Location: Milton Keynes, Bradford-on-Tone, London, UK
I write this from my ”Isolation Wing” in the the new house that is rapidly becoming a home. COVID-19 struck me down. How? Well..here’s my side of the story. We were in London again (I think we need shares in Great Western Railway!) for Catherine’s kick off immunotherapy treatment to try and tackle her subglottic stenosis.
I encouraged madam to go clothes shopping, usual uphill battle, and volunteered to travel across London to collect the right size from a different store.
I walked 18kms that day, one of the many pleasures actually of being here, exploring the big city. I most likely caught it somewhere then because two days later I have sore throat, aches and pains and I’m down with the plague.…so it’s Catherine’s fault! 😉
Anyway, there are definitely worse places to do my time in bed, with my own private ensuite and kitchen! Catherine even ran a fan at my door so my dirty germs wouldn’t pollute the house. Seriously, it’s really important we keep her safe as her airway is already declining since the last op, six weeks ago.
It wouldn’t feel right without a hospital appointment in the week. I had to cancel mine at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital in London, which was supposed to be today. I could wait another 8 months for my NHS appt (been waiting 4 already), but by then who knows what mess my eyes will be in. There are 30,000 vacancies currently in the National Health Service in the UK. Well, Catherine is certainly getting more than her fair share of those scarce ENT staff!
Backing up to pre my COVID isolation, I went gadding up to Milton Keynes again, responding to a request for help from daughter number two, whose hubby away again and she is at work. A few school runs and pick ups, a walk in the woods, a lovely birthday meal out with the whole mob for daughter number one. It ticked a lot of boxes.
The same daughter (Hayley) then brought her two boys down to stay with us a few days later. Apparently, according to the boys, a highlight was going packrafting down the local River Tone (stream at the moment with lack of rain!). A few laughs, a few tears, the usual.
We continue to kit out the house, with lots of couriers turning up with furniture and bits and pieces. really enjoying the process. Even found ourselves supplier to help us with some modifications, more on those when we get further down the track.
I just feel so good about this place, its rural views, its land size (I’d dig a moat if I could!) and how the house is laid out, with a few minor changes coming up. We know we were so lucky to find it, and really enjoying starting to have friends as well as family come and stay. The house can start to build some memories for us.
My favourite spot is under the old oak tree. Camping chair, bottle of wine, and even joined by local friends three times now! The times they are a changing.
Location: Brighton and Hastings, East Sussex, Widworthy, Devon, Charing Cross Hospital, London and Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset
What a month it has been! Time has simply rushed by with so much on our plate.
I left Mr A for a long weekend and headed over to Brighton for some family time with my sister, niece and nephew. It was perfect timing as just 10 days after my grandma’s 100th birthday, so we took advantage of that special event to pay her a visit (the first time I have seen her in three years) along with our mum.
Helen’s husband Stu was away on a boys’ weekend, so I stood in as responsible adult on school pick ups, swimming lessons and drama classes. It was simply exhausting – hats off to all those parents out there, especially those struggling to breathe (as I was!).
It was a glorious weekend, and we made the most of every moment – lunch on Brighton’s seafront, a walk up on the Sussex Downs at Devil’s Dyke, and time in Hastings with mum with lunch on the pier and tea in her beautiful garden.
The only fly in the ointment was my breathing. I can only put it down to stress, but despite having an operation on my airway mid April, my airway was determined to rapidly close up (for our newer readers, I have a rare disease called subglottic stenosis), and was declining on a daily basis.
Mark and I still managed to get out and about and enjoy the Devon countryside, but it tended to be shorter and flatter walks, with plenty of rests!
Thankfully I have a great relationship with my surgeons in London and they were able to book me in for another operation quickly…I guess breathing is quite important.
My friend Jacky was kind enough to put me up in her daughter’s old bedroom in her house in Twickenham, and given the train drivers decided to strike on my surgery day, also hired a car and played taxi driver to drop me off and pick me up from my operation. I feel so grateful for her compassion, feeding and watering me over two days with kindness and patience.
Once back in Devon, time flew by in a whirlwind of bed and appliance buying, followed by packing up boxes, with a sprinkling of walks up our picturesque lane with Princess Tassie who seems to be 10 years younger than when she arrived!
Before we knew it the day was upon us…completion of our new house purchase! We drove over to Bradford-on-Tone and met Andrew and Jan, the previous owners. Understandably they were a little emotional at saying goodbye to their home for the past decade, but we assured them we would be worthy caretakers, as we took the door keys and entered.
They had left the home in immaculate condition – almost like a new build, with plenty of opportunities for us to put our stamp onto it in future months.
Over the next few days we gradually moved in, our possessions from Australia fitting in nicely, and despite a few minor hiccups, most of our deliveries arrived as planned, and all services eventually connected.
We are more than delighted with our house, which feels like it was made for us. Tassie is embracing the multitude of sunbathing locations and enjoys her strolls around the 1.6 acres of land we have…yes we will be employing a gardener!
We’ve only been in the house a week, but already have spotted approaching 30 species of birds just from our garden.
Our home is a 3 minute stroll from our local pub, and within 15 minutes cycle along sleepy country lanes to several others. We are surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) in all directions – the Blackdown Hills, the Quantock Hills, Exmoor….We can be in London in less than two hours door-to-door, and the nearest junction to the M5 motorway is a 5 minute drive away, giving us a multitude of travel options. I think we are going to be very happy here!
Location: Widworthy, Devon, and West Bagborough, Somerset, UK
We got so lucky! A friend of a friend has let us let us stay in their stunning little cosy retreat in the depths of the lush and rolling hills of the central Devon countryside. It really is quite a find. Beautifully fitted out, with a fabulous view, we couldn’t have beeen happier. It’s only one room, but that includes a big kitchen with loads of storage, which flows into the lounge, and bedroom (super king bed!) plus a luxurious bathroom. It has actually worked so well for the three of us. And then there’s the view…awesome.
We also got lucky with storage for our motorhome at the bottom of the road, in the car park of the local manor house (Widworthy Barton), with permission from the caretaker of course. We were parked outside the manor house unloading and he came over to talk to us. I thought I was going to be told off for parking there, but no, after a chat, he offered us a spot, protected by CCTV and just a short way from where we were to live for the coming weeks. What more could we ask for?
Let me first explain where exactly we have landed. We are pretty much slap bang in the middle of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs in the local parlance). The one to the north of us is the Blackdown Hills, a relatively small area less than 25km’s in any direction, and yet full of a network of footpaths. Check out this screen shot from the Ordnance Survey map, and these are just the walk routes they have pulled together.
We are a 15 minute drive from the small town of Honiton down the bottom of this map.
To the south of us is the East Devon AONB another largely rural area of rolling hills criss-crossed with walking and cycling routes.
We are staying where that blue dot is towards the top of the map. It is not even in a village, a scattering of houses up a single track no through road. There are a couple of properties past us, so we may have three or four vehicles a day break the constant birdsong.
We are both strangers to this part of Devon, and we had imagined it would be heaving with tourists, but no. Get away from the few main roads that traverse it and we can cycle for ages on tiny B roads without coming across another car. Plenty of tractors though!
The World Heritage area of the Jurassic Coast is a 20 minute drive to the south of us, and we have had several days out exploring walks and villages along this picture perfect coastline. Weekends and school holidays it is busy of course, but avoid those, as we can, and it’s just a serene part of the world.
Agriculture dominates the landscape, as it has done for thousands of years, and in particular the dairy industry, which produces some of those iconic products like Devonshire cream. I need to stay well away from that, my tummy is already benefiting from the exploration of other local goodies like the craft breweries that are everywhere, the cideries, and those oh so tempting Devon pasties.
It’s hard to imagine that we will ever feel we have ”done it all” here, there’s just such a variety of landscapes, a plethora of walking and cycling opportunities. But it is the people that have made it so special. We invited the owners of the property we are staying in, and the mutual friends who introduced us, over for a welcome BBQ. Brilliant. They both have twins and there was a lot of laughter, making us feel so at home and relaxed here.
We have walked from our front door half a dozen times now and are still finding new routes, helped by the Komoot app, which shows all the footpaths and bridleways, and enables easy planning of walks. For instance, I randomly picked Dalford, a little village 10 minutes drive away, and Catherine used Komoot to put a fabulous walk together. So yes, it was raining for most of the walk, but that didn’t bother us in the least. We have good gear which keeps us mostly dry, and it wasn’t cold. The greens in the landscape just get even deeper, everything sparkles. We just love it.
Another trip out and it was the short drive down to the Jurassic Coast and this simply breath taking scenery, to a place called the Golden Cap, which is just over the county boundry in Dorset.
Another coastal jaunt took us into the popular resort town of Lyme Regis, but despite its fame as the centre of this fossil rich coast, we easily found a park, and explored the cute shops. One of the many things we are enjoying here is the variety of retailers. One shop for instance sold nothing but fossils. Catherine wanted to donate me 🙂
We also had some family time. My two daughters came with their families to West Bagborough, the small village in Somerset that sparked this whole change of country. Hayley and her husband and two boys Luke and James, brought their (massive!) caravan down and stayed on a site owned by friends of ours. My other daughter Zoe, her husband Mark and daughter Lily and son Jacob, we put up in a lovely 400 year old local bed and breakfast.
It was quite a week! Not all smooth sailing, but some great memories in these photos. There was definitely some learnings for me in organising events like this with my family. I left the week though having got to know my grandkids a lot better. All part of the jounrey we are on.
The Queen’s Jubilee weekend rolled around, and excuse to catch up with Karen, Sonny and Oliver again. and then also with the mutual friends for a walk along the South West Coast Path from a town called Beer. I felt right at home there!
One of the delights of being here is being able to meet up with friends I’ve known since school. Andrew was in the same class as me, and his wife Lynne, we have been able to see only occasionally over the years. Now we can say “Let’s have lunch next week!” We met at a country house owned by the National Trust called Stourhead, and enjoyed a gentle stroll around the gardens. Serene!
There has been so much more, but mostly we have been continuing to ready ourselves for the move. During this period we exchanged contracts on our new home!!!. We will complete on the 30th of June, 5 months to the day from when we left Australia. We are very happy with what we have found, You’ll have to wait until we move in for more details, as things could still go wrong. But it looks good. Deposit is paid, and we are busy researching what we want to do to make it our forever home. It will be a huge lifestyle change for us after all this travelling, and before that, city living in Sydney. We can’t wait for this new chapter!
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: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK
Ok I’m back on blog writing, now I have a working keyboard. Never buy a so admirably misnamed ”Smart Folio” keyboard from the master of design Apple. It makes a soap dish look smart. Anyway, back in the saddle now with a brand new AirPad Air, paired this time with the newish ”Magic Keyboard”. The magic is in that this one actually works. Brilliant, with a built in touchpad keeping my curry covered fingers away from that lovely screen.
So, is this a travel blog you ask, or a tech round up and bemoaning of the sad state of Apple now they have their market dominanance? Ok, well given we are not travelling around very much, I guess now its more of a catch for friends and family scattered around the world, on what we’re up to, and a great place to showcase Catherine’s ever growing repertoire of photography skills. For me, an opportunity to say what the hell I like, knowing most of you skip to the photos anyway!
So here’s a random thought to prove that mantra. I was laying awake the other night (been doing a lot of that recently!) and mulling over a book I’m reading about the history of England. One phrase stuck in my mind. ”Civilisation after all means living in cities”, in the context of the changes that went on in England post the Romans packing up their far too short togas, and heading back to Europe to get a better tan. We are seeing up close here in Somerset changes that will I think forever change what it means to live a civilised life, and be dependent on a city to do that.
Our dependence on cities for our employment, shopping, leisure and socialising has been broken. We don’t need cities for any of that do we? We might want a city for some lively night life, bricks and mortar shopping, and that overall buzz you get from being in the thick of things every so often. But for the first time in a few thousand years, we don’t need to live in one to find meaningful, well paid work (with good broadband), or to wander the shops to find the best choice and price, or to catch the latest films, or meet up with friends.
I know, not a startling insight, this has been coming for a while, and we all acknowledge that, but now Catherine and I are living it, as we transition our lives from having a home in the city to one in the country, and coming to terms with it. Unfortunately for us, half the rest of England is doing the same, and pushing up prices of houses as a result.
But will we be happy? As long as we can get the train to ”civilisation” for our monthly fix of fine dining, window shopping, perfectly mixed cocktails, and live music…we think so. Time will tell. Perhaps the big thing missing from our ”happy list” is having that network of friends around us, and that sure isn’t dependent on being in a big city. In fact I would say now we are not working in offices, it is inversely correlated to urban living. It will happen.
Meanwhile, we can’t look at houses every day, so off we skipped to our favourite (well we’ve been once before!) birding site locally. Ham Wall – no – not in search of a sandwich smothered in English mustard, but this fabulous wetland half an hour drive north of us.
Some cracking shots there right? It was about 8 degrees, with a chilly old wind, and we were as happy as Larry (well, if Larry had thermals on). A Thursday afternoon and as usual the car park is heaving with fellow twitchers lugging around their big lenses and spotting scopes. All very friendly and willing to point out some of the shyer types hiding behind the rushes. I think one day this will feel like home. Not yet, but its getting easier. I don’t get a lurching feeling in my stomach as often when I think of Sydney Harbour.
Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.
Walking through old forests like these just makes us take big deep breathes, you can almost feel the oxygen levels get denser. Dogs were happy as well!
After the forest came the open country up on Exmoor. Fabulous. We will be spending a lot more time up here, once we have a car that can deal with the bumps. Yup… we bought the wrong car. Too long slung. Not our finest hour in the research department. However, watch this space, cunning plan in place.
We are just loving the area we are trying to make our new home. So much variety in the scenery. Coast, rolling hills, open moor, it has it all. We just need to settle into our forever home to really relax and enjoy it. Fingers crossed. Again, watch this space. Things are moving.
This week we have transferred our base of operations to our friends’ Karen and Dan’s house in Honiton north devon. They were away and asked us if we would kitten sit. Oh yes please we purred. A feline fix is just what we need while we wait for our dearly beloved Princess Tasmania to join us here (26th April!).
We also had to do a quick two nighter into London for madam to get an operation done to help her breathing once again. We were soon scuttling back to Devon, with a much improved airway. What a relief for her. It’s literally a life changing little op, to be able to get huge lungfulls of air once again into her system she can bound up the stairs, instead of wheezing her way up while the kittens dash past disdainfully.
We finished our stay in Honiton with a glorious morning out at another nature reserve, Seaton Wetlands on the Devon coast.
So thats us. Coming to the end of our first spell of a ”holiday rental” – 11 weeks in fact. There have been some brilliant moments, and some tough times. We think the tide is on the turn now, in a good way, but more on that in our next instalment.
Finishing off with a few shots of the beautiful bluebells now blooming up in the Quantock Hills – if we could share the aroma, we would!
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and Brighton, East Sussex, UK
The past four weeks have whizzed by, with both of us spending time with our families, which has been an absolute pleasure after so long apart. We have started our time here as we mean to go on! But I am going to start with the excellent news.
Last Saturday lunchtime we went to see a house in the village of Bradford-on-Tone. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are currently living, and a small village of about 600 residents. The agent had hand picked us for the first viewing after reading our buyer’s profile, describing our desire for a house with plenty of light, preferably in a village community but not a housing estate. We asked for something that had a high graded EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) which would mean cheaper running costs, and a newer or recently renovated house not requiring too much work. It ticked so many boxes. We made an offer and it was accepted the same day.
Now, while this is exciting and we celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco at our local pub, this deal’s not done until the fat lady sings. In the UK, the sales process is excruciatingly slow, with the average house exchange completed in four months. An accepted offer also doesn’t mean a certain sale, either – the seller can change their mind at any time, and there is always the risk of another buyer swanning in and offering more. It’s a horrible process!
I will refrain from sharing more details of this property until we feel more secure.
Our last post was written just prior to a long awaited weekend to celebrate my birthday and that of our friend Karen (‘surrogate sister’ and long suffering childhood friend!) who also joined us with her family. We had organised everything at the end of last year, booking two lodges at Mill Meadow to house everyone for a weekend of festivities. So much could have gone wrong, and yet nothing did – everyone stayed healthy and all went as planned. Fabulous cakes were provided by a local baker, Wizz, and we had a party in the skittle alley at our local pub, The Swan.
The following weekend, Mr A drove Truffy (our Hymer motorhome) up to Milton Keynes to spend some time with his daughters and grandchildren, the spring temperatures rising and bringing us blue skies and sunshine.
House hunting has been an all encompassing activity during the week, with daily pouring over the property apps and visiting the agents in person in the hope we might make an impression and be alerted to a suitable property ahead of the pack. It had begun to get us down, the uncertainty of our future living circumstance with an ever approaching deadline for moving out of our holiday accomodation, something that hasn’t gone away, despite our accepted offer on a property.
When there were no properties to visit, we broke up our weeks with visits to local regions. WWT Steart Marshes were our destination on one occasion. A unique scenery of wetlands stretching out towards the Bridgewater Bay and the River Severn Esturary.
On another occasion we headed to the city of Wells via an RSPB wetland site, Ham Wall, near Glastonbury. It was a really magical place. The birdlife was prolific, with tame robins eating out of our hands, Grey Herons, Teal, Marsh Harriers, and a special visit from a Red Kite. This particular fly-by felt like a spiritual portent – Mark’s father was part of the RSPB team in 1989 that was responsible for the reintroduction of Red Kites to the UK. It was as though Clem Anderson was visiting to register his approval.
Wells is a historical city with a magnificent cathedral and a palace surrounded by a moat. It is often referred to as the smallest cathedral city in the UK…this is in fact wrong (points to anyone who can name the actual smallest city). We had an explore before returning home – plenty to see there on a future visit.
Another bird trip took us to RSPB Swell Woods – home to many little woodland birds, and the exciting location of my first decent photo of a Great Spotted Woodpecker!
I had an appointment with my specialist in London for my airway stenosis. I didn’t expect it to go well – my regular peak-flow tracking has shown an overall decline, pretty much since we sold our house in August last year. My appointment confirmed this – my airway was too closed up to treat without significant risk in day surgery, so they booked me in for an operation in 12 days time. At least I will be breathing easy again – it is the first operating theatre visit in nearly three years, which is a good thing.
I caught the train down to Brighton to drown my sorrows and put this news behind me with some time with my sister, Helen and her family. Mum also joined us for a pizza lunch and sunny afternoon at Brighton seafront to celebrate Mother’s Day a week early.
Back in Somerset, last week we had a visit from friend Barny and his young working cocker spaniel, Bertie. We did a couple of good walks and of course a couple of visits to our local pub.
It has been an amazing month – writing it all down reminds us of how much we have seen and done. While the white-knuckle ride of emotions associated with searching for a home to live in has been somewhat exhausting, it has thankfully been counteracted with quality time and great memories made with our families.
April will bring new adventures and challenges, with plans already including cat-sitting a pair of kittens, my operation, more time with family, moving out of our holiday-house and into an Airbnb, and one long awaited event we are quite anxious about – the arrival of Princess Tassie the adventure cat, from Australia. The emotional turbulence is not over just yet!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We are looking forward to exploring some of the regions brought to life in this exhibition in the coming years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
Location: Honiton, Devon and Kingston-St. Mary, Somerset
It was time to turn our back on the delights of Chelsea, our bank balance will be relieved! So many temptations that come at a fine price. We will never forget our time here with family and friends, and that is priceless. We were off down to Devon, to stay with our friends Karen and Dan, their twins, and their kittens. Yes we got a cat fix!
We also got a vehicle fix, as our motorhome has been stored nearby, and last week was taken in for some TLC to a local garage. They had him all serviced and ready to rock.
Then we were collected by the sales exec we had been talking to since before Christmas from Mercedes-Benz Exeter and taken over to their showroom to try out a car. We had really already decided we were buying the vehicle, but wanted a test drive to just confirm what we had read in the reviews. It’s a little A-series hatchback, ideal for scooting round narrow Somerset lanes, and has a plethora of tech to make the driving experience safer and more stress free. We loved it.
When I say we, this has to be a car Catherine is comfortable driving, as our last two vehicles she really hasn’t been. The Landcruiser has no height adjustable seating, and the motorhome has a handbrake even I struggle to reach down to; it is basically a lorry. So, happy wife, happy ride. She loved it, as did I. So we sorted the paperwork, and drove it back to Honiton. What a feeling. Never thought we’d have a Mercedes keyring dangling from our hands. It’s so different from our previous cars. Even my daughter said ”Never thought I’d see you in something so low profile!”, after the truck-like vehicles we usually buy. Well, we are reinventing ourselves.
After the hectic pace of the last few weeks, we decided to give ourselves a day off. Catherine and I were itching to wander around some Devon countryside with a camera and bins. Seaton Wetlands was recommended, and didn’t disappoint. It was packed with birdlife in the trees and on the river Axe that flows through the reserve. It felt really surreal once again to think that this can be our life now, wandering round these places, rugged up against a bitey wind, with a hot mug of tea in our rucksacks. It was so reinvigorating to be back out amongst our feathered friends again, and learning all the new species names thanks to a off duty warden, and the Merlin app that helps identification.
A day of re-packing Truffy and the Merc saw us ready to head over to our home for the next 11 weeks in Somerset. We had to find furnished accomodation while our container of worldly goods is making its way by container to the UK. Mill Meadow Eco Lodges is a development of holiday rentals on the edge of the small village of Kingston St Mary. We were so relieved to have finally made it here, after booking the accomodation months ago. So many things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. We can finally unpack. The accomodation, a cosy, well equipped, two bedroom lodge, will suit us perfectly while we get settled.
Then things just got better and better. Firstly the Indian restaurant we picked for our first home delivery absolutely blew us away with the quality of the food. Then the next day we walked round to the local pub. A 10 minute walk through the fields. I had been speaking to them to book a dinner for Catherine’s upcoming birthday weekend in March. They sounded very friendly, but in person they just exceeded all expectations. We came back for dinner and invited some people we had met when we were in lockdown nearby during 2020. We had the best evening, both to see these people again (Terry and Jane Ayre, and their daughter Karen, who run Quantock camping), and because of what the pub delivered by way of outstanding food, beer, wine and service. The Swan at Kingston just excelled at everything.
A walk back through the fields in the moonlight provided a brilliant end to the evening. What a great start to our stay.
One of the magical places we used to walk to when we were here before, was to the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding Quantock Hills. No wonder it was chosen by our Iron Age ancestors to bury their dead on. I was keen to revisit, and proposed an early morning walk. Well, we were up at the top by 7am, and saw in the sunrise. Truly a majestic sight.
It didn’t matter that it was freezing cold, with an icy wind dropping the temperature even further. We have the right gear to keep warm and dry. Flipping great it was.
To see this type of woodland again just feels so right, way down in our DNA.
Another afternoon saw us exploring the local village, half hoping to bump into someone who was just putting up a for sale sign! It is going to be a huge challenge to find somewhere we really like. The local power station down on the coast is ramping up again and staff are flocking in from all over the UK and Europe and snapping up houses for sale, and rentals.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, Princess Tassie is still soaking up the summer sunshine with her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, awaiting news of her flight….we both miss her so deeply. But she is being so well loved and cared for. Its just us being selfish.
Hopefully the pet travel company we are using will finally get her on a flight in March, and we can start to feel like this really is our home rather than just being here on holiday again. Let’s see.
It has been a great start to our return to the South West. Our friends Karen and Dan made us so welcome, then Jane, Terry and Karen….(yes, so may Karens!). It makes all the difference, when what we are missing the most is our friends back in Australia. Being able to pick up the phone at all hours and get hold of our family makes all the difference. The adventure has begun.
When people talk about going through a rollercoaster of emotions, it surely has to describe the multitude of sentiments we have gone though these past few weeks, packing up our home, farewelling longtime friends and colleagues, and walking away from the stunning, wild and unique scenery and wildlife of Australia. We have both found ourselves pushing memories and thoughts of the past quarter century to the back of our minds for fear the feelings will overwhelm and render us incapable of tackling the many tasks at hand.
Australia really has provided us with a wonderful life. We have made lifelong friends, visited incredible locations, had many special experiences. While we look forward to the next chapter of our lives in the UK, we are so thankful for the people who have enriched our lives. We had a few private farewells who gave us some wonderful meals and company to remember – with extra special thanks to Donna and Andy, and Tassie’s current foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, who went above and beyond to treat us.
Finally, once all the shipping container was filled and our bags packed, our friend Jenny very kindly drove across town to pick us up and courier us to the Shangri-la Hotel in the city for our last few nights.
The Shangri-la Hotel was the location for one of our first dates, back in 1999. We had dressed up in our finery and visited the Blu Bar cocktail bar before attending a performance of Madam Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House.
Back in October last year, Mark had spotted that we could use our Qantas Frequent Flyer Points to book rooms, finding we had just enough remaining to cover four nights. A small sum extra allowed us to upgrade to a room with a view of Sydney Harbour – we felt we deserved it!
We checked in on Friday evening, not long after the shipping container with all our possessions had left. Emotionally exhausted, we enjoyed some champagne in our incredible 28th floor room and had takeaway Asian street food for dinner! We were asleep by 9pm.
The following two days went by in a whirl. Friends flew up from Melbourne, drove down from Newcastle and booked into city centre hotel rooms to spend time with us. Saturday dawned hot, clear and sunny, a typical Sydney’s summer day, and we enjoyed a feast at the Sydney Fish Markets, followed by an evening at a local pub.
Sunday we had organised a lunch at The Malaya, a bit of a Sydney institution, just for the closest members of our extended family. We had 11 friends join us for an afternoon full of laughter, tears and the sharing of funny stories and memories. When eventually the restaurant needed us to leave so they could prepare for dinner, we went to the aforementioned cocktail bar at our hotel to continue the party, and finished off in our room with fine views and dancing. It was indeed a fitting farewell to all these incredible friends who have become our surrogate family in Australia.
Our final couple of days were far more subdued. Taronga Zoo is located on the edge of Sydney Harbour, and a short ferry trip from Circular Quay, a five minute walk from our hotel. It was the venue for our wedding, nearly 20 years ago, and I was keen for one last visit to remember the ambience of the location. Our friends Dan and Michelle joined us their with their young daughter Darcy. They are picking up the Aussie-adventuring lead where we have dropped it and are collecting their second hand Zone caravan very soon. We chatted to them about the joys of caravanning and the potential adventures that may lay ahead for them.
On Monday evening we were treated to a final supper with our friends Clive and Aisha. We had been determined to be alcohol-free but ended up sharing a bottle of wine and completing the meal with a cocktail! Such willpower! But all in a good cause.
And then it was upon us, our last day as Sydney residents. I set off early to walk across town to the hairdressers, and Mr A had a walk around the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens and city. Time just flew by, and before long we were wheeling our re-packed luggage into a maxi-taxi and heading to the airport.
And then we were off. Did it feel emotional as we pulled up from the land and sped off through the air towards Dubai? Strangely, no. Partly I think we have cried so many tears over the past week or so it was a relief to be finally boarding the plane and partly because now our brains have moved on to the next stage, and we are feeling so excited about what lies ahead.
I think it will take us a little while to really recognise that this is not just another holiday and that we are here to live. Once Princess Tassie arrives and we have found a house to purchase I think this will all seem real, Otherwise for now it’s all a bit of a dream.
Already London has been treating us well, with some great shopping and dining opportunities and a few convivial nights out with friends and family.
We have more fun already planned for the next few weeks, reuniting and reconnecting with friends and family…the next adventure has begun.
As some of you may know, we have taken what for us is the momentous decision to move back to the UK, leaving behind a country we both fell in love with over twenty years go.
Catherine was 25 when she first stepped off a plane with a one way ticket and a backpack, most of her adult life has been spent here, and for me its been all of my forties, fifties and half of my sixties! We met here, we married here, it’s where our careers were made. We also forged what we know will be life long friendships, that the tyranny of distance will now not win against.
Our decision has caught many of our friends by surprise, even though we have made no secret of considering the option seriously for over a year now.
I guess it’s difficult for many to understand why we would want to leave such a country so rich in the many of the things we love. The wide open spaces, the diversity of wildlife, favourable weather and the outdoor life. So this blog is going to be an attempt to explain that decision in a little more detail, for those that are interested.
We have spent the last few years taking longer and longer trips back to the UK and Europe. The drawcard has been twofold; to see our respective immediate families (they are all in the UK, bar one…Catherine’s dad in New Zealand), and to visit mainland Europe. It was becoming increasingly difficult to say goodbye to them.
The clincher came when we were locked down in England last year, renting a small cottage in a little village in the south west. Pulling on our hiking boots almost every day, or setting off on our bikes to explore the local countryside, it was one of the happiest times we have ever spent. We both love the history, the ever changing landscape through the seasons, and yes, the variety of that famous British weather that is the topic of so much conversation 🙂
Even though we couldn’t see our family that much because of travel restrictions, we found being on the same time zone made a huge difference.
We also have had several incredible trips to Europe over the last few years. A six week taster in a motorhome through France and Germany, then the following year a longer exploration of ten countries over many months. We fell in love with the food and wines of France and Italy , the mountains and lakes of Austria and Slovenia, the soaring peaks of the Pyrenees and the Alps. It was just a feast of the senses for us, and we are greedy for more.
We also are missing having a home base we can just come back to when we need or desire. We have been renting our house out for four years to help fund our nomadic wanderings, which has worked really well, but we have missed being physically part of a community. The opportunity to cash out of Sydney’s property market presented itself, and last week we sold our house on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We managed to get agreement to a long settlement to the end of January, so now have a few months to prepare for the big move .
Not only do we have all the normal things to do, like selling what we don’t want or can’t ship (caravan and car the big ones!), but we have some extra hurdles to jump because of the pandemic. For instance, Australia has a very tight policy on international travel, and we need to get travel exemption approval to leave the country. There are specific categories recognised as “compelling reasons” to travel, but migration isn’t one of them. However, we have heard of people who have migrated and gained the exemption. It all seems a very opaque approval process, with celebrities, sports stars, and the uber rich appearing to come and go at will.
We have just had to pay a chunk of sterling for our furnished accomodation to see us through the first few months in England before our container will arrive and while we are house hunting, so our Department of Home Affairs had better let us leave now, as we’re pretty committed. Hopefully by the time we are allowed to put our application in (early December) things will have eased up with vaccination rates much higher.
Next there are the all important flights to book, not just for us but for Tassie. We had always thought we wouldn’t put her through what will no doubt be a stressful time for her, but are now trying to balance that against our own needs. Tassie is a very adaptable cat, moving around so much with us over the last few years has hopefully trained her to manage travel and change, so we hope that stands her in good stead to cope with the journey. We know we can offer her the best home once we get through this phase.
So that is our plan and rationale for the move. It has been an interesting couple of weeks to say the least, everything has happened so quickly. But in between all of that we managed to have a lovely couple of nights out in Cairns. We have a friend who now lives in Provence, France, who suggested we pop in to see her friend, the multi talented Becky. Locals always know the best places to eat, and Becky was no exception. The Thai cafe she took us to had some of the best food we’ve had on this trip! We even followed dinner with our first posh bar this year and cocktails.
Then right next to our campsite was a fab Italian restaurant, again one of the dining highlights of the year. Joining us was the lovely Claire (who I forgot to take a photo of!) with her new baby Elizabeth. We met her in quarantine in Darwin, when she was on the same “cell block” as us at Howard Springs. We ended up forging a relationship in those sometimes challenging circumstances, as you do.
A couple of trips in and around Cairns also saw us having a wander around the Botanic Gardens and then to a hydro electric scheme on the Barron River.
A trip into the city also rewarded us with a market full of exotic tropical fruits. Purchases were made of new to us ones like black sapote (tastes like chocolate mousse) and abiu (caramel flan like taste), then our old favourite the custard apple (and yes it does).
But mostly our heads have been buried in thoughts of what the next few months will bring. I’m sure it won’t all go smoothly, and there may well be those moments in our future when we look at each other and wonder about our chosen path.
We will miss our friends here a great deal, and we know that and have to accept it. We will miss wandering around in remote bush wondering “when was the last time someone trod on this piece of Country?”. We will miss the unique sounds, smells and colours of the outback.
I don’t think Australia’s essence has ever been captured better than by the second verse of Dorothea Maceller’s poem “A Sunburnt Country”.
I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror — The wide brown land for me!
Interestingly, she wrote this while living in England, and was terribly homesick. Perhaps there’s something genetic that brings us back to the comfort of our roots? I just know we both feel its time to make England our home again.