After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.
Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.
Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.
Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!
Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….
Location: Castle Clytha (nr Llanarth), Coed y Bwnydd (an Iron Age fort) and Mynydd Llangorse (a hill), Monmouthshire, Wales
We left Somerset in bright sunshine and turned Truffy’s nose north-west, aiming for a bridge over the River Severn. After so much time looking at the Bristol Channel, it was great to be able to see higher up the river and cross over the great body of water. As we passed into Wales, we left the blue skies and drove into fog…fortunately soon lifting as we reached our destination.
We pulled into a quiet National Trust carpark beside the River Usk. The river starts high up in the Brecon Beacons, before flowing through Wales to emerge at Newport into the River Severn, opposite Western-super-Mare. We had decided to make our first day’s journey relatively short in order to make the most of the blue sky day. (Strava).
Mr A had found a great sounding walk on the National Trust site which would take us along the river, up to an ancient Iron Age Fort and back via a 17th century castle in a mere 12km (7.5 miles). If you’ve seen our Strava link, you will have seen we must have taken a few wrong turns, as it was 15.6km (about 10 miles) for us!
After passing a group of girls swimming and sunbathing on the river bank, we barely saw another person all day as we wound our way on our circuit walk.
As we hiked up, the views began to open up, giving us our first glimpses of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Fabulous clear views of Sugar Loaf open up in front of us – this is South Wales’ highest mountain (596 metres), and a popular day walk. Its popularity is what turned us off walking up this one, we do prefer to avoid the crowds, even when there isn’t a nasty virus around!
The walk description had been written at a time when there were no crops in the fields, so often it was a bit of a challenge finding the pathway through.
High up on a hill we emerged into Coed y Bwnydd, an Iron Age fort. This is a scheduled ancient monument that was gifted to the National Trust in the 1940s by a grieving Captain in memory of his friend killed in World War II. To the untrained eye, it is a simple woodland, but the more you look, you begin to spot the earthworks that signify the involvement of humans here more than 2,000 years ago.
Clytha Castle was a folly built in 1790 and is now available for holiday stays.
We stayed the night in the quiet car park, then the following morning we drove a short way to Llangors, where we parked up at an activity centre (predominantly training army cadets to climb and survive in the wilderness). Our plan was to climb Mynydd Llangorse, a 515 metre hill overlooking Lake Llangors and the Brecon Beacons.
Again, this walk was not on the tourist trail, and yet able to provide spectacular views (Strava) in isolated serenity. Away from the carpark, we saw one other person, just as we concluded our hike.
We could see the weather starting to change as we enjoyed the last of the sunshine for a couple of days. After climbing back down, we drove off to our next camp, just outside the small town of Brecon.
Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Braintree, Essex, St Leonards-on-sea, and Rye Harbour, East Sussex, Lancing, West Sussex, Portsmouth, Hampshire
A whirlwind of emotion accompanies our travels as we finally have in person visits with family around the country. Following a busy three days in Milton Keynes with Mark’s daughters and grandchildren, we continued our journeys around England, gradually travelling south over a ten day period.
Sunday night was spent with my cousin Karen and her family in Little Gaddesden where we were treated to a magnificent roast dinner and delicious wine, as always very generous with their time and company, with many laughs enjoyed.
It was just a flying visit, and by lunchtime the following day we were back on the road, driving to Essex and our friends Mel and Barny.
We were privileged to be the first guests in their nearly finished new home set in picturesque countryside, plenty of bird life and a rail trail at the end of the road. Their young working cocker puppy, Bertie kept us all on our toes with his endless energy and demand for tummy tickles and despite having spent the weekend moving in, Mel and Barny somehow found the energy to whip up a delicious salad and BBQ steak dinner. A great evening was spent with them and was over all too soon.
After leaving Essex, our next stop was Sussex, off to see my mum for a couple of nights. The weather continued to be absolutely glorious, the sun shining and showing off Hastings’ sea front in its best light, the sea like a mill pond lapping on the pebble beaches.
The following day Mr A decided to take himself off on an ebike ride adventure, while I joined mum and her husband Barry on a trip to nearby Rye Harbour. Rye Harbour is a little peaceful village situated near the mouth of the River Rother, a short drive from Hastings. Seals are often seen fishing in the estuary here, and there are numerous working fishing boats that moor alongside the jetties.
On the other side of the river is popular sandy beach, Camber Sands, which on this warm, summer’s day was packed with visitors, despite the ongoing Covid-19 distancing restrictions. In contrast, our walk around the nature reserve was politely distanced and peaceful.
The walk followed the coast, the pebble and shingle beaches lined with old weathered wooden groynes, designed to help protect the land and marshes behind the beaches from erosion from the sea.
It was a lovely afternoon out, clocking 8km (Strava link) and plenty of fresh air. That evening, Mum treated us to a delicious Indian meal at Flavours of India in Hastings. It‘s our second visit there and the food has been consistently excellent.
We farewelled mum the following morning, and drove to Brighton. It was a very exciting day for me – finally I was going to the hairdressers! I spent a warm afternoon wearing a mask and disposable plastic cape – not the usual luxury experience, but such a relief to get a good cut after all this time.
With somewhat shorter and neater hair, I called in to see my sister Helen briefly, before catching a train along the coast to the village of Lancing where Mr A had parked Truffy at a campground.
The following morning, Mr A and I jumped on our bikes and went for an explore. Lancing is a coastal village just 20 minutes on the train from Brighton. It has a cycleway which follows the coast for some miles which is easily accessible from the campsite.
We returned back to camp in time for my sister Helen to arrive with a car full of camping gear and children. Niece and nephew Isabel and Elliot soon found the playpark while Helen, Mark and I were joined by another camper to erect her tent in the increasingly strong winds. Perfect kite flying weather!
The following day was somewhat of a wash out with the strong winds continuing but now accompanied by driving rain. Helen’s fiancé Stuart came to join us for lunch, after which they decided to abandon camping and go home for the rest of the afternoon and evening, leaving us to shelter in Truffy and watch Netflix!
The sun returned on Sunday morning and our fair-weather campers returned to take down their tent and join us for breakfast. They made up for wimping out of Saturday night‘s camping by providing the most delicious bacon from their local butcher, contributing to a brilliant full English breakfast.
After our brunch feast we felt the need for some exercise and so rode out to the nearby Widewater Lagoon, a nature reserve along Lancing seafront that attracts a variety of bird life, including osprey on occasion. It used to be part of the estuary of the River Adur many centuries ago. It has been artificially maintained with a shingle bank separating it from the sea, and a pipeline designed to replenish the water from the English Channel during the summertime.
The strong winds continued, much to the delight of the many wind and kite surfers along the coast. It was hard work cycling into the wind, especially for the children – Isabel struggling along on her scooter and Elliot by bike. We ducked off down to a beach to shelter and hunt for shells and sea-glass with the children. Helen treated us all to ice creams before we farewelled one another and returned to our respective homes for a break from the wind.
Leaving Lancing on Monday morning, Mark and I made a stop in the village of Arundel to pick up some goodies for a BBQ and have a brief look around. Truffy enjoyed his regal parking location outside the castle.
From Arundel, we drove to see our friends Nick and Laura at their home just outside Chichester. For a short time back in March we thought we might be living in their house during lockdown, but they ended up managing to fly back from Australia and of course we found our cottage in West Bagborough. They booked a lovely country restaurant for lunch, the Crab and Lobster, and we enjoyed sharing lockdown stories over a delicious seafood feast.
It was a short hop from there to our next location, the Churchillion Pub in Portsmouth which allows motorhome stopovers as long as you stop in for a drink and/or dinner.
We were collected by my brother-in-law John, who whisked us a short way to their house for a glass of wine and a catch up. It was the first time meeting our new niece, Iris, who was born just before Christmas. Mark introduced nephews Edward and William to his ‘Robot Tag’ game which is guaranteed to reduce little boys to shrieks and giggles as they attempt to escape the tickle monster.
Our night behind the pub was not as peaceful as we had hoped, with two incidents of car alarms going off and seemingly a motorcycle race roaring past us for several hours. We decided to move to the street outside my sister Elle and John’s’s house the following night.
Before that, however, more adventures were ahead. One of Mark’s old school friends, Andrew, lives just a stones throw away, and drove over with his mountain bike so we could ride around the coast of Portsmouth together (Strava link).
We had a great day out, picnicking in some rose gardens, and finishing up back at the pub mid afternoon. Farewelling Andrew, we drove down and parked up by Elle and John’s house.
We had a fun evening with them, a delicious BBQ and flowing gin and wine.
The past few weeks have provided exactly what we have been missing – the simple things, breaking bread with friends and family, laughing until you cry and your sides hurt. They say you cannot choose your family, but fortunately we have been blessed with family (and friends we consider as family) who are likeminded and enjoy a laugh as much as us – the perfect tonic!
Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe
And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.
110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.
What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!
We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.
In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.
Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!
So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.
So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.
Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…
Location: Harby, Nottinghamshire and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Thursday-Saturday: We were kindly invited to stay over the first part of the Easter weekend, with friends in Harby in Nottinghamshire, a village embodying all thats good about the remnants of rural England. A good pub, a strong sense of community, roads where cyclists still feel safe to venture out on a morning in droves and endless opportunities to potter around the fields on the rights of way that make this beautiful countryside so accessible.
I was lucky enough to make friends at secondary school that have become lifelong mates, along with their wives and partners. The party begins, the catching up on our lives lived so distantly for much of the year.
It feels like we have only just left each other’s company last week. The sound of laughter, music and popping corks rings out over the usually tranquil garden of our hosts. Stunning food is served with of course wines to match. We are having an Italian theme to the party to get us in the mood for a major birthday milestone one of the group has in June, as we have organised to celebrate it together there.
We decide our appetites need to be sharpened by a little cycling, and off we go down a “greenway” as they are called here, that can be accessed from the village. Of course it leads to a pub, and oh…another one on the way back!
It was a merry bunch that sat down to dinner each night!
Easter Sunday–Tuesday: All too soon it was time to bid our farewell and hit the road once again. Next stop: my daughters and grandchildren in Milton Keynes. After catching up over Chinese takeaway the first night, we kicked off with cycling from one daughter’s house (where we were parked), to the other’s house, via the extensive network of “redways” as Milton Keynes calls them, that were designed into the city’s original blueprint. It was fantastic riding with my oldest grandchild, taking his first big ride on a new bike. He did so well.
Both of my daughters are moving to new houses within a few weeks of each other, so an exciting time to hear their plans and see their properties. When we come back in September so much will have changed. They all have worked so hard to make this jump to bigger homes. Very proud of them both. At their age they can afford to take some risks with big mortgages. A period of economic instability, especially in the UK, looks pretty likely.
Our visit also coincided with my oldest grandson’s 7th birthday. He really is maturing at a rate of knots, and in such a good way. A real pleasure to see. So a little surprise was hatched where we met him out of his first day at a new school, in Truffy, and they got to take a ride in their first motorhome. Hopefully memorable!
So we then bid a big goodbye to my family until we are back in September, and pointed Truffy’s nose south in preparation for our upcoming ferry to France next week.
After leaving Fuller Leisure on Monday afternoon we headed north, hoping to find a spot for the night not far from where we were to have Truffy’s eye-mask (see previous post!) fitted. We’re pretty new to the travel apps for motorhoming, but both Search for Sites and CamperContact showed a pub 8 miles away which allowed free stopovers.
We headed on up there, just an hour’s drive from Gunthorpe. It was an ‘interesting’ drive with Miss Google Maps directing us down little single track lanes with blind bends…but we made it without incident. We even managed to do our first LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) fill up on the way, meaning we’re all set again for off the grid heating, hot water and cooking.
Our stop for the night was the Hyde Park Inn, a cosy pub opposite playing fields in the village of Dronfield. We called in for a drink before we settled down for the night, welcomed by the publican and locals alike.
On Tuesday afternoon (after getting Truffy’s thermal eye-mask fitted) we headed off on the road, leaving South Yorkshire and the surrounds of Sheffield, and heading into the Derbyshire Peak District. Despite working in Derby back in the early 1990s, other than one weekend trip, I have never fully explored this area. Mr A’s previous experience hails back to when the world was black and white and he was in the Boy Scouts.
Our first impressions were very positive – quiet winding lanes lined with dancing daffodils, stone walled paddocks full of skipping lambs.
We called into the village of Monyash for lunch, opting for delicious baked potatoes before we moved on.
We continued on from here to our little farm stay parking spot for the night.
Wednesday morning we awoke to perfect blue skies, an ideal day for a cycle. We had selected our campsite based on its proximity to two of the Peak District’s best rail trails – the High Peak and the Tissington. Our home for two nights was Brundcliffe Farm, a working dairy farm alongside the High Peak trail.
It was a fresh start to the ride as we headed up the trail towards Parsley Hay, before moving onto the Tissington Rail Trail south. These old rail routes were turned into traffic-free walking and cycling routes back in 1971.
We reached Ashbourne around midday and so set about finding somewhere for lunch. Ashbourne is a pretty market town, its roots dating back to Anglo-Saxon times (around the years 500-1000, before King Harold met his death near Hastings in 1066). Today it looks like a prosperous settlement, with classy boutiques and lovely cafes and shops.
We ate lunch in a sunny courtyard at a Mediterranean restaurant called Jack Rabbits. Mark enjoyed melted Brie on toast with a fig chutney, while I went for the home made sweet potato and tomato soup. Delicious.
After a good feed we jumped back on the bikes and headed back on the trail. As it was uphill on the way back we had to make use of the motors on our eBikes – but still had to do plenty of work. It’s a pedal assist motor, so unless your legs are moving, it will not work.
This is definitely one of the loveliest cycles we have done. The scenery was spectacular and the Peak District National Park carefully manages the land through clearing to ensure there is a year round corridor of wildflowers.
The temperature climbed to 16 degrees centigrade – the warmest we’ve been in about three weeks, and we saw our first bees and butterflies along the track.
We continued on past Parsley Hay to the next ‘station’ where we went to a local pub garden for a refreshing drink.
Our legs were aching by the time we reached Truffy, having clocked up 56km in the saddles (35 miles), and we were pleased to say we had plenty of battery left on the bikes.
This was a fabulous taster of the Derbyshire Peak District and we definitely would like to come back. There is so much to do here. Big tick from us!
Location: Melton Mobray and Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire, UK
When we first purchased our Hymer motorhome – back in mid November last year – we joined the Facebook group – the Hymer Owner’s Group. Our experience with the Zone (our caravan in Australia) owner’s Facebook group has been so positive, we hoped the Hymer group would be similar. We haven’t been disappointed.
We hadn’t long signed up to the group before we saw a weekend away advertised with fellow Hymer Owners Group members (or HOGs!). Knowing we would have only picked up our truck just over a week before, we thought it would be a great opportunity to get some tips and meet some other motorhome owners. We booked in.
We arrived on Friday afternoon to Eye Kettleby Lakes, an adults only caravan and motorhome park on the outskirts of Melton Mobray. Our first impression on checking in to reception was that this is no ordinary campground…it was more like a ski resort with warm log cabins decorated with modern artwork and furnishings.
We settled onto our site, with a view across fields of sheep and a lake with a large fountain…the only thing missing was the weather! With a top of 7 degrees centigrade and a bitterly cold wind, we were not encouraged to hang around outside.
At 6pm there was a meeting of the HOGs to welcome us all to the weekend. We chatted to a few people but didn’t join them at the pub. After the past few weeks of dinners, lunches and drinks out we decided to stop in for the evening and cook our first meal in Truffy. We felt bad being unsociable but figured we had done our social quota for the time being.
Saturday morning dawned cold and we were treated to our first sight of frost in a long while. I think we were in the depths of central Australia at Uluru when we last had temperatures this low at night.
We bravely decided to wrap up warm and jump on our bikes to ride into Melton Mobray. As we departed we bumped into the couple from the Hymer in the next site over, also riding their eBikes into town, so joined them for the ride.
By the time we had arrived in the town centre it felt like we had frostbite on our fingers, toes and noses, the windchill absolutely cutting. We decided to invest in a fan heater, having discovered one of our gas bottles had emptied already. A call to Fuller’s Leisure, where we purchased Truffy, advised us they hadn’t fully filled the gas tanks, something we hadn’t realised.
We had a quick look around Melton Mobray, a scoot through the market and brief explore, before heading back to camp.
Most of the cycleway was via country lanes and an off road bridleway. We were not far from being back and I realised it was suddenly really hard to cycle….puncture!
Walking back pushing a heavy bike with a flat soon warmed me up, I can tell you! Mr A and our neighbours wasted no time in getting the tyre off and a new inner tube fitted, and I was back in action.
Mark’s daughter Hayley, son in law Phil and grandchildren Luke and James had also come to Melton Mobray for the weekend. They brought their huge caravan and were parked up in a brand new campground on the other side of town. Hayley and the kids came over and joined us for a hot chocolate at our campground cafe, regaling us with stories of the alpacas, donkeys and sheep at their farmyard camping area.
We had an early dinner in Truffy and headed up to the pub to join other HOGs for an evening beverage and socialise. Lots of tips were shared and travel stories recounted. A lovely bunch of people.
Sunday was another cold blustery day, so we spent the morning going through our instruction manuals before joining Hayley, Phil and the kids for a BBQ at their caravan.
All in all a great weekend – though we are feeling the novelty of cold weather starting to wear off…we wish it could have been warmer so we could have socialised more, but as it was we really enjoyed our time. We hope to meet more HOGs on the road as we travel.
Location: Brighton, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes & Kettering, UK (phew!)
Friday-Sunday: Brighton is one of our favourite UK towns to visit, and not only because that’s where Catherine’s sister and family live. We love the quirky shops, the pubs, the long cycle paths along the seafront. It just feels vibrant and eclectic. It was also where we were going to spend our first night in Truffy the Truck, our new home on wheels. We had pre-booked a site and turned up with some trepidation for our first experience of “camping” in the UK. Wow…what a find. This place was great with huge sites, spotless facilities that even were centrally heated! Luxury…
We got a few things wrong though and found our feet higher than our heads when settling down in the drop down bed. No air suspension to adjust on this baby. We did however get the hot water and heating working, apparently more than some folk manage on their first encounter with a Hymer motorhome.
The weekend sped past with wonderful times hanging out with Helen and Stu and their oh so energetic kids. How these guys juggle jobs and raising these two little bundles of joy I have no idea. I was exhausted just watching breakfast unfold!
We cycled, we ran for buses, we ate our way though fabulous dinners, we laughed and we talked. As an only child these guys are the nearest I have to experiencing the joy that a good relationship with a brother or sister can bring.
Monday: All too soon we were off along the south coast to Portsmouth and a flying visit to Catherine’s half sister Elinor and her family.
Tuesday-Wednesday: Portsmouth gets put on the list for “must come back and explore”, as we literally stopped by for dinner before pointing Truffy north and heading up to see my daughters and grandkids in Milton Keynes. We congregated in the local pub and had a lovely catch up before retiring to the car park for an overnight stay.
There are certainly benefits to being in a fairly stubby little 6m motorhome. We also used the opportunity of being close to the huge retail centres in Milton Keynes to do some power shopping in our bid to get Truffy fully functioning as our second home on wheels. IKEA bless you for all those good value products!
We had a quick visit to the local lake, which to Catherine and I felt like we had been teleported to Siberia, with a cruel wind blowing across the water.
We retired to behind the somewhat expansive glass of Truffy and dashed off to our next stop in this whistle-stop tour. My home town of Kettering, and the ever warm welcome of my long term friends Stuart and Karen. These guys have chosen to stay in the town they also grew up in, and increasingly unusual phenomena, but their extended family has mostly done the same, so its a strong and supportive community they are enjoying.
Thursday: A lunch had been organised to bring together my family still living in the town as well, cousins and their families. It was great to see them, and not for a funeral.
My last few visits have always been tinged by the sadness of my parents passing, Finally, a short trip to see Stuart and Karen’s daughter Laura, who had stayed with us in Australia. To see her so happy as a mum of 10 months, and getting married to the guy she met on when travelling, this was a joy for us.
All of our lives go through ups and downs, and to catch so many people on the up was just brilliant. It’s been a hectic 10 days since we landed, but already we have so many memories tucked away of seeing friends and family, and getting to know our new home that is going to take us on so many new adventures.
Our time in Kettering concluded with a curry in town…our third in a week!
Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire & Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Tuesday morning started wet and cold, a shock after our first couple of days with brilliant sunshine, but it was a good day for driving. We farewelled John and Catriona and headed south, aiming for a little village in Hertfordshire, Little Gaddeston, where my cousin lives.
It was not as smooth a journey as it could have been. We did not yet have SIM cards or any internet data, so we were reliant on our in-car sat nav rather than our more trusted friend, Miss Google. Our lack of trust was justified when it kept directing us off the main roads and onto winding country lanes. I eventually found that ‘motorways’ were turned off in settings! The software was quite out of date too, with several roads missing. I managed to get onto a free wifi signal at a service centre and set up the route via Google Maps on my phone. Much easier!
Other than that, the journey was fabulous. Truffy-the-truck (our newly named motorhome) is so comfortable to drive and with fabulous visibility. We were soon parking up and joining Karen and Iain for a cup of tea before Hannah and Ella came home from school.
Wednesday all too soon our visit was over, and after a morning debating storage solutions with Iain, drinking endless cups of herbal tea and watching Karen try out my ebike on their local hill (it got the tick of approval!), we pulled away and continued our journey south, heading to Hastings.
As we travelled through Kent and into East Sussex the temperature gauge dropped from 9 through to 4 degrees centigrade, and the brown looking clouds soon revealed their contents to be sleet and snow. Not far from our destination we found ourselves driving through snow slushy roads lined with white roofed houses – amazing! It’s been a long time since we have seen scenery like this.
We made it without incident to my mum’s house and parked up outside.
We had a great couple of days there, getting our first lot of kit shopping done for Truffy (we have to completely set up our new home!) as well as joining up with a local doctor. Marmalade, their young ginger cat, got lots of attention and cuddles, particularly from Mr A in the early hours of the morning (jet lag o’clock!).
On the Thursday evening we treated mum and Barry to dinner at a restaurant in Hastings as a thank you for all their help with our return…taking receipt of many parcels, sharing letters and even receiving nuisance calls in the early hours of the morning from Vodafone robots…
Friday morning we packed up Truffy again and headed off towards Brighton, with a slight diversion to catch up with a lovely lady, Karen, who has idiopathic subglottic stenosis and lives just a mile from home. I spent a good hour chatting with her – she’s a GP and is really keen to raise awareness of the disease. There will potentially be a presentation for me to do when we come back from travelling in Europe…I’ll be keeping in touch to hopefully organise that.
We were excited to finally be spending a night in our new home!
Location: London Heathrow Airport, Harby, Nottinghamshire, UK
In September of last year whilst travelling in the US, we started to dream about spending a longer chunk of time in the UK and Europe. After months of planning we have turned that dream into a reality and stepped of the plane from Sydney into a “fresh” (a euphemism the Brits use for bloody freezing) spring day at Heathrow.
The flight had been an extra long one, delayed out of Sydney with no explanation, diverting around Pakistan airspace and dodging storms over Turkey. We choose not to spend our fixed income from super and rent on business class airfares, we see too many other things that compete for our dollars and give us more pleasure. So it was the squishy back of the plane for us. A uneventful flight except for a young fellah who had to be threatened with the police to quieten him down, and that threat was delivered on when we arrived at Heathrow with 3 burly London metropolitan police officers escorting him off for what would no doubt be an unpleasant start to his UK stay, Qantas staff taking it all in their stride. What a job these cabin crew do. Cleaning up the poor aim of guys who refuse to sit down, dealing with the unruly and the far too spoilt folks with endless complaints about the wine (no, I didn’t! – we decided to sneak in an AFD (alcohol free day) on the trip). With that drama out of the way, we finally got to end over 25 hours of plane time and step out into the arrivals hall.
We were met by a guy I have known for over half a century, since the first year of secondary school, and he had driven all the way down from near Lincoln though the night to meet us. Friendships that have spanned that amount of time take on a quality that is so different. You have seen each other through so many phases of your life, you are known intimately for what you are, good and bad. So our piles of luggage were loaded (74kg of it!) and we were whisked off for a few hours more sitting on our bottoms. Arriving at their quintessential English country village of Harby, we were both reminded of all the things we love about our old homeland. The smell in the air at this time of year is quite unique, a blend of freshly mown grass, a tang of manure, it triggered so many memories, smell being our most powerful sense.
Their house is affectionately referred to by the village as “the manor”. I remember visiting the land when they first purchased it. Since then they have turned that patch of overgrown blackberry bushes into a house you would not be surprised to see on Grand Designs. John has been in the construction industry all his life as a civil engineer, while Catriona has impeccable taste and a brother who is an acclaimed architect. A great combination! When you see your friends who have struggled through some tough times and worked their butts off to create their dream home, now enjoying the phase of sharing it with friends and family, its truly heart warming.
The first job on the list was to collect our new e-bikes, chosen on line and never seen in the flesh. I have to give mention to the dealer who has sourced the bikes and provided such great service, OnBikes Electric Bikes – brilliant service indeed. So a busy couple of hours in our friend’s garage assembling them and we are ready for our first ride. What beauties they are don’t you think?
From the high end e-bike producers in Germany Riese and Muller, these machines will serve in place of a second car. Taking a motorhome into town centres inevitably ends badly.
They fly along, although in the UK (as in Australia) they are limited to 25km/hr when the motor will cut out. Really that’s plenty of speed for us. Why electric? Well neither of us is good on hills for different reasons, and we just find we decide to use a bike a lot more if we know we can make the hills without arriving for dinner all sweaty and breathless. Carrying shopping also becomes easy, important when parking your only vehicle in a town centre is problematic.
A key part of the plan to travel in England and Europe relied on us having a motorhome, for a variety of reasons. If you are relying on booking accomodation that really ties you down to where and when you travel. Also you are forced to eat out all the time. You spend a good part of your time searching, booking, moving into and out of places. All those hassles disappear to a large extent if you have your accomodation with you.
So we had decided to buy rather than rent, based on the economics of the length of time we plan to tour for, and the pleasure of being an owner who can customise and kit out their home as they wish. We decided we wanted something as small as possible, but still fit a decent bathroom with toilet and shower. So we settled on a make and model we wanted and started searching, almost immediately realising that only one or two of them were coming up secondhand a year. So when one did appear last December, we took the plunge. The dealer was also conveniently close to our friends near Lincoln, who kindly went to check it out and gave the thumbs up.
Monday: So the day had finally arrived to pick it up, on April Fools Day quite worryingly! We decided to go left hand drive as we plan to spend more time in Europe than the UK, and its a manual. So a little anxious about then getting used to driving it on UK roads, we set up to view our purchase in the flesh for the first time. What a beauty he is.
The handover and briefing on operating it couldn’t have been more professional. We have been so impressed with how the staff from Fuller Leisure had conducted themselves with us. The modifications we had done were all done right. We wanted to be able to travel independent from powered camp sites, so have installed solar panels, extra battery, a bit of kit to accelerate charging from the alternator, USB points and converted the gas system to LPG (every country we would visit uses different bottles).
We finally drove away at lunch time, and immediately I took to driving it. It has an enormous panoramic window which gives a great view of what other traffic is up to. Positioning the vehicle on the road (its a bit wider than a car at 2.2 metres) I found easy from the left hand side. My sharp eyed co-pilot was able to help call out all clear at roundabouts and junctions. So we made it back to Harby in one piece, mission accomplished!