While preparing my book, Hangi, Haka and Hobbits: Notes from New Zealand, the second in my Planning to the Nth trilogy, for publication in print, memories are flooding back.
There comes a time when you absolutely have to get out of your house away from routine and what feels like duty and into the real world. Last Thursday was one of those days.
I headed up into the hills, to a nice little village with the delightful name of Emerald. It’s one of the stopping points for the Puffing Billy Heritage Railway. The century-old steam train runs for 24 kilometres on its original track through the forests and farmland of the Dandenong Ranges, from Belgrave to Gembrook.
Skipton is one of the towns connected by the Leeds Liverpool Canal. The canal was opened in 1816 and, at 127 miles, is Britain’s longest inland waterway. After spending the morning at Skipton Castle, pretending I was in an episode of Robin Hood, I wandered down the steep High Street to the quay.
In September, 2011, I arrived in Manchester, with a view to hiring a car and working my way down to London, but after two days of more-or-less steady rain, I felt like I was still home in a particularly wintry Melbourne. On the third morning, as I was leaving to catch the train to York, I was greeted by another downpour. My runners had dried out from the day before but it was obvious that wasn’t going to last long.
A man pushed past me, squeezing me against my case in the hotel doorway, raised him umbrella, almost poking out one of my eyes and took off into the deluge. I launched myself out as well, crossed the road through manic Monday morning traffic to the cafe opposite the hotel and ordered my first English breakfast, scrambled eggs and bacon on wholegrain toast. Delicious. Over coffee I prayed that the rain would ease just long enough for me to make it to the station. The prayer worked. As I left the cafe it stopped and I reached the station damp, as opposed to dripping.
In 2010, I ventured across the Tasman Sea to the south island of New Zealand. I had wanted, for a long time, to see what is described as one of the most beautiful places in the world.
It was also a good spot for a practice run at lone overseas travel. They speak English, of a sort, their money is similar and they drive on the right side of the road which, in Australia and New Zealand, is the left. I was planning to drive through the Southern Alps, which extend down the western side of the island but to get there, I had to catch a train across from the east.