EXCLUSIVE as written for the Footsteps Newsletter: Michelle Ryan is ‘First Solo Walker’ Murray Bridge to Eudunda
A WALK IN THE COUNTRY WITH ME.
‘The whistle blows just to break the silence’…
‘You can hear the train on the line’ …
‘I wave just to break the time’
(Nullarbor Song by Kasey Chambers)
This is the song that I woke up to playing in my head as I hear the whistle blow from a passing freight train signalling a new day has begun. I’m tucked up in my little bed in a country hotel room in the historical town of Murray Bridge, South Australia. I get up, swing open the curtains to reveal the bright new day, alive and waiting for me to join it. Today I’m full of nervousness and excitement because today I begin walking The Lavender Federation Trail.
I came across this trail on research for a walk to do in September. Now I had never heard of this trail before and when I saw it I realised it was perfect. At 212 km long it was a great distance and through some beautiful country side I had yet to explore. It’s located in the Adelaide hills in South Australia starting at the town of Murray Bridge and meanders its way north through farmland and wine country of the Barossa Valley. On research I found that no one has ever walked this trail solo or end to end unaided before and was being told that people would usually just walk sections at a time. That’s great if you live in South Australia but I live in Western Australia and want to knock it off in one go. Took a lot of emails, phone calls and research but I finally worked it out. This meant I was to walk further than the 212 km as I was to walk off track at times for my accommodation but after just completing a 900 km journey through Italy I wasn’t too worried. Through the organising I realised very quickly how helpful people were willing to be. I had offers to stay with private residence as well as staying in B & Bs. All willing to feed me (though later found one that didn’t but it happens). Ready for my adventure to begin.
As I leave Murray Bridge I follow the old train lines. Walking along these old disused lines on a crisp beautiful morning is an amazing way to start any journey. With the mist and fresh morning smell hanging in the air, birds are everywhere singing their morning songs as they dance through the sky. Rabbits are scurrying across the tracks in total confusion as I walk towards them, a kangaroo jumps out in front and stops for a moment to look at me, then off he goes. I see my first ever kingfisher with his morning catch that he is slapping against the branch. I stop for a moment and breath it all in, this is living.
I continue along past some grain silos and more rail tracks. I can hear the distinctive noise of another train coming. As it gets closer I wave excitedly and do a toot toot motion with my arm, the train driver sees me and toots his horn and waves back. I’m giggling now like an excited child waiting for it to pass, it goes on forever, when it finally passes and I continue on my way off into the wetlands area where there were a lot of different water birds to watch. The day is warming up quickly and now I head into the beautiful Rocky Gully Reserve with its Mallee trees and rocky outcrops, this is the perfect place to stop and have my first break and call my husband and brag to him how wonderful it is.
Back on track and still quite a bit to go it’s really warm now. The ground is a lot more sandy and dry. I’m following tracks that belong to an emu, though they don’t look very fresh so not liking my chances of meeting up with him. I do however see something one would not quite expect to see out in the Australian countryside. Off into the distance, behind tall fences, I see very long necks reaching up to the tree tops, these are Giraffes! No I don’t have sun stroke, I am actually passing the Monarto Zoo. This is one of the largest open‐range zoos in the world with 50 different species of exotic and native animals. Takes me quite a while to skirt around the outside of the zoo and just before leaving it I find a perfect place under a tree, right next to the fence to have my lunch and a long overdue coffee. I was hoping to have a few friendly animals come visit but was not to be, only a kangaroo though he really wasn’t too interested in stopping.
Today was a long walk and arrive at my pre-arranged meeting place. I’m spending the next two nights at the Rabbiter’s Hut. On arriving there is a plate of local cheeses and a cold beer then later I shared a beautiful meal with the owners Bill, Annette and their son. The hut is a restored rural cottage sitting amongst the paddocks. I really feel at home here with the peaceful surrounds. So glad to be spending two nights!
“Long and winding road”
As the day got on this was how it started to feel, long and winding, only you can add hilly and rocky to it as well. It gave me such a diverse day too; the trail had me on country roads, in fields of canola, paddocks with sheep and cows, through marsh land, up and down steep rocky terrain, up a mountain, down a mountain and finishing as the final light disappeared. The land was alive with different types of animals and birds. They all seemed happy to be out in the beautiful spring air. I nearly stepped on two blue tongue lizards, was swooped by the magpies, scared a huge red fox who probably was hunting the rabbits I also saw. Got stared down by two cows that both refused to move out of the way, saw a paddock of Llamas, then was chased over the fence by a little black pug who thought he was a big black pug, got a free juice from a very lovely farmer. But the highlight of my day was the albino kangaroo with her pouch so heavy she must have a baby in there. Such a brilliant day that finished off with Annette making me the best lamb curry, a beer then ending it with chocolates. A girl couldn’t be any happier than I am right now
“Walk in the country with me”.
Such a lovely walk through the countryside today with a lot less hills and more rolling paddocks. Not as quiet and peaceful as one would imagine though. The birds are just going absolutely crazy today which means I might need to check the weather. Usually that is nature’s way of telling you that there is rain is on its way or they are just squawking at me! The scenery is just so pretty I really make me feel like I’m walking through one of my great grandmother’s paintings. Ma Merton had an amazing talent on capturing the Australian countryside and today I thought a lot about her, even though I never really met her I do remember the smell of her oil paints in her house when we visited when a was little. It’s funny the things we remember.
Such a short walk today compared to yesterday and when I was sitting in a paddock overlooking a flowing creek having my coffee and lunch when I realised I only had about 3 km to go to the town I will be stopping at. This is great it’s early and I see there is a pub so I am thinking a beer is in order. The last 3 km my mouth was watering, I could almost taste the beer. Had the plan all worked out, stop at pub have beer, snack then head the extra 1 ½ km s out past town to my accommodation. Perfect. Well it was till I arrived in town. I now know Australia really does have a pub with no beer! In fact it not only had no beer it was no longer open! (Tungkillo Hotel ED) Oh the disappointment one has. So I trudged my sorry ass out to my next accommodation and when I told them they felt sorry for me and gave me two beers! Now I’m a happy girl again. Gotta love the country.
“Milk Cow Blues”
I’ve been singing this song all day to the cows as I passed through their property. I think with most of them we came to the understanding I will sing and they will stay away. Don’t get me wrong I love cows, I really do just as long as they stay away from me but most have a curious nature and they want to check out the crazy human with something on her back. Some were quite big but I have survived the day to tell the story and I don’t think they really liked me calling them Big Macs. The Sheep however were lamb shanks, which they were defiantly not impressed about as they kept running away when I got closer. I did have an amazing encounter this morning with a troop of kangaroos. I had been following them for around 15 mins, this not being my fault they just kept on going the same way. Well they had come to a dead end in a paddock and decided to come back towards me. I felt like they were planning an ambush as they turned around and charged right for me! Only to then come to a sudden halt before turning and jumping over the fence. Next was a pig farm! They were just gorgeous only in the way pigs can be. Snorting and muddy as they pushed their noses through the mud. They really looked happy as a pig in ….. Well you know. That is enough of the animals, although I’m walking this trail alone I will have to say so far I haven’t felt alone at all. In fact it’s been very entertaining. Today the scenery has made me feel like I was back walking across England. There was the same look and feel I had when walking across the paddocks there, the only difference was (even though today was a little bit colder with not a lot of sun) it wasn’t as cold and the paddocks were dry not wet with sloppy mud!
My day pleasantly ended when I walked into the very pretty historical town of Springton. Not only was there a lovely looking church but a general store and a pub! First shop and pub since leaving Murray Bridge. Great to stock up on supplies then up to the pub for a beer before heading back to my accommodation.
Springton has a bit of German history to it. The most famous part is the large Herbig tree. A German immigrant named Frederick Herbig lived with his young wife Caroline in this hollowed out Red Gum where they had the first two of their sixteen children! I had the pleasure of staying at the homestead that they later built and lived in. This was a real treat and on arriving I met Guinness. Now Guinness is a scruffy, cheeky, funny, Irish Wolf hound who is still a pup. He kept snuggling into me and almost pushes me over as he is so big. He bounds up to you in a real clumsy uncoordinated way, with head bouncing around, legs everywhere, not going in a straight line just real goofy like. What a character.
“Bring on the rain”.
Today I just needed that extra strength to get through and this is the song I sung. The day started cold but nice. Scenery, well I certainly can’t complain, body was feeling quite good and I did not have a huge walk today. With only five to seven km’s to left to go, the sky grew extremely dark. I stopped to take an amazing photo of a hill with a lone tree on top and the dark moody clouds behind when suddenly the wind picked up and the air turned bitterly cold. Icy rain pelted down hard and fast turning into hail stones. As I was only wearing a singlet top and shorts I had to find some shelter and get warm gear on fast. The wind just kept on getting stronger and the temperature colder. Dressed and pack back on again I took off fast to warm up. Felt like I was flying in my red poncho as the wind was pushing me sideways. This is not a pleasant situation to be in. Out in the open fields walking as fast as I could I was still shaking with the cold but there was no place to hide, all I could do was move and fast! Finally I get to the road I need to take for my night’s stay and the weather settles down. The cockatoo’s warnings were right as this was not on the forecast at all. I arrive to find I have not only an old fashion wrought iron clawed bath but a wood fire beside it. Could a girl be any happier? Yes she can when dinner is a yummy chicken risotto and a beer.
“Me and Bobby Mc Gee”
Started singing this song just after I had my lunch break where I shared a rock with Bob so it got me singing Bobby McGee. Now whether Bob appreciated me singing I’m not sure as he didn’t say a whole lot of anything, you see Bob was a Bob tail lizard and we both just happen to want the same rock in the sun. Thanks Bob.
It was a long but lovely stroll today. More of the dirt back roads but that was fine as there really isn’t any traffic. Met a real nice couple, Steve and Louise walking in the opposite direction. They were locals out for the day and have been knocking off the Lavender Federation Trail bit by bit. Was great to see people out there. It’s now day Six and they are the first human walkers I have seen! Saw another kingfisher too today, they are so pretty. I didn’t realise how small they were, also saw a baby bird fresh out of its nest. I watched him for a while. It was so funny as he was trying really hard to sit on the wire fence without falling off but was struggling. Think he might need Pilates to get that core working. Another day down and not many left of them left to go. I really am enjoying this trail and the wildlife has been very interesting.
“I’m Movin On” by Crystal Bowersox
Sung this today along with her other song ‘Outa Here’. Not for reasons of not enjoying myself I had just found the middle section today to be long and hot and I’m feeling a little under the weather. When you do a long distance trail there is always one day or section that doesn’t work for you and it’s not for any reason other than it’s just not your day. The first part was just so amazing as you walk through an incredible Gorge. I felt really small as I wander through the middle of it, and then there was the very steep climb out the other side to some fabulous views. This is a section of the trail I would be able to spend hours just exploring or even sitting and watching the scenery. The middle part was dry isolated, no shade and endless. This felt like it went on and on for ever, then just when I really couldn’t walk much more as I was overdue for a break, I came across another Gorge. I think someone took pity on me or wanted me to stop singing loudly and gave me an incredible place to rest and eat my Vegemite roll and have a cuppa. I was also fortunate to see my second ever albino kangaroo! Two in one trip! To end the day I stayed with a very lovely couple in their private home. I was treated to a feast of food including the best tasting salmon that was cooked on the BBQ then in the morning a smorgasbord for breakfast. Feeling very spoilt indeed.
‘The hills are alive from the sounds of my singing”
OK I probably don’t sound that bad, or maybe I do and that will explain why the animals run when they hear me coming! I had a few songs on my mind today. The first was ‘Rollin Rollin Rollin’, and then a whole lot from the Sound of Music, then ‘Long and Winding Road’ and to finish it off ‘A walk in the country with me’. So having told you what I was singing you can work out what sort of walking terrain I went through. Today I have to say is a day with a varied terrain and this is always good as it adds interest and keeps you entertained. Saw a snake today so I was not only singing but I was doing the snake dance which moves pretty much the same way as the lizard dance. The amount of lizards I have seen has been incredible. I have lost count on the number but I did get to practice my dance moves a lot. Came across many wombat holes today as well, though still no echidnas. Tonight is my last night before the walk into Eudunda. I’m staying at Footeside Farm. This is an extraordinary farm that produces native plant foods. Linda, my host, made me the most fantastic ‘Wattle seed and roo curry’ followed by homemade wattle seed ice cream. I ate so much I will defiantly need the walk tomorrow. Again I have been very fortunate as I was invited to stay in their home even though there is accommodation in the refurbished barn.
When you travel alone like this it is so nice to feel like part of one’s family.
“Walk in the country with me”
I awoke this morning, on my last day of walking, feeling the same feelings I had on my first day back in Murray Bridge. Full of nervousness and excitement. I am almost done! I walked the last part of the Lavender Federation Trail on a high; this has been over 212 km of the most beautiful country side I have ever had the pleasure in walking. I started the trail nine days ago in Murray Bridge and I’m about to finish in Eudunda.
As with any long walk you spend the last day reflecting on the journey. You become excited you have nearly finished though sad it’s about to end. When you walk alone on a journey like this you are proud of your achievement though wish there was someone to walk the final Km’s with you. As I drew closer I could see the town in the distance, when I crossed over the golf course I could see a bouncy castle and celebrations going on. Well they didn’t have to go that far to welcome me! Shame it wasn’t to be it was for the local B grade footy team that just won the finals and the whole town was out to celebrate. I made it to the end of my journey in Eudunda at the Hotel. Celebrations for me were a couple of beers, hot chips and gravy and a phone call home. A few hours later the town came and bought their footy celebrations to the pub. Love a small town excitement over the footy. I’m so thankful to the people who I met along the journey and looked after me.
I now can say I am the first ever solo unaided end to ender to walk the Lavender Federation Trail.
Extract from the Footsteps Newsletter; SARTI Congratulate Michelle on her achievement and thank her for allowing us to publish her personal journey on the Lavender Federation Trail here on the Footsteps Newsletter.
special thanks goes out to ;
Annette & Bill Cameron of Rabbiters Hut, http://www.rabbitershut.com.au,
David & Janet Hamilton of Sunnybrook B&B, http://www.sunnybrookbnb.com.au ,
Anna Glynne of the Herbig Homestead,
Gillian & Laura of Penny’s Rd B&B, http://www.pennysroad.com.au,
Micheal & Sandra of Weighbridge Motel, Truro,
Sandy & Graham Smith,
Linda & Peter of Footeside Farm, http://www.footesidefarm.com,
David & Dawn of the Light Hotel, Eudunda,
George, Graham and all the volunteers that put their time and effort in creating such a wonderful trail to walk. My hope is that more people will read this and be inspired to try this trail.