11 July – 5 August: Summer heats up and tests the immune system!

Author: Mr A

Location: Milton Keynes, Bradford-on-Tone, London, UK

I write this from my ”Isolation Wing” in the the new house that is rapidly becoming a home. COVID-19 struck me down. How? Well..here’s my side of the story. We were in London again (I think we need shares in Great Western Railway!) for Catherine’s kick off immunotherapy treatment to try and tackle her subglottic stenosis.

A superb Spanish meal out the night before
And a rather large Gin and Soda for madam (mostly soda!)
And a delicious pint for me
Catherine’s first immunotherapy infusion – an excuse to spend a few hours sitting in a chair

I encouraged madam to go clothes shopping, usual uphill battle, and volunteered to travel across London to collect the right size from a different store.

I walked 18kms that day, one of the many pleasures actually of being here, exploring the big city. I most likely caught it somewhere then because two days later I have sore throat, aches and pains and I’m down with the plague.…so it’s Catherine’s fault! 😉

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Anyway, there are definitely worse places to do my time in bed, with my own private ensuite and kitchen! Catherine even ran a fan at my door so my dirty germs wouldn’t pollute the house. Seriously, it’s really important we keep her safe as her airway is already declining since the last op, six weeks ago.

In the brief window between London and Covid, our friend Andie and his daughter Rosie came to visit…and yes, that is a pair of faggots in the local pub….

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It wouldn’t feel right without a hospital appointment in the week. I had to cancel mine at Moorfields Private Eye Hospital in London, which was supposed to be today. I could wait another 8 months for my NHS appt (been waiting 4 already), but by then who knows what mess my eyes will be in. There are 30,000 vacancies currently in the National Health Service in the UK. Well, Catherine is certainly getting more than her fair share of those scarce ENT staff!

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Backing up to pre my COVID isolation, I went gadding up to Milton Keynes again, responding to a request for help from daughter number two, whose hubby away again and she is at work. A few school runs and pick ups, a walk in the woods, a lovely birthday meal out with the whole mob for daughter number one. It ticked a lot of boxes.

Granddad and James, grandson number 3 on one of many school pick ups/drop offs
Hayley and Zoe with their dogs, Blossom and Belle
Birthday girl Zoe
Son-in-law Mark (good name!), granddaughter Lily and grandson Jacob watch on as mum blows out her candle

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The same daughter (Hayley) then brought her two boys down to stay with us a few days later. Apparently, according to the boys, a highlight was going packrafting down the local River Tone (stream at the moment with lack of rain!). A few laughs, a few tears, the usual.

Breakfast of champions at one of our local eateries, Sheppy’s Cider Barn – they also sell good cider!
A huge creamy hot chocolate for those who already had breakfast at home!
Luke and James
A short walk along the river to our launching spot
Hayley overseeing the activities
What activity? A lot of lazing around!
And meanwhile in our garden…yum! Fresh raspberries

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We continue to kit out the house, with lots of couriers turning up with furniture and bits and pieces. really enjoying the process. Even found ourselves supplier to help us with some modifications, more on those when we get further down the track.

I just feel so good about this place, its rural views, its land size (I’d dig a moat if I could!) and how the house is laid out, with a few minor changes coming up. We know we were so lucky to find it, and really enjoying starting to have friends as well as family come and stay. The house can start to build some memories for us.

My favourite spot is under the old oak tree. Camping chair, bottle of wine, and even joined by local friends three times now! The times they are a changing.

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1-20 April – Spring is in the air!

Author: Mr A

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!

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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.

How about that hairstyle? A Great Crested Grebe in its summer feathers
This Eurasian Coot has a nest hidden in the reeds, and has fluffed up its feathers to frighten off other birds
A Marsh Harrier soars over the wetlands, Glastonbury Tor in the background
As always, a friendly Robin follows us along the paths, hoping for a snack

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.

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Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.

Yes…she’s a big one..the lovely Gwenevieve
Looking dwon to the coast and Porlock Harbour

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!

Jane and Terry…been so kind to us

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.

Just missed the Exmoor ponies charging across the road
A beautiful highland cow is right at home on these sparse hillsides
The right vehicle for this terrain!

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.

The Rapeseed is flowering brightly, creating a vibrant patchwork of fields throughout the countryside
An Oak Tree that has been here for hundreds of years, a few km walk from Kingston St Mary

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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!).

Obi and Ani gave us plenty of laughs with their antics, and we only got the one mouse as a gift

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.

A female Linnett – hoping to catch a male next time – they are very colourful
A handsome Mallard Duck
A tram whizzes past the wetlands en route to Seaton
A Common Chaffinch surveys the marshland
Another Robin comes to check us out

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!

The bluebells are flowering and the scent is incredible
A bank of blue
Looking down towards the River Severn and Wales beyond

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16 February-4 March: Three (yes, THREE!) named storms and settling in to our ’new’ life

Author: Mrs A

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

The UK has been naming its’ severe weather events since 2015, having taken the idea from the USA. The season commences in September, with the first major event beginning with the letter A, and then continues throughout the year (names never start with letters  Q, U, X, Y or Z), to date never going beyond the letter K before resetting in September.

Since our last post, 12 days ago, the UK has encountered Dudley (17/2 just Scotland and the North of England), Eunice (18/2) and Franklin (21/2)! Despite the dramatic news headlines you may have heard, we fortunately escaped unscathed.

Storm Eunice apporaching – source MET Office

The afternoon before the arrival of Eunice, I left Mr A in Somerset and took the train from Taunton up to London and across down to Brighton to catch up with my sister and her family there. It’s been about 18 months since we last saw one another in person, and the children are growing up so quickly.

A stormy afternoon painting – artworks from artists aged 8 to 48!

It was a lovely relaxing weekend, with walks with the dog, and just enjoying one anothers’ company – the usual pressure of trying to maximise every second eased by our migration. I even bumped into an old friend from Uni on one of our morning walks, she was coincidentally doing a run in the same area.

Cocoa racing around the hillside and an inpromptu catch up with a friend
A glorious morning with a fresh breeze
Helen and I had a lunch out in the Brighton North Laine area
Cocoa and Helen took me on a walk around Preston Park, Manor and the nearby church

The time flew by, and before long it was time to farewell Helen, Stu and the children and train it up to London to meet Mark.

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Several weeks ago Mark had read an article which talked about an upcoming exhibition at the British Museum in London; ‘Stonehenge’. Mark travelled up from Taunton on a train that had been speed-limited to 50mph (because of the potential for post-storm branches on the line) and taken twice the time it should have done, and I met him in central London.

It was a wet Sunday evening and we headed into Chinatown for duck pancakes and then a basement cocktail bar for a drink.

Glistening London – could be a painting in the making
Quiet streets on a Sunday night
We find an underground cocktail bar and discover where all the people are hiding

On Monday morning, we walked from our hotel up to the British Museum and the exhibition. We had pre-purchased our timed tickets online, but on arrival saw a long queue snaking along the road. Mark spoke to one of the security guards who recommended heading instead to the entrance at the rear of the building. We strolled around and walked in with no queue at all – good tip for future visits!

Mr A lingering by some golden jewellery

It was an excellent exhibition which made use of multimedia, sounds, lights, and videos to bring the artefacts on display to life. One of the key messages we took from ’Stonehenge’ was just how migration has always been a part of the British and continental European heritage – DNA investigations into bones of people buried beside Stonehenge show that some were born in Spain in the Pyrenees, while others were born in the UK but spent time in Spain and other countries. Many of the techniques used in the creation of jewellery, weapons and stonemasonry were developed and shared many hundreds of miles away, showing how people were likely travelling more than most of us in the past two years!

Axe heads, carvings in stone and the little known Seahenge, uncovered on a beach in Norfolk
Incredible jewellery and centre part of the Sweet Track from the Somerset Levels (dated to 3807 BCE)

We are looking forward to exploring some of the regions brought to life in this exhibition in the coming years.

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Back in Somerset, our life has been focused on trying to find a house to buy…or as time progresses without anything suitable, looking at the very uninspiring rental market. As the weeks tick by with little to go and see, we are starting to feel the pressure of finding a longer term home. Our holiday rental is all well and good, but there is a definite deadline, after which we will need an alternative place to live.

We have managed to take some time out from scouring the property listings to do some local walks and a spot of bird photography too.

A handsome Great-Tit perches artfully on a bramble
A Robin glowing in the morning sunshine
A Long-tailed tit flies down for some food left out on a log
A tiny little Tree-Creeper scurries up a vertical trunk, hunting for insects
A Jackdaw enjoying some late afternoon sunshine
Views across the Somerset Levels
Looking towards the Quantock Hills

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Despite having the typical wintry weather (including some sleet and light snow) we also have had some spectacular sunshine. We did a great 12km walk last weekend from our front door, following ancient footpaths across fields and quiet lanes.

Mr A makes a hiking friend at the start of our walk
Woodlands, fields and quiet lanes
A sunny bank of crocuses
Farm tracks double as footpaths
We climb up and enjoy fabulous views from our picnic spot in a field

We finished up our walk at our local pub, The Swan, which was just finishing up a busy Sunday lunch. The Landlord is an ex Royal Marine and several of his old colleagues live nearby, and one also employed as the pub’s chef. It’s a great atmosphere there, where everyone welcomes you like family, and Mark and I certainly feel like we have made friends already.

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This week we actually made an offer on a gorgeous property, but suspect we will be severely outbid on this occasion. It’s been the first house to really tick all our boxes – plenty of space for visitors, good energy efficiency, walking distance to a great village and pub and yet within an easy drive to Taunton train station for trips up to London. We’ll hear for sure next week after they have shown another 20 or so interested parties around.

Mid week we paid a visit to the Somerset Levels and an RSPB wetlands site – Greylake. Despite a chilly wind blowing across the water, there were plenty of people camped out in the bird hides with their spotting scopes, binoculars and telephoto lenses. We fit right in, other than the fact we don’t know what birds we are looking at! We spent an entranced hour watching Little Grebes, White Swans, Egrets and vast flocks of Wigeons (ducks) all in their fabulous breeding colours. Just magnificent. Of course, the usual woodland birds were there as well, with a lovely little European Robin posing for a photo on some brambles.

And we have takeoff! For some reason the Wigeon decide to launch themselves off in their thousands
How on earth do they find a space to fly in?
One Wigeon is tired of all the flying around and dozes on the water’s edge
An European Robin hops over to see us off

We’re finding it is increasingly important to step away from our property searching to enjoy some pure and simple nature, reminding us why we love this area. This coming weekend we have another reminder coming up – 28 members of our family will be joining us to help celebrate my birthday…and it’s not even a big one! We’ll share all the news from that in our next post 🙂

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22 January-6 February: Moving to the land up over

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia and London, UK

When people talk about going through a rollercoaster of emotions, it surely has to describe the multitude of sentiments we have gone though these past few weeks, packing up our home, farewelling longtime friends and colleagues, and walking away from the stunning, wild and unique scenery and wildlife of Australia. We have both found ourselves pushing memories and thoughts of the past quarter century to the back of our minds for fear the feelings will overwhelm and render us incapable of tackling the many tasks at hand.

Australia really has provided us with a wonderful life. We have made lifelong friends, visited incredible locations, had many special experiences. While we look forward to the next chapter of our lives in the UK, we are so thankful for the people who have enriched our lives. We had a few private farewells who gave us some wonderful meals and company to remember – with extra special thanks to Donna and Andy, and Tassie’s current foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, who went above and beyond to treat us.

A farewell picnic with some of my old work colleagues (Rosemary, Kath, Liane, Richard, Wendy, Catherine and Hamish – Mr A photographer)
Our final weekend with Jenny and David as our housemates – we joined Eveliene to help celebrate her birthday, followed by a beach walk and BBQ brunch
Champagne, white wine and seafood feast with Rosemary and Richard
The shipping container arrives and Chess Moving takes a day and a half to wrap up and pack our possessions. Our final meal at the house is a Butter-free Chicken (with roasted brussels) and a fine shiraz. Finally we departed with all our many bags, and went for a few nights into the city

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Finally, once all the shipping container was filled and our bags packed, our friend Jenny very kindly drove across town to pick us up and courier us to the Shangri-la Hotel in the city for our last few nights.

The Shangri-la Hotel was the location for one of our first dates, back in 1999. We had dressed up in our finery and visited the Blu Bar cocktail bar before attending a performance of Madam Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House.

Back in October last year, Mark had spotted that we could use our Qantas Frequent Flyer Points to book rooms, finding we had just enough remaining to cover four nights. A small sum extra allowed us to upgrade to a room with a view of Sydney Harbour – we felt we deserved it!

We checked in on Friday evening, not long after the shipping container with all our possessions had left. Emotionally exhausted, we enjoyed some champagne in our incredible 28th floor room and had takeaway Asian street food for dinner! We were asleep by 9pm.

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The following two days went by in a whirl. Friends flew up from Melbourne, drove down from Newcastle and booked into city centre hotel rooms to spend time with us. Saturday dawned hot, clear and sunny, a typical Sydney’s summer day, and we enjoyed a feast at the Sydney Fish Markets, followed by an evening at a local pub.

Catching up with friends at the Sydney Fish Market for many oysters, prawns and sashimi

Sunday we had organised a lunch at The Malaya, a bit of a Sydney institution, just for the closest members of our extended family. We had 11 friends join us for an afternoon full of laughter, tears and the sharing of funny stories and memories. When eventually the restaurant needed us to leave so they could prepare for dinner, we went to the aforementioned cocktail bar at our hotel to continue the party, and finished off in our room with fine views and dancing. It was indeed a fitting farewell to all these incredible friends who have become our surrogate family in Australia.

Tears and laughter with our nearest and dearest

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Our final couple of days were far more subdued. Taronga Zoo is located on the edge of Sydney Harbour, and a short ferry trip from Circular Quay, a five minute walk from our hotel. It was the venue for our wedding, nearly 20 years ago, and I was keen for one last visit to remember the ambience of the location. Our friends Dan and Michelle joined us their with their young daughter Darcy. They are picking up the Aussie-adventuring lead where we have dropped it and are collecting their second hand Zone caravan very soon. We chatted to them about the joys of caravanning and the potential adventures that may lay ahead for them.

A farewell to our friends…young Darcy is a little bit infatuated with Mr A!
A collection of native and non native wildlife in some of the exhibits
Looking back towards Sydney from the Zoo – seeing our hotel from a different angle

On Monday evening we were treated to a final supper with our friends Clive and Aisha. We had been determined to be alcohol-free but ended up sharing a bottle of wine and completing the meal with a cocktail! Such willpower! But all in a good cause.

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And then it was upon us, our last day as Sydney residents. I set off early to walk across town to the hairdressers, and Mr A had a walk around the stunning Royal Botanical Gardens and city. Time just flew by, and before long we were wheeling our re-packed luggage into a maxi-taxi and heading to the airport.

First time flying long haul business class – very nice indeed!

And then we were off. Did it feel emotional as we pulled up from the land and sped off through the air towards Dubai? Strangely, no. Partly I think we have cried so many tears over the past week or so it was a relief to be finally boarding the plane and partly because now our brains have moved on to the next stage, and we are feeling so excited about what lies ahead.

I think it will take us a little while to really recognise that this is not just another holiday and that we are here to live. Once Princess Tassie arrives and we have found a house to purchase I think this will all seem real, Otherwise for now it’s all a bit of a dream.

Already London has been treating us well, with some great shopping and dining opportunities and a few convivial nights out with friends and family.

Our friends Barney and Mel are the first to welcome us back with drinks and dinner in Soho
We are joined by Mr A’s daughters Hayley and Zoe, my cousin Karen and mum for a weekend in Chelsea – it has been a long 18 months between hugs
Wine bar followed by the theatre of a Teppanyaki dinner

We have more fun already planned for the next few weeks, reuniting and reconnecting with friends and family…the next adventure has begun.

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7 November: And we are off!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Heathrow Airport, London, UK

After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.

Off we go…our first step….

Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.

Final use of the NHS covid app…

Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.

Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.

Final chat with mum, sister, nephew and niece

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!

Heathrow as we have never seen it before

Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….

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

Author: Mr A

Location: The Paddington Hilton, London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurrah…long may it continue to be this way!

1-5 November: More farewells and another lockdown commences

Author: Mrs A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Covid-19 testing centre and my test kit

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

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

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

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!).

18-24 August: Stormy in Devon

Author: Mrs A

Location: Headon Farm, Holsworthy, Devon

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.

The wildflowers in the hedgerows appreciate the return of the sunshine after the torrential rain
A typical single lane road, looking more like a footpath than something cars drive on
Past historic farms…
The wild skies contrasting with the lush grass

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.

Like Tavistock, Holsworthy has a small Pannier Market with little shops and a great cheesemonger

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.

Feeling deflated on the way to taste wine

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.

York House Gardens with their amazing statues
Orleans House with its octagonal room, the riverside and a lovely looking pub, The White Swan

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.

Remembering to appreciate to fresher temperatures that we craved in Australia
Absolutely delicious food – a shared platter of roasted meat and vegetables
An entree of Cornish mussels for Mr A and Cornish Mackerel for Mrs A

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!

14-17 March: Being world travellers in a Covid-19 world

Author: Mrs A

Location: London and Little Gaddesden, UK

Life is becoming quite surreal, yes more so than usual! As the coronavirus takes hold globally and ever increasing measures are put in place to help protect health systems and patients, our travel life is certainly not going as we expected.

Mr A and I went our separate ways on Sunday, him heading up to Doncaster to get a new levelling system fitted on Truffy (means we can travel with a washing machine instead of giant ramps, and getting us level each night will be much easier). I meanwhile headed south to stay with my cousin and her family in Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire.

Bumping elbows instead of hugging, administering hand sanitiser at every opportunity and washing hands for a good 20 seconds, we are doing as much as we can, but one is all too aware of the invisible enemy out there. Every cough is quickly smothered with an excuse, a lack of fever or breathlessness appreciated. I had an element of anxiety that I might be introducing our invisible enemy into the healthy household, despite not having knowingly been in contact with anyone with Covid-19. They too had the same fears with my cousin’s daughter Ella still going to school.

My reason for heading south was a doctor’s appointment in London. I’d had some unusual blood test results earlier this year, so was off to see a specialist at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. Until the morning, I was neither sure whether the appointment was still happening, nor whether my mum would still take the train up from Hastings to meet me there.

It turns out, both happened. With unfamiliar trepidation I caught a train down to London, careful to disinfect everything I came into contact with – the touch-screen ticket machine, the arm of the seat I sat in. There was hardly another person on the train.

An almost deserted platform at Berkhamstead station

Mum and I met at Hampstead tube. It felt very strange only to do a very brief and careful hug after not seeing each other since November, but with both of us in high risk categories (mum over 70 and me with an airway disease) we were being ultra cautious. Mum spent the first 20 or so years of her life in the Hampstead/Gospel Oak area, so this was a real trip down memory lane for her.

A catch up over a drink at a local pub
Coffee for mum, soda water for me and lots of hand washing!
Lovely spring colours belying the cautious overtones

It was a beautiful spring day, blue skies and a gentle breeze, the air clear and the streets not crowded. We strolled up as far as Hampstead Heath and enjoyed the views over the city, life going on with new leaf buds fit to burst, daffodils bobbing in the breeze and blackbirds singing in the trees. You cant help but wonder whether mother nature has her own plans for saving the planet by wiping out the cause of so much damage…let’s hope not!

Whitestone Pond – mum recalls skidding across this with her sister when it froze over during winter
Mum remembering her time at Hampstead Heath
Flowers frame our view of central London

We enjoyed delicious vegan lunch in a bright little cafe then it was down to the hospital.

Delicious food at Ginger and White cafe
Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead

An hour later and we were off, catching the number 24 bus to Camden Road, the same route mum used to take to work when she lived in London, BC (before Catherine!).

It is expected that soon over 70s will be asked to completely avoid any social contact. This may well be the last time I see mum in person for weeks, or even months, but it is worth it to keep her well and safe. We farewelled and headed home on nearly empty trains, repeating the regular sanitising and social avoidance.

It’s a tough time to be travelling. Watching people in France in a two week lockdown makes us wonder what we are in for. Our family is so close, and while we would love to spend time with them, it looks like we might have to keep our distance. Our plans remain forever fluid as we adjust them by the moment, hoping that one day this will be just another experience we lived through and survived.