Friday, November 11, 2011

Roads Less Travelled 2 Under the Great Western Tiers


The Great Western Tiers provide the backdrop for this barn "with character" as youngest son would say.




The mood changes as I near the end of the Lakes Highway and enter gentle farming country. The music this landscape evokes is more like the tender ballads of John Denver, especially Country Roads.  These country roads make right angled turns around farmers’ fields and their edges are lined with buttercups and daisies and hawthorn in bloom.


Another old farm building with character


It must have been a spring like this when I first fell in love with Tasmania. The grass is lush and green, the fields of poppies are almost in flower and fluffy lambs, fat cows and sleek horses graze in the paddocks, all watched over by the Great Western Tiers. It’s something to do with scale, but the roads and houses nestle into the landscape here and seem friendly rather than intrusive. I notice there are quite a few bicycle touring route signs out this way (from Liffey Falls onwards). The rich, fat scent of hawthorn fills the air, birds sing, bees buzz and hawks hover on the thermals. It would be a lovely way to travel, except for those enormous hills at either end of the valley.   Luckily there isn’t a lot of traffic so no one minds as I crawl slowly uphill. 

Outbuildings at Cheshunt
These pictures were taken near Cheshunt, one of the few places where the road was wide enough to pull over. It was one of those grand old estates. Though the main building is intact and I get a glimpse of lovely gardens, many of the outbuildings are falling down. Places like Chesthunt and Old Wesleydale near Chudleigh were virtually self -sufficient villages. Most however, could never have survived without convict labour and indentured servants which more or less ended when transportation ceased in 1840. Since then, many of these large estates have been subdivided or fallen into disrepair although a few have been salvaged by private owners and the National Trust.
William Archer (1820 -1874) who owned and built Cheshunt, was the scion of a wealthy pastoral family which also owned Woolmers near Longford and Mona Vale at Ross. As well as being a pastoralist, Archer was also a notable architect, botantist and politician, but died in poverty in 1874, a broken man. He also designed Calstock near Deloraine and this has found new life as luxury tourist accommodation (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/archer-william-1460).
When I first came I was very impressed with buildings like these and it is well worth a peek inside, but now I have far greater admiration for those small farmers and wood cutters who somehow managed to raise large families in those tiny cottages which lie unsung on the way to the Hunstman Valley. Pity there was nowhere to stop to take a photo of one of these, but I'll leave a space.

From there, it’s on through Mole Creek, past the fabulous caves and into the dark and mountainous Mersey Forest Reserve. There are fantastic views here too, if you can ever find a spot to pull over. There is one lookout at the top of Round Hill, just before you plunge down into the Valley. In common with many other deep valleys around Tasmania this one was  carved out by glaciers on their way to the sea. There are several large dams here and Gowrie Park is what remains of the construction camp. There is also a pleasant camping spot at O’Neill’s Creek, a few Km towards Sheffield, but it is already quite busy, and I want to be as close as possible to Cradle Mountain for an early start in the morning. It’s a long hard slog up the hill on the other side of Gowrie Park and the van is taking it hard, but nowhere near as hard as the Suzuki Swift in front of me. There’s nowhere to pass or pull over, so I just have be patient and keep changing gears.

View from Round Hill, just before plunging down into the Mersey Valley
Exhausted, my shoulders and arms aching from so many turns of the wheel, I end up at Lea’s Paddocks, an area scoured out by moving ice sheets at the end of the Ice Age, leaving a number of small lakes. This is another old Mountain Cattlemen’s haunt. The roads are breaking up and growing over here and I can’t find the little hut which used to be near the Lake. In that curious golden light of late afternoon, haunt is the right word. You get the sense that this was once a lively place but now that the old ones have gone, it has fallen silent  and another little bit of history is lost. For some reason I get that feeling often on this trip. Hope I will be able to get back up past the potholes. On the way down I had the law of gravity on my side.
'Night all!

The old roads are growing over
 Meanwhile, some of the native vegetation is coming back.
This is Celery Top Pine which is related to and dates from the same geological era as the Pencil Pines

This is Tasmania's endemic Waratah
In another week or so these buds will turn into the most shameless red flowers.

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