Thursday, 7 May 2020

Moving to England: Part II

The earth is warm again and spring-sunshine streams through the branches of beech trees, turning their new leaves a shocking, almost offensively so, fluorescent-green colour. If I open the kitchen door, I can see the smiling faces of half-a-dozen daffodils that I planted on the banks of the brook last year when the autumn chill arrived. They threaten to become engulfed by lush spring grass, lanky dandelions and the froth of cow parsley that all seems to grow a foot taller with each new day.

I planted the daffodil bulbs unnecessarily early one crisp October morning, the wind biting at my fingertips as I worked. My eyes darted up and down the street now and again expecting a tweed-wearing, pitchfork-waving, self-appointed village leader who would tell me to cease and desist with a thick West Country accent- its sing-songy, jovial lilt betraying his deep displeasure. I worried that planting bulbs on the roadside would be met with cross faces and finger waggling from disapproving villagers who have called this place home much longer than I. In the end, I reasoned that nobody could possibly take offence with daffodils. Even ones that did spill out of the confines of my overgrown cottage garden into the village proper. It was tastefully meant. 

Sometimes, on a fine day, I walk out of the open door and wander, cup of tea in hand, over to admire my guerrilla gardening and say good morning to the raft of ducks who call the stretch of river outside our living-room window home. Sipping my tea and gazing at the babbling brook, swollen with spring rain-water, I think, not for the first time, that I must be living in the pages of The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Graham's timeless world in which anthropomorphised water rats and moles are the very best of friends. And I don't mean that flippantly. I have watched a water rat paddle past this very spot.

Written in April 2018, around a year after moving to Castle Combe. 

I was alone for the first week after we moved into the cottage in Castle Combe. My husband was in Barcelona for work, going on to a stag do in another European capital from there. I was a tangle of emotions with nobody around to soothe them. We'd been living in Air B&Bs for months. I arrived with the keys to an empty cottage on a beautiful March morning to await the truck carrying our shipment of possessions from Sydney. There were tall daffodils in bloom throughout the village and the very distinct, earthy smell of wild garlic shoots carried on the cold breeze. The windows were filthy, but the sun shone brightly into the 18th century cottage we would call home. 
The road through Castle Combe is very narrow, parts of the village date back to the 14th century. The front doors of what were once weaver's cottages open virtually onto the road in places. So, when a huge lorry arrived at our address, I panicked. The delivery team were unperturbed and spent the next few hours opening the side of the lorry at our front door, unloading what they could, then quickly moving to a wider part of the road to let a passing car go by, then reversing back to our door to unload some more. They must have shuttled back and forth dozens of times. More than once, they'd have just stopped in position at our doorstep again to open the lorry, and another car would arrive. They were very good natured about it all. And none of my new neighbours came knocking to say what a nuisance the lorry was.

It was a wonderful feeling to see the contents of our old life in Australia, now in our new home in England. I had the team get the heavy furniture into position and unpack a few boxes, but I happily waved them off to finish the job on my own, in my own time. All of our things had made it safely, of course, across the world. Even, for some inexplicable reason known only to one of the removals men back in Sydney, a toilet roll with only seven squares of paper left on the roll. 
As I pottered in the kitchen that first evening, contemplating what to cook myself for dinner, a couple of riders on horse-back trotted past the cottage, their rhythmic clip-clop accompanying the pretty bird song in the towering trees above the village. Nestled down in that idyllic ancient valley, with the brook flowing gently through, and the woodland filling with springtime growth, I felt incredibly content. I loved it there right from day one. 

Inside the cottage

A late winter snowfall

The doors are as tiny as they appear in photographs

We lived in Castle Combe for close to 2 years. Through heavy snowfalls that trapped us at home. Marvelling during springtime at the beauty of blossom trees and blooming wisteria. Soaking up long & languid summer days, and feeling cosy by the fire through woodsmoke scented autumn evenings. Every season was beautiful in its own way, and I very quickly adopted the 'country set' uniform of wax jacket and wellies. If you have a pair of wellington boots, a woollen hat, and an array of waterproof jackets in various weights for the different seasons, then you have everything you need to survive country living. I don't find the weather too much of an adjustment, I just relish what each season brings.
Castle Combe is idyllic and protected by a heritage order, meaning it looks exactly as it did hundreds of years ago. Residents aren't even allowed to put tv aerials on their roof. A picture perfect storybook village like this, as you might imagine, attracts lots of visitors. It especially annoyed me just how many visitors would park on double yellow lines- thereby obscuring the line of sight down narrow and sometimes blind stretches of road in and out of the village. I also got annoyed with people peering in through the living room window, as though they couldn't possibly believe real people lived there. Not everyone was a nuisance of course, but I lived for the days when the village was quiet. It took on such a magical feel at dusk and dawn when it was empty and entirely still, save for the steady flow of the brook and trails of smoke from chimneys. 
The local residents were welcoming and we enjoyed being a part of the community for the short time we were there. I have fond memories of chatting with our neighbours as we passed each other on the woodland trails, Christmas merriment over mulled wine in the village hall, carols by candlelight in the church, discussing the various wildlife sightings, and collectively holding our breath as the winter rains swelled the water levels in the brook higher and higher. Ultimately though, it was not the sort of village we could make our home in long term. Parking being one major issue. We still live very close by, but in a lovely Cotswold stone cottage with a larger garden and a driveway that we can easily fit our cars on!


I am quite often asked via instagram about the cost of living in the countryside. I hesitate to answer definitively on this because what is expensive or inexpensive is rather relative to the individual. The Cotswolds is a sought after area (it takes in six or more counties, so there are variations in desirability and price within this), and the pretty villages have price tags to match. We are fairly close to an M4 junction, the major motorway between London and Wales. This pushes prices upwards further due to it being a desirable commuter location. All I can say is that we love being out in the West Country, and even with my husband commuting into London (a journey of about 90 minutes by car + train) a few days a week, we have a better lifestyle balance here than we did in Sydney. City living drained me, I find the countryside endlessly energising. Not to mention a pretty place to live. 
Village life is never boring. In the springtime we rejoice at the appearance of ducklings on the pond, the air is perfumed by an abundance of wisteria and lilac, and the woodland next to the village is carpeted with wild garlic which we forage for cooking. The summer highlight is the village fete. Cottages are strung with bunting and stalls & games are erected on the village green. As the autumn leaves begin to fall, the bonfire pile grows in anticipation of Guy Fawkes night. Come December, a twinkling Christmas tree is hoisted onto the green and carol singers go from door to door on freezing winter nights spreading merriment before warming up on mince pies and mulled wine at a beautiful Georgian farmhouse together. 
There is no shop or post office in the village. Only a pub. The lack of modern conveniences does not bother me. Being a homebody, this pace of life suits me perfectly. I much prefer being in a warm jumper and wellies, walking the woodlands getting pink cheeks and fresh air than spending my free time in town shopping or at bars for example. In any case, we're not too far from the gorgeous heritage city of Bath for the occasional cinema trip or sushi date.

The countryside in springtime

We have found a wonderful community in our village and are beginning to put down more solid roots. Our next-door neighbours have become our friends, coming over for fish & chip takeaways, inviting us for film afternoons and to carve pumpkins with them at Halloween. My mother in law even helps their daughter with maths via video tutorials on occasion. I have also been incredibly fortunate to find a friend nearby who has seamlessly become a huge part of my life, in many ways becoming like family. She is Australian, so we have common ground. I am certain that life here would've been much poorer if we'd never accidentally met in the local farm shop. We go for long country walks and talk of the books and podcasts we are enjoying, notice the countryside change as the weeks go by, and put the world to rights as we splash through fields and down country lanes in our wellies (wellies really are essential kit out here). We fill each others fridges when the other returns from holiday, I sometimes bake with her children so she can do her grocery shopping in peace, and she was one of the few people who knew I was eloping with my fiancé. The little blue bead sewn inside my wedding dress was a symbolic gift from her. 
When you begin a new life in another country, the friends you make also become an extension of family, filling the gaps that would've otherwise been attended to by blood relatives. It is a little sad that I am not closer for family celebrations and events, but I hope that they will relish the opportunity to visit for extended periods of time with us here to make up for it. If they ever need a sabbatical from their own lives, they are welcome here. I am confident a spell in the English countryside- spending hours walking the forgotten lanes, ancient woodland, unspoilt valleys- is a salve like no other. 

A misty autumn morning

It never fails to astonish me how many people reach out to say, "It's my dream to live in the English countryside" and, "You are living my dream!" And I have to say, I get it. I am living my dream too. Of course, what I share here and on instagram is a very curated glimpse into life in the Cotswolds. I am not sharing our huge heating bill or the litter I stumble across in the hedgerows, our overflowing shower drain or the invasive ground elder in the garden. These things still exist even in a "dream life." But we are very fortunate to live where we live and I try my best not to take it for granted. I am never anything but thankful. Especially to my husband for extending the horizons of my life and making me a braver version of myself, to my grandparents for capturing my imagination with their stories of England and sowing the seed, and my Mum for teaching me the greatest enjoyment in life can be found in gardens.  

Kate  x

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Moving to England: Part I

I am exceedingly risk-averse. And yet, this character trait is precisely the thing that led me here. Here being roughly 17,000 miles from home. When my then boyfriend, now husband, asked me if I would consider living in the UK, just for a year or two, for the sake of his work, initially I responded with a firm, "No." Of course, I do now live in England, and that provisional year or two has passed. As has the third. He has since confessed that the, "Oh, just for a year or maybe two if things go well with work," timeframe was his way of getting me here, lulling my fears, knowing that once we were immersed in English life, I would be reluctant to give it up. Luckily for him, I am.

A stile on one of my favourite country walks

That I ended up living what looks like the embodiment of the 'English idyll', on the opposite side of the world to where I was born, is a happy accident. Thinking back though, I have hungered for this 'green and pleasant land' for as long as I can remember. Residing in close quarters with my Yorkshirian Nan and Surrey-born Gramps, I was raised on a diet of gravy-soaked Yorkshire puddings and exaggerated tenor renditions of Rule, Britannia, and a rather humorous song about a woman who married eight times- always to men named Henry, on car journeys. My Gramps, I think, missed England his whole life long. England, or the idea of life in England, was romanticised to me to such an extent it became an Eden in my mind. Familiar enough, yet somewhere I was a little sorry I never got the chance to know so intimately myself. Suffice to say, being here has been a lot like curing a case of homesickness for a home I didn't know I was missing. 

I am deeply in love with English country living. It suits me down to the ground. I'm smitten with the gentle yet predictable rhythms of the seasons, how each one unfurls slowly, tentatively, stretching out its characteristic refrains to their fullest extent in the same way a new-born lamb stretches its precarious limbs as it frantically bleats and stands for the first time. The scents, sounds and seasonal markers of the countryside fill me with renewed joy every year, as each one begins afresh.


Perhaps we should go back to the start? I semi-regularly get asked on instagram the story behind our move to England, and specifically the ins and outs of making the transition, as well as the hurdles to jump visa and cost wise. I have held off on writing a big blog post like this because I often feel like my experience was far too easy and hassle free to be of use to anyone. And that may still be the case, but I do get asked, and there are people who are just generally curious. So, being as transparent and honest as I can be, I hope the following answers some questions or guides you on your own journey in some way.

A patriotic cottage on the day of the 
Royal Wedding, 2018

In all honesty I will be of little help to those wondering about how to get a visa. My Dad is English (born and raised in Leicestershire) and my husband's Dad is Scottish (born near Glasgow). This automatically affords us British passports and citizenship. As far as Her Majesty is concerned, we are as British as we are Australian. I believe you can apply for UK citizenship if a parent or grandparent is British, but no further back than this. Luckily for us both our families are, in relative terms, rather newly Australian. I remember our freshly processed British passports with the shiny EU foil on the cover arriving in the mail at our Sydney flat the day of the Brexit referendum. A strange but still exciting day.

There are of course other avenues to pursue if you do want to live in the UK but you don't have rights to British citizenship. The UK government website will detail these. In some cases, once you are here you can apply for your place of work to sponsor you to enable you to stay for an extended period of time and maybe even indefinitely. I have heard visas can be expensive and the application process to initially come to the UK and then to renew to stay etc is fairly drawn out. I am sure there would be chat forums in most countries around the world detailing the costs and procedures, so it is worth searching these out to become better informed.

The shelves in our cottage kitchen

I remember the exact date that I finally agreed to move to England- Valentine's Day, 2016. It would be another few months before we left. I had just started my masters degree, hence the initial hesitation on my part, but my husband had won me round with lines such as, "If not now, maybe there will never be another opportunity." My heart desperately wanted to embrace the adventure. My head took a little more convincing. It is an entirely dizzying and disorientating thing, to prepare yourself to move overseas. So much of the decision making and discussion was had by my husband and his workplace, then I would find out details later. This isn't a criticism by any means, but I recall a sense of knowing a big life change was about to occur, but being entirely hands-off with the process. I busied myself by culling and curating our possessions so that we were only shipping over what we truly loved and needed. Bear in mind, I left thinking we'd be away for a year or two. For that reason, I didn't pack as much as I would have if I'd known we would still be here over three years later. For example, I only packed very treasured books and un-read books from my bookshelf. The rest were put in my childhood bedroom for safe keeping. I also knew that being in England would be an unbelievably wonderful opportunity to source and buy beautiful antiques. I had always wanted a French farmhouse table and a set of bentwood chairs, gilt framed mirrors, pine blanket boxes... the list was, and is, endless (luckily for me, we now live very close to a wonderful auction room). We barely filled a shipping container. I don't remember the exact cost, but I do remember thinking how reasonable it was; on par with removalists moving a household within the same state of Australia. Quite amazing when you think that they pack up your household, handle all of the customs paperwork, ship it across the world, and deliver & unpack it in your new home. For full disclosure, my husband's company covered all our shipping, flight, and relocation costs. This was wonderfully generous, but quite standard for a corporate move such as this.

An antique bedside table and vintage alabaster lamp,
both purchased in England

The thing that unnerved me most was how life remained completely unchanged in the lead up to our departure. It wasn't until the employees of the shipping company were in our flat on a sunny Monday morning with rolls of bubble wrap, packing our things into boxes marked "Oxford", that I truly believed we were leaving. Until that point, our home and life had looked as it always did. My husband had woken up that morning in our regular surroundings, got dressed, and gone to work. Never to return to that flat. If it was disorienting for me, watching the packing later that morning, I can't imagine how strange it was for him. Instead of catching his regular bus back across the Harbour Bridge after work that night, he met me and our four suitcases (the only possessions we would have until our shipment arrived in England three months later) in a hotel in the city. 

We are here, in the UK, for my husband's job. He works for an Australian management consultancy firm and they wanted to build and expand a presence in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere. My husband is one of two directors in the UK office and manages Europe, Middle East & Africa. He travels quite often for work and goes into the London office around 2-3 times per week, but right from our initial discussions about moving to England I was adamant that I didn't want to live in London. We floated the idea of Oxford for a while. Maybe Reading. Ultimately we based ourselves in Henley on Thames for the first few months, living in an Air B&B whilst we familiarised ourselves with life in the UK and decided where to live. Our first home was in the beautiful, quintessentially English, village of Castle Combe. This is where I fell truly head over heels in love with living in the English countryside.

Castle Combe, the first village we lived in

To be continued.

Kate x

The humorous song my Gramps sang to us more times than I could count, can be listened to HERE

Monday, 25 February 2019

Scilly narcissi

Alex and I have formed numerous traditions since relocating to England. We toast the shift from autumn to winter with the first mulled wine of the season each Guy Fawkes night. Every December we ice-skate under the night sky in Bath. On New Years Eve we dine at a seafood restaurant and see a film. In mid June, just before midsummer, we visit Badminton House for their charity garden open day.

Perhaps they are less traditions and more patterns of behaviour; things we enjoy doing and so make an effort to repeat each year. Ever since we met, Alex has given me an angel decoration for the tree on Christmas morning. And ever since we moved to England, each winter he has sent me a shipment of narcissi from the Isles of Scilly. This year, two big boxes of erlicheer that filled the cottage with beautiful spring-is-coming scent arrived on a very spring-like Thursday afternoon.

They have now faded, but I took photos of them dotted around the house.
Of course I did.

All gathered together, before I started putting 
them in every room of the house.

My bedside table.

 His bedside table.

The dressing room.

In the bathroom.

The living room (there was also a vase on the dining table 
and another on the sideboard).

Excessive? Perhaps. Much appreciated? Absolutely.

The Isles of Scilly have a long history of shipping the first daffodils and narcissi of the season to the British mainland. I wrote a little about it HERE.

Kate  x

Friday, 8 February 2019

There's pleasure in both

Yesterday, I arrived home after a fortnight away to the first crocus tips emerging from the ground, a garden full of birdsong & sunshine, and the comfort of my own bed. My dear friend had turned on the heating in our cottage a day before I arrived. She had also very kindly put groceries in the fridge and daffodils on the windowsill.

Yesterday, was a day of hot buttered toast, sunlight streaming through the house, and a desperately needed afternoon nap (that dangerously turned into a whole evening and into the night nap thanks to jet-lag).

Today, the wind is gusty and the rain is driven. I've done numerous loads of post-holiday washing and hauled up to the attic the general flotsam and jetsam that accompanies the return from long-haul travel. 

Today, I have run out of almond milk. But there is beauty and simple pleasure in both kinds of days. Sunshine or not. The tapping of rain or the trill of birds. Black tea or milky tea.

It's just so nice to be home.

Kate  x

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The beauty in January

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, or perhaps anywhere, you might be forgiven for thinking immediately that 'beauty' and 'January' are oxymoronic terms. I am a pretty committed January basher myself. In England, this month is particularly brutal. I saw it described online the other day as a 'miserable f#*king bastard.' Sorry for the language, but you can't argue with its accuracy. 

Then yesterday something slightly magical happened. The morning looked something like this:

The frost glimmered and sun shimmered and all morning long the countryside glistened. 

When January is endless days of enveloping shades of grey, when the air is damp and thick with mizzle, when the sky feels like it is mere inches above your head and you haven't seen the sun in days, it can all get a little too much. But the frosty mornings, cold and crisp as they are, become a joyous antidote to the seasonal glum. 

This year, somehow, January has felt less glum. It might be the uncharacteristically clear blue days, the early appearance of snowdrops, or it might just be my deep commitment to my pj's/hot water bottle/book. 

Long may the frosts bring sparkle to our January.

Happy New Year.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The good life

In a previous post I shared THIS wonderful short piece by Bill Nighy about all the things that bring him delight.  I loved it so much that I wrote my own, prompted by a new pair of cotton pyjamas. Sexy they are not. But if you think after seeing woodland animal print pj's that I was not going to purchase them, then you're probably unaware of how obsessed I was with The Animals of Farthing Wood when I was eight. Fox & Vixen 4 ever!

Romantic country hotels. Wellies by the door. Curling up in bed with a hot water bottle on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Getting engrossed in a book. The Shipping Forecast. New pyjamas. The unfurling of spring. The bite of autumn. Perfect ranunculus. Mottled hydrangeas. Repeat-flowering roses. Choosing next years tulip bulbs. Food plucked from the hedgerows. Washing that dries on the line within the day. Watching the ocean in rough winter weather. Lighthouses. Bell towers. Pure wool jumpers and cashmere cardigans. The smell of toast. The tang of blackcurrant jam. Crisps. Rosemary. Walking country estates in autumn mist. Hand written letters. Taking the perfect photograph. Watching the countryside rush by from the window-seat of a high speed train. Switching on lamps at dusk in the wintertime. Waking to an unexpected snowfall. Finding the perfect gift for a loved one. Outdoor eateries lit by fairy lights. Alabaster lamps. Antique mirrors. Linen sheets. The sound of trees. Swallows doing aerobatics against candy-pink sunsets. Collective nouns. Cakes that turn out of the tin easily. Coming back indoors all weather-beaten from a walk. The cup of tea he brings me in bed as he leaves for work.

Kate  x

Friday, 28 September 2018

Jordan, Part 4: Petra

Petra is incredibly vast, in some of the most spectacular and isolated desert terrain, and ultimately it leaves you in awe of these ancient civilisations and all that they built.  Known as the Red Rose City owing to the colour of the stone from which it is carved, Petra was established as the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom in the 4th Century BC. 

The town of Petra sprung up to serve the tourist trade after the ancient city of Petra was re-discovered and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We arrived in Petra as the sun was all but set. This ended up being quite fortuitous. As we checked into our hotel, the desk clerk asked if we would be interested in joining the Petra by Night tour that evening, we had little more than 30 minutes to get ourselves into our rooms and back down to the entry to Petra, but I was determined not to miss the chance. I had seen photographs online of the Treasury building illuminated by hundreds of torches, and I hadn't even considered that we might be arriving on an evening where this was happening, but I am so glad we did.

To reach the Treasury it is a 30 minute walk through the siq- a narrow gorge created by a geological fault. Of course, at night you get little sense of the amazing natural formation around you, let alone the carvings and elaborate ruins. After walking through the gorge, with little light to guide you, you suddenly come upon Petra's most elaborate ruin, the Treasury building, faintly illuminated by soft candle light. I can only imagine what a breathtaking vision it would have been over 2000 years ago for hot, dusty, exhausted travellers as they went by donkey or camel along these epic desert trade routes.

By daylight, the sheer size and impressive intricacies of this desert kingdom becomes crystal clear.

The Siq

Some of the small early signs of what is to come.

Then all of a sudden...


Not all storeys of the Treasury building are visible or have been excavated. The risk is that trying to properly dig out the now underground storeys would cause the upper floors to collapse.

You can pay to ride camels and donkeys through parts of Petra, but we chose to walk. And an epic walk it was. Luckily for us it was only around 30 degrees that day, but if you are going to commit to walk in as far as the Monastery, don't underestimate how far and tough the climb is even on a 'cool' day. From the Treasury it is around a 3 or 4 hour walk and climb to the Monastery. There is so much to see inside Petra, you couldn't possibly cover it all in one day, so make sure you purchase the entry pass that best suits your visit- one day or multi entry.

There is much to stop and discover along the route we took. I had little understanding of what Petra actually contained until I was there. I think most people are very familiar with images of the Treasury and not much else. Turns out that the Treasury is merely the beginning...

Monuments featuring stepping decoration like this one above means they were tombs.

Natural caves beneath a monument. Going inside monuments was the only way to get a short respite from the beating desert sun.

At the decline of Petra, following its annexation by the Romans and later the 363 earthquake, the caves and monuments around Petra became home to the Bedouin tribes. Petra was all but forgotten about, the Bedouin lived there undisturbed for hundreds of years before Petra was rediscovered in 1812. When it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in the mid eighties, many of the Bedouin were relocated to a nearby settlement, a very small handful stood their ground against UNESCO and remain living in the ruins to this day.

Here, people in front of the Royal Tombs, gives a small indication of the size of some of the monuments.

Inside, the tombs provide incredible acoustics. We listened to a group of four women sing Hallelujah and it was so beautiful and special to hear.

After a morning walking, climbing up to tombs, and being in the blazing sun, we stopped outside a very modest looking cafe to ask whether they were serving food and refreshments yet. It was then that we met Bdoul Mofleh, one of those last remaining Bedouin men living inside Petra. The most genuinely friendly man imaginable, he said the cafe was not yet open and invited us up to his cave for tea. Of course, these moments are what makes travel special. So we followed him up the rocky steps behind the cafe, along narrow cliffs to his home in an old tomb. We drank tea, chatted about his life in Petra, the changes he has seen since tourism really took hold, and his refusal to submit to UNESCO and leave. He also showed us many foreign language magazines and travel guides in which he is featured. Bdoul (meaning Bedouin)  Mofleh is something of a travel guide icon, featured in Lonely Planet and written about by the likes of National Geographic. It was such an intriguing and beautiful experience. We sampled some bread he'd made and he pointed us in the direction of monuments and back routes he said we should follow, and he even invited us to stay with him next time we came to Jordan. Honestly, hospitality is second nature in Jordan. When people extend this hospitality to you in places such as Jordan, where poverty is extensive, usually you would give a few dinar to say thank you. I was incredibly moved by Mr Mofleh's generosity inviting us into his home, and I tried to give him ten dinar. Which he point blank refused. I include this only because it makes what happened next even more touching. As we were putting our hats and backpacks back on to climb back down and continue on our way, he disappeared inside for a moment and returned with a little foil parcel. He unwrapped it to show us a small collection of ancient Roman coins, then he gifted us each one. I'll never forget that. 

Alex's Mum was a little nervous of the height and sheer drops from the cliffs.

Back on the main trail, we pushed on up the mountain to get to the Monastery, and honestly there were moments when I doubted we'd ever make it. The climb is gruelling. I never seriously considered paying for a donkey, I felt too sorry for them, but I can see why people do hop on them. The route is worn smooth, and in places is a sheer drop down a gully or off a cliff-side. 

We paused often to rest. At this point in the climb I could see back to where we had been earlier in the day at the Royal Tombs. It is such unforgiving terrain it is hard to believe they carved a city out of stone here.

And then, just when you think you cannot take another step, you come upon...

...The Monastery. I can't even remember if this is the furthest on this particular route that you can walk, but frankly we wouldn't have been able to make it any further. It was worth it though, for me anyway. Alex's Mum might say otherwise. 

Again, the scale is mind-boggling. That's me standing there to give it some perspective. Petra undoubtedly deserves its place on the list of Ancient Wonders of the World, and is so worthy of UNESCO World Heritage status and protection.

I'd go back in a heart beat.

Though, at that particular moment, outside the Monastery, facing the climb back down and kilometres of walking in the heat ahead of me, I'm not sure I'd have sounded so enthusiastic about a return visit.

We walked through the gate to Petra at 8.30am, and walked back out at around 4pm having taken over 23,000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 76 flights of stairs. Like I said, don't underestimate the stamina you will require to see this incredible place. If you can go, GO!

Needless to say, I consumed my fair share of bread, hommus and fattoush that night.

I learnt from my friends whilst we were there that Saudi Arabia is getting ready to open up a similar ancient site to tourism. Of course, when you think about these ancient routes across the world it makes perfect sense that Saudi Arabia would be connected and boast sites of similar stature and importance. Traditionally though the borders to Saudi Arabia have been so tightly controlled that very few people have seen it yet. 

Kate  x

To read more about Bdoul Mofleh, click HERE.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Jordan, Part 3: The Dead Sea

 The Dead Sea, and in the distance Israel, 
as seen from The Dead Sea Museum.

At the midway point of our trip through Jordan, and on the hottest day (39 degrees C) of the holiday, we arrived at the luxurious Movenpick Dead Sea Resort. It was incredibly timely; I was in desperate need of a plush bed with crisp white cotton sheets and a long refreshing swim. Alex and I joke about how I am a 6 star traveller, and this resort was a solid 6 stars for me. 

It was a glorious late afternoon swim. The sea was glassy smooth and the light was golden. The actual temperature of the water was perfect, warm but refreshing. 

As we walked towards the beach area, I watched people bobbing effortlessly in the water, and I was overcome with excitement about getting to experience swimming in the Dead Sea for myself. I have long had a fascination with the idea of being unable to sink in this particular body of water. As we approached the rocky shore I said to Alex's Mum, "My brain can't quite comprehend what is about to happen."

Alex's Mum

We both wore our saltwater sandals into the sea. The shore is very rocky and they were very handy to be able to wear in and out of the water. I gave mine a really good rinse in the shower afterwards given how salty the water is, and they are fine.

The best way I can describe what it feels like is to imagine having pool noodles for limbs. No matter what, if you launch yourself into the sea, you will float to the top. I hooked my arms under my bent legs and sat in the water, floating around watching the sun dip lower and lower over the hills in Israel. Bizarre, and breathtaking. I can confirm, it is impossible to sink.

It's salty! That goes without saying. Don't get the water anywhere near your eyes or mouth. And don't shave in the day or two leading up to swimming, it will sting. But afterwards (even with my sensitive skin turning a very angry but temporary shade of red), once all the salt had been washed off in the shower, it made my skin feel lovely. I spent a small fortune on bringing home Dead Sea beauty products- mud, salts, gels- to try to recreate the restorative spa like feeling I got when we were there. Incidentally, the Dead Sea was one of the very first health resorts, favoured by Herod the Great. The density of minerals in the mud and water must be good for you... maybe.

The Dead Sea is quite narrow, you can see how close Israel is, and the border between the two countries goes straight up the middle. The surface of the water is 420 meters below regular sea level, and the Dead Sea is actually landlocked. It is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world and is 9.6 times more salty than the ocean. The level of salinity makes life for animals and plants near-impossible, hence its name, the dead sea.

Watching the sun set behind Israel was magical. The lights flickered on across the water, and we dried off with smiles on our faces. It was quite an experience. I am not typically a resort holidayer, and we never usually seek out sun and surf, but I would happily spend a few days back at Movenpick on the Dead Sea sleeping late, relaxing in the water and in the spa, and enjoying long buffet dinners as the sun sets.

Earlier that day we had visited Bethany beyond the Jordan to see the baptismal site of Jesus. This was an interesting place, it felt hugely remote and almost desolate. The sun was absolutely beating down on the desert, and we had to walk a fair way into the site in near-forty-degree heat. There are numerous churches of various faiths built on the hills around this stretch of the River Jordan, signalling its importance as a religious site for Christians. 

The baptismal site

Israel, taken from the Jordanian side of the river

Interestingly there seemed to be very little military presence at this part of the border. I couldn't see any Israeli soldiers, and on the Jordanian side there was a single soldier. The ropes stretched out on the water were the only physical barrier separating worshippers in Israel from those in Jordan.

Kate  x