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.