1 October-13 November: The nights draw in as autumn encroaches

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton, London and Bradford-on-Tone, UK

The seasons are continuing to delight, with the last few weeks slowly reintroducing us to the sights and smells and sounds of autumn. Having been in Australia for more than two decades, we are often overwhelmed by the nostalgia triggered by the pungent aromas of leaves starting to decay, the freshness of the morning fog which lifts to present another stunning autumn day.

The grass is heavy with dew which often lasts all day long, and early morning forays into the outdoors require warm jackets as we walk behind the lingering mist of our breath. After such a warm summer our apple trees have been almost bent over with the weight of their crop, many given away to passers by at the end of our driveway, many more wrapped and stored for the coming months.

Dewy apples, dandelion clocks, spiderwebs and leaves…autumn has arrived

While the mornings are fresh and cool, the days have been unusually warm, well above average for the time of year. We certainly didn’t expect to be out in t-shirts. Even today, mid November, we have been outside in short sleeves and bare legs, the 20 degrees sunshine not quite what we anticipated for this time of year.

….is snow a thing of the past, we wonder…? Or are we really in for a very cold winter as some predict?

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Early October saw me heading over to East Sussex for a few days with my sister and her family. We had hoped to catch up with our mum for her birthday, but this year seems to be popular for striking train drivers, so we couldn’t make it over.

Instead, we visited a stunning National Trust property, Sheffield Park, where the trees were just starting to change colour. This phenomenon is something we have missed being in Australia, where you have to hunt down those European trees planted by settlers missing their seasonal changes.

Helen, Cocoa and I making the most of a sunny afternoon
Elliot gazing in wonder at the magnificent house across the lake, while Helen, Stu Isabel and Cocoa smile for a family photo

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As the past month has progressed, the mornings have got darker and we have often woken to our views shrouded in a thick fog, blocking our views and creating a view that Tassie can’t wait to get out in….and equally as fast can’t wait to get back inside from!

Our oak tree on two different mornings – you never know what you’re going to open the curtains to!

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Mid October, we had a night back in our lovely cottage in Widworthy, Devon. We were there to attend our friend Dan’s 50th birthday party in Honiton. It was a fun night, and Tassie enjoyed re-exploring her old haunt, while we had fun with old and new friends.

Giggles with Julie and Karen at Dan’s birthday party
Little miss adaptable Tassie, always up for a new adventure

Our friends Julie and Russ have landed themselves a new job looking after the holiday lets and management of the magnificent 16th century manor house, Widworthy Barton. We were very fortunate that Julie was able to offer us a tour. What a beautiful house, stunningly decorated and so many original features including a minstrel’s gallery, and library. There are some newer features too, including tennis courts and a swimming pool.

Apparently a first edition Winnie the Pooh somewhere in this library….or so legend has it…

All yours for about £4,600 a week – in its favour it does sleep up to 14 people, so just £100 a night when split between 7 couples…it would be a wonderful location for a holiday.

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I have been invited to join a walking group in our village, joining a group of ladies who also go to the pilates class we attend.

The first walk I joined them on took us along the remains of the now disappearing Grand Western Canal. This canal was meant to stretch between Exeter in Devon through to the city of Bristol, but was never finished. In total they completed 18km of canal between Tiverton and Taunton, and this section was in use during the 1800s, making use of a boat lift to shift barges between different levels of canal. A group known as the Friends of the Grand Western Canal have proposed restoring this waterway to its former glory…there is no evidence of anything happening yet.

No boats travelling up here today
Nynehead Boat Lift – considered to be one of the best preserved examples of a boat lift in the UK

Our walk also took us to the ruins of a huge Victorian textile mill, Tonedale, the largest in the south-west of England. Apparently much of the khaki material created for use in the First World War was made here, and woollen material used for coats known as serge. The building is listed and supported with grants from Historic England, and in recent years has been purchased by developers. There are plans to turn this complex into accommodation, artisan businesses, a cafe and museum.

Tonedale Mill
Stormy skies highlighted by the sunshine across the fields

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The Blackdown Hills are very accessible from home, and just a 12 minute drive saw us starting another circuit – I went first with the walking group, and while fresh in my memory, took Mark along for a hike as well. The circuit took us across fields, down lanes, across bridleways and through woodland, the views becoming ever more spectacular, the higher we climbed.

A herd of lovely ladies watch on in interest as we pass
Everyone has a dog it seems, sometimes more than one! Ranging in size from Fudge on the far left to Buddy on the far right with a pair of Ambers and a Hazel in the middle
A bit of a stream crossing to navigate – this is where walking in wellies is a good idea
Endless amazing views as we walk the 9km circuit
Hedgerows perfectly trimmed
Mr A

Beautiful shadows and multiple shades of green
Mr A admiring this view….
Perfectly ploughed fields and views stretching to the horizon
Even lucky enough to see a few wild Roe Deer on our walk

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Another weekend we decided to hike up to Culmstock Beacon. Just a quarter of an hour’s drive away from home, we started our hike from the village of Culmstock, hiking up into the Blackdown Hills over styles and across hilly fields.

Mr and Mrs A
After a bit of rain there is a great deal of mud in parts
Matching cow and leaves
Am I cute or what?
We are yet to visit this local landmark, the Wellington Monument
Dark trunks in contrast to the bright lime leaves
Autumn leaves
Mushrooms or toadstools?
Appreciating the level land on top of the hill
An eagle eye view of the surrounding country
There has been a beacon here since the mid 1500s, with this beehive-like structure designed to house a wooden beacon which lifted up through a hole in the roof and then set on fire. It is part of a chain of beacons which would have been lit to warn locals about an approaching enemy (eg the Spanish Armada)
Stormy skies approaching…fortunately we always carry waterproofs just in case!

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Mark has purchased his Christmas present early – a record deck. Of course that was just the first purchase, because then he required records to play on it. He’s been busy reliving his teenage record collection in second hand stores in Taunton and Bristol, with a few record-shape Amazon deliveries winging their way to our front door too. I think he’s done for a little while…!

New record deck…and a rare find first-pressing of a Black Sabbath album in Taunton

Tassie remains very settled, enjoying her multiple walks around the grounds and moving between sunny spots in the house throughout the day. We still look at her in wonder of the huge journey she has undertaken from Australia, taken in her feline stride.

Cuddles time with Tas

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Finishing off with a few shots from walks around our village, across the fields and around the lanes. The sun sets around 5pm now, so we are often out and about to see and admire it. Still loving our new life in Somerset.

Along the River Tone
Sunset powerlines
Looking towards our house in the distance
Five minutes walk from home

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5-31 March: Spring brings precious family time, bad news and (tentatively) most excellent news

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire and Brighton, East Sussex, UK

The past four weeks have whizzed by, with both of us spending time with our families, which has been an absolute pleasure after so long apart. We have started our time here as we mean to go on! But I am going to start with the excellent news.

Last Saturday lunchtime we went to see a house in the village of Bradford-on-Tone. It’s about a 20 minute drive from where we are currently living, and a small village of about 600 residents. The agent had hand picked us for the first viewing after reading our buyer’s profile, describing our desire for a house with plenty of light, preferably in a village community but not a housing estate. We asked for something that had a high graded EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) which would mean cheaper running costs, and a newer or recently renovated house not requiring too much work. It ticked so many boxes. We made an offer and it was accepted the same day.

Offer accepted…now let’s wait and see!

Now, while this is exciting and we celebrated with a bottle of Prosecco at our local pub, this deal’s not done until the fat lady sings. In the UK, the sales process is excruciatingly slow, with the average house exchange completed in four months. An accepted offer also doesn’t mean a certain sale, either – the seller can change their mind at any time, and there is always the risk of another buyer swanning in and offering more. It’s a horrible process!

I will refrain from sharing more details of this property until we feel more secure.

Lunch at The White Horse, potentially our new local in Bradford-on-Tone – HUGE portions!
The River Tone – there’s a long distance walk – The West Deane Way, which follows this river for part of its 45 mile circular route

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Our last post was written just prior to a long awaited weekend to celebrate my birthday and that of our friend Karen (‘surrogate sister’ and long suffering childhood friend!) who also joined us with her family. We had organised everything at the end of last year, booking two lodges at Mill Meadow to house everyone for a weekend of festivities. So much could have gone wrong, and yet nothing did – everyone stayed healthy and all went as planned. Fabulous cakes were provided by a local baker, Wizz, and we had a party in the skittle alley at our local pub, The Swan.

L-R from top: Catherine and Jenny (mum), Catherine’s cake, fur nephew, Cocoa, Phil cooking up a breakfast storm, Helen (sister #1) trying out her bowling skills at the skittle alley, Hayley (daughter #2) enjoying the hot tub, Ian not in fancy dress (cousin), Catherine and mum in Aussie fancy-dress, and Catherine and Elle (sister #2)
A spring hike with some of the family members – L-R – William (nephew #3), John with Iris (niece #2), Elle, Alex (brother), Edward (nephew #2), Catherine with Elliot (nephew #1), Helen, Stu with Isabel (niece #1)
L-R from top: Helen and Isabel enjoying the hot tub, the three witches, Zoe in Aussie fancy-dress, the Fields around us, CAKE!, Elliot (nephew #1), Catherine, Dan, surrogate sister Karen, and Mr A, Iris (niece #2) in yellow, and finally Isabel (niece #1) in koala fancy dress
Catherine, Karen and Jenny on Cothelstone Hill with an icy wind

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The following weekend, Mr A drove Truffy (our Hymer motorhome) up to Milton Keynes to spend some time with his daughters and grandchildren, the spring temperatures rising and bringing us blue skies and sunshine.

More lovely spring weather in Milton Keynes for some dad and grandpa time. James (grandson #3) seems to have mastered Connect-Four!
Mr A, Zoe (daughter #1) and Hayley (daughter #2)

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House hunting has been an all encompassing activity during the week, with daily pouring over the property apps and visiting the agents in person in the hope we might make an impression and be alerted to a suitable property ahead of the pack. It had begun to get us down, the uncertainty of our future living circumstance with an ever approaching deadline for moving out of our holiday accomodation, something that hasn’t gone away, despite our accepted offer on a property.

When there were no properties to visit, we broke up our weeks with visits to local regions. WWT Steart Marshes were our destination on one occasion. A unique scenery of wetlands stretching out towards the Bridgewater Bay and the River Severn Esturary.

Who’s the most beautiful Mute Swan of all…?
A Kestrel hovers over the marshland, having spotted lunch
Buzzard are a fairly common sight around here, this one kindly flying past within shot of my camera
A rather handsome Eurasian Moorhen
Spotting and photographing equipment

On another occasion we headed to the city of Wells via an RSPB wetland site, Ham Wall, near Glastonbury. It was a really magical place. The birdlife was prolific, with tame robins eating out of our hands, Grey Herons, Teal, Marsh Harriers, and a special visit from a Red Kite. This particular fly-by felt like a spiritual portent – Mark’s father was part of the RSPB team in 1989 that was responsible for the reintroduction of Red Kites to the UK. It was as though Clem Anderson was visiting to register his approval.

A magnificent Red Kite
A Marsh Harrier circles over the wetlands
Super-friendly Robins
Who are you calling a Great Tit?
Song-Thrush

Wells is a historical city with a magnificent cathedral and a palace surrounded by a moat. It is often referred to as the smallest cathedral city in the UK…this is in fact wrong (points to anyone who can name the actual smallest city). We had an explore before returning home – plenty to see there on a future visit.

Mr A couldn’t resist the FlapJackery in Wells 😂

Another bird trip took us to RSPB Swell Woods – home to many little woodland birds, and the exciting location of my first decent photo of a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Left from top: Coal Tit, Wren, Tree Creeper Right from top: Chaffinch, Great Tit, Robin and Blue Tit

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I had an appointment with my specialist in London for my airway stenosis. I didn’t expect it to go well – my regular peak-flow tracking has shown an overall decline, pretty much since we sold our house in August last year. My appointment confirmed this – my airway was too closed up to treat without significant risk in day surgery, so they booked me in for an operation in 12 days time. At least I will be breathing easy again – it is the first operating theatre visit in nearly three years, which is a good thing.

The last time I was truly breathing well was before the sale of our house in Australia…a perfect example of how stress impacts health

I caught the train down to Brighton to drown my sorrows and put this news behind me with some time with my sister, Helen and her family. Mum also joined us for a pizza lunch and sunny afternoon at Brighton seafront to celebrate Mother’s Day a week early.

A stunning, sunny spring weekend in Brighton with much healing laughter
A giant pizza and family lunch
“Goodbye Auntie Catherine”

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Back in Somerset, last week we had a visit from friend Barny and his young working cocker spaniel, Bertie. We did a couple of good walks and of course a couple of visits to our local pub.

Drinks at The Swan at Kingston – chefs Mickey Finn and Fran – and finally, lamb number 9 (one of two!) who wouldn’t let me go and had to be picked up to stop it from being terrorised by Bertie-dog!
Pure joy = a cocker spaniel with a ball in a field

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It has been an amazing month – writing it all down reminds us of how much we have seen and done. While the white-knuckle ride of emotions associated with searching for a home to live in has been somewhat exhausting, it has thankfully been counteracted with quality time and great memories made with our families.

April will bring new adventures and challenges, with plans already including cat-sitting a pair of kittens, my operation, more time with family, moving out of our holiday-house and into an Airbnb, and one long awaited event we are quite anxious about – the arrival of Princess Tassie the adventure cat, from Australia. The emotional turbulence is not over just yet!

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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!).

19-29 July: South-East England adventures

Author: Mrs A

Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Braintree, Essex, St Leonards-on-sea, and Rye Harbour, East Sussex, Lancing, West Sussex, Portsmouth, Hampshire

A whirlwind of emotion accompanies our travels as we finally have in person visits with family around the country. Following a busy three days in Milton Keynes with Mark’s daughters and grandchildren, we continued our journeys around England, gradually travelling south over a ten day period.

A busy 10 days travelling between 5 locations

Sunday night was spent with my cousin Karen and her family in Little Gaddesden where we were treated to a magnificent roast dinner and delicious wine, as always very generous with their time and company, with many laughs enjoyed.

Feeling very short with my cousin Karen’s daughter Ella shooting up over the last year, now towering over us both!
Butterflies and flowers in. Karen and Iain’s garden

It was just a flying visit, and by lunchtime the following day we were back on the road, driving to Essex and our friends Mel and Barny.

Laugher and stories in the summerhouse at the end of Mel and Barny’s garden

We were privileged to be the first guests in their nearly finished new home set in picturesque countryside, plenty of bird life and a rail trail at the end of the road. Their young working cocker puppy, Bertie kept us all on our toes with his endless energy and demand for tummy tickles and despite having spent the weekend moving in, Mel and Barny somehow found the energy to whip up a delicious salad and BBQ steak dinner. A great evening was spent with them and was over all too soon.

Barny mastering the BBQ, helped by Mr A’s observation of course…young Bertie meeting the local horse,

After leaving Essex, our next stop was Sussex, off to see my mum for a couple of nights. The weather continued to be absolutely glorious, the sun shining and showing off Hastings’ sea front in its best light, the sea like a mill pond lapping on the pebble beaches.

Mum and I strolled along the seafront to Hastings Old Town
Brightly coloured huts on the pier, not yet open for business
Changing huts on the beach picking out the colours from the sky
Mother and daughter – I still have my ‘lockdown hair’!
Hastings Pier
Strolling back along the 1930s Bottle Alley

The following day Mr A decided to take himself off on an ebike ride adventure, while I joined mum and her husband Barry on a trip to nearby Rye Harbour. Rye Harbour is a little peaceful village situated near the mouth of the River Rother, a short drive from Hastings. Seals are often seen fishing in the estuary here, and there are numerous working fishing boats that moor alongside the jetties.

On the other side of the river is popular sandy beach, Camber Sands, which on this warm, summer’s day was packed with visitors, despite the ongoing Covid-19 distancing restrictions. In contrast, our walk around the nature reserve was politely distanced and peaceful.

Fishing boats in the River Rother estuary at Rye Harbour
All boats registered in Rye start with the letters RX
Look carefully at Camber Sands and you will spot the crowds along the beach

Our walk took us along paths winding around the salt marsh, a site of special scientific interest providing habitat for a wide variety of birds and insects, many quite rare.

Mum and Barry take a few moments for a water break

The walk followed the coast, the pebble and shingle beaches lined with old weathered wooden groynes, designed to help protect the land and marshes behind the beaches from erosion from the sea.

Mother – daughter time
A very level walk around the wetlands

It was a lovely afternoon out, clocking 8km (Strava link) and plenty of fresh air. That evening, Mum treated us to a delicious Indian meal at Flavours of India in Hastings. It‘s our second visit there and the food has been consistently excellent.

Our Hastings visit was capped off by a delicious Indian meal

We farewelled mum the following morning, and drove to Brighton. It was a very exciting day for me – finally I was going to the hairdressers! I spent a warm afternoon wearing a mask and disposable plastic cape – not the usual luxury experience, but such a relief to get a good cut after all this time.

With somewhat shorter and neater hair, I called in to see my sister Helen briefly, before catching a train along the coast to the village of Lancing where Mr A had parked Truffy at a campground.

The following morning, Mr A and I jumped on our bikes and went for an explore. Lancing is a coastal village just 20 minutes on the train from Brighton. It has a cycleway which follows the coast for some miles which is easily accessible from the campsite.

A local fishing boat sits at the top of the shingle beach
Fresh local scallops purchased for lunch

We returned back to camp in time for my sister Helen to arrive with a car full of camping gear and children. Niece and nephew Isabel and Elliot soon found the playpark while Helen, Mark and I were joined by another camper to erect her tent in the increasingly strong winds. Perfect kite flying weather!

The tent is up!
Isabel having adventures on the playpark
Elliot having fun
Mr A suggesting the wine should be opened
Elliot and Isabel find a good use for the strong winds

The following day was somewhat of a wash out with the strong winds continuing but now accompanied by driving rain. Helen’s fiancé Stuart came to join us for lunch, after which they decided to abandon camping and go home for the rest of the afternoon and evening, leaving us to shelter in Truffy and watch Netflix!

The sun returned on Sunday morning and our fair-weather campers returned to take down their tent and join us for breakfast. They made up for wimping out of Saturday night‘s camping by providing the most delicious bacon from their local butcher, contributing to a brilliant full English breakfast.

Four empty plates thank you very much

After our brunch feast we felt the need for some exercise and so rode out to the nearby Widewater Lagoon, a nature reserve along Lancing seafront that attracts a variety of bird life, including osprey on occasion. It used to be part of the estuary of the River Adur many centuries ago. It has been artificially maintained with a shingle bank separating it from the sea, and a pipeline designed to replenish the water from the English Channel during the summertime.

The strong winds continued, much to the delight of the many wind and kite surfers along the coast. It was hard work cycling into the wind, especially for the children – Isabel struggling along on her scooter and Elliot by bike. We ducked off down to a beach to shelter and hunt for shells and sea-glass with the children. Helen treated us all to ice creams before we farewelled one another and returned to our respective homes for a break from the wind.

Kite surfers all the way along the coast towards Worthing
I teach Isabel to hunt for sea-glass amongst the shingle
Isabel finds a surprise finger painting on the sea defences
Elliot
Wild seas today
Appreciating sister time after being apart for so long

Leaving Lancing on Monday morning, Mark and I made a stop in the village of Arundel to pick up some goodies for a BBQ and have a brief look around. Truffy enjoyed his regal parking location outside the castle.

Truffy outside Arundel Castle

From Arundel, we drove to see our friends Nick and Laura at their home just outside Chichester. For a short time back in March we thought we might be living in their house during lockdown, but they ended up managing to fly back from Australia and of course we found our cottage in West Bagborough. They booked a lovely country restaurant for lunch, the Crab and Lobster, and we enjoyed sharing lockdown stories over a delicious seafood feast.

Lovely company and food at the Crab and Lobster, Chichester

It was a short hop from there to our next location, the Churchillion Pub in Portsmouth which allows motorhome stopovers as long as you stop in for a drink and/or dinner.

We were collected by my brother-in-law John, who whisked us a short way to their house for a glass of wine and a catch up. It was the first time meeting our new niece, Iris, who was born just before Christmas. Mark introduced nephews Edward and William to his ‘Robot Tag’ game which is guaranteed to reduce little boys to shrieks and giggles as they attempt to escape the tickle monster.

Our night behind the pub was not as peaceful as we had hoped, with two incidents of car alarms going off and seemingly a motorcycle race roaring past us for several hours. We decided to move to the street outside my sister Elle and John’s’s house the following night.

Before that, however, more adventures were ahead. One of Mark’s old school friends, Andrew, lives just a stones throw away, and drove over with his mountain bike so we could ride around the coast of Portsmouth together (Strava link).

We had arrived in cloud, so Tuesday morning’s sunshine was welcomed and revealed this view of Portsmouth from outside the pub
An ever changing route around Portsmouth
A peaceful flowery path separates us from the road
Old mates
The Spinnaker

We had a great day out, picnicking in some rose gardens, and finishing up back at the pub mid afternoon. Farewelling Andrew, we drove down and parked up by Elle and John’s house.

Baby Iris is in good form, loving to have a giggle with her daddy
One of their gorgeous cats, Vivienne, is happy to find a lap to chill out on
Another sister photo
Nephews Edward and William will sleep well after their fun and games in the garden
Iris
Much laughter throughout the evening

We had a fun evening with them, a delicious BBQ and flowing gin and wine.

The past few weeks have provided exactly what we have been missing – the simple things, breaking bread with friends and family, laughing until you cry and your sides hurt. They say you cannot choose your family, but fortunately we have been blessed with family (and friends we consider as family) who are likeminded and enjoy a laugh as much as us – the perfect tonic!

15-23 March: Modifying Truffy, getting evicted and finding a new home

Author: Mr A

Location: Doncaster (Yorkshire), Harby (Nottinghamshire), Kettering (Northamptonshire), Brighton (East Sussex), West Bagborough (Somerset), UK

In my dotage, which is looming ever closer, I hope to be able to say that we, and all those we hold dear, survived these scary times, came out the other end having learned new things about what’s important to us and the planet we call home.

It has been a roller coaster week of intense highs and lows. It started with me heading north to Doncaster for a couple of days to get some major modifications to Truffy. We had decided to get a levelling system fitted as every time we set up camp we have to drive him up on massive ramps. Not always in good weather, and not always leading to good marital relations as Catherine tries to direct me up the various levels without driving over the top of them. Yes I did that once. So we now have four hydraulic legs that lower down with the press of a button and get the Truff all nicely level.

To be frank, Doncaster isn’t somewhere I’m going to be rushing back to, but I did discover an awesome cycle route just outside of town that none of the web sites I searched even mentioned.

The Trans Penine Trail, running coast to coast is one of the great cycling infrastructure assets of the UK with over 200 miles of signed path on mostly dedicated cycle way or quiet roads. What a fabulous opportunity to “socially distance” myself and ride its quiet paths.

The Trans Pennine Trail
A beautiful spring day to be out cycling
The Stainforth and Keadby canal – connects the River Donn and River Trent

I would prefer the term “physically distance” ourselves as being more precise. We need to continue to socialise, to support each other and keep ourselves mentally healthy, just not by physical socialising.

I then rejoined Catherine in my old home town stomping ground of Kettering, and once again experienced the generosity and thoughtfulness of our friends, with whom we had a cracking evening filled with gin, red wine, Indian takeaway and much laughter, then a hangover breakfast and a escorted shopping trip to try and stock up an empty Truffy larder.

Cheers! Lots of laughs…

We had booked on to a campsite in Brighton for a week. By now we had accepted that camp sites were likely to close and we would have to find a rental place. That proved harder than we thought with landlords returning to their holiday homes, and press articles appearing from rural communities saying they didn’t want incoming travellers escaping the cities and overloading their health services. Fair enough, but where were people like us with their homes rented out going to go? Some friends near Lincoln had offered co-habitation in their fabulous place, but we didn’t know how long this would have to be for so felt we really needed our own front door and not have to impose on friends in their sanctuary.

Brighton Pier only available for careful takeaway
Blue skies hide the chilly north-easterly wind that was blowing

Catherine managed a couple of brief catch ups with her sister and family, and also a friend from Sydney who had travelled over for her mum’s 100th birthday, only to be told on landing that the care home she was in had just been placed on lockdown.

Catherine and Wendy maintaining distance while catching up on news

There are so many stories like this around the world are making this a hugely stressful time as we try and adjust our lives and expectations.

Sisters can’t be torn apart
A couple of elves in the park

Then on the second day into our week‘s booking we were told we had to vacate the camp as they were closing, with immediate effect. We were stunned. We had nowhere to go. There had been some bad press about people streaming down to the coast to caravan parks and I think the government put pressure on the parks to close. But with zero notice we were in a difficult position.

After some calling around we found another site that was still open, booked that and were ready to head off when they rang and said they had changed their mind. Then we found another that was still open. We called in on Catherine‘s mum in Hastings, to pick up some parcels and deliver Mother’s Day flowers and card. These were passed across the threshold of her door, no hugs or kisses today. So hard for all of us. But we must behave responsibly.

It was a stressful night, made suddenly better by another kind gesture from friends who offered us a spot on the driveway of their new house. Power and water and electric hook up. We got up in the morning all ready to head to Essex.

The very much non-glamorous side of Truffy travels – heading out to the shower block in 2°C !

Then another offer came through from friends we made way back over 15 years ago in Sydney. They had a cottage available in Somerset. The property we were offered was a 16th century farmhouse set in an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Quantock Hills. We were both on the edge of tears with relief. Our own front door, in an area we had wanted to visit anyway.

Off we shot down some very quiet motorways and arrived as the late afternoon sun set over the hills. We sipped a gin, held hands, and gave thanks to the kindness of friends.

24-31 October: Winter is coming…preparing Truffy for storage and our last days in UK

Author: Mr & Mrs A

Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK

Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.

The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.

We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.

A magnificent feast with dinner from Catriona and dessert from Karen on Friday night
After a day of pouring rain, Saturday night cleared to a fabulous sunset
Feeling cheery after a rainy Saturday afternoon chatting and drinking champagne, as you do
Stuart enjoying his glass of red
A little brotherly love between John and Barny

While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.

Mr A heads off down the path
Our start and end point where Doddington and Harby station once stood

Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.

Once barren sand and gravel pits, this area has been restored to provide bird, insect and other wildlife habitat
Silver birch trees are common here. These native trees were first to colonise the UK after the last ice age and are quick to grow and stabilise an area.

Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.

On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.

Truffy’s new home for the next few months

Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!

Luke getting more confident riding his bike around the quiet neighbourhood streets

I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.

We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!

Strolling along the River Ouse
Luke lapping up some grandfatherly wisdom – James less interested

That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.

My favourite daughters, Zoe and Hayley…

Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.

Off to the farm

Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.

Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.

After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.

Catherine and Jenny
Gold leaf decorated gates on the entrance to the Acadamy
Mum grew up in London but this is her first visit to the Royal Academy of Arts
There are two major exhibitions on right now – sculptures by Gormley and self portraits of Freud
Covent Garden is all prepared for Christmas with giant baubles and mistletoe adorning the marketplace
Can you spot us in the bauble?

We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.

Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707, and remains a glamorous and glitzy department store. It‘s worth visiting for the luxurious hand cream in the bathrooms alone!

Mum remembers taking cooking classes in the 1960s with a pastry chef from Fortnum and Mason, but cannot recall ever having visited the store…another first!
The wine bar is in the basement and sells a range of premium drops from around the world. Mum chose an Australian Barossa Shiraz….
An Italian Montepulciano for me…
Another first for mum – Vietnamese food in Chinatown
Some delicious dishes enjoyed…
A busy and bustling Chinatown on this fresh October Tuesday evening…London never sleeps

It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.

Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.

Grandma getting the hang of ‘selfies’
Three generations of smiles

Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.

People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.

13-15 September: Royal palaces and sunshine

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brighton and London, UK

Sunshine is never guaranteed in the UK, particularly during September, but we were very fortunate to get a glorious weekend served up. Despite having a bad reputation, Friday the 13th dawned bright and sunny and mum and I left Hastings and drove over to my sister’s home in Brighton.

After a little shopping, mum and I met Helen and niece Isabel for lunch in a local pizza restaurant, Fatto A Mano. Named as one of The Guardian’s top independent pizza restaurants in 2015, they are well known in Brighton and Hove for their light pizza bases and delicious toppings. They even had three choices of vegan pizza meaning I could join in with a flavoursome meal!

Where has Miss Isabel learned to pose?
Three generations of ladies who lunch
Scooting and strolling through North Laine
Mum and I head home via the Brighton Pavillion

We had a lovely afternoon around the shops in Brighton and North Laine, after which mum drove back to Hastings.

Saturday morning, Helen and I said goodbye to Stu and the kids and went up to Brighton Station to catch a train to London for a sister escape. Helen and Stu both work so hard with their children and work life, and H really deserved a break. For me, selfishly perhaps, I adore my sister’s company and over the past two decades have not enjoyed it enough, and so wanted just one night for the two of us to chat, enjoy and just be together.

Our intention was to whizz up to London, leave our luggage at our hotel and explore. Unfortunately the trains had other ideas, and what should have been an hour journey took around three hours and three trains! It seems Friday the 13th’s reputation has transferred to Saturday the 14th.

Finally we did make it to our hotel near Earl’s Court, and St James’s Park was our next destination. We have memories of visiting this area as children on day trips with our mum, feeding the sparrows with pots of seed bought from little old men, now long gone. The weather was spectacular, and perfect for walking through the gardens.

Happy just to be together
Beautiful gardens

St James’s Park is the oldest of the royal parks and is surrounded by three palaces – Buckingham Palace is the most famous, St James’s Palace, built for Henry the 8th in 1532, and the Palace of Westminster (dating back to the 11th century) – better known these days as the Houses of Parliament (which has been held there since the 1300s).

Looking towards Westminster with Churchill’s underground war rooms on the right hand side

Horse Guard’s Parade remains part of the park, created during the 18th century, and too are the golden ornate gateways dedicated to the dominions – Australia, South Africa and Canada.

The left Australia gate post has a cherub with a sheep
The other Australia gatepost has a kangaroo with the cherub
Outside Buckingham Palace is the Queen Victoria Memorial, which celebrates the days of the British Empire. The memorial includes the marble statue of Victoria and the glittering figures of Victory, Courage and Constancy.
Buckingham Palace – the Royal Standard flag is raised meaning the Queen is home (if she’s away it would be the Union Jack). Helen came here to the annual garden party a few years ago, invited as part of the charity she worked for at the time. We didn’t get an invite this afternoon though.
The Royal Standard used in England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and in overseas territories
Cheesy sister photo in front of the palace

From here, we crossed into the cool shadiness of Green Park and made our way over to the Canada Memorial for a sit down, watching as wood pigeons flew down for a drink.

Green Park
Unveiled in 1994, the Canada Memorial recognises the one million Canadians who fought alongside the British during the two world wars. It’s a lovely peaceful spot to sit and relax a moment in the shade, the water gently rippling over the granite and across brass maple leaves.

After all this exploring we went back to the hotel for showers and to get ready for our night out.

We had an early dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant near Earl’s Court Station (Siam Secret – definitely recommend for authentic Thai food) before catching the train to Piccadilly Circus and the Princes Theatre for our evening’s entertainment – The Book of Mormon. This show is one of the most successful musicals of all time, and the 14th longest running show on Broadway (as of July this year).

Outside the theatre
In the bar, waiting to go to our seats
Brilliant seats with a fabulous view of the stage
Enjoying our night out already

We really enjoyed the show, packed full of laughter. Maybe don’t go along if you’re sensitive to the odd swear word, a Mormon or not open to thinking slightly differently about religion (apparently 10-15 people walk out of the show each night)) but for entertainment value it was fabulous.

We exited the show on an absolute high, wishing the show could have continued for another hour, and strolled around to Leicester Square, Chinatown and Covent Garden, just people watching and lapping up the atmosphere of a Saturday night in London.

Who knew there was a whole shop dedicated to M&Ms? Helen persuaded me to go in and I had to do some shopping
Strolling through Chinatown, enjoying the buzz
The streets that never sleep

Sunday: Our night in the hotel included breakfast, so we feasted to get our money’s worth before rolling out of the door on Sunday morning for a stroll. We had no plan as to where to go, but explored the streets of Earls Court and Kensington, deciding it would be an area that would suit us quite nicely, if anyone out there would be willing to donate us a house or apartment!

We wound our way through the streets to Kensington Palace, which has been in the royal family since the 17th century. Presently it is the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Catherine) among others, but like the Queen, they didn’t invite us in.

The royal apartments are in the background behind Helen’s head
24 May 2019 was the celebration of 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria – she spent her formative years at Kensington Palace
Wandering around Kensington Palace gardens, free to the public
Beautiful formal gardens, being prepared for the next plantings
Views across the gardens to the Round Pond
Many swans on the Round Pond

We enjoyed strolling through Kensington Gardens and through into Hyde Park, finding ice creams on our way through. We stopped at the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a circular water feature made from Cornish granite, full of children playing and visitors cooling their feet. We of course had to join in.

Refreshing for the toes
A fine way to spend half an hour – I think Princess Diana would be very pleased!
The Serpentine Bridge, built in 1730, marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Crossing the Serpentine Bridge
The boating lake is popular on this warm Sunday afternoon

As our afternoon led to a close we were sad to head back to the hotel and collect our luggage, and make our way in separate directions home.

Helen attempted to take time-travel back home, but sadly the door was locked
(If you don’t understand, Google ‘Dr Who?’ & ‘Tardis’)

It was a fantastic weekend – so special spending time with my mum and sister, every moment and memory treasured. Helen headed back to Brighton, while I travelled north to meet up with Mark and his daughters in Milton Keynes.

12 September: Scotney Castle

Author: Mrs A

Location: Scotney Castle, nr Lamberhurst, Kent, UK

The earliest records of a building at the location of Scotney Castle date back to 1137 with the current ‘old castle’ dating back to the late 1300s. These days there are two castles on site – Scotney Castle is the newer building, built in the early 1800s for the Hussey family from Worcestershire who made their money in the early industrial revolution. They had originally moved into the old castle, which became too cold, damp and drafty.

Scotney Castle – the ‘new’ house built in 1835

Mum and I came to visit this National Trust location about 10 years ago, so were due another visit. It was a mostly overcast morning, but not too cold for autumn. Last time we came it was July, and I remember the flowers being incredible. This time it is definitely the beginning of autumn, with plants seeding and drying out, leaves starting to fall and the colour palette decidedly more subdued.

The view down across the gardens to the old castle
Over the garden wall, lovely countryside as far as the eye can see. Plenty of walks around here

The new Scotney Castle was first opened to the public in 2007 after the death of the Betty Hussey. Her husband Christopher had died in 1970, bequeathing the house, castle and estate to the National Trust. Since mum and I visited in 2009 the whole house has been preserved and opened up to the public as well as the old castle.

Tenants of apartments on the estate include Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who rented the Belfry flat for a time during the 1970s and 1980s to escape Westminster.

The gardens are considered prime examples of the Picturesque style of landscape design – basically gardens which were designed specifically to be painted. As such, the old castle was partially dismantled to create a ‘ruin’ as a centrepiece to the garden, surrounded by a water lily filled moat and viewed from the ‘new’ Scotney Castle.

The old Scotney Castle
The moat makes for some lovely reflections

The National Trust has plenty of paid gardeners and volunteers working on the grounds, using old papers, paintings and photographs to restore the gardens to their former glory and adding planting which fit in with the original plan.

We toured the gardens, admiring the views in all directions.

Some fabulous splashes of colour still to be found
Mum and daughter number one
The sun even came out!
‘The hop pickers’ – for many years hop pickers have come from London to harvest the crops here. There are still hops grown at Scotney Castle – the only National Trust hop farm. They’re used by several local brewerys to create Scotney Ale
Exploring the grounds
Big gardens means you can have big plants with big leaves!

We were given a 15 minute slot during which to explore the house, but took 40, it was so interesting. It has the feeling of a living home rather than a museum, with lots of quirky details from the most recent residents sitting alongside the old furniture and 19th century interior design.

A pen and watercolour artwork in the house, looking across at the old castle

The volunteers in the house were passionate and excited to share their learnings too, pointing out a bookcase which is really a secret door, and a Dutch masterpiece above the dining room fireplace bought from a local pub for the princely sum of £30 in the early 1900s (even then it would have been far more valuable)…the Tate Gallery in London is apparently keen to get hold of it! How the local pub ended up with a Dutch masterpiece is a story we didn’t learn, but I bet there’s an interesting tale there too!

Beuckelaer, Joachim; A Maid in a Kitchen and Christ with Martha and Mary in the Background; National Trust, Scotney Castle; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-maid-in-a-kitchen-and-christ-with-martha-and-mary-in-the-background-220742
Fake bookcase hiding a door into the next room
Clearly a house of cat lovers

Scotney Castle is definitely worth a visit if you are in the East Sussex/west Kent area – just a 40 minute drive from Hastings.

10-11 September: Off to 1066 country…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Hastings, East Sussex, UK

Tuesday: We arrived in Hastings mid morning and Mark was off into town right away on his bike for an eye pressure test…the first since before we headed to Europe in May. Thankfully the results were great – his eyes stable and healthy – such a relief. Meanwhile, I got busy tackling the washing mountain, pleased to be able to hang it out in warm sunshine and a gentle breeze.

After a light lunch with mum, Mark and I jumped on the bikes and rode into town, taking a flask of herbal tea with us. We called into Waterfalls, a local tea room and gift shop with a fabulous home cooked menu to pick up cakes (they always have a dairy and gluten free options available along with their ‘normal’ ones) and continued our ride.

My sister and I used to always take our bikes out along Hastings seafront, loving the exhilaration of riding in the fresh salty air, the promenade offering a safe haven from the cars. These days it is a designated cycle-pedestrian shared path, so we don’t have to feel guilty for riding along. We headed to Hastings’ Old Town. This area of Hastings was mostly built prior to the 1760s (before bathing in the sea and drinking sea water(!) was made popular for health reasons).

Looking along the coast – the sunshine hitting the cliffs in the distance

Hastings has been home to fishermen (fisherpeople?) for more than a thousand years. These days there are 25 fishing boats at The Stade, making it the largest land-based fleet in the UK…needless to say the seafood in Hastings is deliciously fresh, and there’s a wide variety to choose from.

Looking geeky as we eat our cake and drink tea from a flask!

We rode to the extent of the seafront, an area called Rock-a-Nore. Here we could see right along the coast looking towards Dungeness in the distance, albeit with a chilly autumn breeze off the sea. There we enjoyed our tea and cake before heading deeper into the Old Town. Hastings Old Town is split almost in two, with All Saints Street (being headed by All Saints Church) being traditionally the home of the poorer residents, the fishermen’s cottages and workers in the fishing industry, and the St Clement’s Church area being the better off, wealthy area of Old Hastings. These days both have their charm, with the older housing on All Saints Street being in different states of repair, and many houses dating back to the early 1500s.

St Clements Church – rebuilt in 1377 after a raid from the French had destroyed an original church on the same site
Riding past St Clements Church
Renovator’s delight ripe for investment on All Saints Street…house dating back to 1450

Like many of the French towns and villages we have visited, Hastings Old Town used to have a wall as defence against attack from the French. It fell into disrepair and was pretty much all gone by the 1800s. There are still several pubs in the old town, many of which have interesting historical takes linked with them. One of the pubs on All Saints Street (The Stag Inn) has a tunnel linking its cellars to a cave in the cliffs, where smuggled spirits were brought in from France (or pirated from ships attacked in the English Channel).

Ye Olde Pump House on George Street – favoured drinking establishment of my student days (photo taken especially for Jo!). Looks really old but was actually built in 1956 and made to look like some of the original old town pubs and houses.

A brief ride down George Street, still decked out in rainbow flags from the fourth Hastings Pride (25 August) and we headed back home for the evening.

Wednesday morning looked very wintry in comparison to Tuesday, with heavy grey skies and drizzle. It would have been easy to stay indoors and do not much but instead mum, Mark and I headed back to the Old Town by car for more of an explore on foot. It was very cold and windy there so we didn’t linger on the seafront, instead ducking off down High Street, long been the hub of the town (originally known as Market Street). Today it is still full of little interesting shops, old antiques alongside gift stores and delis.

I follow the Hastings Old Town Appreciation Group on Facebook and a few weeks ago I had seen my friend Emma mentioning a 1066 Hastings Gin sold in Penbuckles Delicatessen where she works part time. We decided to call in. What a great deli! This is the type of location we dream of finding, packed full of produce from local farms and businesses, ranging from cheeses, wines, milk, jams, pickles, sauces, cakes and savouries. They have a real focus on the environment, minimising waste and utilising biodegradable products where possible.

A wide variety of wines on sale – from across the world as well as local drops
Mum and I enjoying our lunch

It was a cappuccino for mum, a 70% dairy free hot chocolate for me and a white hot chocolate for Mr A, accompanied by a vegan pastry roll and a St Leonards Pasty. All delicious. And we mustn’t forget the gin tasting – we tried samples of the 1066 Hastings Gin and also the award winning Haswell Gin. Both very tasty with and without tonic. We bought a bottle as a gift for friends…hopefully they’ll let us taste a drop!

The delectable Hastings Gin…

We bought some cockles (boiled molluscs in vinegar) from the fish market on our way back to the car and headed home for the afternoon.

Mr A tempted buy almost everything in the fish market…lobster tails anyone?

Mr A waved goodbye and headed off for the first time driving Truffy without his co-pilot. He’s off to catch up with some old friends from Australia who have moved back to the UK, before heading off on biking adventures with some more friends this coming weekend…I’m sure he’ll be back soon to share more about that!