Snapshots from Wollongong – Mt Keira

Gum leaf on the track

M is for Mt Keira.

Mt Keira and Mt Kembla although not mighty alps, dominate the Illawarra Escarpment.  These landforms are of considerable significance to the local Dharawal people,  who refer to Mt Kembla as the men’s mountain and  Mt Keira as the women’s mountain.

Along with Mt Keira and Mt Kembla, there are also other suburbs called Mt Pleasant, Mt St Thomas, Marshall Mount and Mt Ousley.

Mt Keira

 

Mt Keira is a small residential suburb on the side of Mt Keira itself. This flat peak of mostly sandstone rises 434 M above sea level.  Only 460 families call Mt Keira home, but it is a very popular recreational venue for visitors and locals alike. There is a charming picnic ground at Byarong Park which is also one of the trailheads for the Mt Keira Ring Track. In addition to this walking track, there are few sidetracks and other mountain bike tracks which are well used.

There is both a Scout Camp and a Guides Camp, parts of which can be hired for private functions.

Mt Keira Ring Track

The Ring Track is around 5.5 km long and encircles the Mt  Keira Summit. The track has recently been renovated, and you can now walk all the way around. Before this, the section below the Mt Kiera Lookout was closed due to rock falls. The renovation has seen the installation of hundreds of steps and a few boardwalks.

There is a Summit Park, which has a cafe. The cafe opens Thursdays – Sundays and has a magnificent view over the entire Wollongong coastal plain.

I walked the Ring Track on the first weekend in October 2019.  It took me longer than I expected because I took wrong turns, twice. While it is well signposted there are a few anomalies with the directional markers which meant I missed the two crucial turns. The 5.5 km walk became 10.7 km!

I was pleased to come across a stand of waratahs which I otherwise would have missed so being lost was a serendipitous adventure.  Waratahs are NSW State emblem and are relatively rare. Their showy, glossy red flowers really stand out in the olive green Australian bushscape.

Mt Keira is definitely worth a visit. Take your walking shoes and a picnic basket.

 

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.