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Stonehenge, Bath, Gin and Whiskey – when Ren came to town

41349409_10156039551524737_634344099566059520_oJust two days after our London extravaganza, Ren was due to fly into Southampton. She’d been on a rather decent holiday around Ireland and Wales with Hannah – I told her to lower her expectations somewhat 🙂 Due to the tail end of her holiday Ren was not 100% all singing and dancing but we did not let this ruin our short and sweet reunion. Picking up Ren from Southampton was a happy moment if a little surreal, and then driving her back with me to meet up with Hendrik too became a fun Hobbiton reunion. Myself and Hendrik had laid on a special vegan meal, any excuse to improve our cooking skills with friends was fine by us. Afterwards we lit the fire pit and played games over a gin, just like we were back Nelson NZ.

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We had a couple of days to hang out and Stonehenge was pretty high on the list for both Renee and Hendrik. A short drive away and Stonehenge pops up on the horizon, so iconic it almost looks unreal. Of course I’d visited many times over my lifetime, the last time being an incredibly crisp winter morning with dad taking photographs on my SLR for a college project.

Stonehenge had a fancy new visitor centre, gift shop and exhibition since the last time I’d visited. It was an improvement, beforehand I remember a kind of cattle grid setup and tiny ticket booths not able to cater for the endless worldwide appeal. Both were suitably impressed by epic 25 tonnes of upright sarsen and bluestone. A relaxed walk around the outer ring, Ren donning her fantastic Zelda socks -we took a photo or two to mark the sunny occasion.

P1010496Stonehenge was just the start of this road trip however, on a similar theme I drove south west towards the site of Avebury, which few realise rests the largest stone circle in the world. Sadly this time around I think Renee will remember Avebury more for the pub that took precisely 2000yrs to bring her dessert out (!).

P1010505Back in zee car, Bath wasn’t too far away, and although we hadn’t done too much already all our energy was flagging, so a gentle stroll and a drink was on the cards. Cheeky monkeys.

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Renee had visited Bath and Hendrik had seen parts of the architecture, it seemed like a good place to get some grub and a drink or two. After deciding the Roman Baths were a little pricey and that our hearts were really set on gin and whiskey (you can’t be cultured ALL the time) we headed to the Gin Bar, home to Bath Gin and many, many, many more. A beautiful nook of a bar and a sumptuous cocktail each I soon became distracted as I was certain an idol of mine had just walked in, Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. At this point I’d like to comment I’d only had one cocktail… and did not embarrass myself by humming Pearly Dewdrops or the like.

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The Chapel Arts Café offered a great vegan dinner for the three of us, Hendrik almost coming round to enjoying a mushroom burger, we were decidedly impressed.

One last place to visit on our whistle stop road trip was hidden away in the historical lanes of Tudor Bath. Stonewalled, wood-laden and walls lined with whiskey for every taste. Legend tells us this was originally a hoard for thieves, highwaymen, scoundrels and opportunists alike, a place to laugh and cheer, make new contacts and strike deals. A meeting place for every lawless reprobate for miles around, and this night it hosted us for a whiskey.

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P1010510It was a real treat to see Renee again, we’d shared many good memories together in Nelson and I was just so happy we’d managed to keep our promises of staying in touch for more adventures together.

DSC_0837We were having such a fortunate amount of sunny days of late and every opportunity Hendrik and I would go explore and hike. I’d mentioned the South Downs as being a new area to explore (a part of it at least) and Hendrik had found a rather marvellous 7 mile hike with a midway stop at the historic Harrow Inn.

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If we’d only have a short afternoon together we would take a sleepy time out in nearby beauty spots like the local Netley Abbey to lay in the grass, and soak up life’s goodness together, the way it should be.

So it goes, you meet friends all over the globe and as time and distance take hold common ground is harder to come by. Separate lives take hold. Sometimes though, the memories are so special and add such an important part to your journey that you work to keep things alive, remembering where you were with that person and how good it felt.

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Soundtrack: Cocteau Twins – Pearly Dewdrop’s Drops

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Little London Big London…Time to hit the cities > Brighton & London

DSC_0697Everything was beginning to feel like a novelty, having good spontaneous fun each week, weren’t we lucky. Jumping on the train we decided that Brighton was best visited without a car – parking was expensive and plus it was a good excuse to have a day off driving and enjoy a tipple or two with my beau. Puzzle books had become a tradition upon travelling and this time teamed with the last drop of Roger’s cider we were set for the day.

31301732_10155746066399737_844817537387462656_oWalking a few metres from the train station in Brighton you hit the music venue and pub The Prince Albert, famous for its now ‘protected’ Banksy artwork on the outside wall. A great representation of the acceptance and open-minded gay culture associated with this little London.

DSC_0522It was great visiting these spots midweek and a pretty windy gloomy day made it quiet everywhere, we didn’t mind at all whilst hanging out with Wookie in the Star Wars themed garden. The winding paths of the lanes host some of the best shops in the city, including the famous Choccywoccydoodah cake shop which has it’s own TV series. The Brighton store is the original Choccy shop and feels tiny and a bit awkward in it’s elaborate and garish décor. The cakes are pretty spectacular though and so in the café we treated ourselves to a rich, but lush, lump of chocolate orange.

DSC_0527Booze and cake, so far we were doing well…

I had to show Hendrik the military shop too, I say shop, it’s far more like a museum. Hendrik commented that the shop housed more treasures than the entirety of the Wellington museum in NZ. Sadly we didn’t have a spare £10,000 laying around to purchase the samurai armour he so desired. DSC_0528Winding in and around the shops we made pit stops in quirky pubs and enjoyed a particularly nice mango gin. Hendrik managed to score a decent collection of vintage beer coasters to fulfil his collecting needs, there’s always something decent to come away with in Brighton.

DSC_0531We did the traditional wander around the pier which is fairly average really, the silhouette of the original burned out old pier on the horizon draws the attention more than the 2p machines. A wonderful Harry Potter shop (even if you’re not the biggest fan) a Thai meal, and whiskey later and we were ready to head home from this eclectic buzzy place.

DSC_0583London, the capital city was a must see on our itinerary, the tricky part was condensing it into a 3 day event. A few months prior on a cold wintery evening I booked 2 tickets to the Arcadia festival, or more commonly known as the giant flashing DJ spider famous for its stint at Glastonbury Festival. The spider was doing a dance event in London’s Queen Elizabeth Park this year celebrating its 20th year. This was the perfect chance to build a weekend of sightseeing around it.

P1010406Back on the train with excitement growing as landmarks like the shard began to come in to view – I could sense the excitement from Hendrik as he gazed out of the window. This would be a good opportunity to do a little tour guiding but also like every trip away, we were sure to include things that were a new experience for both of us. We’d booked a hop on-hop off bus thinking this would save our legs, but didn’t really need it. When we did actually catch one of the buses the architecture from top deck was pretty fantastic, but it didn’t offer much more for us to be honest – making our own way out and about on the tube was ideal. London is the ultimate for sights and sounds and extremes and on this beautifully sunny weekend we were in for an (exhausting) treat.

DSC_0571Starting at Trafalgar Square, we headed to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, stopping at the New Zealand war memorial along the way. We decided long ago that we’d have a trip on the London Eye and the view was really decent on this clear day. Heading along the South Bank various festivities were happening and the buzz really was in the air. Buckingham Palace was pretty and Big Ben was, well, hidden in scaffold. We had to cram a couple of museums in didn’t we? A whistle stop tour of the Natural History Museum including the wonderful vaults full of precious gem goodness, we also managed to see the Egyptian delights in the British Museum which were high on Hendrik’s list. DSC_0591 Unlike most of our trips food wasn’t our priority this time around (mainly due to monies) but a lovely wine and sarnie in Covent Garden was just what we needed, sitting beside two couples that were sharing bottles of champagne (who likes champagne really anyway?!). As if that wasn’t enough for one day we even managed to meet up with friend Beverley for a tipple! What an awesome day. 

We stayed in a rather dodgy Air BnB (but hey we had more money to spend on goodies) and we were in East London’s Whitechapel, an area I hadn’t visited before. Brick Lane was nearby offering a host of treats including the BEST CHOCOLATE shop and a half decent hotdog stand, we played around trying on vintage clothing, thinking up occasions to sport the clothes.

DSC_0608The main draw for Arcadia other than being an awesome giant dancey laser beam spider, was that Leftfield were performing the best (it really is) dance album – Leftism. I’d introduced the album to Hendrik when he was still in Apiti and he was dead keen when I got tickets. It was also a chance to do a DJ dance gig which I haven’t done much of other than at festivals and of course Glastonbury itself.

DSC_0613After our stroll through Brick Lane we took the tube to the gig, greeting the awesome spider as we managed to sneak in hip flasks in our pants (it turned out to be a far longer walk to security than we had planned!) expensive boozing tokens bought, topped up with our spirits we settled in to the rhythm of the day. It was much too hot to do a great deal other than drink and laze in each other’s company until the thumping beats progressed, tempting us to dance. Everyone was on laughing gas rather than alcohol, wandering around like zombies with balloons hanging out of their mouths, the floor a wash with canisters and a distinctively putrid smell in these areas. We picked a decent spot and witnessing a spectacular feast of creepy human driven spiders crawling back and forth on the great spider, her eyes alight with laser beams and pyrotechnics galore, it was stunning. Leftfield offered up Leftism to an excitable crowd from the body of the spider, it was very surreal and a great escapism, we loved it.

DSC_0712Sunday chill day. I wanted to walk Tower Bridge and gaze over at the Tower of London, knowing full well there wouldn’t be time or energy left to go inside on this occasion. We lucked out witnessing Tower Bridge sounding it’s alarm to raise both arms allowing a sailboat to pass through. DSC_0727The remaining plan for the day was a treat meal at Shaka Zulu in Camden (a secret booking from me for that one). We sampled the tasty and curious African delights and most of all enjoyed the stunning restaurant décor. DSC_0737 We were exhausted, desperately hot in a massively busy Camden, but what a fantastic few days we’d had – London done.

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Soundtrack Leftfield – Leftism (album)

 

             

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The Glastonbury Experience ✙ imagination> transformation> inspiration

 

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I was so excited about heading South West, anyone that knows me well knows my love of the West Country, both Devon and Cornwall have a wealth of historic landmarks which have been pulling at my heartstrings for many years. I have distinctive memories of walking through crumbled ruins, exploring, climbing up, squeezing through, sneaking off-limits, re-imagining what might’ve been. It was about time I shared my love of two of my favourite spots in England, Cheddar and Glastonbury.

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Cheddar Gorge & Caves holds many fascinating secrets about our prehistoric ancestors, and is an international centre for caving and rock climbing. Earlier this year in fact, DNA Scientists put a face to Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton found in Gough’s cave from 10000 years ago. Visitors have been coming to Cheddar for centuries to view the magnificent limestone Gorge, reaching 500 feet in places. The ravine boasts the highest inland cliffs in the country that can be viewed from the public road running through the gorge or from footpaths along the top of the cliffs.

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As well as offering two beautiful caves ,Cheddar is of course home to Cheddar Cheese. It seemed only fitting that on this beautifully sunny day we climb the 274 steps up Jacob’s Ladder to tuck into some of the cave aged cheese on a romantic cliff top walk. The previous October I had taken the same trip with friend Luke on a cold misty afternoon- we managed to get some eerily atmospheric shots from the same location (see Blog post Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig).

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We’d booked ourselves into a refurbished milk shed in cute little Mudeford, but first we were getting a little thirsty. No trip to Cheddar was complete without a trip to Roger Wilkins cider farm. Think thick Somerset farmer accents, old gits sitting around talking shite with massive grins on their faces, welcoming anybody that came in to experience this little known time capsule. Roger became quite curious whilst chatting to Hendrik, and his ‘out of place’ accent attracted a few local blokes to ask about his background. Funnily enough one of the farmers who was partaking in a tipple or two, spends 6 months of the year farming in Christchurch NZ. It’s the sort of place that offers you cider until you can’t stand and if you look closely you can see it ‘s affect on the concreted floor below (how is Roger still alive?!) it’s tastes bloody lovely though. That evening we treated ourselves to a lush curry and a good amount of booze, later taking a very dark peaceful walk home to our barn for the night gazing at the stars.

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DSC_0499Glastonbury is a town in southwest England. It’s known for its ancient and medieval sites, many rich in myth, as well as hosting the famously awesome music festival. Whilst soaking up the eccentric atmosphere of Glastonbury there are a few sites definitely worth packing into your day, so our day two was devoted to this wonderfully unique place.

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Arriving early, the happy feels of familiarity kicked in parking up in the centre of town –it was another gorgeously sunny day. Driving from Cheddar the iconic Glastonbury Tor silhouette became closer on the horizon, this trip was becoming more exciting by the minute, largely because I was in the best company with someone I cared for so much and always hoped one day I’d find the right person to share my favourites places with.

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Glastonbury Tor is a tower-topped hill linked to Arthurian legend, overlooking the marshy Somerset Levels. Once said to be King Arthur’s burial place. It was whilst planning our trips away from the comfort of the caravan that the story of King Arthur dominated many of my favourite sites, we’d seen the round table at Winchester, the sword Excalibur beautifully recreated in the cheddar landscape, Glastonbury Abbey – believed to be the final resting place of Arthur and his Lady Guinevere. In preparation for our trip everything seemed to slot into place, as it always does, and we found a shared love of the King Arthur legend and particularly it’s retelling in the Sam Neill televised film Merlin (it’s old, and still brilliant, do watch it – not to be confused with the watered down BBC series Merlin) anyway, I’m going off point a little…
Glastonbury Abbey is a beautiful ruined monastery dating to the 7th century, and it seemed the perfect starting point as it was peaceful early morning and we had much of it to ourselves. Hendrik found interest in the hugely old Holy Thorn trees (deeply rich in Christian symbolism) and the charismatic yew trees we so enjoyed finding in our travels.
There are a host of mostly pagan/artistic shops lining the streets offering crystals, herbs, witchcraft items, King Arthur related and sacred symbolic gifts in all shapes and forms. A favourite shop provides an ancient apothecary for plants and herbs for health and wellbeing, selling the best smelling oils you could hope to find, needless to say I treated myself to some.

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After the decent hike up to the Tor and a peaceful lay down in the grass we walked through sheep filled fields towards Chalice Well. Chalice Well is one of Britain’s most ancient wells, nestling in the Vale of Avalon between the famous Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Hill. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and orchards it is a living sanctuary in which the visitor can experience the quiet healing of this sacred place. For over two thousand years this has been a place where people have gathered to drink the waters and find solace, peace and inspiration. The Vesica Pisces as seen on the well lid are two overlapping, intersecting spheres, which are an ancient symbol used in Pagan culture, Christian symbolism and sacred geometry, as well as various other belief systems. A spear or a sword bisects these two circles, a possible reference to Excalibur, the sword of the legendary King Arthur, believed by some to be buried at the nearby Glastonbury Abbey.

P1010373Archaeological evidence suggests that the well has been in almost constant use for at least two thousand years. Water issues from the spring at a rate of 250,000 gallons per day and has never failed, even during drought. Iron oxide deposits give water a reddish hue, the water is reputed to possess healing qualities. There is certainly an energy to the place.

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We took our time here, we paused in the warm sunlight, bathed our feet, feeling completely content in the moment, in the space, together.

Soundtrack: The Unthanks – Mount The Air

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Historic Ruins ♖ Local Haunts

DSC_0297It wasn’t long before we were planning road trips. English Heritage book in hand and referencing a Pinterest board of favourite places, I had many in mind for us. I asked Hendrik the main sites he wanted to see, it soon became clear the planning side of it was mostly left in my hands – which I was more than happy to do.
‘I want to see those white cliffs’ – Dover first popped into my head but then I remembered, the south coast has some stunning views of white cliffs, particularly the Jurassic coastline, a road trip was beginning to form and an excuse to revisit some of my favourite places in the Isle of Purbeck.

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Corfe Castle was a local haunt as a kid, spending short holidays down in Swanage and the surrounding areas with my cousins, staying in a family home in the area. Heading west after a few days for the jetlag to work itself off, we made a trip in the Knobster (my car’s affectionate nickname). Approaching Corfe Castle is one of those sites you do not forget as a child, first off knowing you’re going to a castle but then when it hits you as you take the corner into Corfe, staring up at it dominating the skyline. We’d chosen a beautiful day for it, the sun was super shiney and we made hay nice and early, missing the influx of excitable half-term energised kids. The village is full of historical character and has barely changed, the stone has a grey rugged quality that sits perfectly alongside the castle as it’s backdrop. It holds all the things you’d expect from a cute little English town, a good olde sweet shop, a lovely church and a nice selection of pubs and café’s, a particular favourite is one alongside the steam railway that takes you to and from Swanage if you so wish.

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Being the old fart that I am I usually relish in the idea of peace and quiet and would think twice about heading out ‘touristing’ when the kids are off school, however at the castle they had laid on some activities especially for the kids (and big kids) such as long bow archery, which looked fitting next to the castle – Hendrik picked this up straight away. It gave me such pleasure to be back climbing around the castle ruins as I did as a child, and seeing Hendrik’s reaction to the beauty and atmosphere of the site made it so much better still, we were buzzing off of each other’s excitement, knowing we had many other great things planned for the day.

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A fun drive through narrow windy country roads we headed towards the coast, first off to Durdle Door. I’ve since learned it is one of the most iconic sites in Britain -everybody heads here for the perfect photo opportunity of the archway in the rock (similarly to Cathedral Cove in New Zealand, and that was just as busy!) Yep well, everyone was here! It didn’t matter, we took more of a walk on the sand away from the crowds and enjoyed the luminosity of the chalky cliffs and of course managed a selfie or two. We would often look for off the beaten track routes to take (just read any other adventure blog I’ve written). We climbed back up through the rock heading along the steep cliff edge in the glorious spring-time heat.

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Feeling a bit puffed we had a bite to eat and I suggested we head further south east to Swanage, to a town I knew well. Swanage is the epitome of a small but busy British seaside town, complete with weather beaten beach huts and out of date amusements. This time later in the day however we wanted nothing more than to play about on arcade games and eat a massive portion of fish and chips, a perfectly sweet ending to the day.

IMG_20180407_133909_971We’d take smaller trips out all the time between me working, seeing as much as we could. Bishop’s Waltham Palace is a local site on the English Heritage map that I’d not yet visited, despite my Mum working in the small farming village there. I was so impressed by the ruins I even returned today as I write this. I was particularly surprised at the scale of the site and the tallest remaining tower is almost fully overgrown resembling something out of Gormenghast, it’s stuff of fantasy and well worth a visit (it’s free!).

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Winchester is a must see city and original capital of England. Steeped in history, gorgeous architecture and the stunning cathedral, the up-market restaurants and quirky pubs are the icing on the cake.
In fact, Winchester opened up many connections between us both including our love and interest in Arthurian Legend – the knight’s round table being housed in the Great Hall in Winchester which lead me to tell him about my love for Tintagel Castle (Arthur’s supposed castle) this would later lead on to links in Glastonbury etc..that’s for another Blog I feel!
So I ‘treated’ Hendrik to a brief history of the reformation, Henry VIII, the stained glass window and basically how Winchester Cathedral became buggered.. and then not so buggered.. but felt far more comfortable explaining my interest in Antony Gormley. No visit to the Cathedral is complete without viewing the mysterious life-size sculpture (Sound II) housed in the Norman crypt. Standing there with cupped hands contemplating the water – which so often floods the entire crypt.

Sound2We took a stroll up the high street towards the Great Hall to witness the round table and after a rather damp day strolling around we were after some refreshment. At this point I’d like to add that we both share an obsessive love of good food and it took us exactly 10 minutes of arriving in Winchester before we sampled the delights of Patisserie Valerie for breakfast.
There’s a really cool pub at the lower end of town called the Black Boy which is full of collectable curiosities and I just knew the immense selection of miniatures on display were enough to tempt Hendrik into a pint there. Fuelled up, there was time for another English Heritage site Wolvesey Castle. The medieval Bishops of Winchester were rich and powerful men, the relations and advisers of kings. Wolvesey, standing a stone’s throw from Winchester Cathedral, was their main residence throughout the Middle Ages. The extensive remains date largely from the great 12th century palace of Bishop Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen. After a good stroll, an ice-cream and a photo, our thoughts turned to Gin.

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With it’s lush statement greenhouse, home to all the botanicals used to create such a unique and yummy gin the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is certainly picturesque.
Based at Laverstoke Mill in rural North Hampshire, just 15 miles from Winchester, the Bombay Sapphire Distillery is in a conservation area with over 1000 years of history. For over 225 years, the Victorian and Georgian buildings set astride the crystal clear River Test produced bank note paper for the Bank of England and the British Empire. Now, Laverstoke Mill is a state-of-the-art sustainable distillery, which produces every drop of Bombay Sapphire gin.

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A tailor made cocktail completed this day, I was feeling grateful to have so many great places to show Hendrik not far from my England home.

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The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I arrived at Heathrow an hour early, excitement and anticipation brewing, an hour of patience is all I needed now after waiting 6 months. Thing is, when you’re anticipating something or someone, time tends to stand still, you know, like the ‘watched kettle never boils’ proverb. Waiting at the gate, butterflies in my stomach there were so many faces coming through it was exhausting to look. Excitement turned into concern after an hours wait, the people around me were beginning to happily walk off with their loved ones together and there was still no sign..
Thankfully after a good half an hour of concerned conversations with others ‘we’ (the small group of us still expectantly waiting) were warned it was unusually busy through security, and sure enough a grinning comforting smile caught my eye as Hendrik had made it to the UK.

We were to be staying in a little nest of a caravan at my parents house for 3 months together. Mum provided a welcome dinner and it wasn’t long before we started to settle back in to being together.
Staying on the south coast of England – it’s not the most attractive part of the country, but it is most certainly not the worst! In the suburbs of town it lacks a certain character and yet boasts so much richness in areas a short walk and drive away, this was not our first choice, but it has since provided us with a wealth of memories and adventures – that I feel compelled to write about.
I would be working whilst Hendrik was here, the nature of the work still provided gaps in the day to see each other, sometimes it was a hindrance, mostly it worked out fine – I was worried about the imbalance of only myself working and driving us around however, we found a rhythm and made it work to our advantage, something we are very good at!
I didn’t make too much of a plan for our next three months, although we did certainly sketch out some must-dos. The first week was for settling in and..sleeping.
Despite not being in a New Zealand-esque wide open space, we had OUR space to nest  in and began to walk and explore nearby favourite spots of mine.

IMG_20180403_144102_127Let the tour-guiding begin! We spent the first couple of days at an understandably relaxed pace – walking around the nearby Hamble river down towards Manor Farm, a firm favourite cycle route for me, past the famous* oak tree. Hendrik had spent time in the UK before and not seen a great deal, all the more reason to seek out places of interest and give an deeper insight in to my life here – the surroundings, climate(!) but particularly to relate to my family and friends, those important jigsaw pieces, you know.

DSC_0183There was to be a perfect opportunity for this just two days after arriving. I was celebrating my Birthday alongside a best buddy of mine, Vikki. We’d organised a ‘speak-easy /prohibition’ style cocktail party with a great number of friends attending. All on a decorated theme we were dressed up, had the right tunes on and had a cocktail competition between us as couples to create the most dazzling tasty cocktail’s we could! (little did we realise that most would be opting for a creamy variety, which got a little…heavy!) Happily we were joint winners with our South African inspired Don Pedro cocktail. After a fun bit of storytelling from Hendrik I think they were mostly won over by his charm (and accent)! A most excellent evening.

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A small group of us enjoyed continuing the celebrations the following day at one of my favourite places to eat in Southampton – The Rockstone. Providing copious tasty grub with huge burgers perfect for soaking up the dodgy cocktail hangovers from the night before.DSC_0225There were a few sites and a few pubs in the older lower end of town worth showing Hendrik. Due to war damage, much of Southampton’s character has sadly been lost through the years after being heavily bombed. There are however a few hidden gems if you know where to look.
Encompassing over 900 years of history on one site, Southampton’s most important historic building, the Tudor House is always worth a visit. We enjoyed a very British cream tea together in the beautiful Grade I listed building. The nearby Red Lion Inn is a Grade II* listed pub, built in the late 15th/early 16th century, said to have 21 resident ghosts! – it is second oldest pub in England, we hung around a while to try and capture one over a pint before heading to the quaint Duke of wellington pub dating back to 1220.

IMG_20180330_142328_674We were mostly treated to the famous British weather for the first two weeks..in it’s full glory. Downpours of rain and a cold wind made the caravan a welcoming nest complete with candles, music and…an Xbox – we were hardly roughing it. DSC_0229

Undeterred by the lack of sunshine we organised a New Forest walk with my good chum Luke, the same Luke I met at Te Aroha caravan park in New Zealand while training to become a Hobbit :). Luke and Hendrik met for the first time at my Birthday cocktail night despite myself and Luke spending a lot of time together in New Zealand, Luke was leaving as Hendrik was arriving as it were. Since settling back in Southampton Luke had a lovely girlfriend Lizi he was eager for me to meet. We had a very chill and fun walk through the woods from the Red Shoot Inn pub, including a pit stop at the south of England’s very own Green Dragon pub! We enjoyed each other’s company with such ease, and I am so happy to say that Luke and Lizi are, since writing this, now engaged!
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It was becoming increasingly comforting that Hendrik was getting on so well with everybody and we felt such happiness at being together again.

 

 

*famous in the Mann household for being inspiration for many drawings and paintings.

Soundtrack Game of Thrones Soundtrack – ambient mix

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As I look up

‘I want a life where joy is second nature. Not something to be chased or bought. But rather something that is made, every single day, with my own two hands.’

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As I look up, I am surrounded by glowing stars. Not the crystal clear cosmos as witnessed in New Zealand, but from a cold damp Southampton, selling star lanterns at the German Christmas Market. 8 weeks home and I’ve managed to add yet another curious job to the CV.
My initial plan was to move to Somerset within two weeks of returning. I was offered a job which I considered to be a way of reconnecting with experiences I’d so enjoyed in New Zealand – namely in a cave. Many caves make up the historic and fascinating South West landscape, particularly in the Mendip area of natural beauty.
There are two show caves in the region, Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole. Happily both were interested in meeting me since I showed interest through email a few months previously.

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Within the first week of my return I took a trip down to Wookey to take up the job offer, and it was also a good opportunity to investigate the area to decide if this was where I pictured myself settling. The quick turnaround was down to a few factors, firstly Wookey were keen to hire in time for the big commercial holidays Halloween…and then Christmas, but mostly my plans were to avoid landing back in the same area I’d been living and stuck in the situation I was in before I left; running away from the inevitable downer of leaving the people and experiences I so loved in New Zealand.

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Wookey Hole Caves are a series of limestone caverns, a show cave and tourist attraction in the village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills near Wells in Somerset, England. The River Axe flows through the cave, a beautiful site, if you look closely enough. With significant history including the first cave dive in the UK and the folklore of the lady ‘witch’ that lived inside the cave, it stirred the curiosity of many.
The staff were welcoming, really warm characters, although sadly the history of the site was lost inside a commercial money maker. Simply put, it made me sad, and so I decided I couldn’t play that part. Outdoors, tourism jobs were elusive at this time with the onset of winter so it was time for plan B, which became C, and I just don’t know how far down the alphabet I am now.

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Many changes of idea later, coupled with emotional stress and frustration, I decided to ride it out back at home – until Christmas – and although adapting to the loss of independence, it is lovely being able to spend more extended time with loved ones, although I have truly well outgrown this place. Work is tricky to find this late in the year, I’ve tried to relish settling back into the manic pace and reconnect with everyone and not give myself such a hard time about it all.
My cousins Becky’s wedding was one of the reasons for returning a month before my visa ended. In Burley Manor in the nearby New Forest we were treated to great company, food and fusion of the two families alongside bride and groom. A truly special day, Becky and George looking beautiful and happy.

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So I’m just over 7 weeks in and I’m working at the German Market until Christmas, some much needed income to keep me afloat – and purpose to keep me sane! I’m making the best of being as resourceful as I can – that is making the most of a situation and well… doing something.
The job is a great insight into daily city life and of course it lends itself to people watching (I do work, honest). It’s a stark reminder of the rush and bustle of England, the diversity in people, the impatience, the ignorance, and also the beauty. In a curious way I am loving it! The uncertainty of who you will meet next and the bonds with new people are a reminder of truly the foundation of a happy state, communicating, helping, smiling and enjoying the moment.
Opposite the stall I am happy to hang out with fellow sellers, Titan Leathercraft specialising in bespoke, timeless quality leather goods- particularly curious books. There is also a pleasant mix of food on offer (which I’m trying to make my way through) and a host of fun and friendly stallholders to chat to in the downtime.
Good old English pessimism sneaks in from time to time, and surrounding myself in certain situations for too long the thoughts of self-doubt take hold. But, in the moments when I’m feeling 24 international musical talents Afro Celt Soundsystem filling the humble surroundings of a music venue with love and passion, when I’m dancing around with family to Focus, drinking cocktails with friends and dancing the night away, talking longingly down the phone to a loved one, I’m feeling inspired, alive and excited by life.
I’m humbled by all the friends I have seen, including the Sorting Office Art Studio gang and school staff that I used to work with, it really is lovely to see their faces again.

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The English landscape is beautiful in a truly unique historical way. I’ve made it my mission to reconnect with these sites that have held such inspiration from an early age, and to bring them to light again – a theme that is often reflected in my artwork too. Sites of particular interest are often managed by English Heritage and The National Trust organisations, and being a new member I am going to my ‘happy place’ and seeing these places I’d read so much about.

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Beaulieu is known predominantly for it’s National Motor Museum, and after visiting many times as a disinterested child, this time around I was keen to soak up some of the history in the palace ruins and gardens. The finale to an interesting day ended with fireworks and my bestie and his band playing to thousands of people. It was awesome.

22780245_10155293275079737_1692760056992103920_nFree days so far have given myself and Mum quality time to hike to the site of the Iron Age Hill Fort of Old Winchester Hill. Old Winchester Hill has been a famous and popular beauty spot since Victorian times and beyond. The views across the valley to Beacon Hill and down to the sea are superb, well, when it’s not cloudy 🙂
The area is rich in archaeology from the Mesolithic (stone age hunter gathers living after the end of the Ice Age) up to WW2. Most visible are the Iron Age hill fort and the earlier Bronze Age barrows or burial mounds. Even on a bleak day, it ignited that feeling of creative inspiration with space to breathe surrounding me.
More recently a short road trip to Donnington Castle which is a ruined medieval castle, situated in the small village of Donnington, just north of the town of Newbury in the English county of Berkshire, and sunny-shiny mornings made these trips even more special.

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Next up and most recently another local site Titchfield Abbey. It was once the home of a community of Premonstratensian canons. The canons lived communally, like monks, but also preached and served as priests in the local community. After the Suppression of the Monasteries, Henry VIII gave the abbey to Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, who transformed the buildings into a grand Tudor mansion called Place House. The most impressive feature of the abbey today is a grand turreted gatehouse, which was built across the nave of the church.

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And so, as I do, I’ve made a nest in the form of a working studio. Doing the inevitable sort out and throwing out of anything upon my return, starting fresh and wanting to live more simply. I have made a space to use and repurpose everything I have lovingly collected to use in my creations, and so along with glass I have been happily creating and selling again.
So, with the new year looming, sweet things are on the horizon, and the effort and energy I put in now will reward further down the line. I believe you need to stay curious, interested and put some effort in. Rather than feel a sense of loss, I am focussing on the very things I have gained, the best things I have ever experienced and will keep with me, growing each day.

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I’m not alone there is a higher love, deep in the heart and in the stars above.

And we will reconnect soon.

‘Is it okay if I am okay with my okay? Is it okay I am content in my now, headily loving the few once-in-a-lifetime people I treasure? Is it okay if I don’t want too much, but just enough to keep my head and heart growing, evermore? Is it okay if I define success by the amount of joy that pumps through my heart, through the rest of my days?’

Soundtrack Afro Celt Sound System – Honey Bee, Billy Bragg – Levi Stubbs Tears

 

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The South Island holiday… homeward bound

IMG_1076Holiday time! After handing over the NZPS House Manager reins to Christine it was time to go. I’d delayed the packing of my bag until the very last minute, I finally squished it, remoulded, rolled, folded and threw stuff away until I could zip it up, even then I still had an extra bag of stuff to put in Hendrik’s pack (boys don’t take much stuff on holiday I thought). That dark rainy night I said my farewells and good lucks to Christine and was picked up by Hendrik to stay at the pub one very last time.
We’d planned a South Island trip together as a final ‘blow out’ before I left New Zealand. Although I’d seen my fair share of incredible sights down there I was more than keen to share them with somebody a second time around and create more awesome memories.
We flew from Palmerston North or Palmerston ‘Shithouse’ as it is sometimes referred, to Christchurch early the next morning, to sort out our camper we’d hired. It was to be one of those sorting things out kind of days, and as we were both tired we took a sleepy trip down to Geraldine in a dense cloud of rain, giving us none of the views we’d daydreamed about…so far.

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Our mutual friend River from Hobbiton was now working and residing in Geraldine, which became our stopover as we began to head in a south westerly direction. After beersies and a lovely catch up we headed back to ‘our’ van keen to make it a home and a nice cosy nest, particularly due to the dampness and unappealing nature of the outdoors. A decent night’s sleep and the motivation to kick start the holiday we decided to head south and risk not being able to see the beautiful mountains on the horizon. I was struggling to remain optimistic as the rain hit the windscreen for much of the journey. We arrived in Fairlie, a cute little town in the beautiful Mackenzie region. This mostly reminded me of lovely British Hobbiton workers Hannah and Luke who I’d met last year who had worked in Fairlie on the Mount Dobson Ski Field.

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Burke’s Pass is a mountain pass and at its base, a small town on State Highway 8 at the entrance to the Mackenzie Country in South Canterbury, New Zealand. Like an old American gas station, Burke’s pass holds a museum like collection of Americana memorabilia, housed in old wooden sheds alongside old motors, wagon wheels and other machine curiosities. The sun began to show it’s face as we took a look around and got our first glimpses of the interesting differences between the North and South Island. I knew the road from now on was so beautiful and the snowy mountains that surround you almost 360 leave you awestruck on the approach to Lake Tekapo. I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous a moment it was when we shared that beauty together sitting atop Mount John’s observatory, it was absolutely breath-taking. The observatory is housed there due to Lake Tekapo receiving ‘dark sky reserve status’ simply meaning it is one of the least polluted, clearest places in the world to stargaze. We took our iconic pictures of the Church of the Good Shepherd and after a relaxing beer in the sun we continued on towards Twizel heading towards Mount Cook, for the Hooker Valley walk we had planned for the next day.

P1120337I had created a vague itinerary for our trip – able to change from day to day if the weather wasn’t playing along or that we decided to spend more or less time in a place. We had the added freedom of a camper and this made it very easy to make last minute spontaneous plans.
Freedom camp sites are widely available in New Zealand, found by searching the useful Campermate app we were able to park up for the night. We found a wonderfully peaceful spot by a lake, enabling us to make an early start for the walk the next day. The simplicity of parking up and being a self contained van felt very liberating and so freedom camping became something we’d try to do every other night, to get off the beaten track and well, save some pennies.

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Mount Cook road is one way in and one way out, and it gets progressively more stunning as you drive closer and closer to the mountains. The scale is what grabs you, being dwarfed by these snowy giants. The Hooker Valley walk was one of my highlights from my own personal South Island trip the previous year so our route became reasonably the same as the one I had travelled. I was so excited for Hendrik. He explained how the dry alpine environment reminded him of the African landscape he loved and knew well. We share the same values at heart, independent, passionate and stubborn we soaked up the surroundings in our own personal reflective ways yet had the bonus of sharing this special time to become an experience we can talk about endlessly..

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Wanaka was next on the trip, and again like before we didn’t see a great deal here, our paid campsite choice wasn’t quite as hoped, so after photographing many charismatic trees across the serene lake we headed for the pub!
Situated on the spectacular Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka, the Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. It would have been rude not to have had some tasty grub with a drink and of course a good look around. Hendrik had the image on the wall in his pub and had longed to have a nosey, I must say, I couldn’t complain when we needed to ‘research’ these kind of places for inspiration 😉 it was wonderfully restored and much larger than the frontage suggests, it was well worth the stop.

20170921_120156The road then takes a lovely scenic route through the Crown Range, offering amazing views of your descent into Queenstown with views of the Remarkables mountain range. The last time I had driven this road it was very hairy due to the large dumping of snow that had occurred, so far our trip was much warmer than the time before and it was a joy to be driving ‘our’ nippy little van around. It worked out we’d alternate on driving days, both confident and happy to drive it worked out well and spread the tiredness more evenly! We’d stocked up on a few basic foodie items but we knew due to our love of good food and drink that we’d be more than tempted to try the local delights – which we did.

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Arrowtown, on the way to Queenstown is charming and quirky – a delightful gold rush village nestled below the beautiful peaks that surround the sparkling Arrow River. Scenes from The Lord of the Rings were filmed on the river and the tree lined streets, restored cottages and gold mining sites make it well worth a look. Did I mention there is a pretty mean sweet shop there also? 🙂 I managed to find some Feijoa flavoured sweets (or lollies as they call them in NZ) so my UK chums can kind of sample the delightful flavour of these beautiful little fruits – in sugary form.
In a carpark in Arrowtown we began to make a plan for the next few days, making sure we had enough time to do everything we wanted. It was important to us that we tried new things and each day was varied and fun (they always were, all the time). We’d agreed before the trip that we would have to do an adrenaline activity in Queenstown – it seemed only right being the adrenalin fuelled capital of the world!. We had something along the lines of a sky dive in mind. With Hendrik’s reluctance of swing bridges and mine of launching myself head first from a ridiculous height, we made the compromise of booking the highest swing in the world – the Ben Nevis.

We’d lucked out with an awesome Queenstown campsite full of quirky art on site as well as BBQ area, perfect for a delicious seafood meal cooked for me (lucky gal). Excitement filled our bones with our impending frightening activity, almost missing the thing completely with our rushed morning and things for Hendrik to sort out over the phone with the pub, the mood was…tense.

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First ones up, casually strapped in from a somewhat ridiculous height:

‘You guys want a countdown?…or a surprise? – Bungy dude playing God

‘ A surp…. AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!’ – Hendrik

With an incredible and unexpected freefall it almost felt as though we’d done a bungy! less gentle than imagined but an incredible high, the beauty of doing the tandem was experiencing it together. A famous Fergburger felt well deserved afterwards and we sat on deck of a sunny seaside boat sipping a drink, stuffing our faces soaking up that Queenstown buzz. It also came to be that it was National Hobbit Day – the Birthday of the Hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, so we celebrated in style and even managed to track down some of the rare 1% Sobering Thought beer served to the actors whilst filming.

20170922_135500Later that evening we had almost the whole Queenstown ice rink to ourselves as we skated around playfully, falling over no more than 2431 times.
We drove later that evening to Te Anau, where trips to Milford Sound begin. Milford Sound is close to my heart, much like Mount Cook, there is that dominance and scale of surrounding landscape that seems to put everything into perspective, and it’s hypnotising. We booked a tour that included the scenic drive to and from Milford, giving us both a rest from driving and to enjoy the many stops, and the not so many stops through the avalanche area and impressively hand dug homer tunnel.
We lucked out yet again, Hendrik’s face lighting up as we discovered the nice selection the buffet lunch offered on the cruise! We spent the boat cruise on top deck, relishing those characteristically rainy and atmospheric elements so associated with Fjordland. The Willow theme tune humming through my mind we were treated to more waterfalls than we could count, it was yet another one of those moments where you realise you’re in the most amazing place with the most amazing person. So lucky.

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Keen to fit another horse ride in our time together we booked one back in Cardrona, amongst the landscape we loved. This time it was back country saddle riding on western saddles on gorgeous American Appaloosa horses. A bit rough on the old bum, but very enjoyable none the less! a short visit to the Cardrona distillery afterwards made it hurt a bit less).

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As we’d begun to head back up north we made the trip across to the rainy west coast to the most dull/strange/uncomfortable town of Haast. Arriving late we had little choice of where to stay and wound up in the same campsite I had stayed in the previous year and promised to myself I would not do again! It was just a weird grey ‘non-place’, the silver lining was an amazing thunderstorm that night and in the camper it was cosier than ever in our nest. A different landscape yet again, the west sees constant rain, lush rainforest and copious waterfalls on the roadsides. We were making our way to Fox Glacier to do a possible heli-hike with my British friend Alex who I’d previously guided at Glowing Adventures. Due to the weather in Haast we’d not got over optimistic about the helicopter ride, knowing deep down it wasn’t heli-like conditions. Hendrik was also feeling a little less than 100% through the last couple of days and I could see the exhaustion in his face. We instead took a stormy guided walking trip to the bottom of the glacier, the road was closed to public as the conditions were rough! It was a fun rugged walk but I knew we needed some downtime soon and to focus on getting back to 100%. we briefly caught up with Alex but knew we needed to keep moving so took an easy drive to Hokitika for the night, the weather was changing, our moods lifting as we shared fish and chips on a boat watching the sunset. The pace was slower as we enjoyed eachothers company.

IMG_2391Time for some beautiful limestone rock formations in Punakaiki. The Pancake Rocks are where columns of water shoot skyward from rocks resembling giant stacks of hotcakes. They are addictive to watch as the water captured at a perfect moment pushes it’s way through a blowhole, a chimney like affect. As you watch and wait patiently you hope the next one you will see will be bigger and better with cameras poised. We were not able to do quite as much caving as we had hoped, although the area was rich with caves, many entrances were deemed dangerous due to numerous landslips, rock falls and high level water. We headed to the pub and realised we actually had one more day of the holiday than previously thought (!) bonus! So heading north to Nelson and beyond was becoming a do-able plan.

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As we headed towards Motueka, an area I knew very well due to much time spent in Nelson with Renee and at the lovely free range egg farm with Sharon and family.
We now had time to sample some of the Abel Tasman park area and I wanted Hendrik to experience the overwhelming sensations staring down into the ominous Harwoods Hole. It was beautiful to be there with him, all of these different emotions we were stirring up with each day. It was like a summers day, we had a look around the cool arty area of Golden Bay and did the relatively secret Grove walk, with some of the most interesting limestone karsts and gardens we’d seen.

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Fishing was something Hendrik had a passion for and we’d decided to try and fit it in on this holiday, time however was wearing thin. Charter boats and such were getting booked up and funds were becoming a bit on the low side. A happy medium – which turned out to be a fantastic experience was at a nearby salmon fishing farm. I’d never been fishing before and always wanted to catch and eat my own fish (just like I’d done for all those years on the Zelda games). Salmon is also one of my favourite fish to eat, Hendrik very patiently showed me the technique and shazam! within about 15 minutes we had caught 3 good sized salmon! What a buzz, and to see him full of energy and excitement it was brilliant! If that wasn’t enough they then hot smoke your fish however you like and can also serve it as sashimi. We had a mixed bag, I should say mixed box – far too much for both of us, but it was the most beautiful fish we’d ever tasted. Simple pleasures.

 

E7FC07E5-20D2-412C-B0AC-AFA54C36FBE2Annie, a dear friend who I’d met whilst at the chook farm was now working at the Wangapeka Cheese shop, so we couldn’t resist a visit! It was so nice to catch up again, we had cheese and preserves and Annie received some of our salmon and my artwork – Kaitoke. We had time to wander around Nelson before starting a slow and rather long trip towards Christchurch ready for the impending departures. I felt sweet memories flooding back particularly with Renee and our fun evenings over a gin or two.
We stopped to have fresh oysters, something I hadn’t tried before and yummy chardonnay, what a treat, a proper holiday. One last port of call was artist Mike Ward’s studio on the high-street where after a friendly chat he decided to make me a piece of jewellery, a beautiful ring as a gift – such a kind hearted soul, kindness is magic after all.

So we’d booked an Italian themed apartment for our last night together. A comfortable spacious piece of luxury for us to unwind, sort through our things, return the van and collect our thoughts. Flying up to Auckland the following morning was tinged with a silent sadness. Holding hands and becoming less able to converse, becoming immersed in our own thoughts. Hendrik’s sister Jarinda picked us up from the airport and in the remaining hours before I flew back to the UK, Hendrik cooked up one last Braai.

Time to depart. We sat still as the motion of busy travellers became a blur around us. So deeply intense I could barely bring myself to look at him, and with a heavy heart we went our separate ways.

It’s ok, I’ve got this.

We’re strong and optimistic and will ride this one out, we feel good. So I’m home, have many ideas in place, job opportunities available to me and a move to a UK location close to my heart. So I will not be still for long.  Despite the sadness of leaving, I’m now creating a new chapter from everything. I am constantly learning and I am excited. I think that I may have found a sanctuary to immerse myself in as a starting point,and as for this Blog > it will continue, just like my adventures.

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Soundtrack: Moby – Homeward Angel