Author: Mrs A
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!