Distance: 16.58km Total: 221.15km
I woke just a bit before dawn and went outside to see pink skies. Red in the morning… and all that. I had slept fairly well, but Seán said he hadn’t got any sleep at all because his air mattress was too thin.
We all got going quite quickly, so that after a quick breakfast and a cup of tea Paul was driving us back to the point 15kms from the Towamba turn-off the other side of Burragate. Seán was feeling a little seedy – he blamed it on mixing beer with wine last night, and so was moving fairly slowly. I was keen to move as fast as possible to avoid the rain. A few spots began to fall just as Paul dropped us off, and so to save bother I pulled on my wet weather gear trousers and poncho, and put my iphone inside its waterproof protective cover (a snap-lock plastic bag!). As usual, this worked like a charm to ward of the rain. Interestingly, as we walked back to Towamba, we noticed puddles in the potholes on the road, and were told that over one millimetre of rain had fallen to the south of us. However, despite a few drops, we were completely clear of rain for the rest of the journey, getting into Towamba just after noon.
Or rather I did. Seán was quite some distance behind me. After the end of Big Jack Mountain Road in Burragate (a village which had a number of interesting features to divert the avid photographer – such as the line of novelty post boxes) we became separated once more. I moved along at a nice pace, but after a little while one of my toes began to hurt, so I stopped for some footcare. I wore my sandals only on today’s walk, on the idea that if it rained, they could easily dry out (much more easily than my shoes). However, I think this, in addition to the strain on my toes coming down the mountain yesterday, led to a small blister on one of my smaller toes on my right foot and another small blister beginning to form on my heel on the same foot. After applying bandaids to the affected areas and putting on an extra sock, I set off again.
There was still a lot of mist around in the valley which actually hung around all day. I couldn’t quite work out why, as it was quite warm and also rained a little. About 7kms from Towamba, Paul road past on his bike. We took some pictures of each other, and then he road on to Rocky Hall while I kept on toward Towamba. It was a welcome sight to come over the hill and see Towamba in the misty valley ahead.
Along the way, I had been listening to the piano music of Dustin O’Halloran and Joel Beving, which really suited the countryside and the misty/rainy weather. I have a little rechargeable bluetooth speaker which connects to my iPhone, and on which I can play my music out loud as if I had a soundtrack going to my walk (I was always rather keen on the idea from the Amy McBeal show about everyone having their own soundtrack to their lives). Yesterday I listened to Penguin Cafe Orchestra walking through Rocky Hall and Andrei Krylov in the forest coming down the mountain. On Sunday I had listened to the hymns of Katherine Jenkins and Maddy Prior. (Other artists on my pilgrim playlist over the last week have been Loreena McKennit, Iron & Wine, the Bryan Ferry (Jazz) Orchestra, Lenka and Angèle Dubeau.)
Around 11:30am I crossed the river into the village of Towamba and climbed up the hill to the Hall. On the way, I passed the Anglican Church (now used ecumenically) and a little cottage next to it (which had just been sold – although no one I spoke to knows how much for). At this point, Tony and Joy Ovington drove past in their ute and stopped to say hullo. The Anzac Day march had gone off well, marching from the Church to the Hall. Many of the folk were just finishing up there with morning tea and scones, so if I hurried I could share in these bounties. Also, they warned, the weekly spinning group is up there under the verandah. That was intriguing.
Walking up the hill I met a man and his son walking down from the Hall. The son was wearing his great-grandfathers medals from the Second World War. We stopped and chatted a little and then I kept climbing up the hill. I passed a little cottage with a sign out the front “free tea and coffee”. I thought “I bet Seán can’t resist that.” I pushed on up the road, and walked up the drive to the hall to find it all as Tony and Joy had said. The next hour or so was spent happily chatting to the locals and all who had come from the march and for the spinning group. Among the people we met were a pentecostal pastor-couple from Pambula, Rob and Robyn Nelson. We fell to talking and exchanging information about the area and possible places to stay along the MWW which we had missed (including: The old school house in Craigie, The Old Nurses Home in Delegate, and the Rocky Hall Preschool – which is used five days a fortnight and is available as accomodation on the other days). We swapped information and plan to catch up again next year as we head north from Eden.
Also among the folk there was Kaye, who was working in the “library” in the hall, sorting donated books. After an hour or so, it began to rain in earnest, and I thought it strange that Seán had not yet arrived. I expressed some concern and Kaye offered to drive me off to look for him. Just as we were heading past the little cottage with the “free tea and coffee” sign, Kaye said “Is that him?”. I looked back to see Seán exiting the house with a large something under his arm. “Yes, it is”, I answered and we turned around and bade him get in out of the rain. He had been to visit Vickie, the resident of the little cottage, and she had loaned him a fold up foam mattress to use as a bed. “And she is an artist and she has invited us to come back at 3pm for a cup of tea”, he announced. Of course, had we been just a minute earlier, we would have driven passed and missed him and then been totally mystified as to his whereabouts.
Back at the hall, one of the spinning ladies kindly offered us her lunch which she didn’t feel like eating – corned beef and veggies! Seán and I heated this up in the microwave – it was delicious. Seán then had a bit of a lie down on his new bed and caught some sleep while I worked out our finances for the journey. In all to this point it has cost us around $1000 in total, which is about $50 a day for Seán and me each, or $33 a day if you count all three of us. Not bad – but due to a lot of generosity in terms of accomodation.
At 3pm Seán and I went as promised to visit Vickie. She is an artist who is currently working on several portraits of aboriginal subjects. She has not been painting portraits for long, but she has a real knack for it. Her studio was warm, light and comfortable with a couple of hanging swing chairs to sit in as we watched her work on her current project. We then went inside for a cup of tea and an Anzac Plus biscuit, that is, a traditional oat Anzac biscuit with added nuts and fruit. The house itself is an original hand split timber building of two main rooms which has been extended over the years. She has peeled back the coverings of the walls to expose the original timbers – and often the original wall paper too. She has many of her artworks on the walls, but honestly I was more interested in the walls themselves which was a part of the history of the town. She is an authentically artistic spirit – even her cupboard of preserves and biscuit tins was arranged in an artistically pleasing way! Vickie was keen to talk about a number of spiritualist topics – angels and Kabbala mainly and her own philosophy which she has written up in a book (a copy of which she gave to Seán). I think I disappointed her a little, in being to conventional in my thinking. As we were leaving, she called us back to show us her sheep in the back yard. But as she did so, once again my attention was diverted to a new work of art – God’s sunset over the valley. The light was again utterly sublime and lighted up everything from the trees to the face of the mountain on the other side of the river. My heart lifted at the sight in just the same way as it did when I saw the rainbow over Florence a few weeks ago.
Back at the Hall again, Paul was already cooking up the beef curry. We spent an hour or so talking, drinking beer, and (at least in my case) writing up my blog before we had dinner. Just as we were finishing dinner and talking over the last half bottle of wine, there was a knock at the door and we had a visitor. I had met “Arch” (his surname is, apparently, Bishop, hence the nickname) at the morning tea after the march this morning. Living nearby, he had decided to come around for a chat. We shared our last glass of wine with him (the camino spirit?), and told him what we were doing. In return, he offered to demonstrate his own line of business: story telling and recitations of Australian poems. So he delighted and amused us with four renditions, including the Dyslexic Cinderella, the man who went to see the Pope, The Three Christmas Visitors, and a love poem of his own composition. It reminded me of the time on my third Aussie Camino when the husband of the director of the Mary MacKillop Centre in Penola recited The Man From Snowy River and other poems at the final dinner. We also looked at the map of Eden together and have discovered a short section of the end of the Bunian Way which will bring us into Eden by a more pleasant route than the main A1 Princes Highway.
It was ten o’clock when Arch left, and it was time for us to hit the sack. Tomorrow is the last day of this leg of the journey. My little blisters need rest and we need to get up early in the morning. One more day…