I slept better last night. I woke at about 1:30am, but instead of fighting wakefulness and trying to get back to sleep, I decided to get up and sit in the camp kitchen (at the Lake Bolac Foreshore Caravan Park) with a cup of tea and write some of my journal. This was a good strategy, because by about 3am I was tired again and went back to sleep until the sun rose about 6am. There had been a heavy dew so the grass was wet around the tent – as was the tent itself. The easiest solution was to take all my gear into the camp kitchen and do my breakfasting and packing there. Once the sun was properly up and shining real heat upon the cold earth, I took down the tent and hung it up to dry. The tent was still damp when I was ready to go, so I decided to roll it up anyway and dry it out later when I stopped for a break.
I left at 8:30am and went first to St Bernard’s, where I asked God’s blessings on my journey for the day. I was rather anxious as I had 28km to cover — the longest I had ever attempted with a full pack. The day started cool and cloudy, but became sunny and warm around 10:30am. Thankfully the cool breeze remained. Rather than head back through the town, I set out on a delightful gravel back road West from
the church. It was only three kilometres until it rejoined the Glenelg Highway but it was delightful while it lasted. This is what a pilgrimage should be like!
Back on the highway again, I passed a sign saying that it was 75 km to Hamilton, and felt glad that I would pass the halfway mark today (at the 65km mark). Just over 12km from Lake Bolac is the small village of Wickliffe. It has some very historical buildings and locations. It once had a pub too, but unfortunately it is now closed. The former Uniting Church/Presbyterian Church is worth a look and I would have climbed the hill for a closer examination, but my feet were giving indications that they needed attention. When I took off my boots, there was a small blister on my right heel and signs of one forming on my left heel. So I took a break in the BBQ area, unpacking the tent to dry out, having a bite to eat and getting the medical kit out to deal with the situation. I decided to change to wearing my sandals so that the blisters would not be further irritated.
Just as I had everything unpacked, the V-Line coach pulled up. Had I not been in such a state of disarray, the temptation to get on board at that point would have been very strong (I blame Belloc). As it was I knew my fate. I had to keep going on foot. Nevertheless, an unexpected blessing awaited me. I was concerned that with my change of footwear I would be forced to walk on the verge of the highway for the rest of the day. But just out of Wickliffe, I discovered a new kind of firebreak. Previously these had been made with ploughs, which meant the grass was not a problem, but the surface was uneven. Here – and for continuous kilometres ahead – the firebreaks were made with a small grading implement or bulldozer, creating a smooth path about 2.5 metres wide. It was as if the town planners had said to themselves: David is going to want to walk here in sandals: let’s make a path for him. The difference this made to my journey for the rest of the day cannot be overstated. It enabled me to walk a good distance away from the edge of the highway with all its traffic, and also not to have to be too concerned with what I might step on. Of course, I always had to look out for snakes, but that was much easier with this “path”.
The pilgrim path (aka the firebreak) took me past the 65km halfway point at 12:40. A little further on I came to a wild apple tree (just as Reg had told me about last night) bursting with fruit. It was a little tart for my taste, but they were juicy and refreshing. I ate one and took three others with me in my pockets.
It was about this point that I had my first view of the Grampians mountains on the horizon. They looked unimaginably high, and the mountain goat in me wished I could go climbing and exploring. But, as St Mary said, we are not tourists here (or at least she said something like that…). Still I was entering the Southern Grampians Shire, and at last there was something to look at! (This leg is certainly earning its moniker as the “Meseta” of the MacKillop-Woods Way!) on the other side of the track there were electricity generating windmills. I think these machines are among the more beautiful and majestic of our technological achievements (like steam trains), although I know not everyone shares that opinion. My first up close encounter with one of these machines was on the inaugural Aussie Camino in 2014. So many years and so many pilgrimage kilometres ago!
Earlier in the morning I had rung the office of the St Mary MacKillop “Border” Parish in Hamilton. This super-parish runs all the way from the Victorian-South Australian border to Glenthompson. I wanted to ask if it would be okay for me to camp in the grounds of St Thomas’ Church and if the toilets could be made available for me. When I called back at about 2pm, the secretary confirmed that a local would arrange that for me and that I was welcome to camp there. The water in the toilets, she added, was drinkable. This gave me a base for the night (I never met the parishioner who did me this kindness.)
I was greatly relieved then to arrive at Glenthompson around 3:30pm after just over 30km walking. I dropped my backpack off my shoulders at the entrance to the local roadhouse cum post office, and straight away bought two cold bottles of Powerade (there being no beer for sale in town). I just about swallowed the first bottle in one gulp. The proprietor was an amiable and chatty fellow, happy to stamp my passport and full of local information. I told him about the pilgrimage and said I’d be back later for dinner.
Heading across the road, I was intrigued by a sign advertising a cafe/catering establishment called ”The Naughtie Corner”. The word “beer” was included on the sign and, ever hopeful, I poked my nose in the door to see what the story was. A man and woman were seated at a bench in a large room that looked like a mixture between a bar, a mechanic’s workshop and my father’s welding smithy. Glen and Billy introduced themselves, and invited me to sit down with them. Billy had just gotten what looked to be a fry-up dinner for them both, and offered me a cup of coffee. The story was that they had intended the shop to be a catering centre, but a fire put paid to those plans. Glen now seemed to pursue a welding and metal jewellery making hobby. There were some terrific iron work fireplace grates (“Why don’t you take one with you?!”), and bangles made from forks. We chatted away for about half an hour – Glen offered me his left over grilled Jerusalem artichokes, which were delicious. So, no beer, but a good conversation and refreshments. Glen also reminded me that the local Anglican Church had some significant mural art on the walls and that it was always open for visitors. So as I made my way down toward the Catholic Church just south of the railway line, I popped into the Anglican Church. It was a beautiful place and I returned there for evening prayer later.
Down at St Thomas’s, I scouted around for the best place to put my tent. There were ants around the toilets (probably for the water there) so I set up my tent on the southern side of the church. I decided to leave my backpack and most of my gear in the shelter of the toilet rather than packing it into my little tent with me as usual. After washing down with cold water and a face washer, I headed back up toward the Roadhouse for dinner. I took the long way around, doing a Cook’s tour of the town. Here again was a story I had seen before: post office closed, hotel (the grand “Mac’s”) closed. At the Roadhouse, mine host told me all the stories of woe to do with failed attempts to keep the local pubs open along this old Cobb & Co route. Only the Lake Bolac and Dunkeld pubs were still going (“If you can call the Dunkeld hotel a pub…”).
I was invited to sit at a table around the back for those dining in, where I could recharge my phone and power pack. I ordered a hamburger with the lot. Rather than get on with writing up my journal, I was occupied with marking a final assignment for my ACU class. A student had been given an extension until Good Friday, but by the time I left home on Easter Sunday, no submission had been made. I was a bit annoyed this morning to find that he had finally submitted his assignment on Monday, within 20 minutes of his three day grace period! Marking on my mobile phone wasn’t fun…
Just as I was finishing my meal and had ordered a coffee, the Roadhouse manager told me they had showers out the back which I was welcome to use. So while it was a bit of a walk back to the church to grab my soap and towel, it was very much worth it for the sheer bliss of hot water and feeling clean. I was exhausted though when I got back to my camp and crawled into my sleeping bag. The feeling was very different from when I first began using the tent a few weeks ago on the Great Victorian Rail Trail. By now it feels cosy and comfortable, and before long, I was asleep.