7 November: And we are off!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Heathrow Airport, London, UK

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.

Off we go…our first step….

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.

Final use of the NHS covid app…

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.

Final chat with mum, sister, nephew and niece

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!

Heathrow as we have never seen it before

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….

6 November: Our last day in the UK, walking a locked down London

Author: Mr A

Location: The Paddington Hilton, London

Its our last day in the UK. we fly back to Australia tomorrow. Rarely have we felt so conflicted. We are going to miss so much about being here in the UK, and yet we’re have so much to look forward to when we get back to Sydney after our quarantine in Darwin.

So with the day to ourselves, we decided to lace up our walking boots for one last jaunt in the autumnal sunshine. A cold snap had obliged us by providing a last chance to get rugged up, feel our cheeks cold in the wind, and smell the fallen leaves as they accumulate in piles, just urging to be kicked.

The deserted streets of London’s first day of the second national lockdown gave us plenty of elbow room to explore.

We walked from our hotel, adjacent to Paddington Station (chosen to give us easy access to the Heathrow Express in the morning) and headed over to the Thames via Hyde Park and Chelsea, admiring the rows of luxury cars that lined the mews and the boutiques all shut up.

Our walk map
As most trees are losing their leaves, some in London are already coming into bud as though spring is imminent
The quiet streets around Paddington
The Italian Gardens – built in 1860 – their fountains one of our first sights as we enter Hyde Park
A coot in the Italian Gardens
An amazing sky this morning – these are apparently altocumulus clouds, and predict fair weather
Looking down towards Serpentine Bridge
Action shot of the swan photography session
A feisty swan on The Serpentine in Hyde Park
Fabulous autumn shades in Hyde Park

Some of the cavalry even turned out to see us off, which was nice.

A little bit of training in progress
Some of these fresh faced lads looked like they should be at school
Past Imperial College, the Science Museum and Natural History Museums…the roads deserted
The Natural History Museum is a magnificent building
We even made it to Sydney sooner than expected…ah-hem….

From Chelsea we crossed over the Albert Bridge and across to Battersea Park, where we enjoyed freshly filled vegan baguettes in the rose garden.

Albert Bridge – a cable suspension bridge originally built here in 1873
The Peace Pagoda was presented to Londoners in 1984
The tennis courts are closed due to the lockdown, but some lads manage to create their own space to play
The Chelsea Bridge is relatively new, having opened in 1937 to replace a previous bridge
Crunching through the autumn leaves – a great opportunity to relive the sounds, smells and experiences of your childhood!

Then it was all the way down to Westminster Palace with armed police everywhere as the terror threat status is “severe”, before then heading back via St James Park.

Strolling along the Thames Path
Looking across the River Thames towards the Nine Elms district and the new US Embassy building (opened December 2017). It looks equally impressive internally according to the embassy website..
Vauxhall Bridge
Westminster from the Victoria Tower Gardens, the Buxton Memorial in the foreground which commemorated 200 years since the abolition of slavery

We headed back through St. James’s Park, giving Buckingham Palace a wave as we then headed back across to Hyde Park. Just under 19km (12 miles) though some of the tourist highlights of London, and hardly a soul to be seen. Brilliant.

A European white pelican in St. James’s Park – it is tinged pink in mating season. They apparently have been known to fly into London Zoo for a feed of fish before returning back to the park! There have been pelicans in the park since some were first gifted by the Russian Ambassador in 1664
Plenty of grey squirrels in St James’s Park – hiding up trees from the multitude of small dogs that love to chase them
Buckingham Palace – if the royal standard is flying it means the Queen is home – with no breeze we cannot tell which flag is hoisted
Looking down St. James’s Park Lake towards Dover House (1750s) and the London Eye peering over the trees
Such space and greenery in central London
The final walk across Hyde Park
Bathurst Mews, back in Paddington, with its cobbled streets looking frozen in time

We have had plenty of time to reflect on what we will miss and what we are looking forward to. If I had to pick the top three on each list it would be as follows:

So what will we miss? Well the majority of our “blood family” is here, on a time time zone that makes it harder to connect on line when we go back. It’s not that we have been able to actually spend heaps of time with them, given the constraints of the various restrictions we have had, but the time that we have has been brilliant.

Secondly we will miss the changes that the seasons bring. The colours, the smells, the sounds, even here in the city the autumnal colours are spectacular in the parks. The different feel you get walking in the varying temperatures and weather, the coziness of turning up your collar against a chill wind. We just feel more engaged with the natural world watching everything change.

Finally, and we have talked together about this a lot, we will miss the feeling we get of having more values in common with the Brits. The courtesy shown by drivers, or service providers, pretty much everybody has a please or thank you, or sorry in their sentence. It just feels…nice. There’s no pushing and shoving, no macho aggressive behaviour. It just feels good.

However, Australia beckons with our “adopted family” and lovely fur child, our joint number one on the list of what’s pulling us back. They have been the people who we have spent such a chunk of our lives with, in Catherine‘s case, most of her adult life. There are going to be some wonderful reunions, some long lunches and even longer dinners!

And yes it will also be lovely to be able to sit outside in the evenings, there haven’t been many times we have done that over here. There’s just something so wonderful about being able to extend your outdoor time right though the dark hours especially when there’s a pile of freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters close at hand, and chilled bottle of something crisp to wash them down.

Finally, it is those great wild open deserted spaces, whether they be miles of brilliant white sand on a beach, or the endless eucalyptus forests stretching to the horizon. The emptiness is just so serene, although this year I think it will be tougher to find the quiet spots with everyone staycationing in Australia.

It‘s worrying to leave friends and family here, given the transmission rates, especially since we wont be able to easily get back should there be a problem, but we really have no good option of where to stay. So it’s on that plane tomorrow we go.

Thanks again to all our family and friends here who have made this trip, even in these tough times, so memorable. It has been such an eye opener for us to see three seasons come and go in this beautiful country. To feel the joy of reconnecting with family, and to eat properly cooked fish and chips, which is what we are about to do now as our “Last Supper” 🙂

PS. We both just heard – both negative for Covid-19 – we’re definitely off tomorrow!

Hurrah…long may it continue to be this way!

1-5 November: More farewells and another lockdown commences

Author: Mrs A

Location: Portsmouth, Hampshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK

We left Brighton and made our way along the coast to Portsmouth, arriving in time to tune in our little TV and listen to Boris’s Saturday afternoon address of the nation. Except the 4pm address was delayed to 5pm….then the 5pm to 6pm….and the 6pm to…who knows when, because by then we were sipping our first gin and tonics with my sister Elle and brother in law John! They prepared a delicious spaghetti bolognaise and which we enjoyed with the usual sprinkling of funny stories, laughter and some rather delicious red wine.

After dinner we heard confirmation of the announcement – the UK is to go into a countrywide ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as of Thursday the 5th November. All non-essential shops are to close, and foreign travel is banned. Thankfully the Australian Embassy in London countered that to confirm that the repatriation flight we’re on is still going to leave on Saturday, and that we are exempt from that rule.

Catherine, nearly one Iris and Elle
Auntie Catherine with William and Edward

All too soon it was Sunday morning and we said farewell, pointing Truffy’s nose westwards to a campsite just outside Honiton in Devon.

It was our final chance to use the services, clean out the toilet thoroughly and basically get Truffy ready for storage.

On Monday we were welcomed to our friends’ Karen and Dan house, where we tackled the final washing requirements and they were very conveniently having a new part of their loft boarded…just in time for us to avail ourselves of a small portion of space for Truffy’s soft furnishings and a few bits and pieces we aren’t taking back to Australia. We are so grateful to these generous friends for their welcome help – conveniently located just 15 minutes drive from where we are storing our motorhome.

I join Karen for a stroll with a dog she occasionally walks…or should I say occasionally walks her!

Over the next three days, we prepared Truffy for winter – draining out the tanks, blowing out all the water from the pipes, and after our last storage experience, setting up some mouse bait stations in the hope we can save some of our wiring from nibbling teeth!

Finally it was time to store Truffy. We awoke to a crisp, clear morning and a fabulous view over the frosty white rooftops of Honiton and to the fields beyond. The perfect farewell memory for this stunning part of the UK. The autumn trees were positively glowing as we drove along empty roads to the storage place and parked Truffy up for the last time.

A frosty Thursday morning
Love these autumn colours…
Everything is sparkling

We both felt rather sad driving away. Although this year didn’t bring us the travel adventures we initially expected, we have had some incredible times these past few months, reconnecting with our homeland, watching the seasons change and relishing all the weathers and temperatures that come hand in hand with them.

While we don’t know when we will be able to return we do at least feel comfortable that Truffy’s in safe hands and will hopefully not be in too bad a shape when we eventually return.

Stepping onto an empty train platform at Honiton, followed by a nearly empty train to London, we were reminded that these are strange times, with more to come. This is the first day of the UK’s second Covid-19 lockdown.

Honiton Station is rather lonely
The carriage is quiet too – not many folks travelling up to London with government orders not to travel without good reason
And we’re all alone at Waterloo Station

Our first step along the way to getting back to Australia was to get a Covid-19 test done. This was included in the price of our ticket with the results being sent simultaneously back to us as well as Qantas sometime in the next 48 hours. Getting a negative result means we can board the plane on Saturday morning…hopefully sooner than that given our flight leaves in a little more than 36 hours’ time!

We caught a taxi to Fenchurch Street where the testing centre was located. It was all very casual and ramshackle, nothing like the NHS centre I had attended for a test two weeks ago. We were called in to be tested one by one, sat in a chair in a tiny cupboard-like office, beside a bin overflowing with cardboard boxes and used tissues. Definitely not the most hygienic testing facility – we both left feeling slightly violated and with the distinct impression we had been placed in more danger of being exposed to the virus than we have in any of our previous weeks of travel.

The Covid-19 testing centre and my test kit

We left and caught a very quiet tube train from the city to Paddington Station where we checked into the Hilton Hotel for the next couple of nights. Thanks to the lockdown, there is no eating out at a restaurant tonight – just an UberEats delivery in our room.

We have one final day left in the UK before we fly, and with few shops open and nothing left to do or prepare, there’s a lovely sense of freedom about the day ahead. A chance to just breathe and enjoy London for its outdoor spaces and cool temperatures before our upcoming time in Darwin’s 34°C quarantine.

The Circle Line at 4pm is usually standing room only…not today
Even Paddington Bear sports a face mask in the Hilton Hotel lobby
Where are all the people? Certainly not at this hotel!

25-31 October: A “wedding week” in Brighton and an imminent return to Australia in motion

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, East Sussex, UK

Part of our mental health discipline in these trying times is to keep thinking of the benefits the pandemic has brought us. There have many, but one of the greatest was to be able to share in Catherine’s sister‘s wedding here in Brighton this week.

A pre wedding Sunday afternoon stroll after lunch up at Hollingbury Hill Fort
Uncle Mark explaining to Isabel how many years ago the Iron Age people built this fort
Queen of the golf course
Chasing around with Auntie Catherine
The sun reemerging from behind a black cloud, the rain heading out to sea for now

Helen and Stuart have been together a while, evidenced by having two lovely children Elliott (9) and Isabel (6), and five years before them of child free togetherness in the south coast seaside town of Brighton. They decided, for a number of reasons back in the summer this year, that autumn would be the right time to tie the knot. One of those reasons was undoubtedly that Catherine would be around to share the experience. Geographical separation over the last 22 years has not weakened the strong sister-bond. For me as well, Helen and Stu have been like family over those years since they first got together. Helen stayed with us when she came to Australia, and came to our wedding back in 2002. Stuart has shared many a decent glass of red over the years, and fed me some of the most memorable, relaxed, fun meals we have had on our visits back.

To see them share their continuing commitment to each other, with a close group of friends and family (only 15 allowed), that was just priceless for both of us. How they pulled off such a fabulous event given the constantly changing constraints, was a marvel! But they did. The week was full of hair and nail appts for the girls, and perhaps Stuart (I’m not sure :)), and time at their place just hanging out with the kids, and eating and eating and eating! Brighton has some fabulous places to buy deli food from, and I think Stuart must know them all! OK so the weather wasn’t always conducive to being out and about, but we wrapped up and headed out on walks with them, several times clocking up many miles along Brighton’s wet and windy seafront walking in and out from our caravan park.

Fresh from a haircut, Helen sports a stunning bouncy blow dry
Autumn colours in the bride’s and bridesmaids’ bouquets
Arriving at the registry office, Isabel and Elliot almost upstaging their parents at the ceremony in their gorgeous outfits

The ceremony itself went without a hitch, in a gorgeous room at the local town hall. Bio-degradable confetti was thrown (against council regulations), and we all felt rebellious. The showers came and went, but Stuart’s sister, who just happens to be an awesome wedding photographer, captured some magic moments.

Catherine, mum Jenny, and half sister Elle sit together, representing Helen’s side of the guest quota
Elliot managed to smuggle in another guest, rabbit, who had not been on the invite list!
A gorgeous ceremony
Helen signing the registry
The happy couple emerge, jubilant, to a huge round of applause from well wishers outside
Jenny battles the strong wind to sprinkle the happy couple with petal confetti
Miss Isabel giggling at the fun
Half-sister Elle, Catherine, the bride Helen, mum Jenny and half-brother Alex

The long lunch that followed (at The Ivy in The Lanes) was one of the best dining experiences we have had over this side of the world. The food, the wine, the company, the context of the room itself and its decor, the staff whose smiles refused to be hidden by their masks. This was a special time, and has been filed carefully in our memories.

Terrible table selfies and lots of laughter
John, Elle and Catherine
The ladies’ toilets were rather special
The beautiful bride and bridesmaid
Miss Isabel

Feeling a little dusty the day after the wedding, we treated Helen, Stu and the kids to pizza at Fatto a Mano restaurant in Hove. As always they were great company and the food helped clear the head a little, as did the rather blowy and showery walk back to our campsite along the seafront!

A post wedding day pizza in nearby Hove
Day one of wedded bliss – Mr and Mrs Carter
Looking stormy over the West Pier ruins
More stormy weather approaching behind us
The bright lights of Brighton Palace Pier cheer up a rather grey looking scene

Saying goodbye to all our friends and family here is especially difficult this time as we prepare to leave, because we have no clue when we will be back, with the travel restrictions in place and soaring airfare costs.

We have made it onto one of the “specially facilitated” flights back to Australia. Qantas has entered into an agreement with the Australian government to run a number of these flights from London, New Delhi and J’burg. At $2,165 a head for a one way ticket, they are reasonably priced in these times of expensive airfares, and that‘s one way. A requirement for a pre-flight COVID-19 test 48hrs before our flight means that will be our first milestone to clear next Thursday in London, before hopefully boarding the flight on Saturday morning. Then its off to a hot and steamy Darwin non-stop, just under 17 hrs, with limited in-flight food and no entertainment provided.

A happy morning when we received this email!

Why Darwin when we live in Sydney? Well that‘s part of the deal with these flights. You have to complete `14 days quarantine at a special facility just outside the city. Landing at the RAAF section of the airport, and then channelled through a special process involving another test, special briefings, and then a bus ride to our quarantine centre at a place called Howard Springs, 30km south of the city. It was built in 2012 to house workers from a Japanese mining company, now serves as home for at least 14 days to incoming Australians on these special flights, as well as some domestic flights where passengers are also forced to quarantine. Australia is serious about controlling its borders.

At $2,500 a head, its another cost we hadn’t expected, plus our flight back to Sydney once we are clear, but still cheaper than the $19,500 business class airfare from Singapore Airlines that was our other option! There are economy fares around, but the tales of people being continuously bumped off them, as Australia is capping its number of incoming international passengers, put us off that uncertain route, and the ones we could find to book were not leaving for weeks. Plus we would then have been in hotel quarantine, possibly in a room without any access to fresh air. At Howard Springs we get to have some outdoor time each day. We would both struggle with being locked up in an airless hotel room.

Catherine’s airway disease means she is classed as vulnerable, so we qualified for the flight, thanks to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are administering the invites. So flying on a tightly controlled route from a health perspective made sense. The last flight from London arrived with zero cases, the ones from New Delhi only four, so we are going into a pretty low risk environment we think. However, England is going into lockdown next week, so how this will affect all these plans we have no clue!

On day 12 of quarantine we are to be tested again, and if we’re clear, then get permission to jump on the flight we have set up to Sydney on Sunday the 22nd. There may well be a glass or two of something alcoholic consumed that night and some decent food. The Howard Springs facility is dry, serves all meals in take away containers with plastic cutlery, like a two week long airplane flight! So a hug with our close friends Jenny and David, and hours of cuddling our fur child Tassie, will be the milestone we look forward to over the next three weeks.

It‘s sure going to be an interesting few weeks for many people in the UK and Europe as case numbers soar, and the US as civil unrest looks to raise its head whichever way their vote goes. Australia seems a safe haven. Our options here in the UK and Europe are limited for the winter as campsites will no doubt close, travel restrictions tighten, and the weather makes living in a motorhome though the winter increasingly impractical. So it‘s Australia we hope to make it back to. Keep your fingers crossed for us please, and maybe see you down under soon!

Happy Halloween!

19-24 October: Feeling autumnal in the south-east of England

Author: Mrs A

Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Hastings, East Sussex and London.

After a lovely morning out with Hayley and the boys, we said goodbye to them and drove a short way south to my cousin’s house in the village of Little Gaddesden. It’s getting to the point now that we are constantly saying goodbye, not knowing whether we will be stopped from seeing family because of Australia’s restrictions on people leaving the country, or by local lockdowns. It is heart wrenching either way.

A lovely relaxed evening with Karen and Iain ensued, a delicious Sunday roast and some fine wine consumed. Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, so Karen, Mark and I set off on a walk (map of our route).

Setting off along a lane

Little Gaddesden is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), most notably the Ashridge Estate, the location of Ashridge House, a magnificent mansion built in the 1800s on the site of an old priory built in the 1300s.

We followed a Roman road (known locally as ‘spooky lane’ with several reports of ghosts and witchcraft links) which was sunk by the third Earl of Bridgewater some time in the 1600s to allow his wife to travel in a carriage down the road hidden from the peasants. The green brick walls covered by winding tree roots and ivy certainly looked mysterious.

The Devil’s Bridge

Footpaths wind their way through the countryside in every direction, the vibrant colours of autumn catching our eyes. We walked across fields and down lanes, our ramble finding it’s half way point conveniently at a gastro pub in the lovely old village of Frithsden.

The Alford Arms was doing a roaring trade on this Monday lunchtime
Karen and Catherine – more than four decades of friendship

After a delicious lunch, we looped back around via a restored ancient woodland and the Ashridge Estate, spotting a couple of shy does in the bushes near Karen’s house. They were members of a large herd of fallow deer living wild around here, descendants of deer originally introduced during the 13th century for hunting and venison.

The intrepid walkers
Cousins – still the same two little girls who used to play together on family occasions growing up
Looking out towards Ashridge, hidden behind the trees
Beautifully disguised in the woodland copse, this pair of does certainly spotted us long before we spied them

Tuesday morning saw us once again saying our farewells as we pointed Truffy’s nose further south to East Sussex to spend some time with my mum.

We had a relaxing few days there, making the most of a sunny afternoon for a stroll around St Leonards.

Mr A enjoying the sunshine in a sheltered nook, where my grandparents used to picnic too. He had just had his eye pressures checked and all is healthy – great news!
A picnic lunch on the seafront
Ladybirds were out in force on this sunny afternoon
St Leonards Gardens, originally part of a farm in the 1700s
Mum and Barry have a rest and enjoy the view
The sunlight in the leaves lights up the park
North Lodge Pay Gate was built in the early 1800s ,when St Leonards on Sea was being developed around a burgeoning tourism industry

On Friday morning Mark and I caught a train up to London. Mark went off to have a look around the outdoor shops while I caught a tube across to Hammersmith to have some more injections in my neck, always a joy!

London was eerily quiet, being in Tier 2 of the alert levels (high), many people were staying away from the public transport and working from home.

One minute until the next train and I am the only person on the platform

Charing Cross Hospital (not anywhere near Charing Cross Station, interestingly enough!) also had few people around as I found my way to the ENT outpatient clinic, had my temperature checked (35.8°C) and waited for the team to be ready to see me. The procedure went as planned, with some great news – there is no sign at all of any scarring in my trachea – I am 100% open! That’s the first time that has happened since 2016.

Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith sits alongside a quiet haven in London, the Margravine Cemetery a peaceful green space
The fearless grey squirrels rule the roost in the cemetery
Pretending to be a tree trunk

It was hard to celebrate however, as my vocal cord was temporarily frozen by the local anaesthetic and I had no voice, but I made my way back across London to reunite with Mark and head back to Hastings.

Fish and chips from the local chippy concluded our time in Hastings, and after lunch the next day (voice back working, to Mark’s chagrin!), we farewelled mum for a few days and travelled a short way across country to Brighton… It is the start of an exciting week – my sister’s getting married (Covid-19 style!).

13-18 October: Walking in the footsteps of my parents

Author: Mr A

Location: Houghton & Swavesey, Cambridgeshire, Kettering, Northamptonshire and finally Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, UK

It‘s been a brilliant couple of weeks of catching up with family and friends. Purely by chance we ended up staying at a fabulous National Trust campsite in the area my mother grew up in, and Catherine and I ended up retracing the last day out that I had with my parents (map of our route).

Great campsite at Houghton Mill. a National trust property
My mums home growing up – the riverside town of Godmanchester
The River Great Ouse
I remember her telling me she used to swim in this river as a teenager
We even found the same pub we went to that day
A gnome outside the hotel
Cheers! Remembering Clem and Jill 💕
The Old Bridge at Godmanchester

From there we visited one of Catherine’s cousins I hadn’t met before, Elizabeth (plus her husband, Jason and son Michael) living in the small village of Swavesey just down the road. What a talented, lovely bunch her family are and I feel all the richer for spending time getting to know them. Another unintended benefit of not being able to travel to Europe!

From there we went and had a nose around the small village of Old Weston, where my research into family trees on Ancestry.com had told me my great, great grandfather had lived. It’s a spooky feeling looking at some of the same buildings they would have passed in their daily lives.

The Church of St Swithin in Old Weston where my ‘Turner’ ancestors almost certainly attended

Then on to the “ancestral seat” of my family, the small town of Raunds. I found my grandmother‘s grave, the one I had never met as she died before I was born, and where my mother’s ashes were scattered.

The salubriously named road where so many of my relatives lived – Rotton actually is from the word for Royal in old English
More mentions of ancestors at the nearby church
One of my ancestors memorialised after he died in the First World War
”You are my sunshine”

A somewhat emotionally wearing day, but was capped off my a visit to my old friends in Kettering in Northamptonshire, and my home town growing up. We had our usual night out of superb curry and beer, and the only photos from the evening I am not allowing Catherine to post! Yup…I fell asleep in a chair in their lounge clutching a glass of red…again!

From there it was on to the city of Milton Keynes, and a weekend I had been so looking forward to with my daughters and grandkids. It sure didn’t disappoint. Dinners and lunches out and in their lovely homes, visits to animal farms and walks in the wood. Reconnecting with a family I‘ve seen so little of over the years – blissful.

A fab night out with daughters Zoe and Hayley
Well I had to keep daughter number two company with a desert!

One of the delights for me has been watching Catherine helping Hayley experiment with her cooking, and a chicken vindaloo at her fab pad was proof of both of their talents.

The newest edition to Halyey’s family – the very cuddly Belle

Milton Keynes has certainly matured since my time living there in the 80’s.

The Grand Union Canal in mirror-like perfection
What an avenue of autumnal delight, a few minutes walk from the city centre
A seagull soars over the barges
Perfect colour palette

We are Wagamama fans – but two days on the trot? Why not.

Then it was a trip out to the Green Dragon Eco Farm with Zoe and her son Jacob, a bird show and animal feeding all part of this great day out.

I thought they were coming over!
Lynx used to be native to the UK but have been extinct here since the 1300s
Just love a bird show – now now…..this one’s a buzzard….
A gorgeous barn owl
Jacob is such a lovely lad – quick to smile and a pleasure to be with
A moment captured to treasure with Zoe and Jacob

Then Sunday was a walk in the woods with Hayley and her two boys, Luke and James. Much fun was had chasing each other around.

Some were keener than other top be captured by Catherines lens. -or was it my aftershave?
Intrepid explorers off for a stomp

I couldn’t have hoped for a better time – I can just wish, and plan, for more times like this.

7-10 October: The Peak District here we come…

Author: Mr A

Location: Tittesworth Resevoir, & The Winking Man, Staffordshire, Mam Tor, Buxton and Castleton, Derbyshire, UK

The impromptu days are often the best, and our dash up to the Peak District from Shropshire was a great example of that. We drove past a large reservoir and decided it looked like a top location for a spot of lunch and a bit of a leg stretch. The weather brightened up, the forest was giving off that freshly rained on perfume. and we just had to keep walking (8.5km circuit – map).

Tittesworth Reservoir near Leek in Staffordshire
A cool start soon warms up as the sun emerges
A perfect autumnal walk
Some more signs of early autumn
A stream weaving its way through a woodland copse

Half way round and we came across a couple, one using a wheelchair, who were struggling up a steep bit of path. So we gave them a bit of a hand, and we ended up chatting and walking the rest of the way with these two absolutely delightful people. At 91 years of age, Derek was determined to get round a walk that the majority of the folk there that day clearly hadn’t attempted, ably assisted by the super strong and fit Rosie. Now I admit to never having tried to push a wheelchair up a hill, and when I did, I was even more admiring of Rosie’s prowess behind the chair!

Here they come – always smiling and ever determined
Crossing the dam wall – a peaceful outlook
Dam(n), this is a lovely walk
Looking up towards Derbyshire
The Roaches – rocks popular with climbers on the horizon
Climbing of a different kind – Rosie helps Derek up the steps while I bring the wheelchair
Finally a flat path!
Wetlands – great for a spot of birdwatching

They were such great company, and it really made our day to share theirs. We gave our farewells, and headed off to a pub we were going to park at for the night, intriguingly called The Winking Man (spelled carefully).

We were just looking at the drinks menu when I noticed one of the barmaids having an animated conversation on the phone, and glancing over our way and smiling. Odd I thought..what have I done now? it was Rosie and Derek. They had remembered the name of the pub we were going to and were ringing to buy us a bottle of wine to thank us for the help that afternoon. What a kind thought and action. In these difficult times, such gestures mean even more to us. Sometimes we do feel disconnected from community and friends. A moment like this reminds us the potential for friendship is all around us.

Thank you so much Rosie and Derek – we thought of you as we enjoyed this malbec
A foggy start to our journey up into the Peak District the following morning

The next day, with finally a rain free forecast, we headed over to do one of the Peak District’s classic walks, the circuit around Man Tor (map). I must have done this in the Scouts, we were up in that area regularly, but it was all fresh to me this time. The incredible views across a landscape so deeply green it looked unreal. Despite the cold northerly wind there were a few people about, but as usual once away from the car park the numbers really thinned out.

The cloud starts to lift, shining sun on the surrounding hills
We didn’t spend long up on top of Mam Tor
Just enough time to admire the patchwork of fields below us
The cairn on top of the Tor makes a good tripod since it is too cold and windy to use Catherine’s
Skipping off to lower ground (and slightly warmer temperatures out of the icy wind)
There has been a lot of rain here, and we’re grateful we’ve stumbled upon a dry morning for our hike
The shades of green are all encompassing
Heading down into the valley
A pair of old stone gate posts
We follow an old broken road which collapsed in a landslide. We hope nobody was driving on it at the time. It had potholes almost as big as those in Nottinghamshire roads
So much walking to be done in this area

The blemish on the day came when Catherine noticed her two week old Salomon boots were already starting to come apart at the joins, so a few phone calls later and we were off to Buxton to post them back to the retailer. Now, some towns just create a poor first impression, and then get worse. So this was Buxton. From a car park machine that made us pay a premium rate for a day (in coins) when we needed an hour, to the complete disinterest in enticing us to buy anything in the shops we visited. We tried to find somewhere that looked appealing for lunch, gave up and left and made our way over to our campsite just outside Castleton.

Breathing a sigh of relief as we leave Buxton and drive through roads that look like this

What a drive over it was, as the unfenced road wound down through the hills. Not a quiet road though. This is definitely an area to explore off peak. Even now its super busy, our campsite completely full. I can’t imagine what school holidays were like trying to get around. No wonder there seemed a higher proportion than usual of irate drivers.

The next day (Friday) was another wet one, so we decided we would just stay local. I volunteered to head into the local bakery to equip us for a bacon and egg brekky – I’m all altruism. Hot out of the oven I was sold a crusty “white bap” (how many words are there in the English language for a loaf? Even Google didn’t know that) – what a lovely start to the day.

It kept getting better, when we wandered into dinky Casterton and found four outdoor shops! A beanie and warm gloves were purchased for me. Things are cooling down here pretty rapidly, evidenced by the fact that we had several freezing hailstorms batter us. We did see though see many walking signposts through the village, a hiking mecca’s this place and somewhere we really want to come back to.

Castleton is still pretty in the rain
It’s all starting to look quite autumnal

But for today the only thing to do was to retire to one of the six pubs we noticed in the space of a few hundred metres! We got chatting to the folk on the next table, as you do in an English pub. We have so missed that. Europe was wonderful last year, but without the local language it was hard to engage.

We emerge from The Castle to bright sunshine but with the next heavy cloud forever looming

With heavy downpours predicted, and Catherine devoid of walking boots after having to return hers, we headed back to Truffy and some lazy time with music and books. Perfect..but not quite purrrrfect ….without Miss Tassie to warm our laps 🙁

This has been an all too brief dalliance with the Peak District – “We’ll BeBack”

5-6 October: We abandon Wales and head back to England

Author: Mrs A

Location: Aberaeron, Wales and Stiperstones, Shropshire, UK

Determined to try and hike more of the Wales Coast Path, we left New Quay and drove a short way up the coast to just north of Aberaeron, a small holiday town. The worst of Storm Alex seemed to have now passed, and we thought it would be good to see a new area. Unfortunately the weather continued to rage against us, and as we pulled up at a coastal car park, the wind was howling and the rain driving hard at an angle straight off the sea.

Our view of the beach and coast walk…not looking too tempting!

We warmed up some soup on the stove and watched as determined dog walkers braved the elements, leaning into the wind with their hounds, only to return sodden shortly later, and bundle themselves and their wet mutts into cars and drive off. It didnt look appealing.

We studied the weather forecast for the coming week, the radar showing a slow moving front of rain hanging over the whole of Wales for the foreseeable future. We could see a lot more indoor time ahead if we didn’t change our plans.

So we looked at the map. At the western edge of England, bordering Wales, was a little known (to us) county of Shropshire. In many ways, all we knew of Shropshire was what it is not: not quite Wales, not quite the North, no cities, no motorways, no coastline. This landlocked county seemed to be quite the antidote to a wet and windy Welsh clifftop, and an ideal spot to regroup and plan our next week.

My eyes were immediately drawn to one area – the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). An area full of walks and views (if the weather is good). I found a pub with good reviews that allowed motorhomes to park overnight, located in a tiny village. We pointed Truffy’s nose east and hit the road.

Weaving our way down some picturesque green tunnels in the rain

Before long, we pulled into the carpark of The Stiperstones Inn in the village of Stiperstones. We popped our heads into the lounge bar, and were greeted by a welcoming masked smiling face, a roaring log fire and a menu listing several interesting dairy-free meals. Perfect! We booked in for dinner, seated by the flames, enjoying our first decent meal out in a long time.

Originally two cottages and a blacksmith, this was converted to a pub in the mid 1800s
A roaring fire and a glass of malbec just what we needed on this cold wet day

Stiperstones is named after rock formation on top of the hill that overlooks the village. The nature reserve is covered in silvery grey quartzite rocks, shattered into distinctive jagged tors and surrounded by a jumble of rocks that were broken up by continuous freezing and thawing during the last ice age. Chatting with Sophie, our lovely barmaid, she told us where best to start the hike up.

“Walk down to the dingles, and take the right dingle all the way up.” We were intrigued!

Our barmaid was quite tickled by our amusement with the use of dingle. I had to Google it: a deep, narrow cleft between hills; shady dell. A little used but valid term.

So after a peaceful night’s sleep in the pub car park, we walked down the road to find the dingles. Not to be confused with dangles.

The two dingles – we’re careful to take the right one
Climbing up – after all the rain the footpath looks more like a stream
We’re pleased we had hill training in the Quantocks
The cloud breaks revealing some lovely autumnal golden browns and oranges in the leaves and bracken below
Colours that remind us of Scotland as the sun highlights hills in the distance
The cloud starts to descend, and brief views disappear
Up on top of the hills it is several degrees colder, and as the cloud drops and the wind picks up we quickly add on clothes
Sheltering behind a rock known as the Devil’s Chair in the driving rain for a cup of tea
Mr A is disappearing alongside the Devil’s Chair

You’d have thought we were the only people up there, but no, there were other nutters braving the wild and unpredictable weather. The first people were a group of geography students with their teacher, learning about the geology of the area on a field trip. Then we came across two more couples walking dogs through the deluge of sideways rain, wind and fog. In all cases, each party laughed at the predicament in which we found ourselves. Mad dogs and English folk.

Strangely, we loved the erratic elements. The fog swirling around, obscuring the views, before suddenly clearing to reveal a far off hillside or field highlighted by a break in the cloud, bright sunshine making the greens almost fluorescent in the surrounding gloom. And it is all about wearing the right clothes. We layered ourselves up in fleeces, waterproof trousers and coats, hats…and changed as necessary to suit the conditions.

The path along the top is quite slippery, strewn with large rocks, shiny and wet in the rain
As we reach Stiperstones, the sun emerges quickly from behind a cloud and lights it up as though it’s highlighting a feature for us
The sun moved on to highlighting the hills in the distance – bright flashes of green and yellow before they disappear into the cloud again
We were apparently walking on the Shropshire Way

We gradually climbed back down off the hills, opting to take quiet lanes on our return walk to the pub. A great taster of the area.

We admit being very tempted by returning to the pub for lunch beside that roaring fire, but we decided to pack up and move on to our campsite for the night.. There our little Aldi fan heater was put to work drying everything off before another peaceful evening.

1-4 October: Storm Alex pays us a visit…

Author: Mr A

Location: Cliff top near New Quay, mid Wales coast, Ceredigion, UK

We had picked this next camp site because of its location right next to the “Wales Coast Path:”, another long distance path with 1,600km available to put one foot in front of the other and contemplate the natural world in all its glory. Unfortunately that evening Storm Alex paid Europe a visit, and despite Brexit, thought he would cross the Channel and give the Brits a bit of what for.

Not much chance of catching any viruses on this camp site!

Well we had a rocking and rolling night, even with our hydraulic legs down and trying to anchor us, our location on the edge of a cliff in the direct path of the winds gave us a troubled night, then day, then night, then another day. For two and a half days we were confined to the 2 square metres of Truffy floor, as gusts of over 80kph blasted across our very desolate looking field. So my fellow inmate and I sucked it up and did our time in an area about the size of a third world prison cell. A good reminder of what having our freedom to roam really means.

A Friday sheltering from the rain…much tea drunk…
Our view obscured by raindrops
Our nearest neighbours look a little nervous as we emerge from Truffy!

Its now over three years since we took to the road, and became what the UK tax office defines as “vehicle dwellers’, that is people who for whatever reason primarily live in a caravan, motorhome or the back seat of their car. We have been back into our house for two 6 weeks spells, done a couple of house sits, and rented for a few months in lockdown, but we have no “home” we can access in situations like this when the weather turns rough, or lockdowns happen. Its something we have learnt to deal with, and it has changed our view, I think, of what “home” actually is. I came across this quote from a songwriter I have just started listening to, Amanda Shires. She said “Home is being content with yourself wherever you are”. I put her song “You Are My Home” on my September playlist (click here or search Spotify for ‘Mr A’s September favs’), a bit of a fun thing I started doing in lockdown to share with friends every month what we have been listening to on Spotify. As she sings in one verse:

“You are my home,

Wherever you go

Anywhere that you stand,

Is my piece of land,

You are my home.”

Amanda Shires, You are my home

And that sums it up. Wherever Catherine is, that‘s my home (it‘s just missing our beautiful Burmese Miss Tassie!).

The very lucky Mrs A

Thankfully the storm finally passed and we were able to venture out along the cliff top walk into the small sea side town of New Quay (not to be confused with the much bigger and glitzier Newquay in Cornwall). No one could accuse this one of being glitzy.

Looking north towards Aberaeron where the coastline gets a lot more lumpy
A few boats strewn on the beach behind the harbour wall. None have gone out lately due to the storm
We wonder whether there has been a special deal on paint agreed in this small town with its brightly coloured homes
Climbing up the highstreet

The setting was stunning, with the Welsh hills framing a perfectly curved bay, but the town itself was pretty down at heel, so after a very ordinary Sunday roast (looked like a school dinner) we smartly moved on back to camp and walked a little way down the coast in the other direction.

Lots of groundwater after the torrential downpours, the fields are saturated
The Wales Coast Path/Ceredigion Coast Path
A little dunnock sits on a branch surveying the world, probably having had to shelter for the past couple of days
Looking south down the coast. You can see the path winding its way over the cliff tops and valleys
The bright yellow gorse still flowering here, in stark contrast to the dark skies
Hungry birds hunting, again probably had a couple of days without food, unable to fly in the gusty winds
Shades of blue as we look to the silvery horizon

A lookout gave us 180 degree views, but the dolphins we had booked sadly didn’t show. A kestrel did though, hanging upside down intently watching for a late afternoon snack, perhaps hungry after several days of what we would think would be impossible flying conditions, even for these masters of aeronautical acrobatics.

Its such a relief to finally stretch our legs after the enforced confinement, and the Welsh Coast Path is clearly something we need to explore further!

Finally we get to see a sunset

30 September -1 October: Pootling around Porthgain

Author: Mrs A

Location: Porthgain, Pembrokeshire, UK

It was a very short drive to our next location, the tiny village of Porthgain on the west coast. I had read on one of our travel apps, about a motorhome parking spot with power and water available opposite the pub, and as we pulled in, we were relieved to find that nobody had nabbed it before us.

Porthgain hasn’t changed a great deal over the years, having had its heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a huge slate sawmill and exporting cut slate from the harbour on steam ships. Later the factory changed to creating slate bricks, and then stone for road surfacing. These days people visit predominantly to access the coast path, and they are well serviced (for such a small place) with a fish restaurant (with great reviews), art gallery, ice cream shop (closed. for the winter) and a pub, The Sloop Inn.

Large brick structures dominate the harbour, and are the first thing you see as you enter. These are known as hoppers, and were used to store crushed stone before shipping. They are now protected against change as important historical buildings (Scheduled National Monument).

The brick hoppers are covered in ivy and barred against entry

We had a look around the harbour and art gallery, which sells paintings and prints from local and Welsh artists, and booked into the pub for dinner. It’s been a while between dinners out, and quite exciting to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning up for us!

Look carefully on the right hand side of the central shed, and you will see Truffy tucked in beside an old fishing hut
A photo of the harbour from the early 1900s when it was a busy port shipping out slate
The Sloop Inn, established in 1743. An example of a slate brick wall as you enter.
Scampi and chips for me – reminding me of childhood New Year’s Eve dinners with my cousins! Mark had a roast lamb from the proprietor’s farm

We had a delicious meal, and throughout the evening managed to chug our way through a whole bottle of wine – unheard of for us these days! As with most establishments, the only place we were allowed to not wear a mask was at the table – any movement around the pub was discouraged, and then only while masked up. We got the feeling that not all of the waiting staff were used to serving customers at the table.

Some of the houses are brightly coloured here

The following morning was clear and bright so we decided to take advantage and head off on a hike along the cliff tops before we moved on to our next location. The sun is rising around 7.30am so by the time we got walking at 8.15am the sun was not too high and the light just delightful.

Looking south towards the stone pillar marking the entrance to the harbour
We head north, where another marker glows in the morning light

There is a huge amount of human history along this coast, with incredible views. We passed a standing stone, and concluded our walk at the Llwynog Arian Stone Circle, where we sat on a fallen stone and enjoyed a cup of tea, admiring the views. The stone circle had only 11 stones, rather than the usual 12. I assumed some vandals had rolled one off the cliff, but legend has it that a Welsh giant (Owain of Trefin) had tossed the 12th stone to the nearby headland, and that was the solitary standing stone we had come across.

A cairn built by hikers…we added our stones
Almost an island – this was once the headland, and is now a refuge for seals and seabirds
Another piece of spectacular coastline
The path winds along the clifftop with incredible views at every turn
Wishing we didn’t have to stop
A very special coastline on a day like this
Is this the stone the giant tossed?

Reluctantly we turned around and headed back to Truffy. We needed to buy more food supplies and had booked onto a camp site up the coast for the night.

Heading back

We spotted more seals, including some bright white pups left high and dry by the retreating tide. They looked so helpless lying there amongst the seaweed and rock, watched over by curious seagulls, their mothers calling out from the water below.

We could see for miles on this clear day
The last of the yellow gorse flowers are blooming on the headland
Back in Porthgain Harbour to wash our boots off on the beach

It was a short visit, but very special. Porthgain was a friendly little village with an authentic feel, touched with history. We drove off with the cloud steadily increasing during the afternoon. Another wet and wild storm is approaching the British Isles, so we feel pleased we made the most of the good weather while we could.