The Love of British Folk Tradition: Coventry and Kenilworth Morris at Kenilworth Castle on Boxing Day morning

I love Morris dancers, and at Kenilworth Castle on Boxing Day morning, all those who had braved the icy winds and crisp chill of the atmosphere were treated to several dances by the Coventry Morris and the Chinewrde Morris Dancers of Kenilworth. Male and female dancers entertained us while we were fortified with hot chocolate and mince pies from the Stables tea room.

In my book ‘Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire’ I include a chapter on Folklore and Folk Customs. In this, I write about one particular Morris Side, the Plum Jerkum. But the lead melodeon player and dancer, Dave, speaks for all Morris dancers when he says:

“People like to remember the past, when it is thought life was much simpler (and harder too, though people forget that). Border Morris is a celebration of working folk, who had to wear costumes and disguises to dance for money, which was apparently illegal at the time.’

I love the way they got round the authorities and subverted the rules! On this occasion, the male dancers mostly swapped the traditional dress for blue sweatshirts, but there were still a few rags and ribbons to be seen.

Coventry Morris dancers at Kenilworth Castle on Boxing Day morning 2022

On Boxing Day morning at the castle, the festive canines were also out in force for the best-dressed dogs contest.

Finally, we enjoyed a bracing walk around the castle, which included my favourite aspect: up the staircase that now allows visitors to ascend to the different levels of Leicester’s Building. Here, Elizabeth I and her entourage were accommodated during the 19-day festivities in 1575 hosted by Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and then the owner of the castle.

At the very top visitors may gaze across the empty space to the countryside beyond. We have to imagine the floor of the room up here, the tapestries on the walls, the flames in the fireplace, and the gorgeous costumes of the revellers. In this very space, Elizabeth and her courtiers danced the night away.

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Book Reviews: The Poppy Denby Murder Mystery Series by Fiona Veitch Smith

Today, I’m delighted to bring you my reviews of a six book series I highly recommend, having just thoroughly enjoyed reading book six.

The Crystal Crypt, Book 6 of the Poppy Denby series by Fiona Veitch Smith, shown on a Kindle Paperwhite

The Poppy Denby series is widely available online and through bookshops.

The Poppy Denby Murder Mystery series
by Fiona Veitch Smith

I’ve enjpyed meeting and chatting to the author Fiona Veitch Smith at writing events, and have followed her writing and publishing journey from the time she originally self-published her children’s books I read and loved her earlier novel Pilate’s Daughter, and delighted in the increasing success of her present output as an established writer of commercially published fiction. I’ve also played a part in Fiona’s research when she posts her questions on the Facebook group to which we both belong in order to correct any anachronisms in her stories!

Author Fiona Veitch Smith at the book launch for her mystery novel The Death Beat (photo by permission of the author)

The Poppy Denby series is set in the 1920s, and with every book, Fiona has researched key events and issues of the time. There’s also lots of detail about 1920s fashions, which Fiona loves and has fully investigated – this includes dressing up in a gorgeous flapper dress and posing by appropriate props such as a vintage car or a 1920s typewriter for her book launches!

Poppy Denby is an investigative reporter for the London tabloid The Globe. Fiona has herself worked in the world of journalism and has personal experience of life in a newspaper office. With this series, not only do we get a highly entertaining read with characters who will captivate us, but also a strong sense of  the major dramas of that era, enabling us to imagine how it would have been to live through those times, and giving us much greater insight into their meaning and significance for us today.

Here, then, are my six reviews:





A thoroughly engaging detective novel set in the 1920s. I loved the main protagonist Poppy and enjoyed the descriptions of her life establishing herself as an investigative journalist in the offices of the London tabloid newspaper The Globe. Other characters are also brilliantly drawn; Poppy’s actress friend Delilah, her boss Rollo, and the loathesome antagonists, Melvyn and Alfie Dorchester. The author draws a vivid picture of the struggle of the suffragettes and conveys the challenges of being a woman in a world where discrimination against women was condoned at every level. The narrative sparkled and was well-paced with powerful changes of tone and mood in scenes of tension and danger. An excellent Lion Fiction debut for Fiona Veitch Smith.



I found this one even more intriguing and pacey. I love Rollo, Delilah, Novoski, and the author’s vivacious story-telling. I also like the way she brings into her story real people in the theatre world at that time (early twentieth century), such as Stanislavski and Lillian Baylis.

The background to the story involves the turbulent political events in Russia with the end of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of the Bolsheviks. The theft of two Faberge eggs starts the plot spinning, and Poppy, our intrepid journalist, is on the trail of a story for her newspaper The Globe; as she follows her instincts in unravelling the truth behind a jewel theft and a double killing, she and her actress friend Delilah find themselves caught up in a dangerous and deadly turn of events. Enthralling.



This time, investigative journalist Poppy is in New York with her boss, Rollo, accompanied by her good friend, actress Delilah, and her aunt, former suffragette Dot.

She finds herself unravelling a case involving murder, stolen identity, a false claim on a fortune, a possible sex-slave ring, corruption in the film industry, two vulnerable female emigrees from the Russian revolution, and the mystery of who pushed the seaman into the machinery on the ship from Southampton. We meet again the villain Archie Dorchester from Poppy’s past.

I love the energetic narrative pace, the colourful evocation of the era, the accurate description of the fashions of the time, the way the author blends in real people, and above all the delightful and engaging principal characters. Now I move straight on to the next Poppy Denby book!



The story surrounds the art world,  centred upon the backstory of a celebrated artist, and two suspiciously linked tragic deaths. Poppy is as ever warm, caring, empathetic but sharp, persistent, and discerning, and the story also takes forward the unresolved questions surrounding Poppy’s love interests. I found this story, the unravelling of the mystery and the truth behind the murders, to be closely bound up with complex family relationships, which I greatly enjoyed. I’m looking forward to the next Poppy Denby mystery!



I loved this tale of Ancient Egyptian artefacts. Murders, grand theft and spiritualism surround the death mask of Nefertiti, and Poppy, our intrepid young journalist, is determined to get at the truth as the auction draws ever closer and we wonder which of four countries will get their hands on the priceless object. Of all the Poppy books this is the one that most reminded me of Agatha Christie, as Poppy constantly reviews and revises the list of murder and stalking suspects at the country house party. As ever I loved the cast of characters who reappear in each book – Poppy’s colourful boss Rollo, her love-interest photographer Daniel and her bete noir Lionel from the rival newspaper. A captivating read.



It’s a fantastic sixth addition to the Poppy Denby series. This time investigative reporter Poppy – as persistent and discerning as ever – penetrates into the suspicious death of a brilliant woman X-ray crystallographer. Poppy plunges into the world of science in Oxford, and also into the heart of the kind of misogyny which will make present-day readers seethe (a misogyny which is still present in today’s society – but much more marginalised, and more strongly challenged). Poppy finds herself in the basement crystallography laboratory dubbed ‘The Crystal Crypt’ housed opposite Backwell’s Bookshop. I know Oxford quite well, and I loved all the detail of the places there, many of them familiar to me. The author did invent the hotel Poppy stays at, The Cherwell Hotel, so if anyone hunts for a room there as an alternative to The Randolph, they’ll be disappointed!

All the beloved characters are here – the wonderful newspaperman Rollo with his special connections into all levels of nefarious society; Melvyn Dorchester, the devious and currently imprisoned aristocrat, ready to strike a deal with the cunning and ingenious Rollo; Delilah Marconi, Poppy’s friend – sadly only a brief appearance this time – and Daniel Rokeby, who seems at long last to be on the right track with Poppy! I also love Ike and Ivan two loyal and resourceful staff members at The Globe.

In this novel, the author gets right to the heart of chauvinism and bigotry in the prestigious academic world of the 1920s. Poppy uncovers a conspiracy by jealous males to eliminate a brilliant woman; and the evidence for this kind of activity is overwhelming within recorded history.

As ever, Poppy encounters personal danger and does not flinch from putting her life at risk in the pursuit of truth.  She is an exceptional character, and I highly recommend this mystery series to all fiction readers.

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Book Review: ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ by Liane Moriarty

Today I’m pleased to share with you my review of a book I greatly enjoyed.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is set in the idyllic landscape of New South Wales, Australia. The TV adaptation appeared on our screens in 2021 as a TV mini series starring Nicole Kidman and shifted the action to the USA instead of Australia.

I picked this book out from a lending library in a Sunshine Coast holiday resort in Queensland. I began reading it and couldn’t stop. The premise immediately appealed to me, and reminded me of my own novel A Passionate Spirit, in which a beautiful and charismatic woman with a mysterious background takes over a creative/healing centre. She too, like the character Masha, played by Nicole Kidman, starts to convince people she has the answer to all their problems. Of course Liane Moriarty guides her story in a very different direction from the one I choose in A Passionate Spirit. Nine Perfect Strangers becomes even more fascinating for me, as I consider the numerous ways in which one could indeed develop this simple premise: nine people gather at a remote health resort.


Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever?

These nine perfect strangers are about to find out…

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer—or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.


I loved this story of a group of characters who all check in to a supposed healing retreat in a beautiful rural location in New South Wales. The author makes considerable use of the Australian landscape with many details of wildlife and terrain, so the creators of the TV mini series did need to make some changes here. Also there is a strong reference to ‘one of those outback serial killers’ which has a very specific resonance in Australia. Liane Moriarty gives us a picture of each person at the retreat, both guests and staff: their background, and why they are there.

The main protagonist Frances, formerly bestselling author, is a very attractive character and I liked her enormously. The book is often very funny and also hugely perceptive in its observations of human psychology. As I read about the issues of some of the people who’ve booked into this retreat I couldn’t help thinking, ‘She’s got my number’ and identifying with many of the author’s observations.

The leader of the retreat, Masha, intrigued me. She is mysterious, of Russian origin, and very beautiful. She reminded me of a character I created in my own novel, Natasha, who also promises healing and wholeness, and is enchantingly lovely – and both my character Natasha, and Liane Moriarty’s charismatic healer Masha, float around in long white silk dresses. Masha is played by Nicole Kidman in the TV drama series of this novel, and I believe Nicole plays her very well.

I began by liking Masha, and feeling her objectives and methods are perfectly understandable and valid, if she is going to fulfill her claim of transforming people’s lives in ten days. For this to happen, a retreat leader would need to be highly focused and committed but also bring people alongside her.

However, later, we learn new things about Masha, and she becomes more and more crazed, desperate, and starts employing what some might consider ‘unethical’ methods. Techniques she uses include deprivation of freedom, food, and light; and playing disturbing mind-games with her guests, which might even threaten their sanity. The book is classified on Amazon as a medical thriller. Masha’s methods would certainly not be approved by the laws of the land, in the UK, or in the USA, or in Australia!

Initially, Masha plans things that make sense to us. She is a wellness instructor, we think: she might be tough, but this is indeed what needs to happen to help people face their issues and change their lives. Later, however, she steps over the line. Then, we discover her background. The clues lie in Russia and its well-known history over the past century.

The guests are being put to the test; they are being pushed beyond their comfort zone. This is fair enough, we decide; but as the story progresses and tension rises, they are mocked, tricked, played with, deceived, to the point where they are told: “This evening, you will face your own mortality.” To be honest, if I was at this retreat and heard the leader say that, I’d think she was going to kill me.

As Masha proceeds with her over-the-top solutions for life-change, she alternates between condescending unctuousness and unbridled rage. She justifies herself with the very convenient statement, “Only you can set yourself free.” What she metes out to her guests eventually becomes psychological torture. Meltdown, terror and farce lie ahead. But the author presents us finally with some very surprising, and often teasing, outcomes for all our hopeful guests seeking life-transformation.

Do look this book out: I highly recommend it!

If you are attracted by the premise of life-transformation in a healing retreat, and you enjoy reading ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ why not try ‘A Passionate Spirit’ by SC Skillman too? Only £1.99 to download on your kindle on Amazon UK.

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Book Review: ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ by Fran Hill

Today I’m delighted to be sharing my review of an ARC of this debut novel by my friend and very funny fellow-author Fran Hill, ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’, to be published by Legend Press on 26 April 2023.


It’s the heatwave summer of 1976 and 14-year-old would-be poet Jackie Chadwick is newly fostered by the Walls. She desperately needs stability, but their insecure, jealous teenage daughter isn’t happy about the cuckoo in the nest and sets about ousting her.

When her attempts to do so lead to near-tragedy – and the Walls’ veneer of middle-class respectability begins to crumble – everyone in the household is forced to reassess what really matters. Funny and poignant, Cuckoo in the Nest is inspired by Fran Hill’s own experience of being fostered as a teenager.


I found this a heartrending, funny and utterly captivating novel. Set in the heatwave of 1976 (which I myself remember well), the story is narrated by highly intelligent 14 year old, Jackie Chadwick, who opens her story with a deadpan, spare, stark account of the daily realities of her life with her disabled father, who, following her mother’s death, became a violent alcoholic. Jackie eventually accepts the help offered to her by the Social Services, and goes to live with a foster family, the Walls, supposedly on a ‘temporary’ basis. The Social Workers, first Bobbie, and later Cynthia, come over very well, doing their very best in the circumstances and showing sensitivity and compassion (as a similar character did in the book ‘My Name is Leon’).

Jackie herself is bright, perceptive, and full of wit, despite her tragic background. When she enters her new ‘temporary’ home she soon discovers that her would-be foster mother Bridget tries too hard, wants everything to be perfect, and borders on the obsessive compulsive; while Bridget’s husband Nick avoids conflict and hides himself away in his shed much of the time, restoring bicycles. Meanwhile, Amanda, their daughter, rude, surly and ungrateful, is deeply resentful of Jackie’s presence, and makes no attempt to disguise it. Throughout the dry, acutely observant and often very funny narrative, we, along with Jackie, take small incremental steps towards getting to know each family member more closely, their personal and emotional issues and relationship difficulties.  The author keeps the momentum steadily rising with her incisive depiction of uneasy family dynamics, and the reader is held captive trying to anticipate the inevitable crisis point but with no idea when that is going to happen. Flashes of dry humour slip in unexpectedly often making the reader laugh out loud.

Jackie’s resilience and sarcasm carry her through all the provocations by the bitter and troubled Amanda. I found the accounts of Jackie’s attempted contacts with her father moving and very sad, and this aspect of the novel did remind me a little again of scenes in ‘My Name is Leon’, in which we see the unbreakable loyalty of a child towards an abusive parent. The adults around Jackie are clearly not coping at all, while she dispassionately observes and records what is going on.

Surprisingly as the novel progresses, I come to like Amanda, thinking I would probably feel just as he does, if I were in her place. Bridget’s obsession with putting up a perfect front backfires, and the family explode in open warfare; followed by a slight rapprochement between Amanda and Jackie. When Jackie visits her dad in prison, he makes a devastating confession. Then the family heads into an even great crisis with shocking revelations about the adults, leading Amanda and Jackie to start building a curious alliance. I loved the way the author handles the delicate transition for Amanda from open hostility to acceptance, and the edgy way the two girls navigate moving towards a new understanding of each other. This is an outstanding novel of family relationships and an uplifting tale of personal resilience which many readers will be able to identify with even if they have never shared Jackie’s tragic background.

Rated: 5 stars

I received a complementary digital ARC of this novel from Legend Press via Net Galley at my request in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: 26 April 2023

Available for Pre-Order now!

About the Author

Fran is a writer and retired English teacher living in Warwickshire, England. She has written three books: a novella called ‘Being Miss’ (self-published 2014), a funny teacher-memoir called ‘Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?’ (SPCK 2020) and a novel called ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ being published by Legend Press in April 2023.

Fran Hill, Author

She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Association of Christian Writers and was selected for the prestigious Room 204 emerging writers’ programme run by Writing West Midlands in 2016-17.

Do visit Fran’s website at for more info, and sign up there for entertaining email updates!

Book Reviews: ‘1066: What Fates Impose’ and ‘In the Shadows of Castles’ by GK Holloway

Today I am pleased to share with you my reviews and thoughts on two works of historical fiction by GK Holloway which open up for us the years leading to the Norman Conquest of England, and the aftermath. They are ‘1066: What Fates Impose‘ and ‘In the Shadows of Castles.’

Historical fiction gives us a wonderful opportunity to ‘live vicariously’: to imagine how it may have been for the people living through, suffering from, fighting against, or driving those historical events.

Officially received history can often be limited and sparse. As we know, history is written by the victors: it has also been written mostly by those of high status, who are male; and I have been driven again and again to the conclusion that two major players were written out of history. These two major players are 1) women and 2) the ordinary people.

Many of us who are interested in history must long to know what the ordinary people thought and felt. But it is lost: unrecorded, it appears in no archives, and sometimes we can only rely on the findings of archaeology or objects in museums to give us some hints.

Historical fiction therefore, plays a vital role, when created with scrupulous research, emotional intelligence and high integrity. Through this, we can engage imaginatively with ‘history.’ Real people made decisions, based on their feelings and psychological and emotional states, their personal pressures and lusts and desires, their flawed relationships: for good and for bad, they made their choices, and enormous consequences followed which we have all had to live with.

GK Holloway has carried out an admirable task: he has tried to unravel the story of what led up to William of Normandy sailing to England, invading, and beating the English king in battle; and what followed for the people of England in the years after he built his first castle and had himself crowned on Christmas Day. Here are my two reviews:

1066: What Fates Impose by GK Holloway

Because 1066 and surrounding events are the stuff of our primary school history, we tend to view them from a safe and detached distance. But read this book and you will feel close up to those dramatic and fateful events. My opinion of the novel improved as I read it. Although the opening scene was stunning – showing us William the Conqueror on his deathbed – I then found the first half fairly slow-going with all the details of Earl Godwin and his sons and a fickle and rather weak Edward the Confessor dishing out earldoms, and a mix of rebellious sons, betrayal, poisonous royal advisers and ruthless conniving archbishops. However, the book gained in power and intensity as it moved on towards the events of 1066. In particular, the battle description at the end is brilliant, with several flashes of rich detail, engaging all the senses, together with poignant and moving touches that made me feel I was there at the thick of the battle of Hastings.

The skill of the narrative is such that I couldn’t help seeing the changing fate of the combatants as a metaphor for our own lives. After much detailed description of carnage, brutality and sadistic violence, the end of the book came unexpectedly with a poetic beauty that I found truly moving.

I was so immersed in the events that I even found myself thinking ‘I hope Harold wins’ even though I then thought ‘Of course he won’t. William wins’. And there is one character whose sadistic murder of a mother and child whilst pillaging along the southeast coast of England is so scrupulously examined, I thought ‘I hope he gets his come-uppance’. But he doesn’t. Instead, he wins glory, royal gratitude, a large parcel of land in Devonshire and a wife and two sons. So much for the way of the wicked perishing.

A fantastic evocation of a period of history that can seem very dry in our early school lives. We are so used to viewing the injustice, social inequality, corruption and favouritism of history from a safe distance it becomes merely amusing. But this book engages us emotionally in these events, bringing us up very close, giving us a new sense of perspective, causing us to reflect on the workings of fate in our own lives.

In the Shadows of Castles by GK Holloway

I found this a worthy sequel to ‘What Fates Impose’: a vivid and fast-moving account of the aftermath of the Norman Conquest and the early rebellions against William mounted by the English. We are mostly in the viewpoints of the two rebels Bondi and Whitgar, and two strong-minded sisters Morwenna and Elfwyn, daughters of another high-ranking rebel leader.  For added interest, a love story runs alongside these events; for Bondi and Whitgar are the lovers of the two women, and I felt the account of their relationships worked very well.

The author does a good job of alternating viewpoints, panning out to narrate the events with a broad brush, and then zooming back in again to the intimate personal experience of the individuals whose lives are most profoundly affected by these dramatic and tragic events. Overall, I have a strong sense of people passionately trying to influence their fate and radically change the outcome, unconscious of the fact that ultimately, they will not succeed. The tyrant they seek to overthrow will in fact triumph and win his secure, central place in English history. What’s more, many of us will love the castles which arose from those he first put in place. However, I seek solace from the thought that he could never have guessed the use we would put them to over a thousand years later. I don’t think he would have planned the adventure playground aspect of the battlements, the tea rooms and the ‘little shop at the end’.

This story succeeds in opening our eyes to how the ordinary people may have felt, and all the hopes, dreams, and longings they would have poured into their struggle to return William to the status of a mere footnote in history. It is thought now William succeeded because he was a brilliant military strategist.  It’s a shame Harold didn’t share those skills because he might have stopped in London after coming back from Stamford Bridge and would have stood a much greater chance of beating William and his forces from there, instead of marching off to Hastings and disaster. That possibility has just had to take its place among the ‘what ifs’ of English history.

Because history is written by the victors, reading fiction like this is an excellent way for us to enter the mindset of those who struggled for another reality. They, too, have their vital place in that reality, whether or not we are aware of it. Their strivings, and their hopes and dreams, were not in vain; this somehow seems to be the message of those who write really good historical fiction. I found myself caught up in the efforts of Bondi and Whitgar; if historical fiction is to do its job, we must have characters we can gun for, all the way through the story, hoping against hope they will win through to success, fulfillment and happiness, even if those characters are invented. I consider this author has given us an excellent chance to engage with an imaginative presentation of what it must have been like, as an English person dealing with the reality of Norman invasion.

If these two books appeal to you, do check them out here on Amazon and check out the author’s website too.

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Highlights of My Australian Journey 2022: A Travel Diary #14 High Views of Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, Queensland

This is the fourteenth and final Highlight. What better than some panoramic views from a great height? So we ride up to the Skypoint Observation Deck on the 77th floor of the Q1 Building, Surfers Paradise.

The ground floor entrance to the Q1 Building, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
Gazing at the views from the Skypoint Observation Deck

We took lots of photos of the fabulous views and had Tacos and salsa for lunch in the bistro. All around us enthralled tourists were taking selfies and posing in front of every window: and when the photography fest is over you just feel impelled to gaze in wonder.

The last time I was up here with Abigail was in 2007 when she was 13 years old.

On the Skypoint Observation Deck Q1 Building, Gold Coast, Queensland, 2007

A few changes since then!

Later after we had torn ourselves away from the Skypoint Observation Deck, we descended once more to the street and walked to the beach.

A walk through Surfers Paradise.

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Highlights of My Australian Journey 2022: A Travel Diary #13 Maleny, Montville and Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland

This is the thirteenth of my Highlights and today we visit an area of Queensland which is enchantingly beautiful. High in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, north of Brisbane, you’ll find the two small towns Maleny and Montville,  which have the reputation of attracting artists and other creative people.

Here in Montville we found an exquisite cuckoo clock shop which made me feel I was in the heart of the Bavarian overlands.  Montville and Maleny are both so pretty: picturesque mountain villages.

We stopped at the Poets Cafe in Montville for coffee. White iron lace balustrades  terraces, sublime mountain views, a Chapel glimpsed through the trees: this cafe conjured up for me the ambiance of an elegant Konditorei and I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to take a spiritual and creative retreat here… permanently!

The Poets Cafe and views, Montville, Sunshine Coast hinterland, Queensland.

Later we drove on to visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre at the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve located, as we learned, in Jinibara Country. From there can be viewed a glorious panorama of the Glasshouse Mountains, each one identified with aboriginal dreamtime legends about the eleven members of Tibrogargan’s family.

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Highlights of My Australian Journey 2022: A Travel Diary #12 Binna Burra, Gold Coast Hinterland, Queensland

This is the twelfth of my Highlights: a visit to the mountain eyrie of Binna Burra, location of the heritage-listed lodge where I have in the past spent happy days and weekends.

Binna Burra occupies a lofty peak in the Gold Coast hinterland with panoramic views of Lamington National Park and it fell victim to the wildfires that engulfed the surrounding forest in September 2019.

So this was a very poignant visit to the mountain top : the views as beautiful as ever but all around the evidence of trees consumed by the flames.

Now on the site of the former lodge we found a temporary marquee.

Binna Burra as at 5 October 2022

Further down the path we found a very moving and informative exhibition about the wildfires, about how human beings respond to disasters and how hope can arise from despair. What you read here is of vital importance because even now as I write this blog post, due to worldwide government inaction, it may already be too late to avert irreversible climate tipping points leading the planet to catastrophe.

After viewing this exhibition  we moved off down the path and across to the area near the campsite where the Binna Burra Tea House has been beautifully refurbished and extended: and indeed the interior did remind me of the communal room in the former heritage-listed lodge that has now been lost.

Binna Burra Tea House
Binna Burra Tea House and
surrounding views

Finally we walked along the rainforest circuit with its abundant strangler figs, buttress roots, and its twisty whirligig branches and vines. Even a walk here shows you life and death in the rainforest. That is nature: life and death working together in a symbiotic relationship. Perhaps we can take heart from that.

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Highlights of My Australian Journey 2022: A Travel Diary #11 Tweed Regional Art Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah, New South Wales

This is the eleventh highlight: the Tweed Regional Art Gallery was an enchanting discovery set in the idyllic landscape of the Tweed Valley.

Scenes from the Tweed Valley, New South Wales

The Gallery showcased the work of Margaret Olley, Australia’s most celebrated painter of still life and interiors.

Blue flowers by Margaret Olley, on the entrance doors of the
Tweed Regional Gallery

What I learned of Margaret Olley fascinated me. She lived alone in a corner house in Murwullimbah where she packed every room full of objects and vases of flowers and furniture and art materials: every part of the house was her art studio including her green kitchen. She died at the age of 88 and was hugely prolific and passionate about her art. She didn’t believe in house cleaning and if she saw dust her solution was to add another vase of flowers. I loved her!

Margaret Olley quote on the subject of house cleaning

Finally, outside the gallery we gazed at the most gorgeous landscape, a painting in itself.

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Highlights of My Australian Journey 2022: A Travel Diary #10 Leura, The Blue Mountains, and the Gold Mining Town of Sofala, New South Wales

This is my tenth Highlight; we have arrived in the beautiful town of Leura, full of quirky shops, white blossom trees, pretty houses and cafes. Here we stayed for two nights.

We were now in the Blue Mountains, with majestic views of cliffs and rainforest canopy.

At the lookouts – Echo Lookout and Sublime Point – I couldn’t help imagining how it must have been for the indigenous people of these mountains before British settlement of Australia. How beautiful to be sitting by a campfire or participating in a corroboree on one of these lookouts and to know all that you see is your land and all part of Dreamtime.

Today we may find ingenious use of the region at Scenic World which enables visitors to fully explore the mountains above and below with The Skyway (cable car) and the Scenic Cableway (the train), plus walkways and lookouts. Visitors may view the spectacular Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters by gliding past on the cable-car; gaze from the highest lookout: and plunge to the floor of the ravine, then walk through the lush rainforest.

The ride on the cable-car with views of the Three Sisters and the Katoomba Falls was awe-inspiring.

The plunge to the canyon floor on the train proved just as thrilling!

Later we walked along to the highest point of the Katoomba Falls.

The top of the Katoomba Falls  Blue Mountains, New South Wales.

Our first destination upon leaving Leura the next day was the historic gold-mining town of Sofala. We journeyed over the Victoria Pass down through a wide panorama of pastoral land, thickly forested hills, gentle green undulating slopes in the foreground interspersed with homesteads and farms.

We arrived in Sofala: I was fascinated by this little town: it is Australia’s oldest gold-mining town, and as far as possible it is kept in a state close to how it would have been in the 1800s. We had coffee in the Rustic Cafe.

The town represented Living History. Full of atmosphere, it felt as if time had stood still. With rusty tin roofs and vehicles and historic gold-miners’ cottages, it almost seemed like a filmset. As we wandered through, I found myself imagining the hope and excitement and frenzy of those gold miners, who lived lives of poverty but dreamt of the wealth that may await them as they panned for gold in the river.

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