The Great Southern Road Trip

I have spent the last few weeks settling on a destination for my next big adventure. I had been hatching a plan to do an extended road trip through Victoria. This plan has been on the drawing board for at least 3 years, when I set out my 60 for 60 plans (60 things to do before I turn 60). 

Border closures make things tricky

I had to reconsider my plan when  Victoria became Australia’s hot bed of COVID19 and strict lock down laws including a complete shut down of the border ensued and continued long after the other States had begun to loosen up. I thought I’d have to go north and began looking at a huge trip through Central Australia. Some of my sensible buddies talked me out of that given the time of year I was planning on going. Days and days of endless 40oC plus may not be a great idea!  

Too hot for this trip!

In the meantime, things were getting better in Victoria and I decided to take a punt and start booking a few critical bits of the itinerary. I crossed all my body parts in the fervent hope that by the end of February things would be open. 

And….they have! It seems that all Australian internal borders will be open from the end of November without the requirement to self-isolate. (Provided we don’t go backwards!!)*

The Great Southern Road Trip

With that good news I’m pleased to announce that the Great Southern Road Trip is going ahead! However, now that the borders ARE open there is the very real prospect of destinations being booked out because those Aussies who might normally be heading off for international destinations are “stuck” at home.  On top of this many towns near the NSW-Victorian border have still not recovered after the horrific bushfires which preceded COVID.

The Great Southern Road trip itinerary is shaping up well. The overarching plan is to follow the NSW and Victoria coast down to Melbourne then take the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait to join the 6-day walking tour and then a few days in Flinders Island. After that I’ll spend another week exploring other parts of Tasmania.

So far I have booked one night’s accommodation in Victoria at a lighthouse because there was only one night available in the time frame I was planning on passing through. This sought after accommodation was already close to being completely booked out for the next 6 months!

After three weeks in Tasmania, I’ll head back to the mainland and ‘do’ regional Victoria concentrating on the western side of the state, then back up through the Highlands to home.

The Two Iains are looking forward to another adventure!

The itinerary shapes up

All up I’ll be away for 6 weeks.  While I’m tootling around in my trusty Subaru, I intend to knock off a few things from my 60 for 60 list including:

  1. Southernmost point of the Australian mainland and perhaps even most southern point of Tasmania.
  2. A hot air balloon ride.
  3. A cheese-making course in Melbourne (if it’s on!)
  4. A writing retreat. In a way, the whole trip will be a writing retreat!
  5. Astrophotography. I think there will be dark sky on Flinders Island and I might even get lucky and see the aurora in Tasmania, although I could be a bit early. It is apparently at it’s best from March – September.

Apart from the 6-day guided walking tour there will be at least one other overnight hike. I’ll be alternating between luxurious accommodation and camping to make my money spread a little further. Once my spending ban is over, I’ll be on the look out for a good second hand tent and camping gear. I have already jumped the gun and bought some maps!

I haven’t nutted it all out yet, but this is part of the plan.

I’m counting down already!

* The South Australian border has been closed again since I began drafting this post! 🙁

PPS: All the borders have closed again since a few days before Christmas. As of 16/1/21 I am investigating alternatives and will make up my mind on 23/1/21…sigh!

Culloden Battlefields Circuit.

I recently did the 14km Culloden Battlefield’s Circuit which included the Culloden Moors, the Culloden Visitors’ Centre, and the Clava Cairns. It’s an easy walk, physically. Flat (for the most part) with made paths that are either gravel, forestry trails or footpaths next to the road. In that respect, it’s easy. No physical challenge. There is, however, some emotional challenge.

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Like most of the world, I knew nothing about Culloden or the history of the Scottish people until I watched the first series of Outlander. While it may not be an accurate historical representation, it has certainly piqued the interest of millions, including myself.

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On top of that, both sides of my family hale from Scotland. Some of my blood started here. I was drawn to Scotland, by my own history and partly by Outlander. (And to be honest, partly by Neil Oliver, the simmering historian!)

On the 16th of April 1746, the Battle of Culloden happened in this place. Lasting less than an hour, it led to the deaths of 1500 Jacobite men and 50 Red Coats. It was not a battle of Scottish against English. It was not a battle of Protestants against Catholics. It was a battle for Scottish independence and for the personal vanity of a would-be King.

For me, the emotional challenge started at St Mary’s Well, where the Jacobite Troops got their water and where they retreated to after the short-lived battle. The trees around the enclosed well are covered in bits of material. These strips are “wish rags”.

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Wish rags at St Mary’s Well

 

Rags tied with a prayer for healing and good luck.

There are ghosts here. You can feel them. I cursed my crunching boots and squeaking backpack buckles, I needed to be quieter.

“I am sorry,” I thought  “Sorry to disturb your rest.”

I don’t know who I was speaking to, but I felt it. Like you sometimes feel the change in air pressure before a storm.

You feel it when you stop to listen. You feel it when you stop to take notice.

People had died here. Badly.

A few kilometres on,  I passed onto the “official” battlefield. I expected more ghosts, but none appeared to me. There were too many living people here. The air was disturbed with the conversations of the now. It was too noisy. The ghosts were hiding, looking for peace. Perhaps if you came back at night, they would be here. If you came back after the buses had gone, after the Visitors’ Centre had closed, perhaps they would be here then.

Even so, without the ghosts, it was a sad, bleak and windy place. No trees, just low shrubs. The wildflowers should have packed up and gone home because even their bright colours failed to cheer things up.

There may be no ghosts, but my rational self imagined what it must have been like.  I thought “Are there bones under my feet? Am I stepping on someone’s corpse?”

The ground would have been covered in bodies, blood and flies. By the 19th of  April, it would have been a stinking quagmire of gore, with human scavengers picking the pockets of the fallen.

The loud laughter of a group of women on a private Outlander tour disturb my imaginings.

Go slowly. People died here.

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The Visitors’ Centre was excellent, a very good balance between entertainment and sorrow. The walk continued for another 8 kilometres, or so after the battlefields, well signposted and level, it remained an easy walk. Along the way, the Clava Cairns take us back to an even more ancient past. Perhaps 4000 years old, these rocks, arranged in slotted rings, take us back much, much further than the battlefields.

There are no ghosts here. The ancients made sure their dead were at rest, unlike those who died on Culloden Moor.

The Cairns are peaceful.

They are just another brown signposted ‘place of interest’  on the road.

This video shows what you can expect from the circuit trail.

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This walk is well worth the time. It took me around 5 hours, but that included a good stop at the Visitors’ Centre. I used a map from Viewranger which you can access from the Walking Highlands website (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochness/culloden-clava.shtml), but it was very well sign-posted, and it would have been possible to do it without the map. I would recommend the Culloden Visitor Centre, although you can walk right on by it if you chose to.

 

My advice?

Walk quietly, listen for the ghosts.

Lewis Coastal Walk

When I packed my suitcase to come to Scotland, I went out and bought another pair of fleecy Gortex pants because I was worried I would be wet and cold. My research of the weather said I could expect temperatures in high teens at best. I didn’t pack any shorts and only one t-shirt. That plan was sorely tested.

On the day I did this walk, The Outer Hebrides put on a summer day to rival summer in Wollongong! Not a cloud in the sky and at one point my car told me it was 30C!

After 5 km of walking, I decided to cut down my jeans with the little scissors in my trusty first aid kit!

After a thorough cost benefit analysis I deemed it worthwhile.

Pros:

1. It’s 30 C (86F)

2. The jeans are not expensive ones

3. It’s 30 C (86F)

4. I’m sweating like crazy and I am only carrying a litre of water. It’s a health issue!

5. It’s 30 C (86F)!!! In Scotland!!!

Cons:

1………

2. Still thinking of 1!