Twelve months ago on the 2nd of the 2nd 2022 (a hard to forget date, even for me), we stepped off a plane from Sydney and showed our passports at Heathrow Airport. We had one way tickets…a fairly committing thought I can tell you.
Reflecting back, we’ve come so far, even my grand-kids recognise me! Old friendships have been rekindled, and new ones are forming. Toasts have been made to a new life. Oh and we found the house of our dreams in one of the most rural counties in England…where A roads are few and far between, and B roads look a lot like goat tracks…Somerset…we love you. Its been a wild ride, but we’ve settled now and love it.
Our village is starting to feel like somewhere we belong, and can really craft a new identity in. Everyone here has been so kind and welcoming. We recognise faces in the street , and in turn are recognised. That feels good. I help out in our community-owned shop on a Saturday morning and that’s got me known among some of the regulars, the ones who cross the street when they see me coming (to the other side!).
Catherine has started to bed herself into the community, joining in Pilates at the village hall, producing a flier for the shop, and taking herself off in a small women’s walking group she was invited to join.
Catherine has also landed (another) voluntary job as photographer for the Somerset arm of a charity called CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) – you’ll find her photos on their website and Instagram (@cpresomerset). We signed up to help with their litter pick-up initiative, and have used our kits to clean up the lane where we live.
Oh but what about the weather you say? Well maybe we are still in the honeymoon period, but the long dark nights of this winter have been an opportunity to get the log burner cranked up, pour ourselves a nice glass of red, and chill out, which in my case means reading and music, and in Catherine’s writing documents for her support group or research papers she is contributing to. Now there are already signs of spring, with snowdrops and daffodils poking their heads out of our lawn and borders. Well …where the squirrels and badgers haven’t dug up the bulbs we carefully buried, little buggers!
Our village did experience some local flooding, but not on our property which seems very well drained, and we don’t actually feel like we had many days of rain. We have been getting out and about no problem. There were certainly more than a few muddy walks, with some requiring wellies, but we have enjoyed them all. Just need to have the right gear.
We have also been able to borrow our new neighbours’ dog Ralph, and take him for a romp, and give him back muddy 🙂
We even walked out over the fields for a Sunday lunch at a local pub last week, that just felt so good. When I look back over January and February, I really have many happy memories created outdoors and in.
We haven’t had too many visitors, a nice break after the last summer’s rush just after we had moved in, but Catherine’s half brother Alex came and stayed locally and did a great walk with us.
Then a couple of friends from Australia did an overnight in between family visits. We certainly miss our friends in Australia, but our life needed to move on to adventures new.
Catherine has been able to spend so much more time with her family, having another weekend in Brighton with her sister and family, then to Hastings, to farewell her grandma.
We both also have had several trips into London for specialist medical support, which when the trains are running has been dead easy! So not very often…
We are also setting ourselves up to get out riding this spring. We both have new e-bikes, ones that will cope with the potholes, mud and gravel a little better, and that’s just on the main roads! I’m also planning some more multi-day bike tours. Exmoor and Dartmoor beckon. A lot to look forward to.
Our home is also taking shape. We’ve lived here nearly 8 months now, and have finished most of the major internal modifications we wanted to do, and kitted ourselves out with furniture, blinds etc. We’ve really enjoyed it, and I’m not sure why its felt different doing it here, but it has. In our last house we landscaped the garden, then stopped. Perhaps deep down we knew it wasn’t going to be our forever home, whereas this one feels like it will be. So next will come the garden, starting with the hard landscaping. We’ve chosen our provider and mapped out a design for a new patio, then it will be the shrubs and adding more privacy with trees. If we have another summer like the last one, it will get a good work out.
So that’s us. Happy in our country bubble, just keeping fingers crossed about our respective health, and enjoying each day we have in this fabulous corner of the country.
It has been more than 24 years since either Mark or I spent a December on this side of the world, and bizarrely it was something we were rather looking forward to. All the Christmases in Australia, while fun, hot and sunny and usually spent with friends or travelling and camping, never felt quite like Christmas to us.
For me in particular, Christmas means wrapping up warm, dark mornings and evenings, the sight of car lights reflecting on dark wet roads, and the festival of light provided by street and shop window decorations, brightening the time of year. The UK delivered that in spades, and even bah-humbug Mark who usually lacks enthusiasm about this time of year got into the spirit of things and started having fun!
Not long after returning from Seville, we decided to buy our Christmas tree, in anticipation of guests coming to stay on the first weekend in December. We thought it best to support a local business, and drove out to the Christmas Tree Farm. Neither of us had ever done anything like this before, arriving to a huge barn full of trees of all shapes and sizes. How to choose? First of all it was the height. We headed to the 6-7 (180-215cmish) feet section, as they looked good, and both settled on the first one we spotted. We were told jokingly by one of the workers that was not allowed, so we wandered around looking at other trees for another 10 minutes, and returned back to it!
We also had to pick up decorations, as we had donated all of ours to our next door neighbours in Curl Curl, Australia before we left. I did have a pang of sadness that we hadn’t rescued a few special pieces, but it’s all too late now. So it was off into the giant Christmas shop we went. I don’t think we have ever been so ready for the silly season!
Our friends from Devon came over for the weekend, a cold and grey one, brightened by our sparkly new tree. We spent our time eating and drinking with a little shopping for gifts in Taunton and Christmas Fairs in local villages. The boys are mad football fans, so they got a couple of early gifts – a World Cup ball each – they were very pleased!
A couple of days later our friends Mel and Barny travelled over to join is for a visit from their home in Essex. After an evening of food, laughs and gin tasting, we took them down to the coast and the village of East Quantoxhead for a walk and to clear out the cobwebs. It was a spectacular day, and really showcased this part of the country.
A superb dinner at a new-to-us restaurant in Taunton, Augustus, concluded their visit.
Mr A joined them on their return train journey to London, taking himself up to Milton Keynes to spend a few days with his grandchildren, given we’re not seeing them during their Christmas school holidays. He had a great time also catching up with his daughters and doing a few walks and a curry night (of course!).
While Mr A was away, something exciting happened in Somerset – it snowed! I was like a five year old version of myself, running from window to window, videoing the big fat snowflakes falling down, and rushing out with my camera to capture the spectacle throughout the village before it inevitably melted. Another big tick in the Christmassy box!
Our village, Bradford-on-Tone, is famous for its ‘Bradford Sparkle’ spectacle, which lit up on the 10th December. Everyone in the village comes out to stroll around the streets, admiring peoples’ lights, and there were some incredible efforts…and no, not by us. Fortunately we had been given a heads up that our house was a bit far out of the village (3 minutes walk from the village square), and people wouldn’t get as far as us. Maybe one year we will be set up enough to participate. Of course the grand finale was a visit to a very crowded pub to enjoy a mulled wine by the fire.
Several of the grand houses and gardens in the UK are illuminated at night at this time of year and open to visitors, and our nearest one was Hestercombe House, close to where we initially were living last February and March. We’d never been in the gardens, and it was great to stroll around the lakes, temples and arbors with a mug of mulled wine, and our neighbours, Lucy and Jim.
We concluded with Christmas reef making at the pub – very festive!
The dark days are taking some getting used to, with ‘sunrise’ currently about 8.15am and sunset about 4.15pm – some days it barely feels we are out of our pajamas! Now we’re past the winter solstice days are slowly getting slightly longer. We’re learning that mornings are best if we want to head out hiking, as afternoons often feel like one long dusk, leading to sunset!
You’ve probably heard about the madness of all the strikes in the UK the past few months. We have mostly been impacted by the railways and postal workers, with our sympathy with the rail workers now dwindling away as yet another event has to be cancelled.
Fortunately the week before Christmas the trains were running smoothly, as I had to go to London for my fourth operation of the year. I went up a day early and met up with my friend Jacky for a visit to the Royal Academy of Art, lunch and a little furniture shopping. It felt lovely and festive in London, but I felt for all the shops and restaurants which have suffered due to the train strikes.
My operation went as planned, and I was able to leave with Mark early afternoon on the 22nd December and be home in Somerset for a sleep in bed before the sun set. Perfect!
Thankfully, due to the proximity of my operation to Christmas, we had planned a quiet few days, and roasted a chicken and vegetables for just the two of us on the day, and I felt well enough to join Mark up on the Quantock Hills for a hike on Boxing Day.
It was a stunning morning, and we were delighted to see a huge herd of Roe Deer galloping across the hills, usually a rarity, and if we are lucky just two or three, not more than 30. Our delight soon turned to dismay, as on our return walk we saw a pack of hunt dogs, barking and snarling in the back of a truck, and the Boxing Day hunters on horseback getting ready for a chase across the hills. Apparently this is a tradition that goes back more than 500 years, but it doesn’t mean I’m ok with it. We left before we encountered any blood and guts.
On the 29th we picked up my sister, Helen from Taunton station for a few days of R&R. Of course we all got over excited as usual, and so the following morning delivered hangovers – when will we learn?
It was on this morning that we learned that our grandma, Jean Marshall, had passed away in her sleep – 100 years and 7 months old. We hope she is reunited with granddad ? and we will be celebrating her life with family later this month.
Helen and I had lots of hugs and tears, and many calls with our mum. We toasted her life and our memories at a lunch at our favourite Italian, Villa Verde.
New year’s eve was soon upon us, and after a morning ambling around the shops in Taunton it was back to get dressed and ready to see in the new year. Our neighbours, Jim and Lucy joined us for Prosecco, before we all wandered down the road to our local pub for dinner, live music, wine and laughter.
And so a new year began. We started as we mean to go on, with a New Year’s Day hike to Culmstock Beacon with Helen before we dropped her at her train home, and on the public-holiday Monday, off on a circuit walk concluding with bacon butties with a large group of friends from the village.
We’re already booking flights for various trips to Austria and Italy, and are dreaming up ideas of places to visit in Truffy (our motorhome), who has been rather under utilised in the past few months – his last trip was back in May!
I bought Mark a stunning book for Christmas about ancient Britain, jam packed full of photography and writing from David Abram, an aerial photographer and historian I follow on Instagram (@davidrabram). That is already inspiring several destination ideas.
Exciting times ahead! Sending everyone all the best wishes for 2023 – may it bring health and happiness, and many adventures!
Location: Bradford-on-Tone, Somerset, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, London, UK
September was a busy month for us, hosting family and other visitors at our place. Catherine kicked things off with her Dad and his wife Sue arriving from New Zealand. It was the first time Catherine had seen him for over three years. Then her half brother Alex joined us and all were there to share in my birthday celebrations.
Then my eldest daughter Zoe also came for a weekend. I dont think we have ever spent a weekend together like that. It was very special. We had talked for a while about walking a bit of the South West Coast Path together, after both reading The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn and being really moved by it.
Catherine’s half-sister Elle and her family also joined us for a few days including fun at the Somerset County Show. Now, when I say fun, that can encompass many things in Somerset, we are learning. So a spot of ferret racing barely made us blink. Yes, the kids loved it, we loved it, and possibly the ferrets!
Family weren’t the only visitors in September. We also had the crew from my school days. Stuart and Karen, John and Catriona, all came for a couple of nights, and as usual we went hard on the first one with a lovely long dinner out at what has become our go to restaurant, Villa Verde in the village of Rockwell Green. The early hours of the morning found us dancing round our dining room! Grow up? Never….
My buddy Andrew joined for the next day and joined us for a head clearing walk on the beautiful Quantock Hills. This group of friends has been my rock through my whole life, and I love ‘em to bits :).
Finally on the visitors front, we had Percy, the peacock, who the village adopted after he escaped from a very cramped cage at a local farm. As autumn comes here, his tail fathers have been lost (well we found one that has pride of place now in a vase), and he has taken to resting up on our patio in the sun. Tassie, our Burmese, looks on with horror, and a speech bubble can almost be seen on her expression saying, “Wow, weird place this village!”
September has also seen us exploring our local area, both hiking and kayaking. Exmoor is just up the road, and Catherine plotted a few great little walks, including one around a reservoir up in the hills. I don’t think there’s any danger we will run out of local hiking trails. We really have landed on our feet here…hah hah.
Another walk started from a tiny settlement, Bury, where we started and finished from a medieval packhorse bridge.
On another occasion we tagged on an exploration of the River Exe estuary to a visit to a stone mason, and found a great selection of birdlife and some fabulous scenery – we hope to come back here one day. It’s well known as a fertile fishing ground, and there were plenty of Little Egrets catching fish. As always, we were told; ”Oh you should have been here earlier, there was an Osprey catching fish here”…but obviously nothing for us to see!
Then it was turn of our arms to get a workout, as we paddled across an area called the Somerset Levels, which we live on the edge of. With 160,000 acres at an average height of only a few metres above sea level, its is one of the flattest and most flood prone areas in the UK. It also home to rare species of birds, and our kayak gave us glimpses of some of these thanks to Catherine’s big lens. We weren’t sure how good the kayaking was going to be in the UK. How wrong could we be, certainly with the kind of weather we have had this autumn. So another tick in the move country (and hemisphere!) box for us.
But it is not all visitors and playtime. We have been busy planning modifications we want to make to the house, and already have started on one project, converting a room used by the previous owners as an office (only accessible through the garage!) to….a bar. Yup, we are getting a whole new extension to our kitchen, having had a wall knocked down creating access to the room directly from it. Planning permission is in for bifolds to be installed as well, to open up the view. Much work to do but its great to get started on making the house our own.
Catherine also as been working, doing her voluntary advocacy work, talking at conferences, contributing to research papers, managing an ever growing support group (approaching 6,500 members now!) and meeting fellow sufferers of the rare disease she has. She also manages to find time to do some paid work for a company in Australia. A right powerhouse she is, also squeezing in a flying visit to her cousin, auntie and uncle somewhere in that mix.
Thank goodness for our easy rail connection here from Taunton. Well, when they aren’t on strike, or have leaves on the line, dead sheep, kinky rails, strong winds, overhead power failure, or the many other reasons we get given for delays. It’s not especially reliable, but mostly gets us there more easily than by car when London is the destination.
What about me then? Well, not too much to tell amongst the flurry of visitors. I have kicked off volunteering in the local community shop though, and they want me back for a second go. I know, surprised me as well 🙂 I did go along to the local Morris dancing club night, given my philosophy is to give things a go.
Well, let’s just say I gave it go, and leave it there.
We are really loving the community here, never having felt part of one before, given we’ve mainly lived in larger towns and cities. I think we will always be ”the Australians at the Brodie’s place” (our previous owners), but that’s fine. One resident was telling us about ”The new people at The Old Schoolhouse”. It later emerged they’d lived there five years.
Change seems to happen slowly here. For instance, I can’t believe how attached every government department is to sending letters! Yes, actual snail mail. They seem to take pride in taking as a long as possible to enact a process. I started applying for my Government pension at the end of August. By the end of September I had made 23 phone calls, and finally received an application form for it through the post on the 29th. I said to one call centre operator, ”But can’t you just send me one from your computer?”. ”Ooooh no”, she says, ”That’s a whole other department that do that”. All part of the charm? Sometimes. Other times its all just frustratingly slow 🙂
And while we are on the idiosyncrasies of this country, none were more evident then when we saw the nation mourning the loss of it’s Queen. One bloke even got arrested (later released) for holding a sign that read ”I didn’t vote for you”, referring to the new king.
In the land that reveres its tolerance of free speech, I realised there are some very touchy subjects, and the monarchy is definitely one. I even saw local councils around us have cancelled food festivals where small businesses show case their wares. Apparently they are not appropriate at this time”, to quote the council minutes. Very strange.
There is much to learn. Best done by listening and keeping quiet and trying to keep my eyebrows under control 🙂
Location: Bradford on Tone, Somerset and London, UK
When Mr A last wrote he was struggling through a bout of Covid-19, isolated in his own wing of the house, while room service (me) delivered meals on a tray. Finally on day 9 he tested negative and was free to return to the shared spaces of the house, with a great deal of relief. I had managed to avoid catching it, thanks to his strict isolation.
Soon after he was released, I had my second immunotherapy infusion in London, and on a hot Tuesday morning headed up to Hampstead. The Royal Free Hospital has a charitable arm which provides free accomodation in a brand new building for long-distance patients, conveniently located beside the hospital, and walking distance to shops, cafes and the London Underground. After checking in, I decided I wanted an afternoon in the great outdoors, given I had so much indoor time ahead (hooked up to a drip), and took off to explore Hampstead Heath.
The Heath is a bit of a hidden gem in London. First written mention of it dates back to the year 986 when Ethelred the Unready allocated some of the land to one of his servants. Nowadays, at 790 acres, it is one of the largest green (or mostly yellow at the moment) spaces in London.
There are about 30 ponds on the Heath, three of which are available to swim in (one mixed genders, one female only, one male only), which were absolutely packed on this 30 degree day. Looking at the murky brown waters, I decided not to partake! My mum grew up in this area, and told me of people swimming here in the 1950s and 60s – I cannot imagine they have been well cleaned since this time, but I could be wrong!
The following morning I was off for my infusion of unicorn juice. This is my second infusion of Rituximab, the aim of which is to suppress my immune system and stop it from attacking my airway unnecessarily! Already, despite having an op in June, at this point my airway was already on the decline.
The day after I returned from London, my sister, Helen, brother in law Stu and nephew and niece drove over from Brighton and spent a busy and very warm four days with us.
The temperatures were more like what we would have expected to find in Australia, and our local river was again a lovely cool haven for a bit more packrafting with the kids.
We held a bit of a housewarming party too, with our friends from Honiton coming over for a BBQ one evening. We ended up congregating under the cool shade of the oak tree to sip wine, listen to music and share stories of our misspent youths!
The first of our Australian visitors arrived, with John and Eveliene stopping by for lunch en route from Plymouth to Oxfordshire, the months falling away as we slipped back into old conversations and jokes easily.
The next visitors were also from Australia, Karen and Chris, who stayed for three nights. They arrived on our 20th wedding anniversary, so joined us and our new friends and neighbours, Jim and Lucy, for a celebratory dinner at a local Italian, and a glass or two of bubbles.
A tour of a nearby brewery was in order the following day, somewhat of a hair-of-the dog, and Exmoor Ales obliged us with tastes straight from the barrel. They were rewarded with a few purchases.
No flying visit to Somerset is complete without a walk in the Quantock Hills before lunch at our local cider barn, Sheppy’s, and of course that was scheduled in for their final day with us (they also have a fine wine list, for the non cider drinkers!).
Not one to waste time, I squeezed in another operation on my airway on the day Karen and Chris left – hoping this is the last one this year – I have lost enough brain cells to general anaesthetics in 2022! Final pre-op photo for this year…(fingers crossed!), this one conducted at our local hospital in Taunton, just 12 minutes drive from home.
Readers who have been following us for a while will know that Mr A is rather partial to a solo cycling adventure, and he has been feeling he should plan a trip. So he set off on a training ride for two nights, loading up his electric bike with tent, sleeping bag, stove and a few supplies. The good thing about bike-packing (as it is called) in the UK, is that there is not hundreds of kilometres between water and food supplies, making the load a little lighter. The battery on the bike also helps a bit too! He had a great few days, saw some stunning countryside and was able to refine his packing list for next time.
Mark had not long left our driveway, and my sister and niece arrived from Brighton to join me for a few days.
I took Helen and Isabel to the small fishing town of Watchet, just a half hour drive from home. Following Jim’s tip to use bacon as bait, had a successful hour of crabbing in the rock pools. All crabs were released unharmed and enjoyed their morsels of bacon!
After saying farewell to Helen and Isabel, Mark and I realised we had a few days off from visitors, so decided to take ourselves off on a hike. I plotted a 9km route using Kamoot (our favourite mostly free app for plotting hikes via public footpaths and bridleways) and off we went. Despite being a long-weekend, we didn’t see anyone else on the paths.
It was lovely to get out in the fresh air amongst nature for a few hours, to fully test the new (again!) airway, and make the most of where we live.
We continue to feel more and more settled in Somerset, and metaphorically pinch ourselves on a daily basis when we admire the views from our windows or stroll through the village on our way to pilates at the village hall.
Creating memories with our friends and families, and having our Australian and UK lives mingle, all helps us to feel more at home here in Bradford-on-Tone. We are starting to make small changes to our home, putting our mark on it, and are enjoying fresh produce from the garden – a rhubarb and apple crumble last week, thanks to produce tended by the previous owners, and almost every day we are consuming salad leaves and peppery radish, sown by Mark’s youngest daughter, Hayley when she came to stay.
I am getting to know some locals as well, having met another lady with the same airway disease as me while I was in London, finding we live just 20 minutes drive apart. Last week another patient called in to meet us for lunch on her way home from holidaying in Cornwall – another time we really appreciate our proximity to the UK’s major transport networks!
While the past few months have delivered some health challenges, I am fortunate to have access to the best care, and a responsive medical team who are on my side. When I read almost daily about the waiting lists for medical treatment, I know that not everyone has this, and I am incredibly grateful. Mr A is now under the care of a world renowned eye surgeon in London for his glaucoma and pigment dispersion syndrome (PDS). We have had to organise this privately, the cost well worth avoiding the dangerously long wait to see an National Health Service doctor, which could be potentially damaging to his eyesight.
We’re learning how to navigate the systems, and though I am certain there will be more hurdles ahead, we have good friends and contacts who are helping us to overcome them.
One of the reasons we migrated to the UK was to spend more time travelling and exploring Europe…now we have been here seven months, we are starting to think about where and when we might get away…plans are afoot…watch this space!
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.
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! 😉
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Location: Kingston St Mary, Somerset, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK
Ok I’m back on blog writing, now I have a working keyboard. Never buy a so admirably misnamed ”Smart Folio” keyboard from the master of design Apple. It makes a soap dish look smart. Anyway, back in the saddle now with a brand new AirPad Air, paired this time with the newish ”Magic Keyboard”. The magic is in that this one actually works. Brilliant, with a built in touchpad keeping my curry covered fingers away from that lovely screen.
So, is this a travel blog you ask, or a tech round up and bemoaning of the sad state of Apple now they have their market dominanance? Ok, well given we are not travelling around very much, I guess now its more of a catch for friends and family scattered around the world, on what we’re up to, and a great place to showcase Catherine’s ever growing repertoire of photography skills. For me, an opportunity to say what the hell I like, knowing most of you skip to the photos anyway!
So here’s a random thought to prove that mantra. I was laying awake the other night (been doing a lot of that recently!) and mulling over a book I’m reading about the history of England. One phrase stuck in my mind. ”Civilisation after all means living in cities”, in the context of the changes that went on in England post the Romans packing up their far too short togas, and heading back to Europe to get a better tan. We are seeing up close here in Somerset changes that will I think forever change what it means to live a civilised life, and be dependent on a city to do that.
Our dependence on cities for our employment, shopping, leisure and socialising has been broken. We don’t need cities for any of that do we? We might want a city for some lively night life, bricks and mortar shopping, and that overall buzz you get from being in the thick of things every so often. But for the first time in a few thousand years, we don’t need to live in one to find meaningful, well paid work (with good broadband), or to wander the shops to find the best choice and price, or to catch the latest films, or meet up with friends.
I know, not a startling insight, this has been coming for a while, and we all acknowledge that, but now Catherine and I are living it, as we transition our lives from having a home in the city to one in the country, and coming to terms with it. Unfortunately for us, half the rest of England is doing the same, and pushing up prices of houses as a result.
But will we be happy? As long as we can get the train to ”civilisation” for our monthly fix of fine dining, window shopping, perfectly mixed cocktails, and live music…we think so. Time will tell. Perhaps the big thing missing from our ”happy list” is having that network of friends around us, and that sure isn’t dependent on being in a big city. In fact I would say now we are not working in offices, it is inversely correlated to urban living. It will happen.
Meanwhile, we can’t look at houses every day, so off we skipped to our favourite (well we’ve been once before!) birding site locally. Ham Wall – no – not in search of a sandwich smothered in English mustard, but this fabulous wetland half an hour drive north of us.
Some cracking shots there right? It was about 8 degrees, with a chilly old wind, and we were as happy as Larry (well, if Larry had thermals on). A Thursday afternoon and as usual the car park is heaving with fellow twitchers lugging around their big lenses and spotting scopes. All very friendly and willing to point out some of the shyer types hiding behind the rushes. I think one day this will feel like home. Not yet, but its getting easier. I don’t get a lurching feeling in my stomach as often when I think of Sydney Harbour.
Our friends also took us around some local sites in their gorgeous Landrover Defender. The hinterland of Porlock and Minehead, then up onto Exmoor.
Walking through old forests like these just makes us take big deep breathes, you can almost feel the oxygen levels get denser. Dogs were happy as well!
After the forest came the open country up on Exmoor. Fabulous. We will be spending a lot more time up here, once we have a car that can deal with the bumps. Yup… we bought the wrong car. Too long slung. Not our finest hour in the research department. However, watch this space, cunning plan in place.
We are just loving the area we are trying to make our new home. So much variety in the scenery. Coast, rolling hills, open moor, it has it all. We just need to settle into our forever home to really relax and enjoy it. Fingers crossed. Again, watch this space. Things are moving.
This week we have transferred our base of operations to our friends’ Karen and Dan’s house in Honiton north devon. They were away and asked us if we would kitten sit. Oh yes please we purred. A feline fix is just what we need while we wait for our dearly beloved Princess Tasmania to join us here (26th April!).
We also had to do a quick two nighter into London for madam to get an operation done to help her breathing once again. We were soon scuttling back to Devon, with a much improved airway. What a relief for her. It’s literally a life changing little op, to be able to get huge lungfulls of air once again into her system she can bound up the stairs, instead of wheezing her way up while the kittens dash past disdainfully.
We finished our stay in Honiton with a glorious morning out at another nature reserve, Seaton Wetlands on the Devon coast.
So thats us. Coming to the end of our first spell of a ”holiday rental” – 11 weeks in fact. There have been some brilliant moments, and some tough times. We think the tide is on the turn now, in a good way, but more on that in our next instalment.
Finishing off with a few shots of the beautiful bluebells now blooming up in the Quantock Hills – if we could share the aroma, we would!
Location: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We are looking forward to exploring some of the regions brought to life in this exhibition in the coming years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have more fun already planned for the next few weeks, reuniting and reconnecting with friends and family…the next adventure has begun.
After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.
Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.
Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.
Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!
Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….
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.
Some of the cavalry even turned out to see us off, which was nice.
From Chelsea we crossed over the Albert Bridge and across to Battersea Park, where we enjoyed freshly filled vegan baguettes in the rose garden.
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.
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.
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!