Tag Archives: family

A Dazzle of Zebra, a Journey of Giraffe and a Crash of Rhino

The journey was long, an 11 hour flight overnight and a three hour transfer into the Waterberg region in the North East of South Africa. We were particularly relieved to arrive at Ants Hill Safari Lodge not just because of the journey but due to a “mix up” with some paper work which could have seen on the next plane back home again without setting foot outside of the airport… I won’t go into detail here as I don’t want to get myself or anyone else into trouble but I will say that from now on I’m going to check, re-check and triple check all paperwork before I leave home. Thankfully the kindness of a stranger (and probably some middle class, married, white privilege) saw our holiday wasn’t ruined before it had started! And even more thankfully that was the only minor hiccup of what was otherwise the most perfect family adventure ever…

The welcome at Ant’s Hill at around 2 o’clock was warm, friendly and instantly relaxing. The weather was also warm, sweltering in fact and so some cool drinks and a light lunch was perfect. The kids were far too excited for sensible things like naps after the long journey so we had a dip in the pool before getting geared up for our first horseback safari that evening.

It was Rob’s first time ever sitting on a horse and luckily he loved it. The kids took to it too, although Alfie was a bit nervous as he still has a clear memory of our friend Angela getting kicked in the face by her own horse on our farm a couple of years ago… frankly I’m still pretty traumatised by that myself so it’s no wonder it’s well imprinted in Alfie’s mind! By the end our four days at Ant’s Hill Alfie was cantering.

On the first evening though it was a matter of easy going walks around the huge 12,500 acre reserve. Orla took to her mischievous and elderly pony and enjoyed riding so much that she started to fall asleep! I noticed from a few horses back that she was slowly slumping and sliding to the side… we had to keep her talking until we reached the sundowners.

Sundowners… drinks at sunset. Yes it is a slightly colonial concept but it’s also totally awesome to ride on horseback to a high spot for the best views over the South African mountains to watch the sunset with an ice cold glass of wine or gin and tonic. We were on holiday!! The other guests all meet at the same point so you can compare notes on animal sightings and horse riding experiences.

Us being us, we were rather relieved that there weren’t any other Brits staying for the first couple of days, although most guests were European, which, let’s face it, are rather embarrassing to be around these days whichever way one voted. At least Brexit wasn’t off bounds in conversation until other Brits turned up at which point it becomes a rather basil faulty-esque case of “don’t mention Brexit” lest we should disagree! Ahhhh… Brits abroad, all our funny ways are inflated and seem more comic than normal. Anyway, I digress…

After sundowners we get safari trucks back to the hotel, as we’ve let the horses go off into the wild to make their own way home. A bright torch scans the trees for elusive bushbabies and spots nightjars and mongoose. Dinner is superb; impala fillet, but we’re so exhausted it’s a struggle to get through and little Orla falls asleep at the table with her mouth full of impala. When Rob picked her up she woke up and carried on chewing!!

The days at Ant’s Hill are relaxed and don’t involve the traditional safari early starts; Breakfast at 7.30am-ish, hopping on the horse about 8am for a morning ride, getting right up among the zebra, giraffe, warthogs and antelope. Back for a swim about 10am and a leisurely lunch at 12ish either at the hotel or out in the South Africa bush. More pool time and parents taking turns for naps followed by another horse ride to the sundowners spot. What more could you ask of a holiday? Not a lot… but we certainly got more!

One evening instead of horse riding we climbed into the game drive vehicles and headed to the sister hotel, Ants Nest on the far side of the huge estate. The owner, Ant (obvs), is dedicated to the Save the Waterberg Rhino conservation project and to that end has a Rhino breeding programme on the reserve. At this time of year, the tail end of the dry season, they are feeding the rhinos and other animals on the reserve – an expensive necessity in this arid landscape. However, for us this meant we were able to get extraordinarily close to these magnificent, pre-historic beasts as they fed on hay just below the platform we were on. We also got to see the two week old baby rhino feeding from her fiercely protective mum. I’ll write more about the plight of the rhinos in a future post as it warrants awareness raising efforts all round.

The other incredible experience at Ant’s Hill was the opportunity to take part in a game capture. Within a managed reserve such as this it’s vital that an active game management strategy is employed to control populations and ensure the health of the various herds on the estate. There are a few leopards within the reserve but no lions or other major predators so it’s all the more important for humans to manage them. An old, lone, male buffalo was causing problems and given his genetics were already strong within the buffalo herd it was time for him to be moved to another reserve were he could sow a few more seeds. Also a male eland (the largest of the antelope) was unwell and needed to be assess by the vet and potentially isolated for a time. It was an earlier start and a picnic breakfast in the car that day as we set off in the direction of the helicopter noise. It was a rapid and bumpy drive up the mountain to where the buffalo in question had been spotted and by the time we got there the vet had already darted him (from a helicopter into exactly the right spot… IMPRESSIVE!). It takes a lot of strong men to get a buffalo onto a moving stretcher and then into a trailer. And it has to be done before the sedative wears off! It’s also important they keep his gigantic tongue out and a blindfold on him. The eland was next and after another speedy drive across the rugged terrain (because helicopters are a hell of a lot fast than cars!) we found him staggering around having just been darted again with incredible precision by the vet. This one was treated and hauled onto the stretcher but instead of going to a trailer he was moved onto a neighbours patch for a while and we got to see him being woken back up and wander off looking a bit confused.

Other highlights of our stay at Ant’s Hill include waking up to a noisy squirrel looking at me from our bathroom and watching a warthog wander past the bedroom window and then there was Craig… Craig the snake man whom our kids developed a major hero worship for. He keeps snakes; big snakes, little snakes, harmless snakes, highly poisonous snakes, fast snakes, slow snakes, friendly snakes and very unfriendly snakes… most of his snakes were a combination of those things. For example the brown house snake which is harmless, fast and friendly. Or the puff adder which is highly poisonous, very unfriendly but thankfully also slow! He brought us snakes to meet. It was an experience! The kids loved it… me? Not so much. But Craig was also great at catching lizards and geko and was an absolute font of knowledge and Patrick has decided he wants to be Craig when he grows up. He spent a fair proportion of the sundowners creating villages for the giant millipedes and then gathering millipedes to populate them faster than they could crawl away (pictured below was one that settled in his new house!).

It spoke volumes about the area that with so much on their door step Ant’s Hill was popular with people from Johannesburg as a weekend getaway and we were lucky enough to hit it off with a family whose son was Alfie’s age. I say lucky… basically they got my kids playing a game which involves rolling impala poo in your mouth and seeing  who can spit it the furthest and eating live giant flying ants. I didn’t (boring!) but the rest of them and Rob did!

Ant’s hill was only the first half of our trip, next we moved onto Madikwe Game Reserve which I’ll tell you about soon.

For all the photos from the trip follow me on Instagram @MumaDean or on Twitter or Facebook.



The majestic Sable antelope was the logo for Ant’s Hill


2015 – Bushcraft and Bird Watching Adventures


Well, it’s been some months since we returned to the UK and in that time I’ve worked harder than I thought possible, publishing my book, putting in funding bids, attending awards dos and holding conferences, oh and doing the odd TV and radio appearance too… There hasn’t been much time left over for adventure and fun. But now it’s a new year that is set to change.

Me on This Morning with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby talking about hyperemesis gravidarum

Me on This Morning with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby talking about hyperemesis gravidarum

This year, instead of the massive, all consuming adventure of travelling the USA, Team Dean is going to have a series of mini adventures closer to home and fitting around school and work so as to balance the load a bit better. Last year was a year of extremes, the first half on the road, juggling work and adventure, writing and blogging from tents and motels. The second half of the year was so utterly consumed with work that there was no time left for adventures, let alone writing and blogging about them! How I wish I could type in my sleep, or simply not have to sleep at all…

So what new adventures in 2015? Well, we want to focus on bird watching this year and have already started with a day at Slimbridge Wetland Centre on Sunday. Now I’m going to be honest… Bird watching with three small kids isn’t quite what it was in the pre-parenthood days, where we could settle into a hide and wait patiently for the birding experiences to come to us. The days when we had the time to accurately identify birds we were unsure of in our books and then listen and learn their sounds too. Oh how I enjoyed those days…

A Bewick Swan at Slimbridge. The bill markings on Bewick's are all individual so birds are identifiable as individuals!

A Bewick’s Swan at Slimbridge. The bill markings on Bewick’s are all individual so birds are identifiable as individuals!

A black headed gull (their heads aren't black in winter though!)

A black headed gull (their heads aren’t black in winter though!)

The boys (Rob included) go through a whole "don't say boo to a goose" thing, every time we see a goose... it never seems to get boring!

The boys (Rob included) go through a whole “don’t say boo to a goose” thing, every time we see a goose… it never seems to get boring!

Bird watching with three kids in tow is more a matter of taking it in turns to either briefly attempt to spot and identify something interesting or attend to the varying needs of the younger two… who want to take their shoes off the moment they’re in a (freezing cold) hide, then want snack, then want to climb the wooden walls and play post box with the little viewing slits and need picking up when they trip and then have snot pouring from their nose, then one needs a wee and the other needs a poo… you get the gist.

It was hard to get this bank vole in focus as he moved so quick, the light was low and I couldn't use the tripod where we were standing

It was hard to get this bank vole in focus as he moved so quick, the light was low and I couldn’t use the tripod where we were standing

On the plus side all three kids were impressively quiet in the hides, much to our amazement and admiration. For those who know our kids, “quiet” is not a word that would generally be associated with them (or us for that matter). But in and around the bird hides they really did do well!

I focused on photography for the day and despite it being a cloudy, dull day I was pleased with some of the shots I got. Alfie did exceptionally well and was interested and engaged all day which was rewarding.

This water rail was cool to see but again I couldn't get a shot in focus as it was too crowded to use the tripod needed for the low light.

This water rail was cool to see but again I couldn’t get a shot in focus as it was too crowded to use the tripod needed for the low light.

Another area we plan to focus on this year, like last year, is our bushcraft skills. Alfie’s fire lighting is excellent now and he’s really good with the axe he got for Christmas, chopping most of our kindling for us and lighting the fires most evenings.

I’ve booked myself on a carving master class with Ray Mears, which I’m mega excited about and hope that I can then relay techniques to Alfie, who is also getting pretty good with his knife. I’m hoping to do a family bushcraft course with Alfie in the summer and I’d really like to learn tracking skills which we can practice in woods close to home.

The tricky part is going to be finding a balance between work and play. I’m so passionate about the work I do helping women with hyperemesis that it can be hard to switch off and say no… I’m always so aware that there is always more I can do and stopping is hard when you haven’t finished. But I’ll never be “finished” and accepting that will help with stopping from time to time, it’ll be there to start again on Monday.

Boys at Golitha Falls

Boys at Golitha Falls

So I’m going to balance it… I’ll work hard in the week while the kids are at school and come the weekends it’s bushcraft and birdwatching time. And in the holidays we’re booking things to do. At Easter we’re going to travel the Wild Atlantic Way along Ireland’s west coast in a camper van. Before that we need to book something for the Feb half term… suggestions welcome. And then we’re heading into Summer where our outdoor kitchen can house us for periods of times and we can live off our own land away from the house…

2015… it’s going to be a great year!


Bewick's Swan

Bewick’s Swan

I asked Alf if he could guess why a tufted duck was called a tufted duck... "Because they are really tough?" he asked!

I asked Alf if he could guess why a tufted duck was called a tufted duck… “Because they are really tough?” he asked!

Pigeons are pretty up close

Pigeons are pretty up close

Goliatha falls... I plan also to try to improve my photography this year.

Goliatha falls… I plan also to try to improve my photography this year.

Milestones – Alfie loses his first baby tooth!


It seems like yesterday when Alfie got his first tooth. He was quite young at about 17 weeks old and he bit my nipple, ouch! On Saturday that first tooth fell out!

Skip back about 27 years and my sister and I were loosing our teeth at a time when my father used to travel the world a lot for business. He was (and in fact still is) a frequent flyer to exciting locations such as America, Hong Kong and Japan. After the tooth had been “bought” by the tooth fairy unbeknownst to us my father would buy it back from her and take it on a business trip where he would then dispose of the tooth in an interesting location. Our teeth have been thrown off the Golden Gate bridge, buried in a flower pot in the Empire State building, deposited in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and left in the Jardin des Tuilieres in Paris … how cool is that!

So having made my own deal with the tooth fairy I’m now considering how to dispose of them. With our travel plans afoot it will be fairly easy to follow my father’s theme for Alfie’s teeth and I suspect the first will reside in New York, perhaps in Central Park. But what if you don’t have such an opportunity… what other ideas are out there for dealing with the teeth which to many parents can mean so much?

The bin is obviously one option and fair dos if that’s the route you go – they are just teeth and to be honest are a little gross really! But many of us just can’t bring ourselves to bin these little bits of our babies – they’re not like toe nails that keep on growing.

You could bury them in your own garden, perhaps by a specific tree or plant. If you were hippy enough to have buried your placenta then this is likely to be an appealing option. If you don’t have a garden then a local park, woodland or river could be an option?

You could simply store them in a jar and present them to the child in adulthood to do what they want with. If that appeals to you and you want to keep them nice then here is a link on how to “preserve them”. If your of the very organised variety of parent then you can even get these these little trinket boxes for keeping them in: Juliana Silver Plated Tooth and Curl Box. Not my cup of tea but each to their own!

Or what about making some tooth jewellery? Sounds kinda grim but actually when polished up they are meant to look quite pearl like and it’s not that long ago that people made broaches and the like from the hair of dead loved ones! Here is a link to making jewellery from your child’s milk teeth.

But if you’re of a more practical nature, how about sending them off to have your child’s stem cells harvested? It turns out the cells in the pulp that comes out with milk teeth, if preserved rapidly and collected by courier can be grown and multiplied before being frozen and stored in case your child needs them for medical treatment in the future. It sounds like an appealing option but bare in mind it’s expensive (£995 plus £95 per year for storage from BioEden) and the treatments which they hope to develop using stem cells have yet to actually be developed so it’s far from a complete insurance but well worth considering if you’ve got plenty of money or you’re particularly paranoid.

Having written the above I’m thoroughly relieved that we are off round the world and my dad has given us the inspiration for our disposal route. They’ll be no jewellery or anxiously awaiting couriers in this household. There is a tiny little pot that will make it into our bag to head off round the world so a little bit of Alfie can remain in all the interesting places we will visit. If I’m organised enough I’ll try to document the locations for him.

Getting fit


A couple of years ago, nearly three in fact, my big strong husband hurt his back. It was the start of November and a couple of days later a thick frost took hold of everything. At the time we had a number of pigs with piglets and I was feeding my own little piglet, Patrick. He had “growth issues” and so I was breastfeeding on an epic scale, eating well and not drinking booze.

The frost was a welcome change from the mud but it froze the pipes solid. Rob’s injured back meant that I had to carry out 60 litres of warm water from the kitchen every morning and afternoon to the pigs in the field. I lost weight… rapidly! I also got strong! We had a 25l water container and in the first few days I could barely fill it half way but within a week and a half I was happily lugging it full across the kitchen to the sack truck and then over the electric fences to the water troughs.

I turned 30 that January and I wore the same dress I had worn on my 18th… I was chuffed to bits!

Then Rob’s back got better, Patrick grew a bit and started solids, we got wwoofers to help on the farm, the frost melted mid Jan and my delightfully toned body slipped back to the flabby “I’ve had kids” state it had previously been. Getting pregnant again then sealed the deal “I’ve had 3 kids, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it”… Until now!

Rob bet a friend that I wouldn’t go to 10 fitness classes with her… and lost! And now he’s in on the act. He’s worried that with such a physical job at the moment keeping him in shape and healthy that when he stops to go travelling he’ll balloon. We are going to have long hours sat driving and lets be honest, the States aren’t known for their salads and healthy options!

So we are getting fit together, a mini team dean adventure! We’ve join the gym in Fowey and are actually really enjoying it. My personal goal is to fit back into the dress in the picture… I’m actually going to print a small copy of that out, laminate it and keep it in front of me on the rowing machine and tread mill – for motivation. Closer to the time we will work out exercise routines that we can maintain whilst we travel. Until then… watch this space, I’m hoping to be back in that dress by Christmas!



It’s 5 months tomorrow until we depart from London Heathrow and the excitement is building. That may sound ages to some people (mainly those without children whose lives always seem to progress at a more leisurely pace) but to us it’s virtually tomorrow! Although I’ve been busy with work over the last month and haven’t been able to achieve much, things are now settling down and I am turning my attention to preparing for the adventure.

So, we are getting rid of “stuff” and minimising our lives. We have a hell of a lot of “stuff” in our house and this is a daunting task to say the least. We’ve so far sorted the attic out and partly boarded it for more “stuff” to go up there. I’ve also tried to limit my keepsake memories to one 35l tub… and failed. I so far still have two tubs and an awful lot more “stuff” to work through. Rob on the other hand didn’t have enough to fill his 35l tub and is keeping random things just so it didn’t look too empty.

Reducing our dependence on “stuff” is all part of the journey we are on though and I am determined to reduce our load. The cupboard pictured above is in our hallway and has looked like that since we moved into our house over 18 months ago (I deliberately blurred it a bit to reduce the horror!). Surely if I haven’t used the things in there in a year and a half then I don’t actually need them? Hmmm…. yes in theory although I don’t doubt that in practice as I open the boxes and find my long lost “stuff” I’ll suddenly need it all and wonder how I have coped without it. I intend to tackle it this weekend and we shall see how it looks next week…