MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – Aston Creek, Bombala, to Cathcart

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Six (23 April) – from Aston Creek 9kms out of Bombala to Cathcart 16kms the other side

Distance: 28.73km. Total distance 172.98km.

I slept quite comfortably on the floor in the end room in the Bombala Catholic Presbytery last night, using the cushions from the couch as my bed. Seán and Paul had the bedrooms. I was woken at 5:30am by a digital alarm clock in the office next to my room. I stumbled out of bed to switch it off and was just falling asleep when it went off again. I pulled the batteries out to make sure that I could get back to sleep. Instead of counting sheep, I ran over my homily for the morning in my head. It soon put me to sleep – I hope it didn’t have the same effect on the congregation when I actually preached it!

So we were up and going by 7am, getting breakfast, packing for the day, doing washing etc. Seán had decided not to walk the 9kms we missed yesterday, but to do a sightseeing tour of Bombala after the service. I packed all my gear to do a full day’s walk. After breakfast, I went over to the church just as John and Anne Vincent were arriving to get things opened up. I will admit that I was surprised to see the interior of the Church – it is really quite beautiful. There was nothing distasteful about the space, and in fact it was quite suited to prayer and meditation. It was very warm in feeling and conducive of meditation and devotion. They had recently renovated the sanctuary, as a result of ground shift due to seismic activity. The main material was a local wood, with the altar, the pulpit, the chair and other pieces of furniture all carved from the same material. The high altar, quite attractive in its own right, was still in place and a small pulpit had been built around the lectern.

Sister Teresa began the service by asking me to say a few words about our pilgrimage. Then, after the Gospel, I was asked to give the reflection. It felt both familiar and strange to be back in the pulpit after so many years: it was a role that one the one hand immediately felt right (a natural fit you might say) and wrong (what am I doing here?) at the same time. I feel the same conflict when someone says to me “Why haven’t you been ordained like the Anglican convert clergy?” I know at least one person who is convinced that I have a vocation to the priesthood. I will tell you that that person isn’t me. That is a conflict that is somewhere deep in my heart and needs to be worked out at some stage. Probably if you asked most people with a vocation to priesthood why they are drawn to it, they might say something about the love of the eucharist and the desire to serve God’s people by administering the sacraments, but I would honestly have to say that the main attraction of ordination for me is the chance once again to publicly proclaim the Gospel – to be an evangeliser. But there isn’t much of a role for official lay evangelists in the Catholic Church – it is very much (and properly) understood that the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments belongs together.

In any case, here is a short précis of my homily (aka “reflection”) on today’s gospel from John 20:

  • Modern people like to have proof before they will believe something. Either they have to experience it for themselves, or there should be “scientific proof” for it.
  • We sometimes think that the ancient people were gullible: that lacking knowledge of science they would believe any fairy story that someone told them.
  • In fact this is one “explanation” that some people like to give for the story of Jesus’ resurrection: The disciples, being disappointed by Jesus’ death, told themselves stories about his resurrection to comfort themselves and then other people believed that these stories were really true
  • But that isn’t the way it happened at all. Ancient people knew as well as we do that dead people do not rise to life again. You put them in a box and you put them in the ground and they stay there.
  • The first disciples of Jesus knew that he had risen from the dead precisely because they experienced his resurrection: they saw him, they spoke with him, they touched him and he ate with them (see 1 John 1).
  • In demanding proof for what he could not see, Thomas was NOT an exception among ancient people. He knew the difference between “real and not real” (Quoted the poem by Thomas H. Traeger “These things did Thomas count as real: the warmth of blood, the chill of steel, the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.”)
  • When John the evangelist wrote this story, he knew he was among the last of the eye witnesses of Jesus resurrection. He wrote the story for his his own people so that even though they had not seen, they might believe (reference to the Epistle from 1 Peter 1).
  • He also wrote it for us – we proud moderns who demand proof before we will believe – although had may never have imagined that what he wrote was still being read by believers 2000 years later.
  • He wrote this for us: That we might believe that Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead, and that by believing we might have eternal life.

Beside feeling very honoured to be among the Catholic community of Bombala this morning (and the congregation was of a decent size) for the service of the word with Holy Communion, I and my companions were very impressed with the physical building of St Mary’s. It is not often that I enter into a Catholic Church building and find everything within it a) tasteful, b) conducive to prayer and devotion. The sanctuary had recently been redone in wood – the old concrete sanctuary being cracked like some of the walls from seismic activity in the area. The wood used, both for the flooring and the altar and the rest of the sanctuary furniture was all local, and carved by a local artist in a nice simple gothic pattern. The walls had been repainted a light cream colour which reduced the effect of the brown brick and actually complimented it. The original works of art around the altar and the stain glass windows and the 3-D relief stations of the cross are all of high quality. The church lacked a pipe organ – but that would have been icing on the cake. One particularly welcome feature was a recently installed stain-glass window of Mary MacKillop with the children of Bendoc.

After conversation with parishioners (unfortunately no church hall for a cup of tea), Paul drove me out to Aston Creek on the Bendoc-Delegate Road to drop me off where I finished yesterday at about 10am. As we approached the spot, we noticed on the south side of the road, hidden by bushes and on a rise, a little cemetery marked by a white cross. I probably would have missed this had I walked past in the rain yesterday, but this morning I took the time to explore it. We have visited a number of cemeteries on the Way, and I always stop to pray for the dead when we do. This was my first opportunity on this section of the walk. It was a pioneer cemetery, but still with some more recent graves in it. The oldest grave that I could find was of a bachelor medical doctor – a member of larger Scottish family in the area – who was born in 1811 and died in 1846. The epitaph reads “Be Ye Also Ready” – which would seem to confirm a death that was not only early but unexpected. Sobering thoughts for a pilgrim!

The walk into Bombala was through countryside that continued to amaze, especially with the bright autumn colours of the leaves (in particular the poplar trees) and the pretty creeks with yellowing willows on their banks. The road rises and falls between 770m and 690m, leveling out to 700m in Bombala. For the first time on the walk, a car stopped and offered me a lift! The kind couple from Delegate were astonished when I told them that I was doing this on purpose! The traffic continued to be quite light. Granted it was a Sunday, but as with yesterday, vehicles came past every 5 minutes or so.

As I entered Bombala I passed the High School which had the motto “Come let us reason together”. How very odd that a secular school should have a motto from the scriptures, I thought (Isaiah 1:8). A left over from a previous more faithful time, perhaps? I was listening to Mandy Prior’s hymns on my bluetooth speaker (on loud blast) and singing along, when I came across a couple in their garden and had to switch it off in order to greet them. They turned out to have been at St Mary’s for the morning service, so we were able to have a more extended conversation. They told me about plans for the establishment of something called “The Bundian Way“, following a 360km ancient aboriginal pathway from Mt Kosiuszko to Eden. I’ve since looked it up, and it goes down the mountain by crossing the Monaro Highway south of Bombala. It is very intersesting indeed, seeming to intersect with the MacKillop-Woods Way at Delegate and Craigie, but bypasses Bombala itself (which is a must on the MWW due to the association with Mother Mary!).

I lingered a little in the Main Street of Bombala which has many interesting features, before walking over the bridge (past the pleasant river-side road-stop, made stunningly attractive by the autumn leaves) and over the railway bridge past the restored, but disused, station. On the south side of the river is the old Olympia theatre (now gym) and a cafe with the distances to Melbourne (530km) and Sydney (520km) on it! From the railway station (the Old Josephite Convent is just down the hill to the right/east) I walked up to the old Court House, an imposing building overlooking the town from the hill, and finally up to St Mary’s and the Presbytery behind it.

Seán was waiting for me when I arrived and ready to go. I quickly hung out my washing to dry, ate the rest of the ham sandwiches that Sister Theresa had made for me last night (washed down with a mouthful of red wine) and an apple, strapped up my sore muscles behind my knee, and we set off again, this time for Cathcart. Climbing up the hill to presbytery and down again to cross the river adds about two kilometres to the treck, so while the gazetted distance from Bombala to Cathcart is 16km, it actually took us closer to 17.5km. This road is quite challenging for a number of reasons. Firstly, the traffic is greatly increased – a vehicles about every two minutes on average. Although it is a C grade highway, it nevertheless leads down to the popular destination of Pambula on the coast, and so a lot of the traffic was not local. It then links to the Monaro Highway in Bombala, giving a through way to the south or north to Canberra. But this alone would not have been a problem if it were not for the fact that the road itself often has hardly any verge. So we had to constantly keep an eye and ear out for traffic and switch to the other side of the road as it approached. The other challenge was the rather large hills that needed to be climbed, often with very steady and not very gentle slopes. According to my apps, the overall ascent for the 16km stretch was 232m with an overall descent of 164m, with two high points of around 820m. Still, the scenery continued to be stunning. The white wooden bridge over the Coolumbooka River is particularly attractive. At the top of the first 820m hill, outside the Yarandilla property, it is possible to see Mount Delegate in the far distance on the horizon, which we passed three days ago coming out of Bendoc.

Paul caught up with us on his bike coming down this hill. He had parked the car at Cathcart and ridden down the escarpment to Wyndham and back up again. He was headed back to Bombala and passed us again about 1.5kms from Cathcart. That is quite a ride – about 100kms and from an elevation of 820m down to about 250m and back up again.

We finally entered into Cathcart as the sun was setting at about 5:15pm. Along the way, I passed the first of a series of little green tin shields on which someone has painted a whole lot of historical information about Cathcart localities. The first one was marking a property as the first butchery in Cathcart (no date). The second one was attached to a decaying wooden church prominent as you enter Cathcart from the west as we did. This one proclaimed the old thing to have once been the Catholic Church, built in 1880 and closed 90 years later in 1970. It is now being used as a hayseed. As Josh commented in a text “Poor church, she lived long enough to see the Novus Ordo and die.” Yes. Sad. Seán got the best line though: “We’re 47 years late for mass!”

So, back “home” to the presbytery. First we filled up the tank of Paul’s car. I am amazed how cheaply we are doing this. Diesal is about 10c cheaper per litre than petrol and seems to go twice the distance. We told the woman at the service station what we were doing and she asked if we were doing it as a religious thing. Yes, and also as a challenge physically we answered (our bodies giving us a lot more trouble than our souls at this point). We told her we were staying at the Catholic Presbytery and she replied with a most effusive and glowing recommendation for Fr Mick. “If the Catholic Church had more priests like him it wouldn’t be in the trouble it is now”, she said.

Seán wanted to cook for us tonight, and I wasn’t complaining. The 28km I had done today had completely exhausted me. He cooked a pasta dish (with wholemeal spaghetti which I told him when he bought it that I really didn’t like), with bacon and cherry tomatoes and capsicum and feta cheese and beans in a cream sauce. It was very good. We’ve finished up all the cheap Pomeroy’s plonk and opened a bottle of 2009 red that I had bought with me. Paul then offered to do the dishes, and again I did not argue. I went to my room to try to get an early evening.

We want to leave at dawn in the morning. There is rain coming over the next couple of days and Monday will be the last fine day, so we want to walk as far as possible. We rang Tony Ovington at Towamba to tee up Paul to pick up the key tomorrow morning, so Paul will have the hall all set up for us when we finish our walk down the mountain in the morning. From what I can see, it will be a very steep descent within the first 10kms or so of Cathcart through the forest. Back into Mirkwood for a bit, before we get to Rivendell!

We will be out of range of internet until we arrive in Eden on Wednesday night. Also, the good folk of the Parish there are planning a night out to celebrate our arrival, so I doubt if this blog will be updated until much later in the week. But I will continue to take pictures and write up the story so check back on the weekend to see the rest!

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Five (22 April) – Craigie to Aston Creek (Bombala)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MWW PIlgrimage 2017: Day Five (22 April) – Craigie to Aston Creek

Distance: 18.25km. Total distance 144.25km.

Okay. I would have liked to have achieved a lot more than that distance today, but the thing about pilgrimage is that you have to take it as it come and make adjustments in your expectations as you go along.

It had rained fairly heavily and constantly overnight, but the morning was clear. It was a big job packing up this morning at the Old School House on Lower Bendoc Road. Two differences between this leg of the pilgrimage and previous legs are 1) that we are doing a lot of our own cooking, which means less spare time, and 2) that we are carrying a lot of extra gear and therefore the morning pack is not quite as quick. Add to that that we ran out of gas half way through boiling water for a cup of tea/coffee and made the snap decision to include a visit to Delegate for a cup of coffee, and it made a very late start once Paul dropped Seán and me back at the 5km point on Craigie Road again at 11am. Still, the visit to Delegate was very pleasant – we visited St Joseph’s Church and the Tourist Information centre and gallery (the attendant didn’t know anything about this history of the Josephites in Delegate, but there was a Josephine school and convent there from the 1920s, and think Mother Mary may even have visited once – I have to recheck the information that Archbishop Prowse sent me). If anything, Delegate is more “The Shire” than Bendoc is, with very many quaint old timber cottages and shop fronts – all the more quaint because they are occupied by locals who have lived there all their lives. If Delegate were closer to any capital city it would have been bought out and gentrified years ago and filled with cafes and bookshops. We fell to talking tot he local mechanic, telling him about our pilgrimage. I observed that we are about half way between Melbourne and Sydney – that you could hardly get further away from either. “And that’s no bad thing,” he commented.

We ordered coffees at the local cafe and general store – “large” out here means about 1/2 a litre! The shop has a curious attraction: a large collection of Chip-a-chup tins of various sizes collected over 25 years by the proprietor. The gallery/tourist information centre was in an old bank. The attendant claimed that Delegate has more amateur historical researchers per square metre than any other town in NSW. And just to prove it we found on the shelves a history of the Old School House at which we had been staying. We asked for and received a stamp in our pilgrim passes. Even if we didn’t walk to Delegate, we thought that it should be included as a destination on the MWW.

Enough sight-seeing, we needed to get walking. Paul drove us back to the 5km point down the Craigie road, dropped us off and then went back to Bendoc to hand in the key for the OSH at the pub. We finished the last stretch to the main highway (only vehicle we passed was a parked 4×4 driven buy a young man who said he was from Rochester in Victoria and who was working up here for a while – he had a tiny 14 day old puppy sleeping on a cushion on the passenger side of the seat!), and then turned toward Bombala. This stretch of road had heavier traffic than anything we had experienced since leaving Orbost – a car every 3-5 minutes, but there was a wide verge on the side of the road on which we could walk. One thing about walking in the countryside – you get to smell all the smells. That’s really nice when you are walking through a pine forest for example, but pretty nasty when you are walking past roadkill on the side of the road. Kangaroos and wombats smashed to bits – some almost petrified from being out in the heat for years and looking like some kind of prehistoric fossil, but others rather more “fresh” and disconcerting (no wombat should look the way one poor specimen ended up a the bottom of the ditch).

If we were looking still for the Lord of the Rings analogy for the area through which we were walking, we were now in Rohan, the rolling grasslands of the horsemen. And indeed there were horses – and cattle and sheep and more pine plantations.

Before very long at all, in fact, after walking only 7kms, we came to the spot that Paul had designated as our lunch stop. It was a marked fireplace stop on the Little Plains River just alongside the bridge on the Delegate side. Although the “fireplace” has seen better days, the situation is a pleasant place to stop for a picnic. I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the cold water. Paul was just starting off for a short ride as we arrived, and had returned again by the time we had finished our food, so we left together. He drove on towards Bombala where he was planning to do some riding and we set off intending to do the final 20kms into town before sunset.

Along the way, I changed the stoppers on the bottom of my walking stocks. I should have done this ages ago, and it was especially necessary now that we were walking on sealed surfaces. It is an oddly significant moment. Every worn pair of rubber ends means a certain distance of hiking covered. Not sure what that distance is, but I can remember wearing through a set on the Aussie Camino the first time I did that.

As we walked along, the sky behind us in the west was particularly ominous. At first, because we could still clearly see far into the distant western mountains behind us, I thought that we would escape any possible showers. But then there was both a sudden drop in air temperature and a pick up of the wind. I could see around me falls of rain to the south and we began to hear loud thunder rumbles. Just as I came up to the bridge over Aston Creek, I decided that it would be better to put on all my wet weather gear sooner when it was dry than later in pouring rain. I have a pair of gortex pants and a poncho that goes over everything. I changed my shoes for sandles (which will dry quicker) and tied my shoes to my backpack under the poncho. I put my phone and ipad inside snaplock plastic bags (a cheap waterproof cover – you can still operate them through the plastic). All this done, I headed off, the wind flapping the poncho like a flag.

I was perhaps 500m ahead of Seán at this stage. More thunder and wind. Then ahead of me, Paul came driving up in the car: “Get in,” he said, “The rains about to come and the information centre at the Mary MacKillop house will shut at 4pm” (it was now 3:30pm). I wasn’t quite certain about this, but did as he bade me and we drove on down to pick up Seán. No sooner had Seán got in the car, than the first large drops of rain began to fall. Paul explained that he had gone into the Information Centre at Bombala and discovered that the house next door had been the Josephite Convent and that St Mary MacKillop had stayed there in 1899 and again in 1901. But it was shutting for the weekend and if we wanted to see it we had to go now.

So I resigned myself to the fact that today was going to be a very short walk and that we would have to make it up tomorrow. Nevertheless, I am glad that Paul was thinking on his feet, otherwise we would have missed a major Mary MacKillop site/sight on the pilgrimage. The old convent was next door to the Lavendar and Platypus centre (yes, a bit of a strange mix), and the attendant directed us to the convent where we could see the room in which Mother Mary stayed when she was here. They are still setting the room up, and hoping (with the support of the Sisters of St Joseph from Sydney) to get more significant pieces with which to decorate Mother Mary’s room.

The rain really started coming down now, and Paul took us around to Queen Street where we called in on Sister Theresa rsj at the Convent. The Convent had once been a private hospital before it was bought by the Joeys, and now Sister lives there alone as the local pastoral associate. She kindly received us and made tea and ham sandwiches for us. We didn’t really need the sandwiches, as we had had a big lunch and were about to go out for dinner, but the bread was really fresh, the ham delicious and the tea very thirst quenching. We talked to Sister Theresa about the pilgrimage and other aspects of our devotion to St Mary and about the history of the Josephites in the area and about her own work with the parish and the local Catholic primary school. She was interested to hear that I was an ex-Lutheran pastor, and pulled out a copy of The Tablet which had an article on Martin Luther. She also had a copy of the Eden Magnet in which the story by Liz Tickner had been published – it was good to see it in print. We said we were looking forward to worshipping with the local congregation in the morning. I knew it would be a service of the word with Holy Communion as Fr Mick is away in Nigeria, and I jokingly said that I could preach the homily if she liked. She wanted to know how long I would normally have preached in the past, and I said 10-15 minutes. “Oh, too long – five is enough!” I countered that it doesn’t matter how long you preach as long as you are able to hold their attention.

After saying our goodbyes we went around to the presbytery on the other side of the street. Paul had already dropped off most of the gear and we sorted ourselves out with rooms. There are only two bedrooms, but there is an office in which I have set myself up with the blow up mattress. Seán did his washing and I had a shower and my first shave since Monday morning. We then got ready to go around to the local RSL Club for lunch, when there was a knock on the door. It was Sister Theresa saying she had talked to the other members of her team and they decided to ask me to offer the “reflection” after the Gospel tomorrow after all! So I have prepared a short 5 minute homily, which should do the trick!

The RSL is quite a nice spot – a bar with a separate restaurant that does a simple menu with mains from $16.50 to $26. I had the seafood basket and the other two had the pork medallions. Both were excellent. The beer on tap was various, including Cascade, Toohey’s Old, and Lazy Yak, so we were happy with that. We thought we might return there tomorrow night.

Back at the Presbytery I did my washing and hung it out on the line – the rain had cleared up and a mist was coming through. There was also still a strange flickering in the dark sky like the reflection of lightening somewhere in the distance. I think we will have a clear day tomorrow. Seán is very keen to see a bit of the town after the service tomorrow, so he has decided not to do the last 9kms into town. I, however, will get Paul to drop me there after the service is finished and then I will walk back to the presbytery for lunch and we will then walk on as far as we can get to Cathcart before nightfall. The next two days, Monday and Tuesday, to Towamba is less than 50km in total, so it should all average out okay. Michael Sheppard at Eden rang tonight to ask if we were all still on target for arriving on Wednesday night, which I confirmed. He said that he would like for us to go out for tea, and that some other members of the parish might join us. I look forward to that.

Anyway, it is now midnight, and I have finally managed to get up-to-date with this blog. It will be much easier writing tomorrow night now that I don’t have to keep casting my mind back 48 hours in the evening.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Four (21 April) – Bendoc to Craigie

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way 2017: Day Four (21 April) – from Bendoc to a couple of kms north of Craigie. Crossing the border into NSW!

Distance: 24.5km. Total distance 126km. So we have passed the half-way mark!

Having arrived at the Old School House (OSH) on Lower Bendoc Road in the dark, it was very interesting getting up this morning and seeing our camp site in daylight. The OSH is situated in a paddock with a large hill behind it, a few pine trees around it, and a small river running past at the bottom of the hill. There was a mixture of fog and smoke from burning off in the air, making it very misty and picturesque. The OSH had been built in the early 1900’s and closed in the 1950s. Today it is owned and maintained by the Bendoc Fishing Club, and they let it out for the grand sum of $3 per head per night (enquiries to Graham at the Bendoc Pub on 02 64581453). When Paul went to pick up the key from Graham’s wife Margaret yesterday, he gave her a $20 note and she wanted to give him $2 change! For this you get a lockable building with five beds, a couple of tables, a couch by the open fireplace (which has a fireplate and billy boiler), a gas stove (bring your own bottle), and a drop toilet out the back. There are pots and pans and billies there, and some wine glasses too. Enough firewood is supplied for two nights, but if you want more you either have buy your own from the local sawmill or (as we did) pick it up from around the yard. Luxury!

Yesterday had been a very long day so we took our time getting ready this morning, sleeping in until 7:30am. I heated up and ate the left-over pasta Bolognese from Monday night (which had travelled really well in the car fridge). I wrote up the previous day’s blog, and did some washing. We hooked up a washing line out near the loo for the washing to dry on. We had some visitors as we were getting ready for our walk: a couple who live nearby. The gentleman had been in the pub last night and wanted to see how we were getting on. He told us that he had actually been a student here when the OSH was operational!

Then at 9:30am, I had a live interview on ABC Local Radio (Bega?) about the pilgrimage. I had prepared for the interview, writing up notes to make sure everything was said that needed to be said, and I felt fairly happy with the way it went. However, as Paul said when I had finished, “You forgot one thing: to say how beautiful the country is that we have been travelling through”. And he is certainly right.

Picking up on a question that Josh had texted to me on the first day (“Have you entered Mirkwood yet?”), we have been comparing various parts of the countryside to Lord of the Rings locations. Yesterday afternoon, it certainly appeared as if we had entered Mordor after leaving Mirkwook, as we walked through an area where the forestry people were clearing up plantations to get ready for replanting. So the whole view was of heaps of burning and thickly smoking wood fires.

Well, continuing the analogy, today when Paul took Seán and me back into Bendoc to commence the day’s walk, I sincerely felt as if we had been transported to The Shire. We checked out The Big Log, the gold mining machinery, the quaint pub (we saw the inside last night but could now see the outside), the local hall (which, as well as the public shower and toilet block also has a good BBQ stove – we were originally planning on camping in the Hall, and you certainly could do that if you made the arrangements), and the Bendoc Union Church (it appears that they have achieved what the rest of the Ecumenical movement is still striving for…). As we headed out of town, we were greeted by two very happy little poodles. We found their owner stacking wood for winter – a very impressive wood pile indeed. He told us that he remembered one winter where the temperature got down to 14 degrees Celsius below zero! “All the water pipes froze up and the only way we could get water was by using the axe to chop ice from the rainwater tank and putting on the fire.”

Walking out of town, we passed Mt Delegate – a feature on the horizon that dominated most of the morning. The road was gravel and dusty, especially when the big trucks came along. We were passed (all coming toward us) by four log trucks and one cattle truck. Other than that, we had only three other vehicles over the 11 or 12kms from Bendoc to the OSH. The countryside on this side of Bendoc was in stark contrast to the other side. The forest had gone for good, and now we were in undulating pasture land with sheep and cattle. Bendoc is just over 800m above sea level and the OSH is at about 760m. As you go along the Lower Bendoc Road you come across the Delegate-Bendoc Road which is actually closed at the moment because they are rebuilding the bridge over the river. There is a section of the road that is sealed (I think to stop the dust from the road covering the nearby farm houses), and then you come into the valley of the Bendoc River, which is the one that flows past the OSH. There were road works – a grader and water sprayer – going on on that section of road.

Seán and I stopped at the OSH for lunch, which was very nice as it meant that a) we didn’t have to carry our lunch with us, and b) I could have a small glass of wine to wash down my bread, kransky, tomato, Brie cheese, cucumber, dolmades, and mushrooms (the latter picked from the yard around the OSH – yummy!).

It was now already after 2pm, but having achieved 12kms already, I wanted to complete another 12km if possible before the end of the day. So we set off again. Two kilometres down the road we came to a road on our left heading off to the north over a bridge. This was Big Flat Road, although, as we were to find out, there was nothing “flat” about it. The important feature of this road is that just 100m over the bridge we crossed the border from Victoria into NSW – quite a milestone for us, given that we had walked all the way from Fitzroy through Eastern Victoria to get to this point. But it was a bit of a let down to note that there was no big sign (in fact no sign at all) to say “You are now leaving Victoria / entering New South Wales”. The only sign there was to let us know that we were entering Bombala Shire. And that sign, by our GPS coordinates, was at least 40m too far on the Victorian side of the border (a cunning NSW land grab?). There not being an official border line, Seán scratched a line on the road where the border should be and I photographed him stepping over it.

Immediately we were confronted with a big climb up a hill to above 800m again. The views were fantastic indeed. The road surface was hard clay and nice to walk on, leading through pasture land and pine forests. Immediately evident in a way that we didn’t see on the Victorian side of the border were groves of deciduous trees with their leaves turning rich autumn yellows and reds and golds. This provided quite a contrast with the otherwise green landscape. There were a few farm vehicles on the road and some forestry utes, but otherwise not much. At one point a car pulling a caravan drove up to us and hailed us. They were an elderly couple who declared that they were lost. They had left the camp ground in the town Delegate and were looking for the Delegate River Camp Ground where they had planned to spend the night before heading own down the Bonang Highway to Orbost tomorrow. But that was back on the other side of Bendoc where we had come through yesterday. They had taken a left turn at Bendoc instead of a right turn. We advised them that their best plan at this time of the evening was to head back to Delegate and try again tomorrow. I still hate to think of the fun they will have towing a caravan down the Bonang Highway…

We knew we had reached Craigie when we came over a hill to find a white timber church building with a red iron roof and gothic style windows on the side of the road. A sign proclaimed it to be St Stephen’s Anglican Church built in 1884. The sign also said there would be Eucharist at 11am every 2nd Sunday of the Month. Although the interior (from what we could see through the windows) was still furnished with altar table and pews, there was no sign of any use in recent times and the paint was peeling from the timbers and the red doorway. It was, however, a very stark image on the landscape. Seán was impressed by the coincidence that this church had appeared about the same time as I had switched on the Evening Prayer audio on my iphone.

And it was indeed getting on toward evening. It gets dark quick out here. One minute there is sunlight, next twilight and then darkness. We were surprised to find that Craigie is actually a little settlement with several houses and a Community Hall. Once again, this might make a good camp ground for anyone traveling the MWW Pilgrimage without a support vehicle – although there were no other facilities. An unsealed road leads off to the East from Craigie to Mila and eventually to the Monaro Highway. This was (and is) a possible alternative route for the MacKillop-Woods Way, but we continued on beyond Craigie towards the Delegate-Bombala Road.

Craigie is about 8kms from the border. A little helpful feature we noticed was hand-made kilometre markers, counting down from 15km at the border to 0km at the main highway to Bombala. As we were leaving Craigie, Paul drove up to see if we were finished for the day. Craigie would have been a natural stopping point, but in order to make the afternoon walk a round 12kms, I asked if we could walk another two kms. I think this was, in the end, a bit far for Seán, and it also meant climbing another very high and steep hill (bringing us once again over 800m). I think I strained a muscle behind my right knee doing this hill…

It was virtually dark now, and Paul drove us back home to the OSH the way we had come. I always feel it a little defeating when we have walked so far only to have to return where we started for our accommodation. A little scary encounter was with a big logging rig (empty) coming towards us up the big hill at the start of Big Flat Road – there was just enough room for him to squeeze past when Paul pulled right over the edge of the road.

It was nice to be back to the comfort of the Old School House and the fireplace. We made curry tonight with chuck beef and a bottle of curry sauce and lots of added veggies. I typed up yesterday’s blog post, and then virtually collapsed into bed and fell asleep instantly.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Three (20 April) – Goongerah to Bendoc

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

Day distance: 36.52. Total Distance so far: 101.5km

Seán was back on deck this morning feeling much better than the day before. Whatever it was that had ailed him had passed on. The day began fresh and cool with the sun shining already when we finished packing up in the Tin Chalet. We walked around to see if our host Jill got home safely last night. Her rustic house is surrounded by gardens with chooks and guineafowl and geese ranging around the yard. We were greeted at the gate by Raffles, her large and playful German Shepherd dog, and chatted with Jill for a while, meeting her other animals, especially the two large Clydesdale horses. Paul came over from picking a bag of apples from Jill’s orchard, and we fed a couple to the horses. As Jill opened the gate to let the car through, the biggest horse bolted through and Jill had to chase after her, so in the end our goodbyes were rushed.

Nevertheless it was 8:45am by the time we got going, and we were still on the other side of Goongerah, which, although sparsely populated is about 7kms from one end to the other. We passed by the school and CFA and Community house and then out onto the open highway in brilliant sunshine. Paul went on ahead of us to park the car at The Gap – our lunchtime destination at the junction of the Bonang and Bendoc Road – intending to spend the day riding back down the Bonang Highway to Sardine Creek and up again.

Seán and I passed the old roadhouse which is now the Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) base, where we had called in last October for advice on our journey. It was pretty quiet (compared to last year when there was a crowd around the fire outside), so we walked on by without calling in. The road was newly surfaced; I was amused to see sticks and pieced of bark covered over by bitumen or line markings – nature incorporated into industry… The sealed road ran out about 9kms north of Goongerah (at the 80km from Orbost mark), just as we entered the southern-most end of the Snowy River National Park. From then on till just out of Bendoc we were on unsealed road.

The road through to The Gap was fairly gravelly – you would want to be careful with a vehicle, but it was not unpleasant walking. We were surprised to discover the Old Bonang Highway interesecting with the road we were walking. Looking at the maps, we saw that the OBH diverted from the NBH again just outside Goongerah. We could have taken that as an alternative to walking on the main highway. But the traffic was not a problem. We were probably overtaken by a vehicle every 15 to 20 minutes. At one stage a convoy of a minibus and six additional vehicles went through, which was the most we saw at any time. Otherwise the road was like a nice broad walking trail which cars occasionally used. There were signs warning of logging trucks, but we saw none. They are virtually extinct in that area today thanks to the work of the GECO people and other environmentalists. The Snowy and Errinundra National Parks have been greatly extended, and have changed the character of the area. There are still plenty of forestry management vehicles going up and down the road, and road work plants as well, but it is a lot different today from what it was in the past. The settlements up here have diminished accordingly. But for the eco-tourist, there is much to see and much to do.

The road was a steady and gentle rise of 550m all the way from Goongerah to The Gap over 17kms. It was a long way up, but really quite easy on the knees. Alternative tracks through the bush would have been very much more challenging and longer too, but walking on the road meant an easy trek. Although we were focused on the road in front of us, as we looked out at the surrounding forested peaks, we could see that we were coming to the top.

We met Paul at the picnic ground at the bridge over the Bonang River at The Gap. It was a really pleasant spot, cool and lush with the little river flowing past. We ate our Kransky and tomato and cheese and cucumber and apple and carrot washed down with a cup of tea from Seán’s flask. A chance to rub the feet with lanolin and tea-tree powder, and we were all refreshed to get going again. We were now at about 700ms above sea level and we had yet another 200ms to climb.

Thus far, I have to say that the road from The Gap to Bendoc has been the most pleasant of the whole trip. Again traffic was sparse, and the unsealed road was solid beneath our feet. Josh, our absent vicarious pilgrim, has been joking about us walking through “Mirkwood” – and indeed the forest has seemed endless for the last three days. But this section above all seems to fit the bill, with many ferntrees and creeks and mountain ashes and trees covered with moss. The road from The Gap to Bendoc is very much on the shady side of the mountain, cool and pleasant.

The road continued to rise till we got to the exalted heights of over 900ms. This was likely – we thought – to be the highest altitude along the MacKillop-Woods Way. At which point I decided to celebrate by singing “Nearer my God to thee” at the top of my voice. At which point, I then heard voices in the forest – we were not alone! Were these the Elves of Mirkwood? We came to the sign which said “Old Growth Forest Walk”, which was in fact the entrance to the walk to see a particularly large tree – apparently it is about 5ms in diameter and 15ms around and supposed to be about 600 years old. Coming around the corner, we saw the vehicles that had formed the convoy which had passed us earlier on the road. A smiling face came down the track to greet us – “It’s you! We met last October at the GECO camp.” Indeed we had met there – this was one of Mirkwood’s Elves, leading a whole group of about 30 junior elves from Melbourne and Sydney on an evironmental appreciation walk in the Errinundra Forest to see the big tree. “You sing very well,” said one of the young elves. They were able to show us pictures of the Big Tree on their cracked-screen iPhones. Quite impressive, but we were not tempted to take a 2km detour from our pilgrimage. We told them about our pilgrimage – and in fact a number of them knew about the Santiago Camino, so they could appreciate what we were doing.

Wishing the “Elves” God’s blessing, we went upon our way to Bendoc. The signs at The Gap had variously given 18 and 20kms as the estimate of the distance. It turned out to be closer to 20. The road was very pleasant, but as we left “Mirkwood”, it seemed that we had entered “Mordor” – the pine plantation forestry people were cleaning up the rubbish left behind from last year for replanting, which meant endless heaps of burning and smoking waste wood, giving the whole environment a smoky hazy overview. We passed the Delegate River Camp Ground which was quite unpleasant in the smoky haze.

At about 5pm Paul caught up with us on the trail to see how we were going. We were still 6km from town. Seán and I were feeling pretty good, so we decided to keep on going into Bendoc. An interesting feature that we had noticed as soon as we had emerged from the forest at 11.7km from Bendoc was that the trees had the distance from Bendoc marked on them at every kilometre – a kind of living milestone system. This gave us encouragement on the way into town; however, the last tree that I could visibly see was the 2km marker. By the time we got to 1km out at 6pm we were in darkness.

At this point we were back in range of phone and internet. I was surprised to find that ABC Local Radio in Bega wanted to contact us for an interview. They had heard from Michael Sheppard and the Eden Magnet that we were doing this pilgrimage and wanted a live interview on radio tomorrow morning. I was able to get in touch with the office, and they said that they would call again in the morning to tee up the live interview. Liz Tickner from the Eden Magnet had managed to cobble together a story on our pilgrimage which has been published online, and I think that that started things rolling.

Being back in range, there were suddenly a whole flurry of texts and messages that I had to answer, from family and friends and – of course – from Josh, our vicarious pilgrim.

In any case, after the 6km mark, the darkness began setting in. I switched on my bluetooth speaker and played my Iron & Wine playlist while we walked along to keep us moving. I was surprised that the road continued to be surrounded in forest all the way to the very entrance to Bendoc. Paul drove out to meet us as we came in, and led us up to the Bendoc pub. This is where Graham and Margaret Beever are the proprietors – they were the ones who had set us up for accomodation at The Old School House for the night. We went into the pub to find about a dozen locals in there at the end of the day. There were a couple of rigs out the front, and obviously a mix of forestry workers and local farmers. We greeted Graham and, after pouring us all pots of Carlton Draught (the only beer on tap), he stamped and signed our pilgrim passes with the local post code stamp (the pub doubles as post office). We met Barry there who told us a lot about the surrounding area. Also, we recognised Graham from the ute and trailer with a couple of calves on it which had passed us on the way up – first heading toward Orbost and then returning later in the day with an empty crate. They weren’t calves, he said, they were fully grown miniature “Dexter” cattle, an Irish breed of cattle, and he kept a herd of 70 of these nearly extinct breed.

Graham gave us directions to the showers at the local hall. They were hot and free. Great. I didn’t have a towel with me, or soap, but there was a bit of soap left in the shower and I used my jumper as a towel. Paul had the heater going in the car so we were dry and warm when we arrived at the Old School House, 12kms along the Lower Bendoc Road toward the border of Victoria and NSW. Paul had earlier picked up the key to the OSH, and deposited most of our gear there. We paid $20 for the two nights for this accomodation, which is maintained by the local fishing club. The OSH is a lockable building with fireplace, drop toilet, beds, gas stove, rain water tank – ultimately everything we could hope for to make camping an easy and comfortable matter.

Dinner was beef sausages and boiled veggies cooked on the open fire, washed down with a bottle or so or Pommeroy’s Plonk. Seán and I were fairly knackered after 36kms of walking, and so settled down early to bed.

We walked further than we had expected that we would today, and this puts us in a good space to have a bit of a sleep in.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day Two (19 April) – Sardine Creek to Goongerah along Bonang Highway

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way 2017: Day Two – Sardine Creek to Goongerah on Bonang Highway (19 April)

Day distance: 33.48km. Total Distance: 70km.

This morning in Orbost was still and foggy – a good sign for a sunny day ahead. Seán, unfortunately, had a headache and was feeling nauseous – a condition not helped by the fact that to get back to our starting point for today’s walk required a half hour drive on Australia’s windiest section of road. He decided that he would pass on the first half of today’s walk, rest up at the Tin Chalet in Goongerah and join me at lunchtime.

We had packed most of our gear the night before, and completed packing this morning. Leaving a thank you note and gift for Fr Anthony, we drove out to Sardine Creek where I headed off on my own. I don’t mind having a day at least when I walk on my own when I go on pilgrimage. I like walking with others and talking as you go along, but on your own you are completely left to your own thoughts and can completely set your own pace. You can stop to look at what takes your curiosity, or press on at double pace if you want. You can play music or just listen to the silence.

Paul and Seán dropped me at Sardine Creek at 8:30am and drove on to Goongerah to get set up there. Jill said that she would be around till about nine to get them settled before driving down to Orbost for the day. So I was keeping my eye out for her as I headed off.

One of my main concerns all day was the question: “How much traffic uses this road?” It is, after all, a connecting highway, even if only a C class. We have not hesitated to enrol roads into the MacKillop-Woods Way in the past – even if we prefer rail trails and bush tracks. But it has been a pain whenever we had to walk very far along a road that had a lot of traffic (the worst to this point was, I think, the connecting road between Yarragon and Moe). On the whole, I can say that the Bonang Highway was really quite a good walk. The gradient up to Malinns Track – a cleared area where there is a small farm – is gradual and gentle from about 100m at Sardine Creek to 320m. That location is almost exactly the half way point, 16.5kms (which is why we chose it for the lunch location). After that, the road rises a bit more to about 380m before gently coming down and then following the valley of the Brodribb River into Goongerah – another 16.7kms.

Okay, so how much traffic was there? 49 vehicles in all between 8:30am and 4:30am, roughly one every ten minutes. In the first hour and a quarter alone – that is after 6kms – I had been passed by 15 vehicles, many of them forest management or road works vehicles. These tended to travel in convoys, and in the afternoon they all came back again. But often I walked on the left hand side of the road for over half an hour without any cars coming along on that side (ie, from the south). You can hear the vehicles coming from miles off, so you have plenty of time to position yourself on the road to be out of their way. All the rest of the time it is peacefully quiet with only the sound of birdsong and the creeks on the side of the road (which actually could be quite noisy at times).

Vehicle #22 was Jill Redwood, our host at the Tin Chalet in Goongerah, coming down the mountain in her “jalopy” – ie. her old ute – with the back filled with glass bottles and tin cans from the Easter camp (the Goongerah Forestry Appreciation) which was attended by over 100 people. She pulled over and told me that Paul and Seán had settled in to our accomodation. We chatted for a few minutes. I asked about the alternate route to Goongerah along the Gunter Track that I had been considering. “Not unless you are looking for a challenge.” Same goes for Postmans Track tomorrow. “Stick to the road”, she said. She was also surprised at the amount of traffic on the road. That’s not apparently normal. She also told me that the signs of bushfire that we had seen all the way along the Old Bonang Highway and the Bonang Highway today were from the bushfires in 2014.

I had hoped to get more stories about that from her this evening, but we didn’t seen her tonight. Her other tenant, Peter, popped by in this evening to see who was here and to ask if Jill had returned, but we had not see her. I had been expecting her to pass me on the way back into Goongerah. Apparently “the Jalopy” had been having fuel problems, so I hope she got back home safely. Peter too commented that he has at times hitchhiker into Orbost from Goongerah and discovered that he had had to walk 10kms before another vehicle came along. So perhaps 49 vehicles is an aberration.

The walk itself was generally pleasant. There are some nice spots that would make good camping – especially one near 29 Mile Track. Along the way I came across an ancient wooden milestone – or actually post, since it was wooden – with “M 28” on it. Did that mean “28 miles”? Or “28 miles from Marlo”? I did think it might be the latter, but the fact that it was in close proximity to 29 Mile Track made me think that maybe “M” simply stood for “miles”. There were lots of tracks leading off into the bush along the way that would have been nice to explore. Unfortunately none of them actually lead anywhere except deep into the forest, so were no use for the MWW.

I remembered to stop at 12noon today to sing the Regina Caeli – it sounded very strange in the context of the bush noises.

I stopped for lunch at Malinns Track as I mentioned earlier, and Paul came and delivered my lunch pack to me. Seán was not with him – apparently he was still feeling unwell and had thought better of trying to walk any distance today. Instead he just took the whole day as a rest day. I didn’t mind. I was enjoying my solitude.

For the last two days I have been dreading meeting a snake on the road, and today I finally did. However, it was my favourite kind of snake: a dead one which had been run over. It looked like it might have been a copperhead. Paul says that when he was driving along the road this morning he though he had driven over one, and it might have been the very same snake.

At one point in the distance through the trees, I could see a very large mountain. Consulting the Gaia Map app (off line maps as there was no coverage anywhere along the trail today – or indeed here in Goongerah) I figured that it was Mount Ellery, at 1291m, only 13kms away.

Paul caught up with me again about 7kms from Goongerah, this time on his road bike. He was aiming to ride all the way back to Sardine Creek, but I think from what he said tonight he turned around about three kms short of that distance. I made it to the Tin Chalet at Goongerah before he returned, getting in at about 4:30pm. The overall distance was about 33.2kms. I had been wearing my sandals for most of the day, and I probably should have returned to wearing my Brooks runners as a small blister had begun to form on the ball of my left foot. Hopefully it will not be a bother for the days to come. It hasn’t swollen up and I don’t intend to prick it, so hopefully a bandaid and a different pair of shoes in the morning will see it right.

I was quite sore today when I arrived at Jill’s accomodation. I came through the back paddock from the camp ground, saying hullo to the two draught horses and the goats and the geese etc. I flopped down on the couch on the verandah, and Seán came out with an IPA beer for me which went down very quickly as I soaked my sore feet in a bucket of hot water. As I mentioned, Peter the neighbour came round for a chat, as I did my cooling-down exercises. My shoulders are very sore today. We are not carrying heavy packs, but nevertheless I was unaccustomed to carrying any pack at all. Thankfully my knees are holding up. The human body is a fickle thing, as Seán is discovering. We have a very big day ahead of us, as we have to climb up to 900ms towards Bendoc.

The Tin Chalet is very comfortable. All power is solar generated with a bank of big batteries upstairs in the bedroom. Seán has claimed the queen bed, but there is plenty of room for me to put my air mattress alongside it. Paul is bunking on the fold out couch bed downstairs. There is a good shower, and a drop toilet built into the bathroom. Fridge is a car fridge plugged into a car cigarette lighter type plug. We have brought our own car fridge in and are using that too. Paul and I jointly cooked steamed veggies and marinated lamb cutlets for dinner on the gas and wood-fire stoves.

All is very nice here. I am completely exhausted and now need to get some sleep as it is already quarter past nine. Tomorrow we pack up, send Paul on to Bendoc to get the key for the Old School House from the Bendoc pub, and try to make it as far up the hill toward Bendoc as possible.

Pray for us, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop!

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Day One (18 April) – Orbost to Sardine Creek on the Old Bonang Highway

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

The two sections of today’s pilgrimage along the Old Bonang Highway 1) from Orbost to Cooney Ridge Road, 2) from Cooney Ridge Road to Sardine Creek.

Day distance: 31.24km.

I feel a great deal of satisfaction today at the completion of our first day on the pilgrimage. As usual, we spent a great deal of time pouring over maps to organise our way forward. We are creating “The MacKillop-Woods Way” as we go along. To actually walk on a trail that you have planned from maps and Google Earth is a great sense of achievement.

To get from Orbost to Bombala – where we intend to end up on Saturday evening – we need to take the road north of Orbost to Bendoc. That’s a three day walk in itself, and at the end of the first day there is…nothing. Well, not quite nothing. There are a few houses at Sardine Creek designed for the earnest hermit. In fact, one is for sale. Nicely located only 37kms from Orbost along Australia’s longest section of continuously winding road on the Bonang Highway, there is a shack which can be yours for $200K+ (yes, we rang the real estate angeht). See the photos link below for more views.

In any case, it was immediately clear that we would have to return to Orbost for our second night, and this was reason number one why we needed a backup driver. Thank you God for Paul.

In addition, the prospect of walking along a main highway for a whole day – even if only 4-6 cars a day actually used it – didn’t really appeal to Seán and me, so we were very glad to find that there was an alternative, at least for the first day. The OLD Bonang Highway runs roughly parallel and just a few hundred metres west of the current Bonang Highway through the State Forest. It is less curvey and more up and down hill but also a more direct route than the main highway and turned out to be a rather good road/track which would be passable to anything with four wheel drive.

Seán and I left the Orbost Presbytery this morning at 7:30am, and walked out of town taking a pleasant side detour on Martins Road and Murphy’s Lane. After 5kms, we came to the entry to The Old Bonang Highway (hereafter OBH) where it deviates from the (new) Bonang Highway (hereafter NBH). In total the OBH runs about 32kms before reconnecting with the NBH, and that distance is almost exactly equivalent to both one day’s walking AND half way from Orbost to Goongerah, which is the next little settlement on the NBH north of Orbost (where we have been lucky enough to find an AirB&B advertised accomodation for tomorrow night called “The Tin Chalet” – more about that when we get there). Thus we had determined that this would be an ideal route to get us off the main road for a day. It was, in fact, also about 5kms shorter than walking to the same point on the main highway.

Whereas the NBH is quite windy and remains at a relatively low elevation of a couple of hundred metres, the OBH follows a straighter and more direct route. It is a track which climbs from about 25m to just over 400m elevation over 17.5kms reaching the high point (and half-way point) at Cooney Ridge Road (which itself leads west of the NBH crossing the OBH and going on past Mount Buck). It then leads back downwards for another 14kms or so until it reconnects with the NBH. The forest on the side of the OBH is quite dense, although the vegetation changes quite remarkably with the altitude. Whereas it was quite dry on the lower slopes, on the higher slopes where we found running fresh water creeks, there were fern trees and lush bush. The views from the mountain road were quite magnificent as we worked our way higher – at one point we were able to look south and see the sea in the distance.

As we were walking in the morning, Paul had driven his car up to Cooney Ridge Road and spent the morning riding on the NBH both north and south of our rendezvous point. But he was waiting for us as we arrived almost on the dot of 11:30am as planned for lunch at the intersection of the OBH and Cooney Ridge Road. He drove us up to the top of Mount Buck about 1km away (and a further 100m higher reaching to 500m elevation) where there was a fire lookout in the middle of a clearing. One of the maps we consulted had marked in picnic tables and toilets at this point, but of course there were no such thing. You can’t see much in the way of a view to the south from the top of this hill – although you do get a goodish view of the mountains to the north. There is no shade up there in the clearing, so we ate our lunch sitting in the car before heading back down to the OBH intersection.

Paul parked on the side of the road so we could sort our gear, but before very long we heard the sound of a truck coming up the road. It soon appeared around the corner, a big rig travelling as fast as it possibly could up the road and trailing an immense cloud of dust behind it. It gave no sign of slowing down, and Paul realised that it could not comfortably pass the car, so he jumped in and pulled over another couple of feet. The truck roared past and covered us all in dust without slowing downing one bit. I reflected afterward how close we had come to disaster – had we met that truck when we were coming back down the road from the top of Mount Buck, we would have run straight into it. So a warning to future pilgrims: keep your ears open for approaching vehicles AND get out of the way. The locals are dangerous.

Thankfully, the OBH was completely devoid of such risks. The slopes up and down were many but relatively gentle in their incline, making today a great exercise for the rest of this section of the pilgrimage. At times we were walking along the ridges between the mountains and able to look down on the world on both sides of the track. In the far distance we saw what at first we thought was a storm cloud but then realised was smoke from a burning off. The weather was sunny but very still, so we guessed that it was a prime day for this kind of activity. Still, we didn’t want to run into any of it.

Amazingly, we had internet and phone contact until about four kilometres north of Cooney Ridge Road. This made it possible for me to receive a phone call just after lunch from a journalist from the Eden newspaper, saying she had heard from our hosts in the Catholic parish there about our pilgrimage and asking for a photo and an interview. A photo was easily forthcoming, but as we were just setting off for the afternoon section of the track, I asked her to ring back later. Of course, later we were out of phone range, and I suspect she had left the office by the time we we had a connection again. (Interestingly, there was no phone coverage down on the NBH until we were just about back into Orbost this evening).

The other benefit of phone contact while we were up on the OBH is that Josh (aka Pilgrim #3) was able to vicariously join us for much of the pilgrimage via texting. (At one point he asked “Are you still in open country or have you entered Mirkwood?” – thus we have dubbed the forest north of Orbost by this name in memory of the Fellowship of the Ring). This vicarious participation reached its climax later in the evening when Seán shared with us his bottle of Chimay, a Belgian Trappist beer. I took a photo and texted it to Josh, who immediately went off and found his own bottle of Chimay in his cellar and drank it at the same time as us. Separated by both many miles of mountains and seas, we had a small moment of communion…

Most of the Northern end of the OBH from Cooney Ridge Road was downhill thankfully. It arrived onto the NBH at Sardine Creek about 37km along the highway north of Orbost, where, as I have said, there is an old shack for sale. It is very nicely situated with Sardine Creek itself – a beautiful and strongly flowing waterway – on the other side of the road. I took of my sandals and socks and waded into the ice cold water – what a relief!

Paul was there waiting for us and took us back home to Orbost Presbytery for the night. He then proceeded to feed us with the best chicken soup I have ever tasted (sorry Grandma) and a chicken and stir fried vege main course. We are greatly enjoying one another’s company, and I am glad to have this opportunity to get to know him. Fr Anthony Philip, the parish priest of Lakes Entrance and Orbost, texted us to wish us all the best for our journey. Coincidentally we had only just been toasting his health with Seán’s Trappist beer. We also rang Jill, the proprietor of The Tin Chalet in Goongerah to make arrangements for arriving tomorrow.

In preparation for tomorrow, we have semi-packed our gear so that we can leave early in the morning and head back to Sardine Creek. Paul will drop us and go on to Goongerah to meet Jill and set up camp for us at the Tin Chalet so that when we arrive in Goongerah all will be made ready. Unfortunately this time there really is no alternative but to walk on the NBH itself.

All photos for today’s journey can be found in my Google Photos by clicking this link!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2017: Arrival in Orbost

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

The 2017 leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage from Orbost to Eden via Bombala. The different colours each indicate a day’s walk.

I have almost forgotten how to operate my WordPress account, so long it has been since my last entry. In fact, I am tonight in exactly the same place that I was on 5 October last year when I made my last entry, the Presbytery of the Catholic Church in Orbost. That entry concluded as follows:

It is true that as things have turned out, it has been good to do the whole Fitzroy to Orbost walk in two stages. Just as St Mary’s Bairnsdale was a natural conclusion last Easter, so Orbost is a natural conclusion geographically [for this second section of the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage]. It is the last point along the journey eastwards in Victoria. From here on in, we head north until we cross the border between Bendoc and Delegate. Also, we have shown that it is possible to walk the whole way from Fitzroy to Orbost without assistance, whereas the next leg to Eden will require a backup driver. So at the moment, I am just calling it 2016 Part II.

And here we are once again in Orbost at the beginning of the 2017 leg of the Pilgrimage. Sean and I are accompanied by Paul, husband of one of my wife Cathy’s “College Mob” friends, who very generously offered (over the table at a pub gathering of the “College Mob” late last year) to be our backup driver. Without him this trip would be impossible. He has driven us here and will accompany us for the next 240kms as we journey from Orbost to Goongerah to Bendoc (over the NSW border) to Craigie to Bombala to Cathcart to Towamba to Eden. He has brought along his road bike and mountain bike as he hopes to get in some practice for a 6 week bike tour of Italy he has ahead of him in a couple of weeks. We have enrolled him as Pilgrim #4.

Josh – Pilgrim #3 – is not with us at this time for various reasons, which is a great sadness. But he called this evening to wish us “Buen Camino!”

You will notice too perhaps from the list of places we will walk through above that Delegate is not on the list. That is partly because of accommodation changes – the Presbytery in Delegate has recently been let and was not available to stay in, while we discovered that there was a place called “The Old School House” on the Bendoc River just this side of the border that was. So we are going the back way into Bombala where Fr Mick at Cooma has kindly offered for us to stay at the Presytery there. From the top of the mountain, we will head back down the valley to Eden, arriving there on the evening of Wednesday week.

Eden will be one of the first really significant points of connection with Mary MacKillop along this route. Her mother died there in a ship wreck and her body was was washed ashore some days afterward completely unharmed. Mother Mary travelled to Eden to collect her mother’s body and take her back to Sydney for burial. When I spoke with Archbishop Prowse, the bishop of the area, last October, he said he was keen both to see Eden as a point of pilgrimage for St Mary, and also a starting point for a possible “camino” to her own resting place in Sydney. He has been very supportive of our own plans, and said that he hopes that it may be a seed of a path for future pilgrims to follow.

Paul our driver asked Sean and I this evening what this walk means to us as a pilgrimage. Sean said “It is the journey, not the destination”, but I added that the destination is what colours the journey. My oldest daughter scoffs when I tell people that I am walking to Sydney; “You are not,” she says, “You are just walking from Orbost to Eden.” But Sydney – or more specifically the tomb and shrine of Australia’s only canonised Saint – is our ultimate destination, and this colours every part of the journey on the way. So it is ab out the walk too – although we are not intentionally doing a “in the footsteps of…” walk. It isn’t important to follow any kind of trail that Mary herself followed. Nor are we raising money for anything. We are walking with a destination in view. We do not pass through the landscape without being touched by it or by the people in it. On the contrary, we are seeking opportunities to engage with it and with them. But we are not coming here to see the sights, we are just “passing through”. We are on The Way.

And we will be on our way again as soon as the sun rises in the morning. And I am so looking forward to it. It has been a very hectic period in my life with some very big changes and challenges, and I am at a real point of sensing a change in things to come. I don’t know what those changes will be but I want to be ready for them, and for that I need to recharge my spiritual batteries as it were.

At the end of the last section of the Pilgrimage last year I vowed to try to live my life as I walked the MacKillop-Woods Way: one day – indeed, one step – at time, ready for whatever might eventuate, not being disturbed by set backs or pains disappointments, but taking joy and delight in every new encounter. Recently, Cathy and I travelled to Rome and Florence and Siena. That was a kind of pilgrimage too, connecting especially with the ancient heritage of our faith, inspired especially by the vibrancy of medieval and renaissance images of our Lord, our Lady and the Saints. But now we are back in our own land, and in our own time, and I want my feet to be firmly planted in the here and now.

There is also a tradition of doing pilgrimages as a prayer of intercession for others in need. I have always walked with special intentions in my heart. On this pilgrimage, I will am walking praying for two friends and one cause: for Oliver, for whom I was sponsor on Saturday night at his baptism into the Christian Church; for Rebecca, who is looking after my rats while I am away but who especially needs hope in her life; and finally for the many homeless people in our land, and for a resolution to their plight, especially for Nigel and Tom. Please join me in praying for them by name in your prayers tonight.

BTW for those interested, dinner tonight was Pasta Bolognese with some very nice wide egg noodle pasta we bought in Bairnsdale today. Paul is on a special no carbs high fat diet so he didn’t have the pasta, but added extra zucchini strips to his meal. Washed down with a glass of red wine.

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016 II: Day Four (Tostaree to Orbost)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way Tostaree to Orbost

MacKillop-Woods Way Tostaree to Orbost

We Once again we are at the end of our pilgrimage for the time being – we arrived at Orbost at 6pm this evening after four days of walking having covered 103.5km.

So, backing up to yesterday, we had a very friendly and convivial dinner at Tostaree Cottages, served by our hosts Vicky and Greg Geddes in their communal dinning/lounge room along with a group of three retired couples making their leisurely way on their cycles along the trail from Orbost to Bairnsdale. This was the end of their first day on the trail. Unfortunately for them, they were caught in the start of the rain that afternoon, but like us they were now glad to have found a warm and dry shelter for the night. The experience of sharing our stories and meal and conversations together was very much like what I expect it would be like to stay in an auberge along with other pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. Vicky and Greg were excellent hosts, and the meal of roast meat and vegetables and pasta dishes and lasagna and salad, followed by fruit salad and ice cream. I had dropped off some beer and wine on the way through the other day, but Greg had a well stocked fridge and bar in any case. Conversation continued after the meal around the large fire place seated in comfortable couches. It was about ten o’clock by the time we said goodnight and crossed the short distance from the dinning shed to the cottage through a pitch dark and windy night to our beds.

That night the wind and rain continued, but by the time we got up in the morning, the sun was shining and the wind had stopped. Vicky had brought over a basket with bread and cereals and jam and vegemite and fruit and such, so we had a good breakfast. We said goodbye to our hosts at about 9am and headed back out onto the trail. It was a brilliant day and I began walking on my own at first, listening (as is my custom) to the Divine Office on my iphone. Then we walked together for most of the rest of the morning.

We were headed for Waygara, about half way along the trail to Orbost, where we had been invited to lunch with a local family on their farm. When we were planning this section of the pilgrimage, one problem was what to do for lunch each day. We solved that problem on the first three days by buying lunch at the previous town to take with us, but there are no shops in Tostaree to stock up our supplies. As it was, Vicky would have happily made us a cut lunch, but I didn’t know that when we were planning. I looked at the half way point and saw a number of dwellings at a place called Waygara and googled to see if I could find anything there. What turned up was a website for the Waygara Animal Farm, and on that page was a reference to a planned Rail Trail Coffee Stop. It was last updated in 2011, and I wondered if the plans had come to any fulfilment. I sent an email to the “contact us” address and received an email back from John, the owner of the farm, saying that no, the planned cafe didn’t come to fruition, but we would be welcome to come and join him and his family for lunch in any case. Just confirm this entirely unexpected offer of hospitality, Sean and I called in last Friday to check that this arrangement was still okay. Now, having confirmed that it was, we were walking up the track, past the old saw mill shed to their front door.

We were greeted by John’s son Tom and very soon the rest of the family came and welcomed us too. John and Ruth have eleven children. Their eldest son is serving on a mission boat and their eldest daughter has married and is living in Adelaide, but the rest of the family live on the farm, where the children are homeschooled and assist with the family business which is to provide mobile “petting farms” for schools, shows, fairs, parties and fetes etc. They brought out tables and chairs and we sat out on the lawn for lunch. As the tables were being Set for lunch, the younger children brought out baby rabbits, goats chickens and guinea pigs to introduce to us. Josh and Sean were highly amused – in their opinion I go to mush as soon as any small furry creature is offered to me for a cuddle. I acknowledged my weakness, but stressed that the furry creatures in question must have four legs at the most. By this stage, the table was groaning with food, and John asked God’s blessing on the meal. I responded by praying for him and his family and thanking God for their gift of hospitality. The great treat at the centre of the table was a full urn of Kombucha – a slightly effervescent drink made of fermented sugared tea, a bit like ginger beer. Very refreshing. After lunch, daughter Carrie and her younger sisters showed us around the farm and introduced us to the other animals – including alpacas, miniature ponies, the herd of adult goats.

In all we spent about two hours with this wonderful Christian family and their menagerie before heading off once again on the track. What with last night’s companiable dinner and today’s hospitable lunch, I feel that we have really had a true “camino” experience.

We still had quite a way to walk – it took another four hours to get to Orbost. Sean was going slower now – he had not been feeling well all day, and his muscles were giving him trouble. While we kept in touch by phone just to ensure that he was okay, Josh and I walked on together. We came to the end of the rail trail still almost 6km from Orbost. At this point, the old rail crossed the flood plains of the Snowy River on a low wooden trestle bridge – the longest of its kind in Victoria. Like all but one of the surviving trestle bridges on the trail, this one was impassible to any kind of traffic, and so the trail ended just before reaching it. (We need to appreciate how fragile these remnants of yesteryear are – we passed one gap on the trail that had been spanned by a trestle bridge until it burned down in the 2011 bushfires. Several of the old trestle bridges at Yarra Glen burned down in the 2009 fires. See them while you can!) The actual Orbost station platform still exists and can be seen from the path on the south side of the Snowy River – they never did get around to building a rail bridge over the Snowy. As it is on private land, the platform is inaccessible, and I was further offended by the fact that the owner of the land had chosen to use it as a dump for a huge pile of old tyres.

We crossed “The Mighty Snowy” (as Josh said, the adjective is obligatory, rather like “Marvellous Melbourne”), which after the recent rains was indeed flowing “mightily”, but I am led to understand that this is not always the case. Since the Snowy River Hydroelectric scheme was put in place and much of the Snowy was damned and harnessed for electricity, the flow has sometimes been so reduced that in summer the Snowy is more a series of puddles than a river.

By this stage we were really feeling the strain of the distance we had put in. Thankfully, it was a short walk across the football field and up Browning Street to come to St Colman’s Church right on the dot of the park 6pm. The church being closed, Josh and I stood outside the church and recited the Angelus. We then entered the Presbytery, drank a bottle of beer each and hit the showers (or, in my case, the bathtub).

Sean arrived about half an hour later, and after showering we headed up to the “Top Pub” for dinner. Sean and I had given the bottom pub a go last Friday night, and despite very friendly service and helpful conversation, the food (we both bangers and mash) had little to recommend it other than being not too expensive. At the top pub, we struck an imaginative “Mastralian” menu (ie. Maylasian/Australian), and once again very friendly services, but were once again disappointed with the result. Josh ordered a steak, which he said was fine, but Sean and I both had the mixed seafood which was almost inedible (I know it wasn’t, because Josh ended up eating both our pieces of fish). Maybe when we come back next year we will self cater.

I was too tired to write up the blog then, so left it till the next day. Talking with Josh tonight, he is of the opinion that the section from Bairnsdale to Orbost should be regarded as part of the “first leg” of the pilgrimage rather than the second. It is true that as things have turned out, it has been good to do the whole Fitzroy to Orbost walk in two stages. Just as St Mary’s Bairnsdale was a natural conclusion last Easter, so Orbost is a natural conclusion geographically. It is the last point along the journey eastwards in Victoria. From here on in, we head north until we cross the border between Bendoc and Delegate. Also, we have shown that it is possible to walk the whole way from Fitzroy to Orbost without assistance, whereas the next leg to Eden will require a backup driver. So at the moment, I am just calling it 2016 Part II.

If you want to see today’s pictures, here they are!

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016 II: Day Three (Nowa Nowa to Tostaree)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way Nowa Nowa to Tostaree

MacKillop-Woods Way Nowa Nowa to Tostaree

To the peripheries! That’s what Pope Francis keeps telling us. Well, far East Gippsland is a bit of a periphery. Then again, in Australia, it is the peripheries that have the greatest appeal, and I would certainly like to live out here if I could. We walked past one valley, where the green grass was tinged with gold in the sunlight, and a brilliant blue stripe of a creek running down the middle, and I thought I would be happy to call that valley my home. As remote as it is, East Gippsland is a beautiful place. Whether it is the forests or the farmland, it is all breathtakingly beautiful. We travelled through both today on the short walk between Nowa Nowa and Tostaree and right now we are sitting in the Stockmans Cottage at Tostaree Cottages overlooking rolling green hills with cattle in the paddocks, full dams and flowing creeks, and behind that the edge of the forest. The rain has just eased off, the sky is still overcast, the fire is going (drying my hand-washed clothes), and the resident kitten is sleeping in front of the fire (actually since I wrote that last phrase and made myself another cup of tea, the kitten has relocated to my lap and is patting at my keyboard).

I had a restless night. I woke up about 2:30am and spent the next hour or so trying to get back to sleep. I became engaged with the problem of the next leg of the journey from Orbost over the mountain. Josh is particularly concerned about this section – when we leave the periphery and head in-land into even greater remoteness (that’s the odd thing about our land – the edges are where we live, and the heartland is the most remote). On our current plans, the first three days will be at least 35kms each, although the fourth day, from Bendoc to Delegate, will be just 16kms. We won’t be carrying full packs (that’s what our driver will be for) but even so, 35km in a day climbing up hill will be hard. We can’t change our timing, because we have Easter on the one side and the need to go to Mass on the other. Yet as pointless as my worrying was, one small solution came to me: on the day that we travel to Orbost, we must do at least 10kms walking along the trail towards Goongerah – that way the next two days will be reduced to a more realistic 30kms a day.

I finally fell back to sleep and woke again with the sun streaming in through the window. No sign yet of the promised rain. We were ready to leave quite quickly. Sean had his muesli and a cup of plunger coffee for breakfast, but Josh and I were heading around to the Mingling Waters Cafe for a burger. As we went past the Caravan Park office and chook house, we thanked Neil for his hospitality. In the meantime, Sean had gone off with his camera to explore the rest of the park. He later reported on the vintage onsite caravans that are for overnight hire, and showed us his photos of the quirky interior decoration of these vans. I think it is the kind of place my daughter would like. Nowa Nowa Caravan Park is certainly a place for a unique and comfortable stay (the well stocked park kitchen actually has a pizza oven in it!).

At the Cafe, Josh had ordered the Brekky Burger and was looking at the vast collection of memorabilia on display. I put in an order for the same, and also added an order for takeaway ham salad sandwiches for our lunch. There was a big sign outside the Cafe proclaiming “The Big Root”, which sounded slightly off, but I noticed that inside they were selling fridge magnets for some squiggly wooden kind of arrangement which I took to be none other than this said “Root”. So where is it? I asked. Out in the pyramid, was the reply and we were directed to a side gallery and through the doors and, sure enough, inside a big wooden pyramid was a (only slightly less big) root. The story on the placard declared that the strange growth was the result of a tree which could not put down its tap root due to a layer of limestone, and instead the root grew sideways over hundred of years before a storm blew the unstable ancient tree over. The things you see on pilgrimage…

The Brekky Burger turned out to be a bit of a monster. Very nice (and the nicest hash browns that I have eaten in a long time) but something that Josh thought should feature on a US TV show called “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (of which I know nothing, but can imagine much). See the photos in the link below. Sean came in and ordered a cup of coffee and a muffin. While we were there, Helen, the other half of the ownership of the Nowa Nowa Caravan Park came in and introduced herself. Also, it started raining. Now we are in for it, I thought. Sean was still working on his muffin as Josh and I put on our wet weather gear and headed off.

Almost as a rule, when you put your WWG on, the rain will stop and sure enough that is what happened this time too. Before long the sun was shining brightly once again, and kept shining for the rest of the way to Tostaree. The problem with most WWG is that it makes walking a hot and sweaty business. It might keep the rain off, but you end up equally wet from perspiration. However, I did find that the gortex pants that I invested in before leaving home did not have this property, so perhaps I should think of spending a bit more money than usual and buy a matching gortex jacket before next Easter.

Whatever, we were blessed to walk the whole way to Tostaree in sunshine. Just as we were arriving, the wind was picking up, heralding a change in the weather was on its way. We had left Nowa Nowa at 9:15 and arrived at Tostaree Cottages in Johnson Road at 11:40, having covered a distance of almost 12kms. This was less than half of what we would normally walk in a day, and for Josh, who had walked solidly from Moe last Monday at about 25 to 35kms a day it seemed like a holiday. Vicky came up from one of the other Cottages (which she was preparing for a group of six cyclists who are coming in this afternoon and will be with us for dinner) to show us into the Stockmans Cottage, a very pleasant two room accomodation with kitchen/lounge room (with a double bunk and trundle bed) and a separate bedroom with Queen Bed and single. There is a bath and two showers and two toilets also, and a wood fire. Very comfortable.

Sean turned up about half an hour later, and we had our showers and lunches and before settling down to a quiet afternoon by the fire. The driving rain came through with the wind not long after we arrived and continued for about three hours (it has now abated a little). The kitten came in and spent most of the afternoon with us (it has now gone back outside). Josh is reading Bo Giertz’s “Hammer of God” (a classic novel of Scandinavian Lutheran spirituality recommended by me), and I am reading “Death comes to the Archbishop” a 1927 novel set in New Mexico (recommended by Josh). Sean is having a bit of a siesta.

So the day has turned out very well indeed. When we first looked at this leg of the pilgrimage, we wondered how it would be possible to walk from Nowa to Orbost (over 40kms) in one day. It would not be possible, of course, so we would have to find somewhere to stay. If we could stay at a place marked on the map called “Tostaree” we might be able to shave off 12kms and leave the last day at a manageable 28kms. But there is nothing at Tostaree, is there? There were some buildings visible on Google Maps – what could they be? A bit more googling showed that there WAS something at Tostaree and what was there was nothing other than a number of cabins for hire with home made meals laid on in a communal dining room! That in itself was a miracle, but that in the actual execution of the walk it should turn out that the two and a half hours we spent walking were in sunshine, and that the rain should only come once we were safe and sound by the fire with a beer in our hands seems quite amazing.

So we are very thankful pilgrims. Here at the periphery we are warm and comfortable. Tonight we will dine with our hosts and the other guests in true pilgrim auberge style.

For pictures from today’s walk, see here

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MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016 II: Day Two (Bruthen to Nowa Nowa)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way Bruthen to Nowa Nowa

MacKillop-Woods Way Bruthen to Nowa Nowa

Pilgrimage is about your body. Forget your soul. No, don’t – but you probably will. All those prayers and devotions that you thought you would be religiously observing? They go out the window when the feet begin to ache, and the shoulders bend, and the muscles seize up and the groin chafes…

We have arrived in Nowa Nowa, well over the half way mark on this, the first part of the second leg of our pilgrimage in honour of the twin founders of the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, St Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods. According to my Gaia app, we have walked about 64kms over the last two days. There is a bit over 40kms to go to Orbost, but we are breaking this up with a short day tomorrow. Aware that there will be increasing chance of rain during the day we intend to leave as early as we can to arrive at the Tostaree Cottages about noon.

Sean and I ate breakfast at the Bruthen Inn Hotel. They provide cereal and fruit and toast as part of the $40 per person tariff. Josh waited until we had all gathered down at the Blue Bee Cafe to order a full English Breakfast. His philosophy is that, when on pilgrimage, one should “breakfast like a king, lunch like a knave, dine like a pauper”. It probably makes good sense, but doesn’t quite work for me. For that matter, Josh seems to eat like a king whatever time of day it is… Sean, on the other hand, is happy with his bowl of muesli as long as he can still find a cafe in which to have “the best coffee in town”. I grabbed a couple of apples from the fruit bowl at the hotel and stuffed them in my pocketses for hobbit-second-breakfast on the trail. At the Blue Bee, Sean decided to get some of their homemade Spanokopita for lunch. We thought that was a good idea, but convinced him to save it for dinner tonight, and bought some for ourselves as well. For lunch then, we all bought sandwich rolls. I can highly recommend the Blue Bee to all who pass through Bruthen. Great service and very friendly and helpful. While we were drinking our coffees, one of the GECO crowd from Goongerah came into the cafe and, seeing us, said hullo. We feel like we are getting to know the locals. That is a great thing about this pilgrimage – we are not just passing through like tourists, but actually connecting with people along the way.

We popped into the General Store next door to the Cafe. Once again, a very well stocked establishment. I bought some mushrooms to go with the Spanikopita tonight – and a bottle of Wolf Blass Shiraz to wash it down. Yes, it added about a kilogram to the weight of my backpack, but I was certain that at the end of the day I would be thankful for the extra effort. This inspired a little poem from my companions on the way:

The Wine Bottle

Just look what David Schütz has done,
Penance, indulgence, all in one;
“In vino veritas,” they say:
And David proves it, every day.

Guilty as charged, your honour.

Next stop: Ye Olde Opp Shoppe, where I traded in my Salvos/Rivers runners (which really were not up to the job) for a “new” pair of runners for $2. I left the old shoes with the shop, and walked out happily in my new pilgrim footwear. Not quite the same thing as throwing your shoes into the ocean at Finisterre, but close.

We popped across to the local post office, where we had our pilgrim passes stamped. This is always a great opportunity to tell people what we are doing. The postmistress understood the Spanish Camino and so was very happy to oblige with a stamp. Bruthen PO has a wonderful stamp that is very characteristic of the town – much like the one we received at the Gembrook PO. It would be nice if more towns in Australia had generic stamps rather than the stock standard round one. We were also fascinated by the Post Office clock to which the postmistress’ husband had added a computer chip and some lights to make a very interesting effect counting the seconds…

Back on the East Gippsland Rail Trail at just after 10am, we passed through some amazingly green and lush farmland: all rolling hills and streams and valleys. Glorious. However, it was not long before we entered thick forest. The forest on the right hand side (the South) was the Colquhoun Regional Park, and the forest on the left hand side (the North) was State Forest, but both looked much the same except that occasionally there were signs of past logging in the State Forest. Josh was a bit spooked by the remoteness of it all. To me, it was heaven, as I had grown up with this kind of remoteness in the South Australian Mallee. The only difference is that the trees were a big bigger. At one point he and Sean wondered if we were in the right place. Let’s see, I said… forest on the north for miles, forest on the south for miles. Yes, that sounds right.

The scenery was, as a result, somewhat monotonous. However, I found that if I ignored the macro and paid attention to the micro, I could see a great variety. This was my opportunity to photograph the various wildflowers. I counted at least fourteen different varieties. Not all of them were common, and often they only appeared in one particular area, but the variety was quite stunning.

After stopping at one point to rest, Josh commented that we had spent enough time “meditating upon our latter end”. This inspired me to compose another little poem:

Amen, amen. We meditated on our latter end.
But should we not, to seek to please,
Have meditated upon our knees?

We more or less stuck together on today’s walk. Sean was feeling the strain a bit (he hasn’t been %100 for the last week or two). Josh was charging along like a well season pilgrim, which in fact he is. I wish that he could find some confidence in the strength of commitment he has shown thus far, because he is feeling a little daunted by our plans to go over the mountain through even more remote and hilly territory next easter.

The day was supposed to be about 27km, but both my navigation apps suggested that it was over 30km. We encountered just one other person on the trail all day A bit over 5kms from our destination we came to the most spectacular sight so far on our journey, an old railway trestle bridge built in 1916 for the logging industry – exactly 100 years ago. It was clearly in no condition to be crossed and I had no argument with the barriers at either end proclaiming any attempt to do so to be highly dangerous. But it was a wonder to behold. The highest struts on the bridge were pylons mates from single trees sourced from the area. According to the information signs, the dimensions are 247m long and 20m high, making it the largest standing bridge of its kind in the state. How it has survived for 100 years, I have no idea, given the bushfires that have routinely passed through the area in that time. But it is deteriorating. So if you want to see it before it collapses completely, make haste to East Gippsland now (there is road access, as well as picnic tables and toilets).

We finally made it into Nowa Nowa at about 5:45pm. By this stage the Mingling Waters Cafe was well and truly shut, but the General Store, run by Greg and Sandra, was still open. This is a very well stocked store, and you can buy almost anything you might need here. It is also the local Post Office, so Greg obliged by stamping out pilgrim passports (nothing fancy, just the standard round stamp). We also purchased supplies to add to dinner. Not cheap, but better than carrying them from Bruthen.

We then went around to the Nowa Nowa Caravan Park, where Neil and Helen had reserved for us “The Cabin”, wonderful modern accomodation with quaint additions such as an Edwardian couch and many tasteful art works. Outside, running past the front of the cabin, is a small trestle bridge. Josh has the Queen bedroom on his own (the benefits of the snorer), and Sean has a double bed in the same room as the bunk to which I have been relegated, as he is in a rather poorly condition.

Josh and I went around to the local hotel motel, where we were originally booked in to stay tonight. However, we had received a phone call about three months ago from the people who were running the hotel to say they were closing up and cancelling all future bookings – of which we were the only ones. Providentially, the Nowa Nowa Inn was reopened by the actual owners of the building on Saturday. They are seeking to get it back to a going concern again, but the publican, Steve, emphasised repeatedly to us the great amount of work that needs to be done. They are offering accomodation again, and have 10 motel style rooms out the back of the pub. Currently the pub doesn’t have much on tap (the cooler needs fixing), but we had a nice bottle of James Squire each as we talked to Steve and met his greyhound Charlie. Outside I also met Steve’s wife Caroline, who told me that one of their offspring was currently walking the Camino in Spain. That was a great opportunity – once again – to explain what we were up to, walking from St Mary’s birthplace to her shrine in Sydney.

Back at The Cabin, Josh and I chopped up the veggies – mushrooms, leek, tomato, capsicum and garlic – and cooked them all up together with a dash of virgin olive oil from the supplies in the cupboard and a pinch or two of paella seasoning a dash of Wolf Blass shiraz. We had cream of chicken cup-o-soup and then heated up the Spanikopita, and ate our ratatouille stew with it on the side. More Wolf Blass washed it all down. The whole meal was completed with an ice cream each.

Because of the rain predicted for the morning, we headed to bed as soon as we could. I have found a hot water bottle and think that I might use this as a heat pack on my sore muscles…

Click here to view my Google Photos album for today

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