“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Please forgive me – I know it’s been way too long since I posted here. I can sit here and write a lot of excuses or I can just take myself in hand and continue on. I’ve chosen the latter route. For those of you who have been asking me where I am, I have not fallen off the face of the earth, joined a naturalist commune in France or gotten lost in some Amazonian jungle – they would be for other adventures at other times. And I’ve not returned to the daily 9-5:00 work life. I am still gallivanting my way about Europe and Canada, soaking in every moment.
So, let’s update things a little bit…
My last check-in was Thorpe-Satchville, Leicestershire. The house, known locally as the Grooms Lodge, had spectacular views of the rolling English countryside that seemed to grow greener by the day. Local pubs were cozy, people were friendly and the fields were full of newborn lambs. Idyllic is the perfect word to describe this place. My neighbour’s menagerie provided endless entertainment and conversation starters – a pony, a horse, sheep, goats, ducks, geese, turkeys and a remarkable assortment of chickens of all shapes, sizes and elaborate plumage.
With all the birds, there were always eggs for sale in the honesty box by the side of the road – tiny bantam eggs, regular eggs with colors ranging from white, brown, tan, blue and green, duck eggs and the occasional goose egg. Each morning, I’d lift the lids of the cardboard cartons and peer inside to see what treasures they held. It was prettier than an Easter basket!
One morning I walked out the lane way only to see great tufts of white feathers blowing all over the lane, the barnyard and in scattered throughout the shrubbery like decorations on a Christmas tree. A fox had sneaked into the hen house (this doesn’t just happen in storybooks) and made off with one of the chickens and had chased off another – one was lunch and the other was to be dessert I guess.
- Grant’s Free House with cold Magners Cider on tap, sausage and mash specials every Wednesday night, chats with Charlotte (sweetest server in the world) and Ruth (together we reveled in the discovery that Roger Whittaker was born in Nairobi), Chef Dave (we’d talk cooking and travelling and how adding Colman’s Wholegrain Mustard into mashed potatoes turns them into something extraordinary).
- Daily walks across the fields and pastures along the gated road with the birds, rabbits and sheep for company. With spring lambing time in full swing, there were baby lambs and ewes everywhere.
- Going to the barn with Linda to muck out her horse Billy’s stall, wearing borrowed wellies (again) and just taking in all the sounds and smells so familiar to me. Then off to Gates Garden Centre for tea and a chat.
- St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at Grants pub with Irish music, great food and company of great friends.
The initial plan was to spend three months in Leicestershire until I flew back to Canada in mid May. Unfortunately, the house was soon rented out and the new tenants needed to move in immediately, their own thatched cottage having severely damaged in a house fire.
With still a month to go before heading back home, we found a two-week house/dog sit in Four Marks, Hampshire. Lycos, a 14-year-old Great Dane-Labrador cross was our new charge and he was a joy. As big as he was, he was as gentle a creature as I’d ever met, whose gentle heart matched the size of his body. He loved his twice daily walks along the pathways and along the fields, instantly changing from old gent to bounding puppy as soon as his leash was removed.
Chawton Park Wood was one of Lycos’ favourite rambling spots. Chawton is a little village in Hampshire, now famous as being the home of Jane Austen (she wrote Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility). Jane lived in a modest little cottage with her mother and sister for much of her short life. The woods we trekked were as quiet and lovely as any description Jane wrote of in her letters to friends or alluded to in her books.
Highpoints in Hampshire
- Eating the best Indian food I’ve ever had in my life at Four Marks Golf Club.
- Visiting Jane Austen’s house, now a museum (the table she wrote at was incredibly tiny).
- Stonehenge – and I was not disappointed in the least at the size. One should go there knowing the history of the place and take into consideration the sheer breadth of such construction in it’s time.
- Nosh Café Bar being only a kilometer from the house was a great place to finish up walks with Lycos – I ordered coffee, Lycos got a big bowl of fresh water and lavish attention from all the café goers.
- The Great Hall – the last surviving part of the medieval Winchester Castle, home of the Round Table (Legend of King Arthur).
My final week in UK was spent near Honiton in Devon, pet sitting again…Fife – a cocker spaniel, Tess – a tiny border terrier and four Highland cows! The cows were big, gingery furred creatures with long hair hanging down over their faces. As they ate their morning grain, I touched their gentle faces, moving aside their fringes (bangs) to see their big brown eyes. The doggies themselves were characters and the food thief, Fife wasted no time in showing his true colours. In the time it took for us to unlock the door, let the dogs out and have a look at the information left for us (including the note that Fife stole food at any chance he got), he had jumped into the car, grabbed a box of Tunnocks Tea Cakes (the ones in the pretty foil wrappers) and a Kit Kat bar and ducked away under a bush to feast. Six teacakes, their foil wrappers and the chocolate bar disappeared in two minutes. Poor Fife had a bit of an unsettled night. Tess was just a sweetie – no trouble there!
Devon was lovely –isn’t every place next to the sea? Lyme Regis, famous for its fossils discovered in it’s cliffs and along the shoreline, is on my bucket list. Unfortunately, a warm sunny Sunday in Lyme Regis means droves of people are out and about, so I didn’t get to explore it at all. A drive in bumper to bumper traffic was enough for me. Instead, we opted for a visit to Branscombe to walk along the beautiful heritage trail and visit three Heritage Trust Properties – The Manor Mill (it still grinds flour), the Forge (still working and it’s housed in a thatched roof building – go figure!) and a proper English cream tea at The Old Bakery. The Brits know how to do their teatime. The sky was blue, the sun warm and the breezes brisk. It could not have been a more perfect day.
Bright Spots In Devon
- A dozen farm fresh eggs and a ½ dozen of Otter Brewery’s finest (owned by the family of those we were house sitting for).
- The best beef sausages I have ever eaten (from last years resident Highland cows).
- The beautiful pebbled beach in Branscombe – and yes, I dipped my toes in the icy water.
It was time to say goodbye to my time in the UK and hello again to Canada. Two days after leaving Devon I boarded a West Jet flight to back St. John’s. Sitting in the plane seat and mentally waving ‘cheerio’ to England, it was hard to believe that 349 days before I had begun a journey most people only dream of – not sure how long I was going for and not really knowing what was in store for me. Not sure of anything really because I was stepping so far out of my comfort zone.
What I do know for sure is that I was returning a changed person … more confident, grateful, humble and wise because of a year well lived and deeply loved.