Location: Brighton and Hastings, East Sussex, Widworthy, Devon, Charing Cross Hospital, London and Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset
What a month it has been! Time has simply rushed by with so much on our plate.
I left Mr A for a long weekend and headed over to Brighton for some family time with my sister, niece and nephew. It was perfect timing as just 10 days after my grandma’s 100th birthday, so we took advantage of that special event to pay her a visit (the first time I have seen her in three years) along with our mum.
Helen’s husband Stu was away on a boys’ weekend, so I stood in as responsible adult on school pick ups, swimming lessons and drama classes. It was simply exhausting – hats off to all those parents out there, especially those struggling to breathe (as I was!).
It was a glorious weekend, and we made the most of every moment – lunch on Brighton’s seafront, a walk up on the Sussex Downs at Devil’s Dyke, and time in Hastings with mum with lunch on the pier and tea in her beautiful garden.
The only fly in the ointment was my breathing. I can only put it down to stress, but despite having an operation on my airway mid April, my airway was determined to rapidly close up (for our newer readers, I have a rare disease called subglottic stenosis), and was declining on a daily basis.
Mark and I still managed to get out and about and enjoy the Devon countryside, but it tended to be shorter and flatter walks, with plenty of rests!
Thankfully I have a great relationship with my surgeons in London and they were able to book me in for another operation quickly…I guess breathing is quite important.
My friend Jacky was kind enough to put me up in her daughter’s old bedroom in her house in Twickenham, and given the train drivers decided to strike on my surgery day, also hired a car and played taxi driver to drop me off and pick me up from my operation. I feel so grateful for her compassion, feeding and watering me over two days with kindness and patience.
Once back in Devon, time flew by in a whirlwind of bed and appliance buying, followed by packing up boxes, with a sprinkling of walks up our picturesque lane with Princess Tassie who seems to be 10 years younger than when she arrived!
Before we knew it the day was upon us…completion of our new house purchase! We drove over to Bradford-on-Tone and met Andrew and Jan, the previous owners. Understandably they were a little emotional at saying goodbye to their home for the past decade, but we assured them we would be worthy caretakers, as we took the door keys and entered.
They had left the home in immaculate condition – almost like a new build, with plenty of opportunities for us to put our stamp onto it in future months.
Over the next few days we gradually moved in, our possessions from Australia fitting in nicely, and despite a few minor hiccups, most of our deliveries arrived as planned, and all services eventually connected.
We are more than delighted with our house, which feels like it was made for us. Tassie is embracing the multitude of sunbathing locations and enjoys her strolls around the 1.6 acres of land we have…yes we will be employing a gardener!
We’ve only been in the house a week, but already have spotted approaching 30 species of birds just from our garden.
Our home is a 3 minute stroll from our local pub, and within 15 minutes cycle along sleepy country lanes to several others. We are surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) in all directions – the Blackdown Hills, the Quantock Hills, Exmoor….We can be in London in less than two hours door-to-door, and the nearest junction to the M5 motorway is a 5 minute drive away, giving us a multitude of travel options. I think we are going to be very happy here!
Location: Widworthy, Devon, and West Bagborough, Somerset, UK
We got so lucky! A friend of a friend has let us let us stay in their stunning little cosy retreat in the depths of the lush and rolling hills of the central Devon countryside. It really is quite a find. Beautifully fitted out, with a fabulous view, we couldn’t have beeen happier. It’s only one room, but that includes a big kitchen with loads of storage, which flows into the lounge, and bedroom (super king bed!) plus a luxurious bathroom. It has actually worked so well for the three of us. And then there’s the view…awesome.
We also got lucky with storage for our motorhome at the bottom of the road, in the car park of the local manor house (Widworthy Barton), with permission from the caretaker of course. We were parked outside the manor house unloading and he came over to talk to us. I thought I was going to be told off for parking there, but no, after a chat, he offered us a spot, protected by CCTV and just a short way from where we were to live for the coming weeks. What more could we ask for?
Let me first explain where exactly we have landed. We are pretty much slap bang in the middle of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs in the local parlance). The one to the north of us is the Blackdown Hills, a relatively small area less than 25km’s in any direction, and yet full of a network of footpaths. Check out this screen shot from the Ordnance Survey map, and these are just the walk routes they have pulled together.
We are a 15 minute drive from the small town of Honiton down the bottom of this map.
To the south of us is the East Devon AONB another largely rural area of rolling hills criss-crossed with walking and cycling routes.
We are staying where that blue dot is towards the top of the map. It is not even in a village, a scattering of houses up a single track no through road. There are a couple of properties past us, so we may have three or four vehicles a day break the constant birdsong.
We are both strangers to this part of Devon, and we had imagined it would be heaving with tourists, but no. Get away from the few main roads that traverse it and we can cycle for ages on tiny B roads without coming across another car. Plenty of tractors though!
The World Heritage area of the Jurassic Coast is a 20 minute drive to the south of us, and we have had several days out exploring walks and villages along this picture perfect coastline. Weekends and school holidays it is busy of course, but avoid those, as we can, and it’s just a serene part of the world.
Agriculture dominates the landscape, as it has done for thousands of years, and in particular the dairy industry, which produces some of those iconic products like Devonshire cream. I need to stay well away from that, my tummy is already benefiting from the exploration of other local goodies like the craft breweries that are everywhere, the cideries, and those oh so tempting Devon pasties.
It’s hard to imagine that we will ever feel we have ”done it all” here, there’s just such a variety of landscapes, a plethora of walking and cycling opportunities. But it is the people that have made it so special. We invited the owners of the property we are staying in, and the mutual friends who introduced us, over for a welcome BBQ. Brilliant. They both have twins and there was a lot of laughter, making us feel so at home and relaxed here.
We have walked from our front door half a dozen times now and are still finding new routes, helped by the Komoot app, which shows all the footpaths and bridleways, and enables easy planning of walks. For instance, I randomly picked Dalford, a little village 10 minutes drive away, and Catherine used Komoot to put a fabulous walk together. So yes, it was raining for most of the walk, but that didn’t bother us in the least. We have good gear which keeps us mostly dry, and it wasn’t cold. The greens in the landscape just get even deeper, everything sparkles. We just love it.
Another trip out and it was the short drive down to the Jurassic Coast and this simply breath taking scenery, to a place called the Golden Cap, which is just over the county boundry in Dorset.
Another coastal jaunt took us into the popular resort town of Lyme Regis, but despite its fame as the centre of this fossil rich coast, we easily found a park, and explored the cute shops. One of the many things we are enjoying here is the variety of retailers. One shop for instance sold nothing but fossils. Catherine wanted to donate me 🙂
We also had some family time. My two daughters came with their families to West Bagborough, the small village in Somerset that sparked this whole change of country. Hayley and her husband and two boys Luke and James, brought their (massive!) caravan down and stayed on a site owned by friends of ours. My other daughter Zoe, her husband Mark and daughter Lily and son Jacob, we put up in a lovely 400 year old local bed and breakfast.
It was quite a week! Not all smooth sailing, but some great memories in these photos. There was definitely some learnings for me in organising events like this with my family. I left the week though having got to know my grandkids a lot better. All part of the jounrey we are on.
The Queen’s Jubilee weekend rolled around, and excuse to catch up with Karen, Sonny and Oliver again. and then also with the mutual friends for a walk along the South West Coast Path from a town called Beer. I felt right at home there!
One of the delights of being here is being able to meet up with friends I’ve known since school. Andrew was in the same class as me, and his wife Lynne, we have been able to see only occasionally over the years. Now we can say “Let’s have lunch next week!” We met at a country house owned by the National Trust called Stourhead, and enjoyed a gentle stroll around the gardens. Serene!
There has been so much more, but mostly we have been continuing to ready ourselves for the move. During this period we exchanged contracts on our new home!!!. We will complete on the 30th of June, 5 months to the day from when we left Australia. We are very happy with what we have found, You’ll have to wait until we move in for more details, as things could still go wrong. But it looks good. Deposit is paid, and we are busy researching what we want to do to make it our forever home. It will be a huge lifestyle change for us after all this travelling, and before that, city living in Sydney. We can’t wait for this new chapter!
Location: Lydeard St Lawrence, Twickenham and Heathrow, UK
So much has happened since our last post, we can hardly believe it has been just over three weeks.
Our eleven weeks holiday rental in Kingston St Mary came to an end, and we moved out and into a gorgeous AirBnB in a nearby village, Lydeard St Lawrence. Around the same time as moving, our shipping container arrived from Australia – we took out one or two bits, but mostly that went straight into storage. It feels quite surreal seeing items (such as our camping car fridge) in the UK, items we only ever have associated with our travels in Australia.
We also have changed our car – another Mercedes but a slightly larger one with a bit more clearance for those country lanes, an issue we were finding with the GLA. Thankfully (due to some negotiation from Mr A with the Mercedes dealership in Exeter) there was no cost of changeover, and we just paid the difference with our larger vehicle.
The AirBnB we moved into next was a great find. We had wanted somewhere in the same region – not too far from the Quantock Hills, closer to Exmoor and within a village we could easily walk from, and had stumbled across a little self-contained cottage in Lydeard St Lawrence.
Given Tassie’s arrival was impending, I had enquired whether pets were allowed…and once that was confirmed, checked whether a cat would be ok. It turned out that our superhost, Cat, is a British Shorthair cat breeder, and was very welcoming of a feline visitor. Perfect! There was also parking available for both our car and Truffy, so no alternative storage required – it really was meant to be. We soon settled in.
We had been there a couple of days before it was time to head up to London for a day we we had been long anticipating – Tassie’s arrival on a flight from Sydney.
She had a huge journey, leaving the loving arms of her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard on Friday morning, two nights in a ’pet hotel’ near Sydney airport, before being loaded up into a Qatar Airlines plane and flown to Doha. Once again she was offloaded and released into another ’pet hotel’.
Finally she was loaded onto another flight to London Heathrow, arriving at 7am on Tuesday morning…finally being released nearly six hours later after all the paperwork had been completed. It was such a relief to see her – and as she stepped out of her carry cage and rubbed her cheeks on my hands and started purring, we knew that she forgave us for the traumatic journey and was pleased to be back with her original servants. Princess Tassie the Adventure Cat has officially made it to the UK!
We must not forget to say thank you to our friend Jacky who kindly took us on a whirlwind walk around Twickenham while we waited for the call to collect Tas – a chance to stretch our legs, enjoy some fresh air and buy lunch before spending another three hours in the car.
So we settled into life in Lydeard St Lawrence. It’s another pretty historical village set in the countryside between the Quantock Hills and Exmoor National Park. Being a conservation area, there are many listed buildings and every corner has a story to tell.
The village’s name comes in part from the church. There has been a church in the location since the year 854, and in at least partially its current form for almost 700 years, since around 1350. The church tower makes a great landmark for our return walks and cycles.
There are countless footpaths disappearing in every direction across the hills, and in the couple of weeks we stayed there we walked many circuits, and never the same one twice.
Mark and I still have our ’tourist-eyes’ on and are really appreciating the chance to just walk from the front door, drinking up the ’new’ smells and sights. Like we did with our travels in Australia, I think we are appreciating our location all the more for being away.
One Sunday afternoon we took ourselves out to Clatworthy Reservoir, situated on the edge of Exmoor and just a 30 minute drive from our cottage. Mr A had picked it as our destination somewhat randomly, spotting it on the map and suggesting we take a drive.
It is a picturesque location surrounded by native woodland, and an ancient hill fort. There are a couple of hikes there, the longer 8 kilometre walk circumnavigating the water, while we took the shorter hill fort hike, spotting wildlife as we went – especially excited to spot a pair of wild Red Deer.
Another outing just 20 minutes drive away was to the unusually named Wimbleball Lake, on Exmoor. Wimbleball is an International Dark Sky Reserve by night (perfect for star-gazing), but during the day a great place to walk, cycle, fish, kayak and stand-up paddle-board. Our visit was predominantly aimed at walking and bird watching.
We did a 7km return hike around some of the lake’s edge, spotting our first British Kingfisher (sadly it didn’t stop still for a photo) this year. We will keep our eyes peeled for another.
We also had some great meals and pub garden afternoons out with our friends, Karen, Jane and Terry from West Bagborough, including a somewhat disappointing lunch at the Rising Sun, (our ’local’ while we lived in the village which was always closed because of lock-down) and a superb lunch at a nearby gastro pub-restaurant , The Barn @ Pod Shavers (apparently a pod shaver is someone who makes traditional cricket balls!).
The landscape changes almost daily as the trees bud and these burst into bright green leaves – in a handful of days the fields have gone from being lined with bare trees to thick lush green. We are loving the almost overwhelming impact on our senses.
As the days have got warmer, we have also been out on the bikes, the quiet (mostly traffic-free) country lanes ideal for exploring….and there is always the bonus of a village pub to mark as your destination for a refreshing afternoon beverage.
We have had a wonderful time in Lydeard St Lawrence, made ever so welcome by our hosts (who even very kindly brought Tassie a ’welcome to the UK’ gift of treats and toys) but now it is time to move on again to our next little cottage in Devon.
Our house purchase is progressing smoothly (touch-wood!), and we hope to be moving in by the end of June. The next temporary accommodation will see us through til then.
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK
Ok I’m back on blog writing, now I have a working keyboard. Never buy a so admirably misnamed ”Smart Folio” keyboard from the master of design Apple. It makes a soap dish look smart. Anyway, back in the saddle now with a brand new AirPad Air, paired this time with the newish ”Magic Keyboard”. The magic is in that this one actually works. Brilliant, with a built in touchpad keeping my curry covered fingers away from that lovely screen.
So, is this a travel blog you ask, or a tech round up and bemoaning of the sad state of Apple now they have their market dominanance? Ok, well given we are not travelling around very much, I guess now its more of a catch for friends and family scattered around the world, on what we’re up to, and a great place to showcase Catherine’s ever growing repertoire of photography skills. For me, an opportunity to say what the hell I like, knowing most of you skip to the photos anyway!
So here’s a random thought to prove that mantra. I was laying awake the other night (been doing a lot of that recently!) and mulling over a book I’m reading about the history of England. One phrase stuck in my mind. ”Civilisation after all means living in cities”, in the context of the changes that went on in England post the Romans packing up their far too short togas, and heading back to Europe to get a better tan. We are seeing up close here in Somerset changes that will I think forever change what it means to live a civilised life, and be dependent on a city to do that.
Our dependence on cities for our employment, shopping, leisure and socialising has been broken. We don’t need cities for any of that do we? We might want a city for some lively night life, bricks and mortar shopping, and that overall buzz you get from being in the thick of things every so often. But for the first time in a few thousand years, we don’t need to live in one to find meaningful, well paid work (with good broadband), or to wander the shops to find the best choice and price, or to catch the latest films, or meet up with friends.
I know, not a startling insight, this has been coming for a while, and we all acknowledge that, but now Catherine and I are living it, as we transition our lives from having a home in the city to one in the country, and coming to terms with it. Unfortunately for us, half the rest of England is doing the same, and pushing up prices of houses as a result.
But will we be happy? As long as we can get the train to ”civilisation” for our monthly fix of fine dining, window shopping, perfectly mixed cocktails, and live music…we think so. Time will tell. Perhaps the big thing missing from our ”happy list” is having that network of friends around us, and that sure isn’t dependent on being in a big city. In fact I would say now we are not working in offices, it is inversely correlated to urban living. It will happen.
Meanwhile, we can’t look at houses every day, so off we skipped to our favourite (well we’ve been once before!) birding site locally. Ham Wall – no – not in search of a sandwich smothered in English mustard, but this fabulous wetland half an hour drive north of us.
Some cracking shots there right? It was about 8 degrees, with a chilly old wind, and we were as happy as Larry (well, if Larry had thermals on). A Thursday afternoon and as usual the car park is heaving with fellow twitchers lugging around their big lenses and spotting scopes. All very friendly and willing to point out some of the shyer types hiding behind the rushes. I think one day this will feel like home. Not yet, but its getting easier. I don’t get a lurching feeling in my stomach as often when I think of Sydney Harbour.
Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.
Walking through old forests like these just makes us take big deep breathes, you can almost feel the oxygen levels get denser. Dogs were happy as well!
After the forest came the open country up on Exmoor. Fabulous. We will be spending a lot more time up here, once we have a car that can deal with the bumps. Yup… we bought the wrong car. Too long slung. Not our finest hour in the research department. However, watch this space, cunning plan in place.
We are just loving the area we are trying to make our new home. So much variety in the scenery. Coast, rolling hills, open moor, it has it all. We just need to settle into our forever home to really relax and enjoy it. Fingers crossed. Again, watch this space. Things are moving.
This week we have transferred our base of operations to our friends’ Karen and Dan’s house in Honiton north devon. They were away and asked us if we would kitten sit. Oh yes please we purred. A feline fix is just what we need while we wait for our dearly beloved Princess Tasmania to join us here (26th April!).
We also had to do a quick two nighter into London for madam to get an operation done to help her breathing once again. We were soon scuttling back to Devon, with a much improved airway. What a relief for her. It’s literally a life changing little op, to be able to get huge lungfulls of air once again into her system she can bound up the stairs, instead of wheezing her way up while the kittens dash past disdainfully.
We finished our stay in Honiton with a glorious morning out at another nature reserve, Seaton Wetlands on the Devon coast.
So thats us. Coming to the end of our first spell of a ”holiday rental” – 11 weeks in fact. There have been some brilliant moments, and some tough times. We think the tide is on the turn now, in a good way, but more on that in our next instalment.
Finishing off with a few shots of the beautiful bluebells now blooming up in the Quantock Hills – if we could share the aroma, we would!
Location: Honiton, Devon and Kingston-St. Mary, Somerset
It was time to turn our back on the delights of Chelsea, our bank balance will be relieved! So many temptations that come at a fine price. We will never forget our time here with family and friends, and that is priceless. We were off down to Devon, to stay with our friends Karen and Dan, their twins, and their kittens. Yes we got a cat fix!
We also got a vehicle fix, as our motorhome has been stored nearby, and last week was taken in for some TLC to a local garage. They had him all serviced and ready to rock.
Then we were collected by the sales exec we had been talking to since before Christmas from Mercedes-Benz Exeter and taken over to their showroom to try out a car. We had really already decided we were buying the vehicle, but wanted a test drive to just confirm what we had read in the reviews. It’s a little A-series hatchback, ideal for scooting round narrow Somerset lanes, and has a plethora of tech to make the driving experience safer and more stress free. We loved it.
When I say we, this has to be a car Catherine is comfortable driving, as our last two vehicles she really hasn’t been. The Landcruiser has no height adjustable seating, and the motorhome has a handbrake even I struggle to reach down to; it is basically a lorry. So, happy wife, happy ride. She loved it, as did I. So we sorted the paperwork, and drove it back to Honiton. What a feeling. Never thought we’d have a Mercedes keyring dangling from our hands. It’s so different from our previous cars. Even my daughter said ”Never thought I’d see you in something so low profile!”, after the truck-like vehicles we usually buy. Well, we are reinventing ourselves.
After the hectic pace of the last few weeks, we decided to give ourselves a day off. Catherine and I were itching to wander around some Devon countryside with a camera and bins. Seaton Wetlands was recommended, and didn’t disappoint. It was packed with birdlife in the trees and on the river Axe that flows through the reserve. It felt really surreal once again to think that this can be our life now, wandering round these places, rugged up against a bitey wind, with a hot mug of tea in our rucksacks. It was so reinvigorating to be back out amongst our feathered friends again, and learning all the new species names thanks to a off duty warden, and the Merlin app that helps identification.
A day of re-packing Truffy and the Merc saw us ready to head over to our home for the next 11 weeks in Somerset. We had to find furnished accomodation while our container of worldly goods is making its way by container to the UK. Mill Meadow Eco Lodges is a development of holiday rentals on the edge of the small village of Kingston St Mary. We were so relieved to have finally made it here, after booking the accomodation months ago. So many things could have gone wrong, but didn’t. We can finally unpack. The accomodation, a cosy, well equipped, two bedroom lodge, will suit us perfectly while we get settled.
Then things just got better and better. Firstly the Indian restaurant we picked for our first home delivery absolutely blew us away with the quality of the food. Then the next day we walked round to the local pub. A 10 minute walk through the fields. I had been speaking to them to book a dinner for Catherine’s upcoming birthday weekend in March. They sounded very friendly, but in person they just exceeded all expectations. We came back for dinner and invited some people we had met when we were in lockdown nearby during 2020. We had the best evening, both to see these people again (Terry and Jane Ayre, and their daughter Karen, who run Quantock camping), and because of what the pub delivered by way of outstanding food, beer, wine and service. The Swan at Kingston just excelled at everything.
A walk back through the fields in the moonlight provided a brilliant end to the evening. What a great start to our stay.
One of the magical places we used to walk to when we were here before, was to the top of a hill that overlooks the surrounding Quantock Hills. No wonder it was chosen by our Iron Age ancestors to bury their dead on. I was keen to revisit, and proposed an early morning walk. Well, we were up at the top by 7am, and saw in the sunrise. Truly a majestic sight.
It didn’t matter that it was freezing cold, with an icy wind dropping the temperature even further. We have the right gear to keep warm and dry. Flipping great it was.
To see this type of woodland again just feels so right, way down in our DNA.
Another afternoon saw us exploring the local village, half hoping to bump into someone who was just putting up a for sale sign! It is going to be a huge challenge to find somewhere we really like. The local power station down on the coast is ramping up again and staff are flocking in from all over the UK and Europe and snapping up houses for sale, and rentals.
Meanwhile, back in Australia, Princess Tassie is still soaking up the summer sunshine with her foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, awaiting news of her flight….we both miss her so deeply. But she is being so well loved and cared for. Its just us being selfish.
Hopefully the pet travel company we are using will finally get her on a flight in March, and we can start to feel like this really is our home rather than just being here on holiday again. Let’s see.
It has been a great start to our return to the South West. Our friends Karen and Dan made us so welcome, then Jane, Terry and Karen….(yes, so may Karens!). It makes all the difference, when what we are missing the most is our friends back in Australia. Being able to pick up the phone at all hours and get hold of our family makes all the difference. The adventure has begun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Honiton, Devon, UK
In addition to the change in weather over the past couple of weeks, we are beginning to see signs of autumn everywhere. The flowers we were admiring a few months ago are now beginning to go to seed, their leaves decaying. Trees and bushes which once sported blossom, are now carrying fruit and nuts, with every hike rewarding us with fresh blackberries. We continue to appreciate the change in seasons.
Farewelling Holsworthy on Sunday morning we drove down some tiny lanes in Dartmoor National Park to Drogo Castle. After all the stormy weather it was a relief to see the blue skies again as we wound our way down single track roads, hoping we would not come across another vehicle. We parked in the coach parking space at Castle Drogo – a National Trust volunteer advising us that yes, not only coaches come here but buses too! Not today though, so we had a nice big parking space to settle in.
Castle Drogo was apparently the last castle to be built in England – in the early 1900s. It is more of a manor house with castle features than a ‘real’ castle designed to keep out invaders. We were not here to visit the castle or its gardens however, rather to hike the Teign Gorge Walk, a circular hike (Strava link) through various vegetation down to the Teign River and back. This area is apparently one of the most famous walks on Dartmoor, but despite this accolade, it was not too busy on this sunny Sunday morning.
I think we appreciated everything all the more because of the glorious weather – everything looked clean and fresh after the rain, the insects buzzing around, newly hatched butterflies flitting around the heather.
As we drove out of the area towards the main road to Exeter, we fortunately didn’t come across many vehicles, and those we did were easily able to reverse neatly into one of the passing spaces found alongside the lanes…apart from this one lady. It literally took her 10 minutes to reverse back three metres – she kept reversing into the hedge, driving forwards angrily and repeating the same manoeuvre. Just torture to watch. I bet she was relieved when we finally drove past her and went on our way. Top tip – if you cannot reverse confidently, then do not visit Devon. According to a recent study, Devon has more than 16 metres of road per head of population measuring in excess of 8,000 miles (nearly 12,900km) – and very few of those roads are major arteries. You can expect to have to reverse at some point!
Our next location was the small town of Honiton, about 18 miles north of Exeter. This was to be our home for the next five nights as we had agreed to cat-sit a rather handsome 16 year old called Wooster for our friends Karen and Dan. They were off to Wales for five days of fun with their twin boys before they went back to school.
What an absolute delight Wooster was! In case you hadn’t noticed, we are somewhat cat lovers, and dearly miss our feline fur child, Tassie, who is being cared for by her foster parents in Sydney, Australia. Wooster adopted us immediately, happy to allow us to groom him, and welcomed a warm lap to sleep on. He even took to sleeping part of the night between us…we felt very privileged. In return, we kept him fed and watered, plus gave him his daily asthma inhaler and medication.
On Tuesday morning we walked into Honiton for an explore. It was market day and the high street was bustling. The market wasn’t as impressive as we’d hoped, but we picked up a couple of bargains as we wondered around. Unlike many towns, Honiton has not pedestrianised its main street, meaning huge lorries disrupt the peace as they rumble through the centre. It’s in dire need of a bypass but had a nice feel otherwise.
On Wednesday we decided to explore the nearby city of Exeter. We donned our face coverings for the short train ride, Mr A proudly wearing his very scary Darth Vader variety! Exeter is a university city, and that general vibe could be felt right away. Unlike Honiton, it has gone down the pedestrianised route, with a one way system on the streets to protect people from Covid-19…that everyone was ignoring. Oh well, they tried!
After a delicious lunch at a street-food market, we started to explore around the shops. but the constant hand sanitising and mask wearing got a little tiresome. Several of the store attendants were clearly feeling a little tense at having to deal with the general public and snapped and barked rules at us as we entered. It really took the shine off shopping, and despite being very bored with our current limited wardrobes, we left with nothing new.
Feeling a little dejected, we followed signs down to the Quay. This is a historical area which used to serve a multitude of ships which travelled up the river to this port. These days it is full of interesting craft shops, cafes and bars – we could imagine it being bustling during ‘peace-time’.
We had a look around before returning to the station to catch our train home.
In addition to appreciating some furry company, our house and cat-sit was a great chance to enjoy four days with space, a long shower and a washing machine. As much as we enjoy staying in Truffy, it is good to sometimes move around and recharge our batteries. Having had little drying weather recently, our washing mountain was quite substantial, so finally we feel on top of things.
We left Wooster with a few new catnip mice, a massage brush and heavy hearts. We’ll miss his vocal chats and loud purrs as we move on our way to new adventures.
Last week was Storm Ellen, this week was Storm Francis’s turn to bugger things up. We had it all planned. Catherine’s sister and family were coming to camp with us for the week, and their childhood friend Karen and her family also joining us for a couple of days.
Well, Helen and family lasted one night before their tent was shredded by gale force winds, and holiday spirits drowned by rain squalls lashing; the field turned into a mud pit. Karen and her family sensibly decided to abort completely.
We just felt so sorry for them. This has been a super tough year for all of these folk for many reasons. They were so looking forward to a chance to get escape to somewhere different and hang out with each other. But nothing could be done. Their tent just buckled under the wind. It was pitched well, it just couldn’t stand up to the 52mph gusts that were buffeting us on Monday night. This was only the third night of use for this brand new tent. Poor show Outwell, and we’ve told them so, even posted a number of pictures on their Facebook site showing the broken poles. Not even an acknowledgment. It did make us realise how so much more robust, and good value, our Australian camping equipment is.
So that was that. We were back on our own. The wind subsided to a fresh breeze, and it stopped raining briefly, so we jumped on our bikes and rode into the local town of Holsworthy for a pub lunch. It was the last day of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme the UK government has been running to help the pub and restaurant industry by providing £10 a head subsidy at participating restaurants a few days each week in August. We’ve not managed to use it before, so was nice to get a cheap feed.
The riding around here, as I’ve said before, is just magnificent. Several long distance cycle routes come through the area, often following old railways lines, and we headed out a short way on one towards Bude. We joined for a while two touring cyclists who were heading from land End to John O’Groats,. They worked for Sustrans, the national cycle body that has been the driver behind so much of the program of work that has transformed cycling in the UK. I envied them the ride.
With another forecast of rain, wind and more rain, we decided to drive over to the picturesque village of Clovelly, backdrop to so many films, including one of our favourites, The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. You have to park outside the village entrance, and then pay a small fee for entry before you are able to walk down the pedestrianised high street (we like that!) that descends precipitously 120 metres to the little harbour.
It’s while in the fisherman’s museum that we learn the link to Sydney’s expensive eastern suburb of Clovelly A Plymouth born pastoralist with links to this village of Clovelly in Devon sailed to Australia in the early 1800s. His name was Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur. He purchased a house in Watson’s bay which he named Clovelly after this village. Later, when Sydney’s Council was trying to name the suburb, they considered Eastbourne, but picked Clovelly instead, influenced by the name of his house.
With the rain lashing down it was a slippery walk on the cobbles, but the views were just tremendous. The sense of history once again was palpable. Its easy to see why a number of famous writers and artists have taken their inspiration from living here.
The weather certainly wasn’t suiting the feline population, with several practically knocking on windows and doors to be let in out of the cold and wet. We however braved it down to the harbour, and sheltered while we sipped our hot tea and contemplated what life would have been like heading out on a fishing boat. In 1838 twelve boats set out and only one returned, a storm hitting them and taking twenty six lives that day. We however, fortified by a Devon pasty, and educated by the shop owner about the difference between a Devon and a Cornish one (its all in the pastry folding apparently) and we headed back to Truffy somewhat bedraggled.
After another day of rain…we finally saw a window in the forecast, fortuitously for when we had booked a wine tasting. Yes…English wine….So off we went on the bikes, the winery (Torview Wines) conveniently being located on the same cycle route we had headed out on previously, when we visited Black Torrington and the delicious pub lunch last weekend.. Happy to repeat that stunning ride, off we pedalled with a freezing north wind causing us to wrap up warm. And yes… it is August.
Tim and his wife are the owners of the winery, and the only employees. Run as a family business they feel they can better control the inputs and outputs. We really enjoyed our visit here. Tim really did a great job of giving an overview of viticulture in this neck of the woods. They acquired the property from one of the many farmers whose cattle had been hit by foot and mouth.
Tim has been involved in the wine industry all his life, and felt he wanted to do things a little differently in his winery, based on what he felt would work best. For instance, the weeds are allowed to grow between the vines. The nettles were thigh high and it didn’t make for a pretty picture, but Tim is adamant it helps the wine because you are not running up and down the soil with vehicles compacting and damaging it, and the added stress on the vines ensures they produce fewer leaves and more fruit. With two pairs of barn owls living on the property, the longer grass also provides them with ample hunting ground.
He also has a novel way of sourcing his pickers for the harvest. He approached several local charities and offered to donate £30 a day for any volunteers they could find him. What a neat idea.
We tasted a number of his wines, with three main varieties, two we had never tried before. In this climate they need to be pretty robust! Climate change is having its impact here like everywhere else. Earlier springs for instance, which becomes an issue when there is a frost, which led to some varieties being decimated this year. Interestingly this is another business that sees its market as being almost exclusively local, with stock for instance going to bed and breakfasts for their welcome packs, and regional farmers markets. We left understanding a lot more than the zero knowledge we had. That counts as a good day.
This is our last day of the nearly a fortnight we have spent at Headon Farm. We have been made so welcome by the owners, Linda and Richard. They epitomise what we’d love every campsite owner to be like. Everything is so well kept and clean, and local knowledge always forthcoming. I wish we could store our Truffy here, they have a gold standard facility, and know they would be such good carers, but having to get back to Heathrow. with all of our luggage…tricky.
For the people who drive here in cars and come back year after year, what a fantastic base to explore Devon and Cornwall. The weather hasn’t been kind, but we can’t control that. We have still enjoyed our time here, just wish we could have shared more of it with friends and family as we planned. It wasn’t to be.
When bad weather is given a name, you know it’s not going to be a fleeting visit, and this has been the case with Storm Ellen. Ellen is a combination of two storms – a tropical storm that originated off the east coast of the USA which met up with another storm coming from Greenland. Is this just weather or the impact of climate change? Nevertheless, the resultant high winds and rain have been what we have been ‘enjoying’ here the past week.
We moved inland from Bude to a farm near Holsworthy, a small market town just across the border into Devon. It is very rural, with few major roads, predominantly a network of tiny narrow lanes, winding around and over the rolling hills, joining up little villages and farms. It makes for ideal walking and cycling territory, and with a break in the rain we went for an explore.
Holsworthy holds a small market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so we drove in to check it out. It really was small, but we found a lady selling a whole stall of vegan cakes. Being dairy-free, this was very exciting for me (I rarely can consume cake!), and we selected a chocolate orange cake which was divine, and ideal for an afternoon of sheltering from the rain with a cup of tea.
Mark did a little research and found a vineyard about an hour’s cycle away which offered tours and tasting. The wine industry in the UK is growing rapidly and some of the more established vineyards are achieving a great reputation, though to date, British wine accounts for only 1% of consumption here. Its another sign of the changing climate, with the South of France often reaching summer temperatures in the mid to late 30s, and parts of the UK now much more similar to temperatures of France of the past.
We didn’t get very far, with a thorn wedging itself into my rear bike tire, and after 5km I was off my bike and pushing it back to camp. Perhaps it was for the best. Once back, the weather changed , with blustery showers accompanied by strong gusts of wind. We rebooked the wine tasting for next weekend, when hopefully the weather will be more favourable.
Friday morning we drove off to Exeter, about an hour’s journey south-east. My breathing had been doing really well, but slowly starting to decline, so I had an appointment to have some steroid injections at Charing Cross Hospital in London. I farewelled Mark, donned my face covering and settled onto the train to Paddington.
All went well at the hospital, with a successful procedure and my trachea looking really good apparently, and soon I was off to stay the night with friends in Twickenham. I first met Jacky face to face back in 2017, but we had been friends for a couple of years before that, having met online through the support group I run for patients with idiopathic subglottic stenosis. She and her husband Austin were amazing hosts, taking me out in Twickenham to an Italian restaurant, followed by a stroll along the River Thames.
Before I caught the train back to Exeter, we enjoyed a Saturday morning explore along the riverside, opening my eyes to a new side of Twickenham, which I previously only knew for hosting rugby matches. Lovely parks, historic houses, art galleries, barges and birds on the river, it was really interesting and very unexpected.
We’ve been in the UK for six months now, and in all that time had not managed to go for a pub Sunday lunch. Linda, one of the owners of the campsite we’re staying on (Headon Farm), had recommended lunch at The Black River Inn in the village of Black Torrington, so we booked ourselves in.
It was a 40 minute cycle across country to Black Torrington, following some of Route 3, a cycle network along quiet lanes and cycle paths between Land’s End and Bristol. We were grateful for our motors on the rolling hills, particularly on the way home.
A brilliant dining experience, well deserved of their great reputation. They even served Wicked Wolf ale, the beer sold by our old neighbour in West Bagborough.
The coming week is going to take on a different pace, with my sister Helen coming camping with her family, and friends from Honiton also joining us for a couple of nights. We’re really looking forward to it – whatever the weather, we’ll brave it together!
Our fabulous 66km ride out to Okehampton and back left us curious to tour more of this stunning area, in particular to explore Dartmoor National Park. It is the largest area of open space in the south of England, and has been shaped by centuries of human activity.
First though, we got some unexpected news. I had emailed an old work colleague from Australia, who, I recalled in the depths of my memories, had moved to Devon from Sydney several years ago. We weren’t sure where in Devon she was living, but given we are here until the end of the month, we thought it might be possible for us to pay her a visit and learn more about her new life on this side of the world. Her response was just as surprised as ours – she had moved to none other than Tavistock!
We jumped on our bikes and cycled over to her house via the Tavistock Viaduct. The viaduct is pretty much all that remains from the old railway which ran through here and closed in the 1960s – now turned into a short 2km walking and cycleway through a cool leafy reserve and offering fabulous views over the town.
We joined Mary for cold drinks in the garden and proceeded to ask her lots of questions. It was a lovely afternoon and helped us understand more about the decisions behind a big and brave move back around the world after more than 20 years living in Australia.
Thunder storms rumbled around us but we remained dry, with the rain fortunately holding off until we were back holed up in Truffy.
Mary had given us some advice on where to start a walk, and despite continuing wet weather forecast, we were keen to get out on the moors. We drove a short way out of Tavistock and parked up behind a pub, The Dartmoor Inn. We decided to book in for lunch after our walk.
First though, we had to work up that appetite. A lane beside the pub led us directly onto Dartmoor, a completely different scenery to the bright green fields and farmland we have been used to. We decided to take a walk up to Widgery’s Cross up on Brat tor. This was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and is the tallest of all the crosses on Dartmoor, made from slabs of granite. A tor is the name given to peaks topped with rock, most frequently granite. Dartmoor National Park has more than 160 tors.
As we climbed up the hill, the ‘Devon sunshine’ descended around us, with swirling cloud obscuring the views and settling thick around us. We clambered up the rocky tor, and sat at the base of the cross enjoying a cup of tea.
At just over 5.5km (Strava link), this was not a long walk, but a great taster of what’s potentially on offer for us on Dartmoor. We are certainly hungry to see more in the future.
Our lunch at the Dartmoor Inn was a wonderful surprise. The new owners have only been there 12 months, but in that time spent several thousand pounds renovating the interior and bringing the menu up to date. We opted for two entrees each – crab salad and scallops for myself and a roasted tomato soup for Mark, followed by scallops as well. Absolutely delicious and accompanied by some fabulous wine options – just one glass for myself and half a beer for Mr A.
Head chef and co-owner Jay Barker-Jones popped out to chat as we finished our meal – explaining his food philosophy and dreams for the pub. We wished them every success – the food quality is definitely in line with Jay’s training in Michelin starred restaurants around the UK. We would say this meal has been the most outstanding of our visit to the UK so far.
Bonus fact for travelling folks like us – they welcome motorhomes to come and park up for the night, as long as they’re dining there that evening. If you’re travelling this way, I would definitely take up that offer and enjoy more than just one glass of wine!