There are days on pilgrimage when everything is easy. Mostly these are days when you are walking on one of Victoria’s many wonderful rail-trails. It is smooth, quiet, level, picturesque, etc etc. No problems. There are other days when everything is a challenge. These are days when you are walking through a landscape in which no-one ever thought or imagined that anyone would b stupid enough to try to walk from A to B rather than drive. After all, all sane people drive, don’t they? Why on earth would you ever walk anywhere?
The hike from Caroline Springs to Bacchus Marsh is one of the latter, rather than one of the former. Back during the Year of Mercy, the Ta Pinu Shrine at Bacchus Marsh was one of the five “Holy Doors” established for the plenary indulgence. Back then, I was very much tempted to do a walking pilgrimage from Melbourne to the Shrine. Well, today I did it. And I don’t think it likely that I will ever attempt it again unless a lot changes in terms of the route to get there.
There have been some stretches of the MacKillop-Woods Way that have provided real challenges. The bushy end of Victoria, for one (from Orbost to Eden). The walk from Bodalla to Moruya which involved walking all the way along the Princes Highway. The little stretch from Milton to Conjola (on which you could easily get yourself killed). Or the climb from Stanwell Park to Otford (ditto). None of these sections of the MWW lend themselves to walking. It is as if the people who designed the roads intentionally designed them to *prevent* walkers.
Today was, perhaps, never quite as bad as any of those. But it was close.
The great blessing was that Maria, who works in Bacchus Marsh, offered to take our backpacks around to the Presbytery at St Bernard’s where we are staying tonight. That meant we could walk with daypacks only. Yay!!!
Then we were sent on our way this morning with the breakfast to end all breakfasts: cereals, fruit, toast, scrambled eggs, Angus Beef sausages, and bacon all served up by Mary at her place. At the end of the meal I was convinced that I would not need lunch for the day. Or for perhaps two days! Victor and Mary took us to view the St Catherine of Siena Church and then ran us back around to the Christ the Priest Primary School where we recommenced our pilgrimage. Mary was a bit surprised to see us walking straight back past her house not 15 minutes later – but that was the shortest route out to the countryside, which was just around the corner from the Borg’s home.
In order to avoid the traffic, we took Clarkes Road and Monaghans Lane over Kororoit Creek (a couple of planks made up the ford) north to Taylors Lane. Along this route, to the East and on our right, was the City. On the other side, open fields. It was a stark contrast. But what we could already see in the distance became apparent once we hit Taylors Road: the City is expanding. Everywhere that we looked, they were ploughing up the paddocks and planting houses. The expansion is dramatic. We were surrounded with road works and building works and real estate sales centres. Dust and noise and a lot of passing cars, trucks, and construction vehicles on the insufficient single lane road that is the only alternative route on the north side of the freeway.
We walked over 3km along Taylors Road to Plumpton Road. Originally we had planned to walk up Plumpton Road until we got to the start of Beatty Road and then head back (south west) down to the ford over Kororoit Creek. But coming along Taylors Road in this direction, I spied a “short cut”. It involved continuing straight on west along Taylors Road at the Plumpton Road corner, past the gate that currently brings Taylors Road to a dead end, and into the open land along Kororoit Creek. Even here, there were fences and stakes all around where housing lots appear destined to arise, but for the moment it is currently possible (with a little bit of bashing through uncharted areas) to get through to Beattys Road at the ford over the Creek. Being a warm day, I was constantly on the lookout for snakes as we were walking through this grass land. I was fairly confident that we could get through this way, because I was following a vehicle track in the grass – and there was no sign that the vehicle had returned by the same route. Sure enough, we joined Beattys Road about 800m or so further on – and saved ourselves at least that much from walking the long way around. Because of the development, I don’t know if this route will be open to future pilgrims or not.
We then headed over the ford and west along Beattys Road for the next 5km. It is currently closed to traffic in the section from Kororoit Creek to Leakes Road, but that made for pleasant(ish) walking. The day was fast warming up (it was about 26 degrees by now) and a wind was blowing across the open plains in our faces which was drying my lips. The countryside might have been beautiful, but like many closed roads, people had found a way in and had used it as a rubbish dump. Sean called the collection of old car bodies down at the ford “a car graveyard”, but I rather think it was a car murder site. Piles of rubbish were everywhere, and Josh shielded his mouth and nose as we passed on pile of dumped demolition material that looked likely to have a good asbestos content. Once we got passed Leakes Road, however, we were on a wide sealed road with a good verge all around and hardly any traffic. I had reconnoitred this section last Sunday driving on the way home from Ballarat, and had discovered that it was possible to access the MacDonalds Roadhouse on the freeway through a back paddock at the end of Beattys Road, so we diverted into this establishment. Josh was hungry and ordered a steak sandwich, but Sean and I were just happy for a cold drink, somewhere cool to sit down, and the chance to wash our hands and faces.
The next challenge, from the end of Beattys Road, was to make our way along a section of the freeway. This is not as crazy as it sounds, as the freeway verge is at least 40 metres or more wide, but it was the only way to get through to the old, closed off section of High Street that would lead us directly into Melton. The distance we needed to cover was no more than 600m, but I was nervous of being caught by a passing traffic cop. There were, however, no signs whatsoever prohibiting walkers from passing this way – I guess because it would never have occurred to anyone that walkers would ever wish to do so. Because of the wide verge, it was completely safe in any case. Completely? Well, no, because we were walking through longish grass and so, inevitably, I met a snake. And it was a beauty – long, fat and grey in colour. Our encounter was sudden and lasted no more than a second. Thankfully it had the same idea about me as I had about it: to get out of each other’s way as quickly as possible. I was walking in front of the others, so I was able to warn them, and we skirted around the area of the sighting. Despite being rattled by the experience, I felt a little calmer afterwards. The character Baldrick, in the last season of Blackadder, once carved his name on a bullet so that the “bullet with his name on it” would be in his pocket and not in the gun of the enemy. By the same theory, I had expected to see at least one snake on this journey (I have only twice before crossed paths with a snake while I have been on pilgrimage), and so now, having seen that one snake, I figured the chances of seeing another were slim.
We got to closed off end of High Street where there is currently a roadworks stone heap in a high fenced off area. You can’t get over this fence coming from our direction, so we skirted around it (at the corner it is only about 10 metres from the freeway) to the other side where we climbed over the old barbed wire fence onto the old High Street road. I am confident that this road will one day be reopened to traffic and connected back onto Beattys Road to provide another route onto Taylors Lane, but for the moment, it was a quiet entry into Melton (still littered with rubbish). But once we reached the roundabout where traffic entered onto the freeway, were were back in the noisy industrial end of Melton. We were intending to visit the Church, which is one block back off this road on the north side of the street where the road bends west into the long shopping strip that is the city of Melton, but on the other side of the road was the Golden Fleece Hotel. Three beers vanished into three thirsty tired and hot pilgrims very quickly, and then, because it was now 2:30pm and the kitchen was closed, we went across the road to a Vietnamese cafe and had a bowl of chicken and noodle Pho each.
I used the opportunity to make contact with Fr Patrick Bradford, who was to host us tonight at Bacchus Marsh. He was heading into the city for a meeting, but had given instructions to a parishioner, Ron, to pick us up from the Ta Pinu Shrine, 5km outside of Bacchus Marsh where we planned to end our journey for today. He told me he would send Ron’s number through so that we could get in touch. It was 3:30pm by the time we got going again, and so we scrapped the idea of calling into the Church for a stamp in our passports – we made do with the Melton Post Office instead, where the attendant immediately grasped the idea of what we were doing and very efficiently, within a matter of seconds, had stamped our cards. Then it was a slog through Melton on the concrete footpaths through the sun with little shade. From the beginning of the shopping strip to the last house of Melton is just over 4kms; another 2kms brings you to the brink of the valley in which Bacchus Marsh is nestled.
From this point there is a good view of the valley and of the hill on which the Shrine to Our Lady Ta Pinu is constructed. At this point, I checked my phone and found a message from Ron. There had clearly been a miscommunication and he had already driven out to the Shrine expecting to pick us up at 4pm. It was now 5pm and we were still 3.5kms away. So we made a couple of decisions. We decided we would walk all the way to Bacchus Marsh today, rather than try to return to the Shrine in the morning as originally planned. We also decided that, given tomorrow was destined to be another very warm day, we would skip 9:30am mass and get going by 8:30am. So I rang Ron and he arranged instead to meet us at the presbytery to let us in when we arrived.
Now we faced our last challenge for the day: getting down the hill into the Valley. We started by walking along the verge of the Western Highway. This was not as foolhardy as it might have sounded, because the verge is reasonably wide and the traffic (thanks to the new Freeway route) is not as heavy as it otherwise would have been. However, when we came around the corner of the first bend, we discovered two things. First, we could have gotten through by walking on a track up along the fence line rather than down on the road, and second, there is an old stone bridge that offers a picturesque alternative route for a couple of hundred metres. It brings you back onto the highway again, but even here it is possible to walk on the grass on the side of the highway along the fence line rather than on the highway itself. Of course, snakes are still a possibility, so at one point, where the grass got too long to see what was in it, we did go back up onto the highway. Any future walker will need to assess the competing dangers and make their own decision! The highway rises back up a bit out of the valley of the old bridge, and there are some terrific views along the way. At the top of the hill is the intersection between the highway, Long Forest Road and Hopetoun Park Road. We skirted along the verge as far as we could but eventually had to get back on the road for the final descent into the Valley. Not very nice, but passable.
Then we passed over onto the South side of the road, where there is a piece of old highway to walk on. We did not know it then, but there is no really safe way to cross from the North to the South side of the Freeway. It might at this point have been possible to take a track down under the Freeway bridge over Pyrites Creek to the other side, but we only noticed this in hind sight. However, even if we were not wanting to climb the hill to the Shrine (and we were not) we wanted to head over to see the old Hopetoun Cemetery. It is our usual practice, while on pilgrimage, to stop at any Cemetery and pray for the souls of the departed. This is in fact an old Catholic cemetery, originally opened by Archbishop Goold and well worth a visit.
Of course, you can only really do this by car, and even then it is fairly inaccessible. I must confess that I find it quite bizarre that the Moorabool Shire Council has not seen fit to create any kind of access for walkers from Bacchus Marsh over the freeway to this cemetery and to the Shrine. We found that he had to cross two bridges that had no space at all for walkers and hardly any kind of sufficient safety rail on the side either before we managed to get to the other side.
At this point the Avenue of Honour that leads into Bacchus Marsh begins. There is a jogging/walking circuit trail that goes along the Avenue for a little while and back around the Lederderg River, but does not go all the way into town. Again, why? Why could there not be a walking track connecting the two? There isn’t even a footpath. But the Avenue was very beautiful in the setting sun and we didn’t grizzle too much. We were beginning to get very tired. Josh was being tempted by all the signs offering the sale of apples along the way, but as it was now about 6:30pm, they were all closed. I was actually starting to become a little wobbly on my feet, so it was with great relief that we finally arrived at the St Bernard’s church and presbytery just on sunset at 6:45. We had walked 35.2km.
Ron came around and let us in. We could have had a good chat, but what we really wanted was a cup of tea and a bath. As we were sorting both these out, Fr Patrick arrived back from his meeting in town. The table in the dining room was set for dinner for three, with a note left for us regarding dinner in the fridge that needed reheating, so I had thought that maybe we would not see him tonight, but thankfully he had returned in time and was able to spend the rest of the evening with us. He had cooked the meal that had been prepared for us, a chicken and pumpkin dish with salad and red wine, followed by ice cream and blueberry pies for desert. It was an evening of great conviviality. At about 10:30, we retired to bed. I tried to write up a bit of this account but was too tired to get much done, and decided I would get up early and finish it in the morning. (Which I have now done!).
Distance travelled today: 35.2km