?’, I thought. It was a really great conversation, and at nearly 65 I’ve just spent the first 20 minutes of my life attempting to meditate! Jeez its not easy is it? Mind wandering all over the place, which will come as no surprise to many friends. There’s work to do. Progress updates forthcoming.
Our home for the last few days has been in the most wonderful little campsite at the unfortunately named locality called Midge Point! We will refer to it as the Whitsunday Coast 🙂
We acknowledge the traditional owners of this area being the Yuwibara tribe. They and half a dozen or so First Peoples have formed a Traditional Owners Reference Group (TORG), which has developed a long term (to 2027) strategy plan to preserve and improve the area. A great initiative, the Great Barrier Reef needing all the help it can get, currently being reviewed by the World Heritage organisation as wether it should be added to their “in danger list”. It will be interesting to see (now the US is taking a much more proactive stance on climate strategy, and has formed a strong alliance with the UK on their approach), whether our government will be shaken into action. Australia is rapidly becoming an outlier amongst the G20 reference group.
Now how about this for a fabulous spot. Our caravan site is right on the edge of this gorgeous rainforest, with tropical birdsong our constant music track. Its once of the best locations we’ve had. The Travellers Rest Caravan and Camping Park (note no mention of Midge Point in that name!) is such a great place to chill out. If you’re down this way please try it out.
Wallabies come and check us out every so often, and behind our screen tent (midge proof) mesh we feel like we are the animals in a cage for a change. An important feeling to ponder.
A 200 metre wander along the edge of the forest takes us down to this almost deserted beach, just the odd fisherman gazing wistfully into the blue water.
The water’s edge was dotted with a variety of birds, like this little Gull-billed Tern resting from a fishing expedition.
We’ve spent several very pleasant afternoons pottering along with camera, bins and spotting scope. My aforementioned mediation friend, made a great point, that watching these birds gives such a great insight into how far we have come from “being in the moment”. He was so right. We feel an intense sense of calm when we are doing this spotting, no sudden movements, quietly waiting for the birds to adjust to our presence and go back to their business. It is so restful, and yet there is the thrill of discovery when we make a new-to-us species sighting.
We even had a better than average (for regional Australia) pub meal up the road at the local “Point Tavern”. There was more than the usual “red or white mate?” wine choice, and although the menu was entirely predictable (in fairness, like many of France’s country cafés!) the food was well cooked and Catherine didn’t get food poisoning! That’s how low our measure has gone after our Eyre Peninsula experience, I’m not sure she will ever eat a beef burger again…
Most importantly of course, Princess Tasmania, as she is affectionately known to us (well, a cat that enjoys filtered and chilled water with her lightly cooked salmon and mashed pumpkin has got to expect some stick) does so like it here. A twice a day stroll, and by stroll I do mean….stroll…its like a meditative experience all of its own. Five minutes of extensive sniffing of one bush not uncommon. But every so often this 17 year old shows us the kitten lurking underneath those stiff joints and bursts in a, well a sort of sideways fast shuffle. Check this out, and I dare you to keep a straight face.
So the days pass, we tune in further to the birdsong, and have the delight of another lunch with our Zoner friends Wendy and Frank who drive up from Mackay. Such a pleasure.
We end our stay here with another day of Catherine wandering around with her big zoom and capturing some more amazing shots. Meanwhile I’m stuck on the phone trying to sort an ENT specialist appt in Townsville, and get one finally locked in for a couple of weeks time. So at least now we can now plan a little more loitering along the coast.
The campsites are pretty busy, even with NSW locked down, but I manage to get us our next two bookings after some fast phone work.
We had such a lovely few days here, it was hard to tear ourselves away. But away we must, on to adventures new, and edging ourselves slowly northwards towards Townsville.
On some weeks life just doesn’t quite work out as planned. We were looking forward to a relaxing week exploring a new area (and our first sight of the coast since we left South Australia), and in 6 days managed one bike ride and a short walk! We had a whole list of things we thought we would get to do, but thanks to some unexpected incidents those plans were sidetracked.
Tannum Sands is a small coastal community with a few shops and a couple of takeaways, quite different to the “gourmet dining scene” the brochures had promised. But we are used to that and expectations were appropriately kept in check. Whoever writes these tourist brochures for regional Australia should be awarded literary prizes for fiction 🙂
Our campsite was right across from the beach, and the first day we arrived was the only time we had a chance to set foot on it in the early evening.
The bike ride was great, a dedicated cycle path winding up the coast along these beautiful beaches and the river.
We made it round a headland to the Boyne River, all very picturesque. So where do these people who live here eat out I wondered pointlessly.
Usually cycling and birding aren’t easy bedfellows, but this ride was to prove the exception. Catherine spotted a kingfisher down by the river bank, and we later discovered it was a type we hadn’t seen before, a Torresian Kingfisher that you only find living around mangroves.
Her sharp eyes then spotted a lace monitor soaking up the sun.
Fairy wrens were abundant, flitting everywhere around the vegetation. Queensland has had some decent rain this year so maybe the bird life is flourishing from this?
Another day we took a short walk along the coastal path, and had an almost bird free time of it until this handsome fellah turns up. Now here’s a name to conjure with – he (or maybe she they look very similar) is a Spangled Drongo! Curl your tongue round that one. Feels good doesn’t it?
And that’s about it for the fun stuff. Another day was consumed with 5 hours driving to Bundaberg and back as Catherine’s iPad was failing to charge, and that was the nearest repair centre. Despite having just one pin broken on the charging port it was a whole new iPad (out of warranty by 6 months of course!). I would love to know what happens to them. I hope some business is repairing them even if Apple won’t, and on-selling so tech like this doesn’t just end up in landfill.
While we were there we also managed to get a new car tyre to replace our punctured one, sort out charging for our remote solar panel, get Catherine’s bike tyre and gears fixed and pick up prescriptions and other medical supplies. So a productive day all in all.
Then the nightmare started. We had noticed signs of mice being in our car after camping at Carnarvon Gorge. We had left an apple in a rucksack, and just thought that was a one off. The next day there was even more damage inside with lots of shredding of our possessions in the vehicle, and a very unwholesome smell of what we assumed was mice urine. Well it seems they liked our car so much they decided to settle in long term.
We emptied out everything from the car, a feat in itself as we are carrying a lot gear given we are full time travellers. Everything was cleaned and washed. We tried to get mice traps, and the supermarkets had sold out as Queensland has had a mice plague this winter. We only found poison-bait, and put this down. The next morning this was scattered all over the vehicle, but no sign of the mice, except scurrying noises every so often in the ceiling cavity.
Now, given we have a cat you’d think she would be of some use in this situation. Oh no…she has been completely oblivious to them, our little princess. The car has been emptied again and again and cleaned, but to no avail. We’ve tried cotton wool soaked in peppermint oil stuck into the air vent system, the car smells like a Polo-mint factory, but despite what Google Scholar says, the mice seem to be immune. Perhaps they are breathing easier though their little noses, but disappear they haven’t. We’ve tried driving the car to quiet spots and leaning on the horn for ages, another recommendation. Other than giving us both a headache and reminders of driving in Italy, it seemed to have no impact on the mice.
So we have managed to find one dodgy looking mousetrap from a “two dollar” shop. I have low expectations. We have called around every hardware store between Tannum Sands and Rockhampton today with no success in procuring more traps. The danger is the mice will start eating into the insulation around the wiring, as happened in our motorhome in the UK, then all sorts of bad things will happen. The other scenario is that they die somewhere we cannot reach and we need to live with the smell of decaying rodent for a few weeks!
Just when we thought we had seen our fair share of issues this week, the car has developed leaks through the roof. After 12 years of faithful service from our 200 Series Landcruiser, this is really the first issue we’ve had. I managed to persuade a Toyota dealer to have a quick look tomorrow, as it is hopefully just some perished washers around the roof racks, or the internal gutters blocked with all the dust. Let’s see..
These things are sent to test us. It’s really to be expected that there will be issues to deal with when you’re travelling like this. But against this we put the fact that we had lovely neighbours on our campsite this week. Rarely have we met new people like that on campsites and ended up having drinks together, but these guys were just delightful. If they are reading this then thanks Annie and Wayne for brightening up the week and sharing our life briefly. As I’ve said previously, the downside of this nomadic life is the lack of physical connection into a community. Moments like this help alleviate that, and we’re grateful.
Leaving the east coast of the Eyre peninsula for now we decided we had unfinished business with the west coast, and headed off on what turned into a longish drive from Tumby Bay to the small coastal settlement of Streaky Bay. We had briefly visited here before on a previous “lap” of Australia, but hadn’t had time to explore.
Streaky Bay was home to the Wiringu people for “thousands of years”….I hate being forced to use that generalisation, but with almost no archeological research I could find having been done in the area, it has to suffice. So we acknowledge the Wiringu people as the traditional custodians of the land that we now call Streaky Bay. In their oral history they record what is thought to be their first contact with white people, when the Dutch sailing ship Golden Zeepard moored up in the harbour in 1727. After the “Waterloo Bay massacre” that happened in 1849, which is not far away, the Streaky Bay area become a no go area for those First Australians who had up until then survived dispossession of their lands and denial of access to their traditional water holes.
Today Streaky Bay grows as a tourist destination for, amongst other groups, caravaners like us, as well as a small fishing industry and wheat growing inland. The draw for many tourists is getting a line out in the bay, where the delicious king george whiting and garfish lurk. We have sampled both and from the local shop, and they are indeed quite outstanding. The local pacific oysters are also top class, the clean waters of the bay no doubt driving their quality.
We booked for a couple of nights at the Streaky Bay Islands Caravan park, a few kilometers out of town, and yes you can guess why they called it that. Well two nights turned into ten! We found it a really comfortable park to settle in. Clean, spacious sites, nice and quiet at night, it ticked all our boxes. With no town water to draw on, they have even built their own desalination plant!
Not being into fishing, we find ourselves in a small minority of folk here, so we have to be creative about finding stuff to do. There are a few nice coastal drives to take with photo opportunities. We took one to a place called Whistling Rocks. – where the blow holes createsmore of a thundering than a whistling.
An evening walk from the campsite through the dunes rewarded us with an amazing sunset. These are big, big skies.
Another day saw us cycling into town, on the well graded shared path. Of course despite hundreds of people staying at the caravan park, we were the only cyclists we saw all day! Eagle Eye Catherine then spotted a sea lion cruising around off the jetty, looking (successfully) for lunch.
After being hunted in Australian waters in the 19th century, they are like many other of our flora and fauna, listed as endangered. This means they’re declining at greater than 50% over three generations. Commercial fishing, marine pollution and climate change, all are now contributory factors to a continually declining population. as well as an infection that every pup gets called hookworm. You can now find Sea Lions in only 80 breeding colonies along the coast of South (80%) and Western Australia. If you have grandkids, they are likely to read about their extinction in the wild unless something drastic is done now to prevent it. Which, given current initiatives and priorities of budget spending, looks unlikely. Some projects are underway, such as the University of Sydney’s with a vaccine for hookworm on Kangaroo Island, but it’s not looking good. It is all rather depressing I know, but not much point sugar coating it and just sharing the nice pictures?
We continued our mission to find shorebird sites, and with the help of a guy from the Department of the Environment, we did. The last part of the trip took us down a sandy narrow track, and after the Landcruiser nudged its way though one to many tight, prickly spots, we abandoned it and walked. It was a hot dusty slog, but we were rewarded with some awesome sightings as we found the spot where the little creek met the ocean. Plenty of fishing going on here. Check out the great egret sequence – I just keep looking at the grace and beauty of this bird that Catherine has captured so beautifully. And these Singing Honeyeaters are everywhere, their song piercing the silence of the bush.
Location: Sheringa Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
We had decided to move on from Elliston, but that was before I woke early on Friday morning feeling somewhat unwell. Food poisoning. Either from the meal at the pub or the spoonful of ‘past its use-by date’ coconut yoghurt and fresh raspberries I had on my return, either way, I was not in a good state, and unable to stray more than a metre or two from a toilet. Mark tried his best to persuade the caravan park to let us stay another day, but they already had someone coming into our site and were fully booked.
Mark did all the packing up and we drove the longest 30 minutes ever down to Sheringa Beach, where we had stayed the previous weekend, found the same site we were on then and settled down for the long haul. I will not go into detail, but the following three days were pretty awful for me, and worse for Mark who was thankfully feeling well but was amazing, looking after me with kindness and patience.
Mark managed to escape on a few occasions to explore by himself, rinding in to the sand dunes and to ‘Round Lake’ which sits behind the dunes and beach.
Perhaps most importantly, the 17th was Tassie’s 17th birthday, which was a sunny occasion filled with sunbathing and exploring the dunes – just as she would like! She’s such an amazing and adaptable cat – not many felines can boast having visited every capital city in Australia, climbed sand hills overlooking Uluru, slapped dogs in Cooktown and sunbathed beside a crocodile infested lake near Darwin…but Tassie can. The only state she hasn’t visited is, ironically, her namesake, Tasmania. Maybe in the spring…?
I didnt stray much further than the caravan for the first two days, and on day three managed a short walk for an hour to see the dunes.
On day four, I managed another walk in the morning. We saw our first ever flock of Rock Parrots, beautiful green birds which nest in the cliffs and spend days in the dunes behind the beach feeding on nuts, berries and seeds. There were several shore birds feeding on the sandy water’s edge, enjoying the natural bounties this coast has to offer.
I managed a few roasted vegetables for lunch without incident and we went on our way, heading for Coffin Bay. After four days without food or water, my head is pounding and body aching and weak, but hopefully finally on the mend. Food poisoning officially is something I never want to experience again!
I feel somewhat cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy this spectacular area more, but ultimately feel privileged I was able to see it at all. We offer our thanks and recognition to the traditional owners, the Wirangu, Nauo and Kokatha people for their careful custodianship over the past thousands of years, preserving the integrity and enabling us to spend time in this pristine place.
The Murray River is the longest navigable river in Australia and despite owning kayaks for 22 years, it is one area we have never paddled, and indeed spent very little time in. A big chunk of the river goes through northern South Australia, so we decided to spend a few weeks exploring it. Watching the weather forecast we saw that the heatwave was breaking on Sunday, and so after a final morning of shopping and washing, our caravan groaning under the weight of fresh eggs, tomatoes and the unusual zucchini tromboncino, we bid farewell to Kim and Mike, and were on our way.
We wound our way up through the hills, and within two hours had our first sighting of water as we took a ferry over the Murray. From there we drove up on top of the cliffs that line parts of the waterway to Len Crohen’s lookout near Walker Flat. We parked up there for the night, a peaceful spot with great views and no other campers.
We moved on the following morning, heading for Waikerie, our destination for the next couple of nights. We’d read about a free camp just outside of town, and were fortunate to find ourselves a prime location beside a boat ramp with wonderful outlook over the River Murray.
Accompanying comfortable temperatures in the mid 20s was a strong southerly breeze (not ideal for paddling), so we decided to pull on our hiking boots and go for an explore on foot. We picked our way along the river bank as far as possible, then followed the road until we reached a wetland area known as Hart Lagoon.
Hart Lagoon is an important ecosystem and home to many birds, The walking trail surrounding it was created by a number of local groups, including the primary school. We couldn’t help but admire the initiative – Waikerie feels like a town that is really trying to improve itself and attract visitors, as well as encourage the next generations to value the Murray ecosystem.
Like much of the area around the Murray River, dead trees are a feature, often home to birds which nest in the hollow trunks and branches. What were once were mighty red river gums are now just skeletons dotting the landscape like giant bleached sculptures. Many of these are casualties of the decades of water use up and down the river, farms taking the water for irrigation and as a result preventing the floodwaters the trees rely on to survive. Due to the reduced water replenishment, the salt content of the water has increased, further putting stress on the trees that rely on its nutrients to survive. It’s that familiar battle we see regularly – livelihoods at the expense of nature
The return loop of the walk provided welcome shade for at least some of it, appreciated on this 12km hike (map), and further evidence of days gone by, when the nearest tip was too far to reach and a wetland was ideal to abandon an old vehicle.
The breeze was determined to continue to be too strong for kayaking . That’s just how it works when you are keen to do something! So the following morning we decided that pedal power would be our transport mode, and we spent the day exploring the region around Waikerie and Ramco Lagoon.
Waikerie is on the Silo Art Trail, a route which takes travellers throughout regional Australia to see huge murals painted on silos, water towers and walls. The trail encourages people to visit some of the lesser known inland parts of the country, each telling a story or promoting local flora, fauna or history. The trail was the brainwave of some fellow travellers from Western Australia in 2018, who wanted to plot the locations of the already painted silos and those planned.
Mr A had a near miss as we were cycling back to camp. I spotted an Eastern Brown Snake crossing the path in front of us and shouted at him to stop. He blundered on through, riding right over the poor thing. I say ‘poor thing’ as I am sure it wasn’t feeling too well after Mr A’s giant bike had cycled over it, but we were also very lucky it didn’t rise up and strike him, given it‘s the second most venomous snake in the world! We seem to be seeing more snakes than usual on this trip.
We had a great couple of nights here – finding it peaceful and picturesque. It’s a shame we didn’t get out on the kayak, but we are sure there will be other opportunities. Princess Tassie enjoyed her explorations too (and yes, always accompanied by an eagle-eyed servant to ensure there were no slithery creatures nearby to cause trouble!