Country Diaries

Welcome to Rutland – ‘Much in Little’

We’re driving along a country road minding our own business, when a vision of hooves and red coats appears.  Horses and howling hunting dogs clatter past, the final rider – sporting a natty, black top hat – gives us a jolly wave.

It’s our fourth week here in rural England and I continue to be charmed by the quaint – and often eccentric – local ways.

After six months travelling the world, our new English country chapter has begun and we’re exploring counties and cottages for the perfect place to live.

One village in particular has stolen our hearts. We stumbled upon it on our second day and have since returned a dozen times to check it’s still as magical. It never lets us down.

Lyddington is a teeny tiny village, a hamlet actually, nestled in the heart of England’s smallest historic county – Rutland.

The Latin motto ‘multum in parvo’ was adopted by the local council for the area meaning ‘much in little’.

Now, I really love how this echoes the huge lifestyle change we are making. We’ve left our Sydney home, corporate jobs and city living for the rustic beauty of the English countryside and a slower, simpler pace of life.  Much in little, no?

We are also wildly in love with our small, but huge-hearted pug, Winston. This little pup has brought boundless joy into our lives over the last five years. I can’t help but feel this lovely county motto also extends to him.

Country walks and lovely spring sunshine 🌿

A post shared by C O U N T R Y D I A R I E S (@country_diaries) on

And lets have a quick moment for all the other simple pleasures in life that bring so much pleasure – newly baked bread, a glass of great wine or freshly cut flowers. Little things can totally be the best, right?

So, embracing the ‘much in little’ philosophy – I’m in love with Lyddington. This secluded village of ironstone cottages sits amidst green slopes of the Welland Valley.

The landscape is gently rolling – green patchwork hills, winding country roads and chocolate box cottages, a short hop to Rutland Water.

Counting 🐑🐑🐑. Brisk winter walks in the English countryside. 🌿

A post shared by C O U N T R Y D I A R I E S (@country_diaries) on

Lyddington is linear by design –  a row of golden stone houses, each more gorgeous than the last, displaying themselves proudly over the course of a mile punctuated by Bede House, two lovely pubs and a fine-looking church.

Lovely Lyddington, light of my life. This village is The One, I just know it.

We’ve loitered in the local pub so many times over the past few weeks, the landlord asked if we recently moved to the village. I wished the answer could have been ‘yes’ as opposed to, ‘no, we’re just stalking’.

While we wait for our perfect ‘forever home’ to present, we’re moving to the lovely market town of Uppingham two miles down the road.

I’m looking forward to discovering, and blogging about, the many great things Rutland has to offer. In the meantime, spring is slowly but surely cranking into action. We’ve enjoyed pleasant evening walks to the pub for a glass of Pimms and the fleeting pleasure of english bluebells.

I didn’t think I’d be quoting Latin so early into our english adventure but here we are – multum in parvo, people as the Rutlanders say!

Campsite calamities in New Zealand

“Welcome to Noo Ziland,” the lovely Maori airport official welcomed us as we stepped off the plane into Kiwi Country. I was charmed.

Our time in New Zealand marked the nearing end of our world travels – three weeks in a camper van exploring the north and south islands. I am hopping with excitement to finally witness New Zealand’s beauty.

The idea of camping, however, has never fired me with much enthusiasm. On this trip, we discover I am a truly lousy camper.

Our first night on a campsite, I unplug the power of our neighbour’s camper van, plunging the family inside into darkness. Night two is, regrettably, even more shameful.

Returning to our van from the showers, I pull open the door and start to clamber into the wrong van. Of course, the owners are lying on the bed at eye level as I wrenched open the door. I mumble my apologies and hastily back away. Oops.

Hitting the open road 

I may be a crappy camper but I adore New Zealand and our time in the van. We can go where we want, when we want, for as long as we want – it’s heaven.

The nicest thing is spotting a beautiful lake or beach, pulling up and grabbing a spot of lunch al fresco, surrounded by the beauty of nature.

New Zealand’s north island is a delight of green, rolling countryside and wildflower-filled meadows. Tiny birds dart in and out of hedgerows like something from a Disney movie.

No two days are the same from the rugged beauty of Bay of Islands, mesmerising iridescent glowworm canopies in Waitomo and thermal springs in Rotorua.

“This is nothing. Just wait until you see the south island,” folks keep telling me. Turns out, they’re right. The north island is gorgeous, but wowzers, the south island is mind-blowing!

South island’s stunning scenery

Have you seen the show ‘West World’? The premise is an entire world, created solely as a playground for humans. This is how New Zealand’s south island makes me feel.

Each landscape is as impressive, and unbelievable, as a movie set. Every twist and turn of the road presents a new landscape – each more stunning and dramatic than the last.

From red rocky outcrops and volcanic terrain, to snow-capped mountains, glacier country and crystal clear turquoise lakes. Sometimes we turn a corner and I laugh out loud the view is so insane.

This vision is Lake Pukaki – a shimmering blue lake set among snow-topped mountains. Not a bad place to pull up for a spot of lunch!

A post shared by C O U N T R Y D I A R I E S (@country_diaries) on

 Starry skies at Lake Tekapo

One of the trickiest things about sleeping in a van are bathroom visits in the middle of the night, necessitating a dark schlep across the campsite to the toilet block.

The first time I staggered out the van at 2am cursing my tiny bladder, I looked up to see thousands of stars twinkling brightly in the clear night’s sky. It took my breath away.

Between the lack of pollution and some scientific stuff I don’t understand, stargazing on south island is mind-blowing. I got a sore neck on those midnight bathroom-visits from peering upwards – just heavenly.

Stars over New Zealand’s Lake Tekapo

Our last night we stop at Tekapo Lake, dubbed New Zealand’s ‘bluest’. This is big talk as we have seen some pretty amazing water in a million shades of blue so far. And not just lakes – seas, waterfalls and rivers too.

Tekapo Lake lives up to the hype as a show-stopper. During the day, the glacier-fed lake is pure turquoise, slowly turning to rose gold at dusk as it reflects the changing colour of the surrounding mountains.

The next morning, it has morphed into a shimmery silver and for about the millionth time on this trip, I marvel at the beauty of nature.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

New Zealand is easily the most jaw-droppingly beautiful place I’ve ever visited. Real, unadulterated bucket-list beauty. If you can, please go.

Next blog post, we’re back to Blighty where it’s time for us to start cracking on with our ‘new’ reality. Hopefully the sun will be shining as our arrival coincides with British spring (…or perhaps this is wishful thinking!)

Burning bodies & Babas in Varanasi

It’s 5.30am in Varanasi and I have no idea what to wear. We’re taking a boat ride along the Ganges – and the burning of bodies is a solemn affair.  Is eye make-up inappropriate? Jeans too casual? 

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt so far in this crazy town – anything goes. I slap on mascara and head out the door.

Early morning bathing in the Ganges #India

A post shared by C O U N T R Y D I A R I E S (@country_diaries) on

Varanasi, India’s Holy town

Varanasi is the the spiritual heart of India and a mind-blowing place. To level with you – it’s completely bonkers.

Located along the banks of the Ganges, pilgrims from all over the world come to Varanasi for prayer, meditation, bathing in the holy river, to die or to honour the dead.

In Hinduism, Varanasi is regarded as the last stop on earth before nirvana. Many people trek here to breathe their last breath, believing their soul will go straight to heaven.

As a result, there are a lot of very interesting people round these parts. My favourite thing to do in Varanasi was sit by the Ganges in the glow of the afternoon sun, people-watching.


Sadhus & snake charmers

From dreadlocked-holy men painted in ashes, weird westerners in hippy gear, snake charmers, body burners, bodies being burnt, dodgy salesmen and beautiful brown-eyed Indian children splashing in the river, Varanasi is a real melting pot.

It’s a visual feast, and expect an assault on your nostrils too –  there are some interesting smells round these parts.

From burning flesh of the cremations, to the scent of cannabis regularly wafting from groups of Sadhus – or spiritual adventurers.

Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, is often pictured smoking weed. The holy guys clearly figure what’s good for the goose, is good for the ganja (sorry –  couldn’t resist!)

Couldn't resist a cheesy pic with this interesting-looking fella hanging out by the Holy River.

A post shared by C O U N T R Y D I A R I E S (@country_diaries) on


Celebrating death in Varanasi

A number of hospices line the river, a daily reminder of the many dying people waiting for the end to come. Along the river are two burning sites where giant fires burn bodies right in front of your eyes 24/7.

As you walk closer and your eyes adjust through the chaos and smoke, you’ll likely see a charred hand, foot or head hanging out.

Sir, you want boat?

If families can’t afford the fees for a dying loved one’s burning ritual, often the bodies are just thrown in the Ganges.  Presumably, in the hope this will achieve an equally decent spiritual outcome.

So if you take a lovely boat ride – you’ll hear ‘sir, madam,you want boat?’ on a loop – you might just want to be mentally prepared.

Burning site for cremations on the Ganges.

Magic and mystery in India’s spiritual heart

What a grim bloody place, you’re probably thinking round about now. Bizarrely, it’s not – it’s actually amazing.

Here, the business of burning bodies is simply part of the day-to-day. Locals, workers, cows, dogs and goats all mill around the burning bodies without batting an eyelid.

I’m the world’s most emotional person – I cried when I saw how pretty Bruges was – but for some reason, I’m not upset in Varanasi. There’s a certain mystery and magic in the air that’s pretty special.

To breathe your final breath here is considered auspicious, a celebration. It must be a relief for those in ill-health who make long pilgrimages to finally arrive at their final resting place.

It’s as though everything is following the order that it’s meant to be (in the most disorganised, dirty, unhygienic way you can possible imagine!)

As a random aside – women whose husbands are being cremated may not attend the ceremony. This is for fear the women, in their grief, will fling themselves on their burning hubby and roast themselves to death. All very dramatic.

Every evening, hundreds of people gather by the Ganges for ‘Aarti’, a daily holy ritual, and quite a spectacle. Disciples dance, pray and perform with fire in Cobra-shaped fire burners to honour the Gods.


Greeting dawn on the Ganges

So there we were, our last morning in Varanasi, jeans and mascara doing the job just fine as we headed to the river in the dark. As we pushed off in our boat, dawn was starting to break, an ethereal mist snaking across the surface of the river.

The Ganges was totally alive by 6am as people bathed and swam, others meditating and praying on its banks. Acrid smoke from the cremations floated across the river, a constant reminder of those burning bodies.

It might not be your ‘usual’ holiday destination but Varanasi is an amazing place – life and death at it’s most raw spilling out along the banks of the Holy River. I’ll certainly never forget it.

Magical mists over the Ganges this morning #india

A post shared by C O U N T R Y D I A R I E S (@country_diaries) on

So, if that all sounds a bit heavy – you’ll be pleased to hear we’re off to beautiful New Zealand next. Pristine beaches, dramatic mountains ranges and turquoise waters beckon!

Have you been to Varanasi? Did you love it, or hate it? Let me know in the comments.

1 2 3 6