The Red Admiral Butterfly migrates from England across to southern Europe and Northern Africa and back again. We didn't know this when we spotted one in a garden in south Devon. But then, there were a lot of things we didn't know about British wildlife. The BBC is doing its best to educate us though. Bill Oddie (of The Goodies fame) hosts Springwatch and Autumnwatch on prime-time TV. He and other like-minded enthusiasts go out into cold, wet and otherwise uncomfortable places to see what badgers and ravens and the like are doing. Bill's efforts have paid off, though. We can now happily distinguish a coal tit from a blue tit and the binoculars are all but superglued on to Chris's head.
A Red Admiral Butterfly stocking up for the long flight south
A farm cottage called The Groom’s Lodge was our home for two weeks. It was at Stanborough Hundred, the site of an Iron Age hill fort, apparently once a capital of Devon. The cottage was very cosy but its communication technology was still Iron Age so we enjoyed a forced seclusion from telephones and the internet. When in need of food or news, we made our way to Kingsbridge in our hired Chevrolet along narrow roads lined by hedges through rolling downs. But generally we had a quiet time snuggled away from the often wet and windy weather.
This bank and the ditch behind it indicate the site of the Iron Age hill fort at Stanborough Hundred. Our farm cottage is behind the trees
From time to time we did go out for trips. We met the butterfly in the garden of Coleton Fishacre, the former home of Rupert D'Oyley Carte of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It was set into a hillside overlooking the coast with a climate that allowed subtropical plants to thrive. Another day, we had lunch with friends, Margaret and George, in Yetminster, Dorset. The village church, where George is rector, has a 300-year-old faceless clock that is full of personality. Its bells play "God Save the Queen" every four hours, more or less in tune. Appledore in north Devon was our destination another day to walk the streets where Geoff's great-grandmother, Betsy, was born. What better place to indulge in a Devonshire tea as well as walk the quiet, narrow streets along the quay. Then there was a day on Dartmoor with magnificent autumn leaves and wild, misty moors. All in all, Devon was delightful though more heavily populated than we expected. We were caught out a couple of times when we drove to some seemingly isolated nature reserve or coastal stretch to be greeted by parking meters needing a fist full of change we didn't have.
Coleton Fishacre, the holiday home of Rupert D'Oyley Carte, whose father Richard founded the Savoy Theatre
Appledore, the fishing village where Geoff's great-grandmother was born
We lay in bed at 4 am listening to the US presidential election results, trying to imagine how American friends recently visited might be doing and feeling. And we saw preparations for Guy Fawkes bonfires (long outlawed in Australia) in memory of long-ago political fireworks.
On 6 November, we left Plymouth for a long but direct train journey to Edinburgh to spend a weekend with friends, Anne and Robin. The journey was even longer than it should have been thanks to the world's hunger for metals. Thieves stole signal cabling just outside Darlington (ironically, the home of steam trains) bringing the rail system to a halt. Some hours later, the train moved on with the aid of manual signals.
It was a weekend of reunions. We enjoyed swapping news and views with Robin and Anne and other mutual friends, revisiting favourite neighbourhood haunts, and, not least, being reunited with our winter coats, which had spent the summer here with other assorted luggage. (Luggage breeds somehow. By the time we left Devon, we had resorted to using one of those red, white and blue plastic laundry bags.) We marked Remembrance Sunday with Robin and Anne and learnt a little of their service as code breaker (Robin) and ambulance driver (Anne) in World War II.
With Robin and Anne on Remembrance Sunday in their lovely Edinburgh house, our home away from home
Robin and Anne were in countdown mode for their winter migration to Melbourne. (Studious readers of these epistles may remember that we accepted their invitation a couple of months back to house sit for them again while they are away.) So we left them to their packing and headed off to London for a week or so to visit our friend, Sue, and walk the Monopoly board. In the process, we met the famous pelicans of St James Park (gifts of the king of Russia in the seventeenth century), decided Fortnum and Mason of Picaddilly was a little outside our league when it comes to groceries and ate at the Methodist cafe in Westminster. We also got a a little lost when we forgot yet again that the sun was in the southern, not the northern, sky and so saw bits of Regent Street we didn't plan on. Tagging along with Sue on her way to work, we viewed Lambeth Palace inside the gate. We wandered into the House of Commons and listened to debates on childhood obesity and overseas aid. We marked the tenth anniversary of our first "date" (except we didn't know it was a date at the time ... ) with a lunchtime string quartet concert at St John's Smith Square. All in all, it was a relaxed late autumnal view of London.
White Pelicans (far right in the bushes) in St James Park with Buckingham Palace in the distance
Sue’s home is in Kenton in northwest London. The majority of the residents there are ethnically South Asian and the streets are lined with wonderful Asian groceries, curry restaurants and Hindu temples. On Sunday we joined another friend, Pauline, at her Methodist church where the members are predominantly Caribbean and West African. The cosmopolitan character of London was very different from rural Devon and we were struck by the contrast. Sue gave us the run of her home, complete with Bird the budgie, while she was at work. We made full use of her internet connection and also her dining room. Several evenings we ate there with old and new friends, including Marsha from the WSCF Geneva office who was staying in the guest rooms of the Anglican offices where Sue works. It's a small world.
Another train journey and we are now back in Edinburgh, snow and all. We have gone full circle. Not back to Canberra, as originally planned, but to Scotland for another winter of housesitting, writing (in Chris's case) and doing what retired men do (in Geoff’s case). We will now fly into Australia on (don’t laugh) April Fools Day 2009.