I’m back home now, but now have yet to complete this journal. So, from the comfort of my armchair, I’m looking back to the last days of the pilgrimage.
We had arranged to catch the 10:21 coach service back to Linton, so we had a few hours to pack up and get ready. Although I was up at 6am, it actually took me all that time to finish writing up the journal, pack up, do a bit of cleaning, have breakfast, sort lunch etc. Sean was ready at least an hour before me, and so he set off and left me in peace to finish doing a bit of marking. Unfortunately the internet connection was not working properly, and so I could not finish the final essay, which was a bit annoying.
It was just on 9:50am when I left Woolmunda Park and headed into Smythesdale. It was very cold and begun drizzling as I was entering into town. The walk from the Cottages to the bus stop took me just over 20 minutes. The bus trip back to Linton was only 15 minutes. It was still drizzling and very cold (but only a light breeze) as we got off the bus and headed up to the Church at the top of Clyde Street. We said prayers kneeling on the stairs of the Church, and then headed off down the Linton-Mortchup Road towards the trail. We passed a little place that was clearly a B&B at 57 Clyde Street called “Linton Retreat”. I knocked on the door to enquire about it, but no-one was at home. An option perhaps for a future pilgrimage?
The road meets the trail about 600 metres from the Church, where it goes under a railway bridge. Coming around this direction, you need to clamber up onto the trail from the road level, but to walk around to the start of the trail on the north side of town would add at least a kilometre over all to the day’s walking. Once on the trail things are very simple of course. You just stay on it until you get to Skipton!
Of course, I have to say a bit more of the day’s journey than that, so here’s a brief description. The first distance marker you come to says “Skipton 19km; Pittong 7.5km” (Pittong, as we found out later, is just a locality where there was once a station on the railway). The trail goes through forest on both sides for the first couple of kilometres, after which there are farms on the south side and forest on the north side. After 4km on the trail, you come to Jacks Road. Here there is a sign pointing south saying that there is a lookout 2.2km away. Looking on the map, this lookout is on the top of Flagstaff Hill/Mount Bute south of the Glenelg Highway. We didn’t want to add 4.4km to our trip, and had no idea what there was to be seen from such a lookout, so of course we kept going. After another couple of kilometres, the countryside opens up on both sides of the trail.
Just before we came into this area, we could see through the trees on the south side of the road that there was indeed a “view”. In fact, it became apparent that we were walking on the top of a high ridge, about 400m or more above a plain that runs down toward Cressy in the south down to 200/150m below. As we came out of the forest, the trail snaked around on the north side of the ridge. The peak of the ridge was on private ground in a broad open paddock which (by the visible evidence) was a sheep paddock but did not appear to have any stock in it currently. I’m always attracted by high points on the landscape, and as Sean continued on the trail, I climbed over the fence and up the hill “to see what I could see”. And at the top, I was rewarded with 360 degree views of the countryside all around. It was simply stunning. The wind was blowing fairly cold at the top, and there was a slight drizzly shower, but I felt I was on the top of the world. Coincidentally, I was listening to Kate Bush’s song Cloudbursting at that very moment with the lyrics “On top of the world / Looking over the edge” – and I really felt that I was! The playlist ended at that point, and I shifted instead to a playlist of film music which included Michael Nyman’s soundtrack of The Piano, and that complimented the atmosphere entirely. I now felt as if I was a character in a version of Wuthering Heights wandering the moors on the edge of sanity… Sorry, I’m getting a little dramatic here, but it was just thrilling to be in that environment.
At the top of the ridge, there was an old mine with mining equipment and ruins still very visible. Down below to the south, at Pittong, was the very real and very current Imerys Mineral Mine. According to this site, the main mineral mined at Pittong is Kaolin, https://bih.federation.edu.au/index.php/Imery%27s_Minerals a kind of clay with a wide range of uses.
I came back down the hill and back onto the trail, just in front of Sean. As we came around the corner, we found ourselves in Pittong itself. The trail does a bit of a detour off the old railway line, as the old Pittong Siding appears to be on the property of the mine. But around the back on the south side of this detour is the Pittong Station Sleepover, a shelter with toilets, showers, kitchen, bbq and sleeping accommodation for bike riders and walkers on the trail. It looked very disused and was, of course, locked. If you wanted to use it you had to prearrange for the key. There were some major design flaws. For instance, parts appeared to have been built out of asbestos (warning signs abounded). And it was right next to the entrance of the mine, which meant that everything was covered in dust. And it was only a couple of hours walk out of Skipton (so why would anyone stay there rather than in town?). In any case, Sean and I pulled the plastic cover off the outdoor table and had our lunch there. We had packed quite a feast: every bit of food that was left over from our big shop at the IGA on Monday, plus a couple of hard boiled eggs each from the eggs that Cheryl gave us at Woolmunda a few days earlier. I even had a cup of wine in one of my drink bottles from what was left of our dinner the night before.
Then it was off on the trail again, now into open paddocks on a slight decline towards Skipton. This section is not in the best repair, and is clearly the least popular section of the whole trail. There are gates across the trail in places, indicating that the local stock owners run their animals on it from time to time. The trail passes by wind farm windmills to the north. On the northern horizon is Mount Emu, a volcanic crater, and, much further to the north, the 1000m high silhouette of Mount Langi Ghiran near Ararat can be seen. Joshua had commented numerous times on how green the countryside was, and this was certainly the case here. There was great contrast with the golden yellow flowers of dandelions and wattles, and the white newly shorn sheep in the paddocks.
There is about 11km between Pittong and Skipton, so to pass the time, I asked Sean about his planned route for the rest of the pilgrimage between Skipton and Portland. He had mapped out this area years ago on his bicycle tour from Penola to Melbourne and with his paper maps. His route zig-zagged along country roads via Derinallum, Camperdown and Terang down to Warrnambool to take in a rail trail and many other sights, including a whiskey distillery! All wonderful if you are on a bike or in a car and slight detour doesn’t matter much, but the result was to add two days and about 70 kms to the overall trip. I reminded him that St Mary did *not* say “We are but tourists here”…
The trail passed through pine glades and gum glades (I gather you can have a “gum glade”?) and alongside dams and creeks before leading out into the open countryside about 3km from Skipton. Here I was surprised to find an old mile stone with “110” marked on it. A bit of calculation put that at 177km – a little under the 189km that I had figured our entire walk would take on this leg. Clearly this was a marker for the railways, giving the distance from Melbourne. In the distance, Skipton was clearly visible. This was not the ultimate destination of our pilgrimage, but nevertheless we did fall on our knees (mainly to get a good selfie shot with the town in the distance and the milestone in the foreground). Approaching the town, we had a choice of taking the direct route in, or continuing to follow the trail to “end of the line”. This happens just outside the local silo – the railway never extended beyond Skipton. We took this route. There are signs of the old railways: a circular pit which used to house the turntable for the engines is still quite recognisable, and the wooden buffers that marked the end of the rail. The final distance marker on the trail reads “Welcome to Skipton” on one side and “Ballarat 55km/Pittong 11.5km” on the other.
Some what precipitously, I announced on Twitter that we had completed the 5th Leg of the MacKillop-Woods Way – then Sean reminded me that in fact our real endpoint should be at the local Catholic Church, St John’s. So we headed along down Anderson Street to the corner of Wright Street where the church (built in a vaguely Spanish style) is located. From this direction we were approaching from the back of the church, and we could see a car parked outside the open vestry door and hear voices coming from inside.
We entered the doorway and found four people hard at work tearing up the old carpet of the church and loading it onto a ute at the front door: John and Cath Cavanagh, a bloke called Sam and a younger lad named Patrick. We introduced ourselves and told them what we were up too. They warmly welcomed us and told us about the church and parish and township. All agreed that Cath was the one who “ran the church” at Skipton. She was doing a good job of organising the blokes at their work! In the absence of a church stamp, they all signed our pilgrim passports – using the altar as a table (which seemed to me not inappropriate). The Blessed Sacrament was reserved there, so I was able to say the final prayers of this leg of our pilgrimage to Our Lord present there, thanking him for a safe arrival and praying again for our intentions along the way: for my daughter Mad, for Sean’s mum Pam, for young baby Joseph needing an operation, for the repose of my father’s soul, and for the future of the Archdiocese in Melbourne.
I made a joke, saying that we should take a piece of the old carpet with us as a souvenir of our visit to the church and, like the scallop shells gathered on the Spanish shore, proof of the completion of our pilgrimage. Young Patrick instantly responded with tearing off a couple of small pieces from a piece he had in his hand and giving them to us. John joked that he might just keep the ute load of old carpet and cut it up to supply relics to future pilgrims! These were good people and very welcoming – my only regret is that I didn’t get John and Cath’s number from them to contact them for our return in October 2020. However, they are well known to Fr Justin, so I will get their details from him.
After saying farewell to the Skipton parishioners, and getting to the Post Office just before closing time to get a stamp in our passports, Sean and I had a bit of time to look around at the other sights of the town. There was a bust commemorating Sir Henry Bolte, the longest serving Premier of Victoria, who spent 26 years of his youth living in this town. There was the old pub – built in 1856 – sadly closed due to flood damage but currently under repair by a Melbourne buyer who plans to turn the old Cobb and Co stables at the back and the empty shopfront next door into a craft brewery. I hope his plans are a success because restoring that landmark pub is a very worthwhile endeavour.
We then headed up the hill to the Roadhouse where we were to catch the bus back to Ballarat. Just beyond the Roadhouse is the old Presbyterian Church, a large stone building built in 1871 and sporting a very unusual feature: kangaroo gargoyles! At the Roadhouse, while having a cup of coffee and waiting for the bus to arrive, I announced that I was going to revise the route that Sean had proposed. I got out my ipad with the Gaia GPS app on it and began exploring a more direct route with the help of the electronic gadgetry. Gaia has a wonderful feature which is called “snap to trail”. You specify a starting point and an end point and what kind of transport you are taking (walking, in this case), and the machine automatically finds the easiest route for you. Doing this a few times (and with a bit of fiddling) quickly established a more direct route towards Koroit via Streatham and Lake Bolac. It is definitely a less “interesting” route, but it cut off that additional fat of two days and 70km to make a route that we could manage in a fortnight in the next leg, leaving a final leg of a similar fortnight to go to Penola. We will be very reliant on locals for this section of our journey for hospitality and assistance, as it will be what Josh has called the “Meseta” of the MacKillop-Woods Way (referring to the long and sometimes monotonous section of the Camino between Burgos to Leon which pilgrims often skip, taking the bus instead). The landscape from Skipton to Koroit is a wide open plain of farmland with no major towns and sometimes no towns at all where we will need to stop for the night. Luckily there are a couple of well placed B&Bs that we can use if no other opportunity presents itself.
We continued to discuss the route on the bus that took us back to Ballarat and as we were walking in the light drizzling rain from the station to St Alipius’. It was so cold and we were so tired that I happily accepted Sean’s suggestion of stopping at the Munster Hotel for a glass of the Cubby Haus Witch’s Brew. Somewhat warmed up and now with no rain, we walked the rest of the way to the Presbytery, and arrived just as Fr Justin was pulling up. He had been shopping for our dinner that evening, which he prepared as we had our showers and got settled back into our rooms. It was quite late when we started dinner – after 8pm – and the meal lasted until the other side of 10pm, as we thoroughly enjoyed Justin’s company and his cooking. Several bottles of Peter Lehman wines met their destiny on the table, and, possibly as a result, I slept very well that night! Not, however, before finishing marking the final essay. That may also may have been the reason for a good night’s rest. Essays, done. Pilgrimage, done (for now). Time to head home.
The final day’s journey was 20.5km and took us 5 hours and 40 minutes to complete.
Here is a map:
There is not much to say about the next day. We attended mass at St Alipius at 9:30am and caught the 1:18pm train back to Melbourne after breakfast in L’Espresso. It was amazing how quickly the train covered the distance that had taken us five days to walk. Sean and I sat separately on the train, as it was already quite full and there were no double seats vacant. His neighbour was a lady from Fitzroy who was happy to talk about public transport all the way home. I enjoyed just taking in the sights and viewing, from the train, the same territory we had viewed from the path. We arrived at Southern Cross station and transferred to the Belgrave line around the City Loop, where we parted at Parliament station. On the way home on the train, I dealt with some double marking for my marking buddy and uploaded all the grades online before tonight’s deadline. And then I was home. Cathy and Mia had to head out almost immediately after they welcomed me to go to a dentist’s appointment (Mia is having her wisdom teeth out), and instantly I was back into daily life again.
This is always a difficult transition to make – coming home from the great adventure back into the roller coaster of life. In truth, the pilgrimage does not end. Not only because we keep returning to the trail and finding new destinations, but because, to use a cliche, life is a pilgrimage. Every day is a pilgrimage. You get up in the morning and you have one job: to make it to Your appointed goal at the end of the day. Just one goal is enough, and you just need to have moved forward enough to reach it by bedtime. Then you can sleep until the next day begins. It is a cliche, I know, but it is a lesson that is hard to learn. The next few days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – had so many demands on me in so many directions, that I had to consciously focus on the goals to get through each day. The same today as I returned to work at the Archdiocese to pick up where I left off three weeks ago and face all the new possible futures that are ahead of us in the Mission agencies.
As in the Leunig cartoon, I sat down and had a little rest every now and then, but I just keep on going. We all do. That is, after all, “how you get there.”