As we saddle up in preparation for our journey from Ross to Oatlands in Tasmania's Midlands, Coda and Caliska are restlessly shuffling in anticipation.
We are next to 'Bakery 31' a local bakery famous for its Tasmanian Scallop pie, friendly service and as we experienced for yesterdays lunch, a sensational blueberry and apple pie.
The owner of 'Bakery 31' was kind enough to allow Coda and Caliska to stay overnight in the back paddock where they dined on an unrestricted buffet. The copious amount of green grass may be contributing to the current unsettled disposition of our equine companions, a little like a child on red cordial.
Unfortunately the day has started off badly with a disgruntled neighbour. When you start the day angry it sets the tone for the rest of the day, which is how the owner of a neighboring property has started his day, in turn putting a dampener on everyone else's. He has just left the bakery upsetting the lovely lady who had served us earlier.
It appears our horses may have been near his trees but on inspection of his garden, we find that the horses have not touched his trees. It would seem not everyone likes horses, something we need to consider when travelling. We apologies to the bakery for the trouble our presence has caused however they kindly welcome us back for any future adventures.
It has just hit 0800 hrs as we move down the main street of Ross to make a quick stop at the public rest rooms. We then decide to walk beside the girls down to Bond Street to give them time to settle. To the right is a sign which says:
'Ross Female Factory', which initially was built in 1833 to house convict chain gangs employed to build the Ross Bridge. The buildings were converted and extended to include a chapel, nursery, dining rooms, hospital and solitary cells, dormitories and an outside court yard to operate as a probation station for female convicts and their babies between 1847 and 1854. This site is now a protected historic site and with a few above ground remains still visible, the Ross Female Factory is the most archaeologically intact female convict site in Australia.
Travelling on Tooms Lake Road we are now passing a sign which says "HEARTLANDS'. This is one of Tourism Tasmania's five 'Tasmanian Drive Journey's', designed to encourage exploration of Tasmanian Regional areas. 'HEARTLANDS' is essentially the middle of Tasmania, the heart of Tasmania's culture & truth. The theme portrayed by Tourism Tasmania for 'HEARTLANDS' is; 'Feel the pulse of Tasmania where history is present and time stands still'.
We look at each other for a moment and realise that for a horseman this is true, as life is lived in the moment and becomes part of that history as we ride.
On our left, we are now passing a site which appears to be mounds with hatches on top. This is the location of what was once the World War II, 'RAAF N0. 30, inland aircraft fuel and ammunition depot'. Also situated here is what was a giant water reservoir and concrete underground bunker which was built in preparation for a Japanese invasion.
This site was sold by the Commonwealth in 1947 and is now privately owned.
Although we are travelling along the road, it has been extremely tranquil. Passing beneath the overhanging coniferous trees gives a feeling of peace and the relaxed movement of our companions further embeds this peace. The gentle breeze which passes through these trees sound like the whisper of the ghosts of history past.
As Coda moves toward a sign with 'Mount Morriston' imprinted on it, it is hard not to be impressed by the rolling hills and the natural quiet of this land. 'Mount Morriston' is an enormous property, a historic fine wool farm renowned for some of the finest wool in the country.
We continue to enjoy the sun and blue sky knowing that tomorrow rain is expected although l do hope that the weather forecast is wrong. Looking ahead I can see a large grassed area to the left which would allow the girls to feed and for us to cook an early lunch and brew some coffee.
It is obvious that the rains have been good over recent months as the grass here is thick and lush, I think the horses will get fat just looking at it.
The break is a welcome pause to our journey and whilst laying here, drinking coffee watching the horses it's not hard to feel that today is a great day and we are the luckiest people at this very moment. It's a pity a moment doesn't last a little longer as it's time to pack up and hit the leather.
The 5 km ride on to Honeysuckle road has been pleasant but I need to dismount to open the gate beside a cattle grid, giving me a chance to stretch my legs. Taking the opportunity to give Coda and Caliska a break, we decide to walk for a while and stop by the Macquarie river to retrieve some water for the girls to drink. Further along we pass through some more gates to bypass the cattle grids, these appear to be within what l suspect is the central part of this enormous property.
The wide open plains through this section are a pleasure to ride as we meander around elements of rock, button grass and skirt the edge of the native bush. Yes, it doesn't get any better than this. Coda is relaxed and moving well, so l allow her to pick her way toward the fence line and move back onto the gravel road where there is yet another cattle grid to bypass. So far we have had to deal with 6 grids, mounting and dismounting allows us a good stretch but at the same time is some what annoying.
It is 1700 hrs and I note we have traveled almost 35 km's, given the temperature is beginning to drop, it's best to start looking for an area to bed down for the night. A local farmer has just pulled up with his Land Cruiser and dog, curious as to our movements. He has advised us of a reasonable spot another km up the road beside a creek. After 10 minutes of travel we locate the spot and set up an electric fence between 4 trees so that Coda and Caliska can settle for the night. Removing their gear, we give them a rub down, remove their boots and drop a bag of feed on the ground at their feet.
So far there has been a wide mix of surfaces traveled, such as bitumen, rock, gravel, grass lands and a sticky mud from the wet strip next to our camp site. The 'Scoot Boots' Coda has been wearing are now onto their 1100 km mark and are still holding up well. As far as boots go these have served us extremely well and look forward to seeing how far we can travel in the same set of boots.
Tahnee has set up some rocks to contain a small fire which takes little effort to get going. The fire gives us a relaxing moment in the dying light but since our food won't cook itself, I set about rustling up a feed. Watching Tahnee move about organising our gear ready for a few hours sleep, I realise just how tuckered out l am.
We finally crawl into bed and as it will be cold tonight, we slide our sleeping bags into our bivy's to keep the morning frost at bay. The last thing l remember as I drift off to sleep is the chewing sound of our horses. So relaxing..........
The soft sound of movement wakes me, I lay for a moment allowing my eyes to adjust. A shadow almost soundlessly moves from the tree to my left as I sit up, l suspect this is an owl on the hunt. Leaning over I nudge Tahnee who reluctantly crawls out of her frosted bed. As the morning light has yet to touch the landscape to the east, we use our head torches to roll up our bedrolls.
Dropping a feed in front of the girls, we saddle Coda and Caliska up whilst they are distracted. The cold hurts my finger tips as I fit Coda's boots, given that I have very short finger nails the cold seems to affect them a lot more. I am thinking that maybe growing my nails maybe somewhat beneficial in the future. With a final check of our gear we walk on into the dawning of the day.
As we follow the road toward Oatlands and open yet another gate beside a cattle grid, I am watching the sky turning grey with a threat of rain. I feel that while we still have a couple of hours before it begins to rain, we should take the opportunity shortly to cook some breakfast and a warm coffee.
However we discuss our options and make the decision to travel for a few more km's on foot up the hill that is before us before we take the liberty of a break. Seems that this particular hill is a lot longer than it looked earlier and l am regretting the decision to not have coffee first, but since no one else is complaining l think it best to keep my thoughts to myself.
Tahnee has spotted a small clearing to the right with 2 trees to tether the girls to, so we have decided to rest here. With the coffee still brewing and our spaghetti breakfast still too hot to eat, it is a good feeling to be just sitting for a spell. Although I ride to relax and to not think about work, it is difficult for the mind not to keep drifting back and thinking of work. When I look across at Tahnee I know by the look on her face that she can see right through me, so I endeavor to focus on the moment - not on what l can't deal with right now.
With that in mind I look across at Coda, it appears she is dozing and her bottom lip is drooping due to her relaxed state. This is the relaxed state I need to achieve.
A light rain has begun to fall so its time for us to pack our gear, chuck on our wet weather gear and move on. Tahnee has just realised that one of her gloves is missing and given that we don't know when it was dropped we wont be going back to look for it. The temperature is dropping now and the density of the rain is increasing. I have a bad feeling that the rain will be a lot worse than we have anticipated.
As we pass the great 'Stonehouse Grazing' property we see the ruins of an old stone fireplace to our right. If it wasn't for the increase in rain fall and the further drop in temperature we may have taken a little more time to investigate, the added loss of a glove also doesn't help, nothing worse than wet cold hands.
A sign pointing toward York Plains tells us we are 16km's from this town, we turn right and make our way along the wet dirt road which has turned into York Plains road. An occasional car passes us where I suspect the occupants would be glad of the warmth and shelter. Such is the life of the horseman where we take the good, the bad and today the ugly weather.
The road to our right heads to Pawtella so we decide to take this path as it will keep us from heading to the highway, which if memory serves me correct is not ideal for us on a day like today.
The township of Pawtella is over before it has begun, apart from the two dwellings and a phone exchange there is little else here, had I blinked we would have surely missed it. Holy Moly!! A four wheel drive with a trailer has just come round the bend at quite a speed, yep he has just spotted us.....sideways with a fish tail to boot. He is straight once more and not a moment to soon. Half a metre is pretty close, and I am now wondering if my rain soaked pants need to be changed although I suspect the driver might need a new set too!
The paddock on the left is flooded, today's rain fall has brought us 20 mm of rain not the 1 to 5 mm we were expecting. It is true that if it doesn't rain it pours but its even more true that when it pours you usually get wet, cold and wishing for a nice hot cup of anything.
As we cross the rail line on Nala Road, we realise that Oatlands is approximately 10 km's away. It is 1700hrs which means we will hit Oatlands at about 1900 hrs which will make this one big day.
Turning right onto Inglewood road we decide to get off and walk for a spell. I am struggling to feel my finger tips as my gloves are soaked through and the thought of a hot coffee does nothing to warm them up.
We see a sign to Oatlands that says 5 km's which means an hour of walking, There appears to be a walking track to our right, which we take to keep off the road.
As we move forward, we spot a tile embedded into the path with a picture of a duck and an arrow with a number. This I suspect is the distance to town.
As the rain continues to fall, we pass over a water crossing which the girls cross without hesitation. Further on to our right an old rail bridge still stands with an interpretive sign advising of its history. This is part of the 'Lake Dulverton & Dulverton Walking Track', on a nice day this would be a great family adventure.
We meander around the edge of the lake passing other interpretive signs but our focus is now on getting to our horse float which is parked not far from where we are. We pass an old sand stone building, the Oatlands Court House, built by convict labour in 1829 and is the oldest supreme court house in rural Australia and the oldest building in Oatlands.
In the distance we can see a great mill called the "Callington Mill' which is a Georgian stone walled windmill built in 1837 and was until recently the only working example of its type in the Southern Hemisphere and produced quality flours. Extensive works appear to be in progress and local word indicates that it will also become a whiskey distillery which will produce 100% Tasmanian made whiskey.
Finally we can see the local park where we will pull up ready for the trip home. We dismount with effort, feeling the creak of our cold tired bones wishing for a hot cup of joe.
Tahnee holds the girls whilst I jog round the corner to retrieve our car and float. The short drive to where all my favorite girls are waiting feels somewhat strange after the slow steady pace we have traveled today.
Unsaddling Coda is challenging as my hands have very little feeling. Tahnee looks cold and tired so I task her with starting the vehicle, warming up the interior and making room for some gear.
Coda and Caliska both move onto the float with no resistance, the hay bags hanging in their stalls a welcome reward for a job well done. Our saddles and gear is very wet, although I give the gear a quick rub down I know tomorrows task will be oiling my saddle and tending to the equipment that has served us well for this adventure.
As I climb into our vehicle, I look across at Tahnee who is looking at me with that knowing smile and yes I couldn't agree more. No matter how well you plan, shit just happens. When shit happens there is no other option but to ride it out till the end........ and ride it we did.