Guest blog: Elmbridge resident and globetrotter Diana Willcock shares some of her travelling stories

Blog posted

6th March 2017

Introduction from Retirement Villages

Each year thousands of people in the UK make the decision to retire. Most of them share a common goal; to enjoy later life in a fulfilling way but what does this even mean?

Actually, what constitutes as ‘fulfilling’ varies significantly from person to person. For some simply slowing down, not working and spending more time with family (especially grandchildren!) or relaxing at home is what brings them joy in retirement.

However, others look for excitement and even danger in later life, where every day can feel like a holiday. You can see some examples in our top five extreme pensioners blog from last year, but some retirees take it to a whole new level.

We’d like to welcome our guest blogger for this month, 77 year-old Diana Willcock, who has travelled all over the world capturing photos of wildlife since retiring, and indeed while still working.

Diana says that she has only “nearly been eaten” a few times, which we find astounding given that her globetrotting stretches across more than three decades! Anyway, here is some of her story…

Over to Diana!

In the beginning


My father worked in the shipping business and always said I should try and see as much of the world as I could, while I was able to do so. I took that as literally as it sounds and if my father were alive today, I hope that he would be proud of me.

Perhaps I had better start at the beginning. Born in Chester, I was an only child and from an early age I knew I wanted to do something different with my life.

As a youngster I went with my parents to live in South Africa for six years. This was when I first got the “dust of Africa” in my lungs.

We returned to England and settled first in Hook, Surrey, with my father working for the shipping company in the City. I completed my schooling in Kingston. When I left I got a job at Westminster Bank, which eventually became National Westminster Bank (commonly known as NatWest).

In 1961 we moved as a family to Haslemere, also in Surrey.

At that time plenty of women worked in banks as clerks but rarely progressed above this level, gender attitudes being the way they were! I refused to accept this and worked extremely hard to climb the career ladder.

This paid off and I worked at branches all over the South of England. I was the first female bank auditor in one of NatWest’s teams of auditors and became one of its first female managers – there were five of us originally. I also worked at one time on user-layout architectural drawings for the bank’s Architects for a new bank computer centre in London.

I saved every penny I earned to go travelling and took three or four weeks off work at a time when they would let me, visiting places such as Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, both in Canada.

Diana Willcock 02Each time I went away, I took my camera to capture photographs of the local wildlife. I became more experienced until I was snapping them from close quarters in some cases.

Wildlife photography became a lifelong passion, so in 1988, at the age of 48, I decided to retire early after a successful career in the banking industry in order to focus on widening my scope of opportunities, and fill-in gaps on my Maps!

Living a fulfilling retirement

When I retired I hightailed it back to South Africa, where I made my home for ten years. After that I returned to Haslemere for a while and then moved to Scotland for twelve years.

These were just bases though, travelling and wildlife photography dominated my time. I visited places all over the world including the Antarctic three times, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, islands such as St Helena, Tristan Da Cunha, South Georgia and the Falklands. I also travelled all over Europe, parts of South America and of course Africa.


On some of these trips I hiked and camped on organised safaris with guides, but mostly journeyed on my own.

I now have a collection of more than 6,000 wildlife photos. Lions, leopards, elephant, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, buffalo – all the dangerous ones plus lots more besides! Africa was also the place where I began “birding”!

People often ask me what my favourite countries are, which is very difficult to answer because there are so many. But a few are Zambia, Botswana and Namibia (all in Africa!). What I always loved was sitting round a campfire at the end of the day – there were always interesting people to chat to wherever I was in the world.

The point is that I found this nomadic, adventurous way of life highly fulfilling in my retirement and indeed, every day felt like a holiday – well my kind of holiday anyway!

A few stories then!

LionPeople often ask me about my adventures from my 31 years of travelling the globe. Well there are plenty, although ‘adventures’ to me could mean anything from being “mock charged” by elephants (I was on foot and I am still here to tell the tale!) and accidentally disturbing mating lions (I again was on foot), to being stranded in a desert for hours on end (which has also happened to me!).

However, one of my most memorable moments occurred in the Okavango Delta, which is a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana.

The Okavango Delta is swampy grassland full of reeds with channels of water that pool into lagoons in places. My ‘boat man’ and I were in a ‘mokoro’ (a hollowed out tree trunk that resembles a sort of canoe) heading into the middle of one of these lagoons, which eventually drain away into the sands of the Kalahari Desert.

Suddenly we spotted the nose of a very angry submerged hippo making a beeline towards us, leaving a trail across the water resembling a torpedo attack! We had invaded its territory and were in serious trouble for doing so! The man in charge of the mokoro saw it too and frantically poled us away.

We approached the edge of the lagoon and the hippo lunged out of the water, they can be extremely aggressive animals. Fortunately we were just out of reach but the commotion surprised a crocodile, luckily not a fully-grown one, lying in the sun on the sandy bank of the lagoon. In its confusion it jumped for the water but landed in the mokoro.

The croc frantically clawed its way across my outstretched legs back into the water. I think it was more scared than I was. Then we poled to safety!

Another time I was walking through a dense thicket of trees and shrubs with a ranger in Zimbabwe, when suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. We had walked straight into the middle of a herd of buffalo, which are extremely dangerous animals. They were resting in the shade.

We then heard a series of grumbles and snorts, a clear indication that the buffalo knew we were there! If we had fled at that point there most definitely would have been a stampede and I would not be here telling this story. Fortunately we kept our nerve and didn’t make any sudden moves. Eventually we were able to creep away!

ElephantsThen there was the time I was lying on the bank of the Zambezi River taking pictures of elephants as they played in the water. A poisonous spider bit me and my whole right arm and shoulder swelled up to twice its normal size, and was very painful.

It was extremely worrying as we were miles away from a hospital, but the ranger gave me some antihistamine tablets, which brought the swelling down. It took two or three days for my arm to return to normal though!

Time to relax the pace

People say ‘the world is your oyster’ and it really is, at least while you’re young enough to cope with whatever it throws at you. I loved my years of globetrotting and have absolutely no regrets, but as I grew older making long journeys started to become difficult.

So I decided to slow down and spend more time in Scotland, where I lived at that time. My house was in Argyll, an ancient shire of the western part of the country. It was peaceful, scenic and very beautiful.

I had half an acre of land and was able to indulge my other passion in life, gardening. I also watched over a flock of sheep in an adjacent field for the local farmer, who dubbed me his ‘deputy shepherdess’, although I drew the line at Midwifery! What I really enjoyed about Scotland though was the fresh clean air.

Eventually though I decided to return to the Haslemere area. I wanted to be around old friends and in a place I knew well. The four-bedroom house I owned in Scotland was too big for me to manage by that point too, so I was ready to downsize.

I have no close family, so I was looking to move somewhere with a close community, somewhere I could belong. However, I still wanted to live a fulfilling retirement lifestyle. I felt that a retirement village would be the perfect environment for me.

I investigated a number of retirement establishments but Elmbridge Village stood apart from the rest thanks to its range of facilities.

ElmbridgeManor-Opening_2017-01-19_117-2740I opted for a two-bedroom apartment, but I must confess I didn’t come down from Scotland to look round before making the purchase. Instead, I asked two friends who lived locally to come and scope the place out. They compiled a shortlist of properties that they thought I would like and I selected one of them, and it worked!

After moving in it quickly became obvious to me that I had made the right choice. Everybody is so lovely here, both the staff and the other residents, and everyone looks out for one another.

What’s more there is an enormous range of social events and activities to get involved with, but I can dip in and out as I see fit there is no obligation. I go for daily walks in Elmbridge’s surrounding countryside and have an allotment here, so I can continue gardening. Every day can feel like a holiday here too!

Now I am settled in I have been asked to present a slideshow for residents of Cranleigh about my travelling experiences. This will take place at the Rowleys Centre on Monday the 22nd May from 2pm onwards. If you live locally please do join us!

Diana Willcock