I’m going to keep this brief, as it is already 10:30pm, and I have to be up early to catch the 8:09 at Berry Station back to Nowra in the morning. Fr Pat from Nowra has settled us into the old Josephite Convent at St Patrick’s in Berry (where St Mary visited a couple of times – but this isn’t the same building as was here when she came). Sean and Josh are having their showers, and I have made myself some toast and Vegemite and tea for supper.
This morning I finished off our clothes in the dryer in the Caravan Park laundry. Then Sean and Josh set off for the 5 Little Pigs cafe in Huskisson while I finished packing. My leg is again improved, so today, I was walking with just the Tubigrip and heel supports – I’ve ditched the knee braces. I caught up with them at the cafe, and had a 5LP breakfast, which was coffee, orange juice, boiled egg, toasted baguette, strawberry jam, and berries, nuts, muesli and yoghurt – an excellent meal.
The first part of the day, going through Woollamia was very pleasant. The road had less than moderate traffic, and there was a concrete bike path all the way to the Woollamia village. Beyond that the verge on the side of the road was usually wide, with a cut grass surface. We stopped to talk to people along the way, and to pat animals (missing the rats!). We stopped at a bus shelter at 11:00am to have our morning tea (well, no tea as such – although I did joke about starting a little fire and putting the billy on). While we were sitting there, we saw the spectacular sight of three very large kangaroos jumping out of the forest at full speed. They went along the road for a bit and then tried crossing the road, almost colliding with traffic. They looked entirely spooked and split up going in various directions, slipping over when trying to change direction. Eventually all three disappeared into the bush.
Perhaps these antics are what distracted us, because when we got up, we just kept following the Woollamia Road, instead of taking the right turn into Falls Road. This had serious consequences once we hit the Jervis Bay Road, which had very heavy traffic on it. We thought we could avoid this by taking a horse track on the northern side of the road, and that indeed worked for a while. But the track became smaller and smaller, and there were more and more of those big spiders across the track, and the trees got denser and denser until we were quite stuck in the bush. We pushed on through and emerged onto the (spooky music in the background) Princes Highway (aka the Pilgrim’s Curse). This too was bad. Not Milton-to-Conjola bad, as it was passable, but it was two lanes of very busy, very fast traffic in both directions. We were always going to have to walk along a section of it, because there was no other way to cross the Currambene Creek, but missing the Falls Creek road turnoff more than doubled the time we had to spend on it. This section is passable, there is a wide verge, but the verge is often up the embankment on the side and quite bushy. It was hard going. The bridge over the Creek at least has a walking path on the side. In all we estimate that our detour had added about 2kms and 40 minutes to our day.
Once we had crossed the bridge, we were immediately at the turn off into Comberton Grange Road, and peace descended as we once again left the Pilgrim’s Curse behind us. We sat on some rocks, and had our lunch. Today was “special fruit bread” from the Cafe this morning (baked in Berry), camembert cheese, an apple, and – at least for Josh and Sean – a packet of Alpaca Jerky. I tasted it and spat it out… (We hates it, hobbits!). Josh has always been joking about getting a couple of Alpacas to carry our luggage on the pilgrimage – Pablo e Pedro he calls them.
We headed down the road (past a sign advertising “grader and roller hire – call Dennis Schutz” and a goat farm) to Western Road, a gravel road that runs parallel to the Nowra State Forest. This was a very quite, pleasant, shady and cool stretch of road – the only disturbance was trail bike riders (and it WAS a disturbance). The norther half of this track, after crossing Forest Road, had a sign “road not maintained by council”, and this was very obvious. The surface was very eroded, rocky, full of deep puddles and ruts. It was good under foot, though, as it mean that there was a constantly changing surface. Odd as it might sound, this is actually better on the feet than a concrete or sealed path, which is unchanging and can lead to sore muscles. Nevertheless, it became so rough that we shifted over onto a parallel vehicle track for the last section. It also runs parallel to the Nowra Rifle Range, so there are big signs saying “keep out”. Along this stretch, to encourage ourselves on the last part of the journey into Nowra, Josh and I listened to Maddy Prior singing hymns (on my iPhone – I didn’t bring my Bluetooth speaker this time!).
When we emerged, we were at the start of a concrete bike path that led into South Nowra. Josh had said that the first place where we could buy a drink, we would be stopping. As it turned out, that was Hungry Jacks, and we decided, given that we would be going to mass later on, to have an early dinner here (it was only 3:30pm). Sean was horrified that we were going to eat here, but the salty, calorie-rich food was just what we needed. In fact, I think we are actually all suffering from a lack of salt in our diet on this trip. I rang ahead to Fr Pat at the Nowra Church office, and said that we would be there in about an hour. I then panicked a bit when I realised on the way that it was at least 5km still to go. So I rushed on ahead, only later realising that I had left the other two behind without any guidance of which way we were going. So I pulled back a bit, apologised and consulted. I still arrived at St Michael’s before the others, and found Fr Pat working in the office on liturgies for this weekend. He showed us where we could drop our packs till after Mass tonight, and explained that we would be leaving late as he would drive us and he could only leave after the final veneration of the blessed Sacrament and compline.
The walk had been about 29km in total, and we were all very sore. We had discussed various ways of handling tomorrow’s 31km hike, and Sean decided that he was just going to walk from Berry to Gerringong, cutting the day in half (it is a nice road through there too). I, however, am being a stickler for walking the whole way, and so, to lessen the distance tomorrow, I called a taxi to take me out to Bomaderry Station on the other side of the Shoalhaven River and to walk back to St Michael’s. Josh joined me for the company.
We took our time on the 3km journey back, both of us calling home to mother. My mum reported that today Dad was “asleep” all day and has been eating and drinking nothing. He is very clearly moving into the last stage of his life, and could pass away any time in the next week. My brothers will be coming up for Easter to stay with Mum. Mum has accepted that I will come home once I have finished this pilgrimage. I decided during Mass tonight that if Dad should die before I finish, I will apply the plenary indulgence for him. I have, in fact, dedicated this whole pilgrimage now to him.
I found myself quite teary tonight during mass at St Michael’s. Fr Pat held the service in the School Hall, as it is much larger than the Church. He had involved all the confirmation children in the mass, which was also a way of getting their parents and family to the service, and included some of them in the footwashing ceremony and the procession of the Lord’s Supper at the end of mass. I was amused, sitting there in my sandals and with my hiking stock, that in the Exodus reading, God instructed the Israelites to be ready with sandals on their feet and their staff in their hand. I had come dressed correctly. The deacon in his sermon also explained the purpose of footwashing “in the olden days before cars when people walked dusty, stoney roads”! Speaking of feet, my right foot has developed a small blister on the heel, just to add to my worries. So I will walk in my sandals instead of my shoes tomorrow.
Josh and I stayed to venerate the sacrament on the Altar of Repose and then to say Compline with the few who remained. Then, after closing the Church, Fr Pat drove us out to Berry. He has been priest in this parish for 27 years, and knows the area like the back of his hand. He gave us a little tour (in the dark) of Berry, pointing out the way that the other two will take in the morning, and showing us inside St Patrick’s Church. Then he opened up the Convent building – built in 1923, but the sisters left in 1979. Now it is used as a retreat centre.
I had better wind this up, and get to bed now. More in the morning.