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20th December 2015

There are times in everyone’s’ lives, see I guess, mind  when a wave of embarrassment sweeps through and causes pause for thought. This is one of them. It is just under a week to go until Christmas 2015 and I’ve sat down at my desk to start to pen my notes about our travels over the last 12 months, healing 2015. A pretty epic year it has been too, with lots of things ticked off our bucket lists.

To my complete shame, I have realised that I have not penned a single “bon mot” about our travels last year – 2014!! How shabby is that?! After a relatively quiet 2013, 2014 was a good year for our wanderings too, so quite why I missed writing about it, I’ll never know. Simply sloppy. But let’s put that right – here and now. 2015 will have to wait.

January – Banff, Canada. (Minus 18 degrees.)

We got the year off to a good start – well, I did anyway. I discovered a wee while ago that there’s only one way to keep Irene really happy and that is to make sure she has skis strapped to her feet. Those of you who know me, will be only to aware that while I can also ski more than competently, a ski slope is not my natural environment, not by a long chalk.

Lake LouiseBut I am a brave bloke and, at times, duty must be done. It also happens that Banff and its 3 ski areas are amongst my favourite places to undertake sliding down shiny white stuff. There are also good facilities for yours truly on the days when I relieve Irene of having to drag me round the slopes, by choosing to have a “literary day” staying back in Banff.

I had a good holiday and, with what turned out to be one to one instruction for 3 days, my skiing actually improved. Irene had a great time, coping with some seriously scary stuff to build on her training regime. She showed me some of the so-called slopes she had mastered, more like the sides of skyscrapers if you ask me!!!

Banff lived up to its billing, great coffee, great grub, good beer, hot tub, nice people – what more could you want at the end of a day’s snow sports?

Things Theatrical & Celebratory.

In between January and our holiday in November, we covered a remarkable amount of ground with numerous shows and artists having the pleasure of our company.

War HorseIn no particular order, we saw: Lee Evans, Riverdance (again), War Horse for the 2nd time, Fascinating Aida, Mike & the Mechanics, Penguin Café, Cirque du Soleil, David Gray & Bryan Adams – all simply superb. We made our first visit to Pitlochry’s Enchanted Forest and Irene took a friend to see Bellowhead.

All those pale by comparison though with the undoubted social highlight of our year when we were thrilled to attend the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of our longest-standing guests of all time, Bruce & Ellie Ing. We enjoyed a lovely evening in the company of their family and very wide circle of friends. We were amazed that Ellie still has her wedding dress, proudly catwalked on the evening by one of her granddaughters and, even more so, that they still have a piece of the wedding cake which was also paraded amongst the assembled throng.

It was fascinating to read the Press Cuttings of the day itself, which revealed to the readership that the bride’s Wedding Dress was much in vogue being crafted from “White Bri-Nylon” and that the happy couple honeymooned “driving back to Scotland” – no expense spared there then, Bruce! Mind you, doing so obviously set the foundations firm for such a long and happy relationship. Well done Bruce & Ellie.

November – Western Australia. (38 degrees!)

Time here for another confession. It isn’t often that I get told off – honest!! But it does happen. One such occasion took place in the late Spring of 2014 when we welcomed back to Crubenbeg some Australian guests and friends whom we’d first met on our cruise to Norway some years ago. We had previously discussed with them that, on our 2nd trip to New Zealand, in 2012, we would break our journey and call to stay with them at their home in Perth. This did not come to pass.

So, when they breezed into the kitchen for a cuppa, having settled in to their room, M (as I shall call him to save his blushes), with traditional and typical Aussie diplomacy, let me have both barrels about our failure to accept their invitation. Duly humbled, I set about putting that right.

When M came back to the Guest House after their day out the next day, I calmly advised him that he’d need to be at Perth Airport at 17.30 on 16th November, to welcome us to his fair land!!! He was speechless, something that it very rare, so his wife, S, tells me.

Anniv CakeNonetheless, some months later, after a super flight on Emirates, when they kindly helped us celebrate our 17th Anniversary in-flight with a lovely cake (the webs I weave, eh?) we eased out into the Arrivals Hall at Perth Airport to see M & S’s smiling faces pretending to be pleased to see us.

Bell Tower 465x800Getting our holiday off to a great start, they hosted us magnificently around Perth, starting with a successful whale-watching cruise, then around Perth’s superb waterfront, iconic Bell Tower and the magnificent Kings Park. Naturally a traditional Aussie Barbie was savoured on their back patio – well cooked, M.

Then it was off on the Prospector to Kalgoorlie, still a thriving Gold Mining Town, responsible for some 10,000 jobs. The 6-hour journey is rail travel as it should always be - comfy seats with ample room, in-seat entertainment, refreshments. Nice. One clever touch is that the Kalgoorlie-bound train meets with its Perth-bound opposite at the halfway point, the two crews swap trains and go back home! How clever and efficient is that?

We had 3 reasons to want to make the trip: Irene likes trains; we wanted to tour the Big Pit, one of the largest man-made holes in the ground and to venture out to Lake Ballard to see one of Antony Gormley’s fabulous installations.

Big Pit 800x557The term “Big” doesn’t quite cover it, the Big Pit is one almighty hole in the ground – take a look at the “Dinky Toys” in the photo. Each one of those is a truck which can drag 250 tons of rock up to the surface. They operate 24/7, not even stopping for the driver’s breaks, when a “jockey” takes over the controls and does a couple of runs – time is money in the world of gold mining. There is much talk of what happens when the gold runs out but that is a way off yet, they’ve only managed to dig out less than a third of the surveyed seams.

We took to our hire car next day for the 3-hour drive up north to a small settlement called Menzies, (great rust sculptures, coffee & home baking) then west on a dirt road to Lake Ballard. Here, spread out over an almost completely flat vastness are 51 humanesque figures installed by Antony Gormley. Spaced 750 metres apart, these life-height, skeletal figures, based on scans of members of the local population, appear to disappear off into infinity, giving perspective to the almost incomprehensible scale of the Australian interior. Well worth the trip, I can tell you.

Raptor 1 798x568Next morning, it was back to Perth and straight down to Margaret River where we very much enjoyed the company of M and S (no, not that M&S) for 3 nights. The splendid, sun-kissed, wave lashed coast was visited, paths walked, the 2 mile Busselton Pier was strolled along and we had a great time visiting a delightful Raptor Rescue Centre. Our trip round the various cages where the recovering birds are housed was interrupted by the need to catch the flying display. Eagles, hawks, buzzards of all shapes and sizes swopping overhead, sometimes not very far overhead!! Stunning, breathtaking, exceptional. Nuff said!!

It would, of course, have been dreadfully remiss of us not to visit a Winery while we were in this, one of the world-renowned centres of wine production. M particularly wanted to visit a certain estate which will need to remain nameless but which has one of the largest Australian Flags in the world (Google it and you’ll see!)

M and S both wanted to sample of few of their doubtless excellent products but, when the staff member presented S with a tasting glass that was “mildly dampened” at the bottom, S enquired whether it was, indeed, a sample or just a dirty glass!! That went down well, I can tell you.

By complete contrast, after we’d gone our separate ways, we visited the Howling Wolf Winery where the owner took the opportunity to join us quaffing various of his vintages – Irene had at least a 3rd of a glass of each!! Yours truly was driving. Having made a few purchases, it was time for the Cheeky Monkey Brewery for another of Irene’s hobbies – beer tasting.

Cheeky MonkeyBy this time, the effects of the wine were starting to become evident so food was required and a majestic bowl of wedges spotted at a nearby table. Ever helpful, I strode over to the order point, only to discover that last food orders had passed a few minutes before. I must have had a desperate sort of look on my face because my server shot off into the kitchen, returning a few minutes later declaring that she’s switched the fryer back on and persuaded a chef to come up with a bowl of the goodies. Right answer and truly delicious.

Gloucester Tree 523x800On then to the next stage of our trip, down to Albany via Pemberton which is home to ancient forests and the Gloucester Tree, a mighty Karri, the second highest Fire Lookout Tree in the world. A spiral of spikes have been hammered into the sturdy trunk and it is on these that you ascend to the platform 72 meters above the forest floor, revealing tremendous views over the surrounding countryside. Purely in the interest of verifying this fact on your behalf, dear reader, I eased aside my fear of heights and inched my nervous way up to the top, one spike at a time and then inched my sweaty way back down to terra firma. Living proof that you can put your fears in a box – sometimes!! These things have to be done – sometimes.

Down in Albany, we enjoyed coastal walks, watching the pelicans, dining really well at a restaurant called Rats and visiting the Anzac centre which commemorates the Australian Forces significant involvement in the two World Wars, especially their ill-fated campaign at Gallipoli. The combination of the guided tour of old museum buildings, by a veteran, and the superb new Anzac Centre building, is somewhat poignant, in my view. Well, well worth a visit if you’re ever in that neck of the woods.

Bluff Knoll 1 737x620Well rested after our 3 days, time to travel again so we set off on the first of our really long days (217 miles, 5 rolling hours.) up to Kondinin, stopping off the Sterling Ranges to climb Bluff Knoll, height just over 3000 feet. Why did we climb it? Because it is there and it, too, had to be done. Our route also took us along Tin Can Alley, a long straight section of road where the farmers have undertaken all forms of humorous and thoughtful Sculpture using old oil cans. I’m sort but we don’t have any photos, but there are plenty on Google!!

Wave Rock 800x600Why Kondinin? Because it is a great wee place to stop not far from the iconic Wave Rock, which really does look like a wave. Impressive. As was the Hippos Mouth Rock nearby. A great way to start our day, before embarking on our second long day heading north and west towards Guilderton (250 miles, 5 rolling hours.)

If you are ever in this part of the world, the Woollybush Guest House is the only place to stay. Annette & Phill, your hosts are even more welcoming than us, ably assisted by their Kangaroo, Chloe, her joey, Oscar and her Beau, Brutus. We should point out that none of the Kangaroos are pets, as such. They can, and do, disappear out into the bush for days on end and do very nicely out there too. It is just that they have no fear of humans, having been brought up as “part of the family”. Their story is laid out on the Woollybush Guest House website – take a few minutes to look it up.

Chloe Irene PhillDon’t be tempted to go out of an evening to eat, Annette’s home cooking is delightful and Phill is a dab hand with the complimentary vino. To cap it all, as you’re sitting there, glass of wine to hand, you’re being watched by Chloe, who is allowed in after dinner and is sitting right by you. If you are honoured, she’ll let you feed her a bit of peach. Not everyone gets that privilege, mind you. Brutus & Oscar have their own party tricks and you’ll also really enjoy the amazing variety of wildlife and birdlife that share the garden grounds with you. We are working out when next we can go back.

Using Woollybush as our base, we explored the Pinnacles, an amazing landscape and also found time to explore the Gravity Centre, which kept Irene amused for hours.

Time, sadly, to head back to Perth which we did via New Norcia, an elegant small town founded and run by Benedictine Monks. The tour we enjoyed was very well done indeed, giving us lots of info about the town, the monastery, the Community, the Retreats and the good works done there by the monks over the years. Many of the buildings are in very good order and are well worth taking the time to explore. An edifying and enlightening experience.

Quokkas R Us 800x565Having got safely back to M & S’s home, our next day was spent over on Rottnest Island, basking in glorious sunshine as we joined two walking tours to explore the town and the countryside of this unique island, complete with its colonies of quokkas. There’s lots more to see and do than we could manage in a day – another, longer trip beckons.

That said, we did chance upon a wild swimming event taking place that day. Some 500 or so competitors took part that day, split into colour groups of a hundred or so, identified by a coloured swimming cap. At the starter’s gun, they all race round the rectangular course, just off shore, swimming round marker buoys on a 1 mile route. The event is very well organised, very well supported by competitors and spectators alike and was a special treat with which we drew our trip to a close.

All in all, it was a delightful 3 weeks and our thanks go to Annette and Phill and to our other hosts to the many folk we met en-route who’s banter helped to enrich our journeys and, especially, to M & S not just for looking after us so well but also for being the inspiration for the trip.

To view more of our photos, please visit the Gallery.

John & Irene.
Crubenbeg House, Dec 15.