7-12 April: Spring progresses in the Quantocks

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

It has been over twenty years since either of have watched an English spring bring the countryside alive. One day we are walking around in winter coats and beanies, then a few days later its shorts and t-shirts! The smells and sounds of the changing seasons are almost overwhelming our senses, triggering nostalgic memories for both of us.

The great wood brings the aroma of fresh pine
Just us and the Exmoor ponies for company
Snakes Head Fritillary, primroses, dandelions, bellflowers…
Orchids, snowdrops, blossom and wild garlic
Wood anemones, grape hyacinths, and yellow archangel flowers (middle-left – now considered an invasive species) and delicate wood sorrel (top left – only found in ancient woodlands)
Some of our neighbours checking us out as we stroll through their field
The bluebells are starting to come out in the woodlands

We have continued our exercise regime, with a couple more spectacular walks through the Quantock Hills. We keep stopping and listening to the buzz of insects growing a little louder every day, a bird proudly flying with a big ball of wool to line her nest, lambs greedily feeding from mum, and the slightly eerie but oh so fabulous complete absence of the background noise of humans. Not a vehicle engine to be heard, no roar of planes overhead, just the sound of nature going about its business, uninterrupted by the usual synthetic cacophony.

Dame’s Violet, the colours ever more vivid in the clean, clear air
All Saints Church in Aisholt village, dates to the 14th century
Half a scotch egg and a cup of tea in the churchyard
We saw our first wild red deer on this walk…this was not it
The woodlands are beginning to green up
Temperatures have climbed in to the early 20s, so shorts and t-shirt are the new attire
This moss covered tree has seen a lot of years
Pheasants are frequent visitors, the cocks looking colourful in their breeding colours

In the middle of this tranquility came the news on Thursday afternoon before Easter, that by the end of that long weekend we needed to move out of our rambling big house that had been home for the last three weeks. We know our landlord was trying to find a long term tenant, but I guess we had convinced ourselves it wasn’t going to happen with all the restrictions of movement in the lockdown. Well, we were wrong.

What followed was 48hrs of frantic searching for a new property to rent. The assistance of friends was enlisted, and once again we were blown away with the effort and thoughtfulness of those who tried to help.

Things were looking dire, and then a cancellation in a holiday rental literally across the road from us gave us an opportunity we grabbed. Home for at least the next month, and most likely two, will be a lovely cosy little two bed cottage, a barn conversion attached to a bigger house and set in the most fabulous gardens.

Our tiny little Honeysuckle Cottage…bigger than Truffy at least!
Beautiful landscaped gardens available to tenants

As for most people, life has been a roller coaster the last month, and the support of friends and family mean everything. We woke this morning with our first “Zoom Hangover”, after a cracking night chatting with friends around the UK and drinking a little too much wine, dissipating our pent up anxiety via laughs and conversation.

A final sunset – we will have to find a new viewing location

These are strange times, and we need our relationships with those who we hold dear to help us make sense of our lives right now.

Tuesday 27 March: Wind changes the state of play

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wooli, NSW

Our initial plans of taking the packrafts out on the Wooli Wooli River were thwarted by a brisk breeze and grey skies threatening rain again, so we decided to get out our packs and go walking instead. On our 14km explore yesterday by bike, it had looked as though we might be able to cross the river on foot at low tide, so we headed off down there intending to cross and hike through the Yuragir National Park. Alas, once down there, we could see the water was much too fast flowing and deep for us to cross without a boat.

So, we decided that oysters would help us plan where we might go instead. The local oyster shed had no oysters on display, and we found that the rain had closed the river, the oyster farmers reliant on the Department of Agriculture to test the water and find the quality safe before they could harvest more. Oysters are filterers, meaning that their meat will consist of whatever they sift out of the water – in this case the rain has flooded the marshlands up the river, allowing the likes of E. coli bacteria to enter the stream. So instead, she went out back and returned with some oysters she had purchased from Merimbula, relatives of the the very oysters we had tried a few weeks ago!Our brains fuelled by oyster goodness, we decided to drive into the National Park north of Wooli and see whether there was a walk we could do there.

It was a short drive, but we soon arrived at a sign directing us to a campground. We drove in and ‘voila!’, a sign directing us to the Wilson’s Headland Circuit walk, just a 6km return. Perfect. We set off on what was to become one of the best walks we have ever done. Full of birdlife, fabulous views, plenty of variation in the scenery and vegetation it was great. The national parks authority had provided quality boardwalks and stairways – simply beautiful.There was not another soul on the walk either, something I am certain will change as we hit Easter this coming weekend, and the Queensland school holidays. Orchids, irises and delicate flowers were to be found with careful looking, not always obvious at first glance.We stopped for a plum at a cliff top bench with an incredible view. This would be a fabulous whale watching spot in the winter months.Readers who are still working will then be pleased to know that after all this fun we returned to the mobile apartment where I spent the next 4 hours programming an online research survey, while Mr A relaxed with a good book. Life is all about balance!

It’s such a peaceful and pretty part of the world. There is definitely a true community here in Wooli, though I am not sure you would describe it as truly thriving. It was clear from talking to the lady in the oyster shop that they are very reliant on the influx of visitors during the school holidays, and that the weather plays a big part in its success. She seemed quite anxious that the recent rain would put people off travelling down here, and that the lack of local oysters would put a big dent in her earnings. Her shop advertises that it stocks groceries as well as providing fish and chips seven days a week. The groceries when we entered were pretty scarce – a tin of supermarket brand coconut cream for $2, a few boxes of lasagna pasta for $3 and some loaves of bread.

The campground is extremely quiet – other than us just one or two other caravans and a couple of fishermen in tents – not really bringing in much money to the area given we all self-cater. While this is great for us as visitors, I can see that scraping a living from our meagre spendings would be very hard.

Day 148: 25 October – Exploring Bremer Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Bremer Bay

Distance walked: 6 km

Today we had decided to take a short 20 minute drive up the road to the nearest settlement, Bremer Bay. We set off with very little in the way of a plan, all we could gleam from a bit of Googling was “a small settlement surrounded by fabulous beaches, with fishing and surfing opportunities”. Well that describes 99% of all Australian coastal settlements…what was special here? We soon discovered that as we came to our first view of one of the surrounding beaches. What incredible colours, the vivid blue of the ocean was in stark contrast to the almost white sand. One local described it as ‘Whitehaven Beach without the temperatures and crowds!’

Too gorgeous!

The cold wind soon drove us back in the car again (a great day to be behind glass) and we carried on around the town trying to find its centre. Looking at Google Maps it wasn’t really apparent, because it doesn’t have one. Is the pub near the houses? No. Are any of the few shops clustered together? No. It was quite odd. It’s called a town, has 250 permanent residents, and apparently this swells to 11,000 in the school holidays. But really had no feeling of hanging together. 

Another stunning beach – sheltered this time
A people-free zone
Can imagine this being busy in the summer holidays

We drove around and found another spectacular beach though, and then headed to the local fish processing plant, as we had been told they would sell us some fresh catch. They hadn’t got any prepared, and we had no gear to gut and scale, so we brought some vacuum packed, frozen but locally caught, shark and sardines. The owners were delightful and we chatted for a while about their move from Gosford on the east coast of NSW to run the business. 

We finally found the pub we had been told served a pretty decent feed, and were warmly greeted by a very friendly barman. Everyone here has the time and genuine inclination to have a natter. Food was ordered and delivered to our table, sheltered from the wind. 

A great feed at the pub!

We were a little thrown by the very scary sculpture on the way out though! As the Ranger we spoke to said, he’d lived here for 15 years before he realised what it was. See if you can guess.

Something from our worst nightmares? This big mermaid is 6.3m long and weighs around 3.5 tonnes

We took a bit more of a drive around and then headed back a bit ambivalent about the place. Yes, it was surrounded by such beauty, but seemed to have no coherence, just a series of buildings scattered about randomly. Lots of land was up for sale so clearly there’s an appetite to develop the town, but it needs more infrastructure and planning. Get a new town council! 

Back at the camp a rather lazy afternoon followed, with Tassie being the recipient of far too much attention. 

Our beautiful fur child

We dragged ourselves out of the cosiness of the Zone though for one final sunset walk around the property, as we will be leaving tomorrow. This has been a fantastic bush camp and all credit to Terry, who keeps the place immaculate, and to Robert, the owner, for setting this facility up. Everyone here has been so friendly.

Tassie giving ‘I love you’ eyes
And the sun sets on another day

Day 147: 24 October – It’s all about orchids!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tozer’s Bush Camp, Bremer Bay

Distance walked: 6 km

We did something quite different today, joining Terry, an amateur botanist passionate about orchids, on a wildflower hunting expedition around the bushland surrounding Tozer’s bush camp. I must admit we have very limited knowledge of Australian flowers, and Western Australia seems to be richer in diversity than anywhere else we have been – possibly due to the smaller population and poor soils for farming purposes.

The three hour tour commenced at 10am and we were immediately educated with stories of the importance of the right amount of bushfires to help distribute seeds and open hard seed pods and shown the impact fire can have on the land. Then there were the orchids. Many are dependent on the sun to open (particularly the Shy Sun Orchid which will close up as soon as the clouds come over), whereas others just need warmth.

Below a few that we saw – I will try to remember all the names, but can’t guarantee they are all right!!

Leopard Orchid
Enamel Orchid
Cowslip Orchid

There are many many more but they will have to wait for a wifi connection – we’re running low on mobile data.

It was a fabulous morning, and we returned for lunch with our heads spinning with all our learning.

We concluded our day with another walk, trying to remember what we had seen during the morning and spot more flowers, while enjoying the serenity of the bush. We finished up at the communal campfire for a chat with our fellow campers before heading back to the mobile apartment for dinner as the sun set. Just another day in paradise!

Another fine evening to conclude the day