Canberra Centenary Trail: Part 3

South of the border

For the first time on this jaunt a few spots of rain fell to the ground. Gentle kisses glancing softly off my head and face, almost undetected like the beat of a butterfly’s wings or a virus-loaded aerosol from an unrestrained guffaw. Barely penetrating the dense growth of trees and shrubs, almost indistinguishable within the escalating dusk. The last day of autumn drawing a day, a season, a section of landscape to a close.

I hadn’t anticipated rain, nor a finish under a grey, gloaming sky. The onset of a winter now felt tangible when a few hours earlier it was still a concept. Legs were weary and the lights of Hall couldn’t come soon enough. And then that first twinkle through the bushes, a garden light to accompany a gnome or a pile of logs or just simply a welcoming beacon. A guiding light to the sanctuary of home.

My thoughts turned to the comforts and cosiness of a home. How good would it be right now to have booked a B&B in the offset Canberra village of Hall. With a spa bath and a log fire crackling away. Alex – developing an increasing addiction to the Canberra Centenary Trail – suggested a welcoming plate of cheese and olives and a glass of local wine. Perhaps we could have put a call in an hour earlier to alert of our arrival. So they could finesse the embellishing touches to a roast dinner. Always thinking of new ideas. And possibly hallucinating for pork crackling.

All that awaited was my dark blue Subaru Outback circa 2000 with brake pads that could probably do with replacing. At least the lights and heating worked, and the engine fired up to transport me home. Home from a stretch of the trail that was one of the longest and more remote. The end of thirty or so kilometres traversing grasslands and ridgetops and sheltered forests. On one side views spanning across New South Wales, the other revealing insight into the march of suburban progress as Canberra pushes north.

It had taken three legs, some additional bike-riding, and a little coordination to engender caramel slice into proceedings. In contrast to the highway-laden stretch before, access points were few and far between. But with the cityscape frequently disappearing behind the hills and a rural landscape opening up, it was all the better for it:

Now, arriving into Hall, I was over halfway there. Returning to my Outback, living on a prayer. Winter please be kind. World, please be kinder.    

Monday May 11: Cabbage proof fence

I was very much looking forward to the walk today. Mainly this was due to the Centenary Trail veering away from roads and suburbs into what looked like countryside. Indeed, the line on the map traversed two massive nature reserves protecting a swathe of Australian landscape. At first glance it might not seem that special – gentle and undramatic, possessing a seemingly ubiquitous expanse of grassland peppered with clusters of stoic eucalyptus. But closer inspection reveals simple joys of nature: the patterns of white and brown and red and yellow streaking across the smoothed branches of a tree; the cheery chirp of a cluster of Galahs gathered around a pond to drink; the contours of a valley replenished by rains, vibrant under a deep blue sky. And no roads to ruin it all.

It wasn’t as though I didn’t get my road fix, however. To link up the end with the beginning of this section I was back on the bike, a good proportion of it alongside Horse Park Drive, the dual carriageway trailer-fest destined for any or all of Sydney, the airport, Ikea, or Costco. Perhaps one or two cars in ten thousand find themselves pulling off to enter the gate into Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve. And maybe the odd bike.

I managed to find a spot to lock up my bike next to a deep concrete hole that must somehow form part of some innovative drainage system. The bike seemed a bit precarious, one gust of wind away from dangling off its chain into the hole like some creature from a wretched hive of scum and villainy over a sarlacc pit. It was also exposed to the main road, prey to any unscrupulous collectors of trash and treasure. But what could I do?

Faring the red rocket good luck, I entered once more into Goorooyarroo, rapidly pushing on to gain some distance between me and the family alighting from one of those popular minivans. I’m not sure how many kids were being extracted from various nooks and crannies in that vehicle, but it seemed to me like it was enchanted by the same kind of witchery as Mary Poppin’s bag and Dick Van Dyke’s accent. With a hasty stride I advanced never to see them again, but perhaps they went off floating in the wind, umbrellas aloft.

In fact, I hardly came across a soul in the whole of Goorooyarroo Nature Reserve: one jogger seemingly out-of-place about midway along the trail. What I did come across was a wide and softly meandering track ploughing its way in between sturdy bare hills. Either side, occasional trees launched their flailing arms into the sky, sheltering an array of unseen tweets and sqwawks. Lapping at the trees, an ocean of grass, green with a browning tinge from the drier, mild days of late autumn. Eventually, finally, Telstra Tower – that companion of potential 5G moron-rays – disappeared from view, and I was in nothing but country.    

At 2:30 the daily flight to Melbourne once more shattered the pretence at wilderness and – following a brief period through low, denser forest – a giant man-made fence imposed itself on the horizon. The fence is hard to miss, the kind of feature that would wrap around a prison or feature in an election campaign pitched at people liable to 5G moron-rays emanating from the innards of Bill Gates. The fence marks the border between the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. And while it might seem desirable as a means to keep the more corona-infested foreigners at bay, its main purpose is to safeguard the land in which I stand from feral pests and alien cabbages.

This shimmering fence was erected only in 2018, adding a further 800 hectares of predator-proof environment to the already established protective zone within Mulligans Flat. The transition from Goorooyarroo into Mulligans Flat, coming after around six kilometres into the walk, is almost seamless. If you exclude yet another massive fence between the two. With such structures you have almost come to expect the presence of faux-paramilitary goons in 1940s throwback uniforms to scrutinise your movements. But all that’s required is a turn of the handle, a push of the gate, and a scrub of hand sanitiser so thoughtfully placed.

The concept of borders is really such an arbitrary thing when you think of it. Who decided, for instance, that people one side of a line would speak Spanish, eat delicious, spicy vibrant food and wear sombreros, while on the other side they would attempt a form of English, eat copious donuts and wear tin foil hats? Who would’ve thought that you could move a boatload of desperate people from one stretch of the ocean to another nearby and absolve all your moral responsibility for helping said desperate people? Who determined that one side of a festering canal should support United and the other City? While we may revel in our little tribes within our borders, rabbits, fires, and viruses don’t seem to worry.  

In my really interesting compendium of interesting border crossings I’d have to say one of the best is between a small piece of France and a tiny corner of Switzerland. In France, ambling along a country lane, passing a generous farmhouse, crossing a quiet road, pushing through a hedge and you are suddenly in Switzerland. The only thing marking this momentous crossing a faded notice about as prominent as a no parking sign obscured by brambles. Yet despite this being the same countryside, the same landscape, things feel distinctly Swiss. The air seems cleaner, the light more radiant, the sound of nearby cows slightly less concerned at accompanying a glass of wine and a whole pack of Gitanes. Swissness is confirmed by not a jot of litter and a cluster of pristine wood and geranium homes, no doubt boasting a cellar for aged wines and Nazi gold. The arbitrariness of a small country road bisecting two worlds.    

While I can hardly compare Goorooyarroo and Mulligans Flat to France and Switzerland, there was an essence of change across the border. This might stem from the fence at Mulligans Flat being in place ten years earlier, and the consequences of that starting to bear fruit.  Fences have been a feature of the Australian landscape ever since white settlement, but with often limited and sometimes comically inept impact. Imagine, if it’s possible to imagine, the current British Government attempting to construct a fence to safeguard the cumulative IQ of the entire cabinet and you’ll start to get a sense of how pointless a fence can be. Rabbits can find ways around them just as much as they can run one of the world’s formerly great powers. 

Unlike much that is despairing in my mother country, the fence around Mulligans Flat appears to be working. Learning lessons from the past and using scientific, evidence-based approaches are having an effect, insomuch as I’m not just entering Mulligans Flat, but Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary no less. In its understated way, this little piece of Australia seems to be doing good, appears to be making things better. Predator free, it has reintroduced species once extinct from this region, once extinct from mainland Australia, like the Eastern Bettong, the Eastern Quoll, the Bush-Stone Curlew. They are the kind of cute critters that go well in marketing. And generally hang out in the night; I just get another bloody cockatoo or two shrieking painfully overhead.

The first thing that strikes you entering Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary at this eastern end is where in bloody hell is the woodland? The Centenary Trail here is a wide, open, dusty-seeming affair, grinding slowly upwards across tightly shorn fields. Important habitat I’m sure for things like deadly snakes and voracious ants but lacking in aesthetic appeal. My legs are wearying a touch now and, after seeing barely a soul all day, I manage to intersect with two pairs of cyclists coming at opposite directions. Being the inferior lycra-less walker it is up to me – it turns out – to scramble into the herbaceous gutter and let them safely pass.

I am – it’s fair to say – getting a little over this walk now. Things like entitled cyclists in lycra are beginning to annoy me. I’m starting to think about what to have for dinner. I’m not hugely inspired by the surrounds. But then, over the crest of a rise, the woodland part of the sanctuary begins to emerge and encircle. The trail leads gently downhill, the westerly sun throwing shafts of light through the trees and replenishing my spirit. I come upon a sizeable dam and, for once, pause. Pause to admire the reflections in the water. Pause to appreciate the blue sky and the good fortune of this place. Pause to listen to the soft melodies of numerous little brown birds flitting from branch to branch before you can have any chance of figuring out what they might be. Little brown birds is good enough. In an ever onwards march to progress on this trail I would do well to pause a little more often.

As the end of today’s episode nears, so too does the encroachment of humankind. After a lonesome kind of walk there is a reassurance in the company of others, a pleasure in seeing fellow humans enjoying the outside too. Little Mix appear to be coming towards me, fanned out across the trail in a melange of hair, leggings, hoodies, and spirited, rising intonation; I feel a little wary, but they are unfailingly cheery and polite. Soon after the Bash Street Kids emerge from the undergrowth one after the other on their bikes, pursuing their latest, comical adventure.

After passing a woolshed – I’m not sure if this is genuine or a deliberate reconstruction – the final part of the walk borders a fence again, though this time alongside the suburban Canberra side. This area – Forde – appears to be one of the more established Gungahlin developments, created with an aspirational, PR-laden goal to be a model new suburb: spacious plots, smooth bicycle paths, tasteful plantings, quiet streets. Good schools and model citizens I’m sure. Everything glistens with a tad more money, the lustre increasing with elevated views upon a rise. Between porches and double garages I espy the needle atop Black Mountain again, now at a slightly different angle.  

On the other side of the fence, across the border, the car awaits to take me back out onto the roads. The busy roads leading to the airport, Ikea, Costco, and – hopefully – my bike. It has been a dream to have been so detached from them for a few hours, to have a city and its roads temporarily disappear. But it is also a dream to be able to get back out onto them so quickly, to go from relative wilderness to modern metropolitanism in several blinks of an eye. Yet another striking contrast across an arbitrary line.

the numbers

Trail Section: Goorooyarroo South – Mulligans Flat Car Park Amy Ackman

Trail length walked: 10.0km

Total length walked: 10.3km

Total steps: 12,250

Altitude gain: 125m

Sunday May 17: The curious case of Billy Button

Following the trail around the northern edge of Canberra is starting to take decent gulps of petrol from my tank. After weeks of pottering around with only incremental effect, expeditions up the likes of the Majura Parkway and Gungahlin Drive meant that there finally came a point where I needed a top up. The fact that it was under a dollar a litre offered minor cause for celebration, offset by the irony of not being able to drive really that far to use it. Other than the northern edges of the ACT.

Canberra is surprisingly spaced out, a situation that contributes to its visage of emptiness and apparent ability to contend with a highly contagious pandemic. From the southernmost suburbs of Tuggeranong to the northern spread of Gungahlin it is approaching 40 kilometres in length. At times travelling from one area to the next it appears if you have left the city altogether. Fields. Cows. Horses. Kangaroos. Fires. And then just as it feels like you are having a wonderful drive in the country you spy some low quality apartments rising on the horizon, heralding one of the capital’s ‘town centres’.

Having sacrificed all this cheap fuel to head north, I was keen to maximise the opportunity of travel by catching up with some friends for a Sunday brunch before joining the next part of the Centenary Trail. At some point in May our COVID restrictions eased. I cannot say when and what exactly because I don’t really remember and there were likely all sorts of disclaimers and provisos. Something like you can visit another household up to a maximum of ten people in the one place, including children but excluding cats, but no touchy feely business unless you are getting your hair cut within four square metres of a barre class. Still, it was nowhere near as confusing as anything whatsoever coming out of the mouths of Dominic Cumming’s zombie spokespeople. And essentially meant I could visit for brunch.

It was over creamy scrambled egg, chorizo, and sourdough toast that I was alerted to the presence of some dry flowers among the many floral adornments scattered around the house and garden. With a long stalk and round bulbous head rather like the microphone carried by Terry Wogan in Blankety Blank I was suitably informed that these were known as billy buttons. Also, it turns out, woollyheads and – technically – Craspedia. Had I ever seen any? My answer: no idea, probably, there would be a fair chance at some point in my life, but I wouldn’t know. I’ll keep an eye out.

Sated with food and good company I didn’t give the billy button much of a thought as I turned my attention to the afternoon’s walk. But you know what’s gonna happen don’t you… though in circumstances not quite as fairy tale as a glass slipper fitting a dowdy housemaid’s dainty feet. Actually, more grim than Grimm. 

The walk today involved another encounter with the New South Wales border, straddling a ridgeline along the edge of North Mulligans Flat. I had been here once before, only a few months earlier. It was just before Christmas and I was on my way out for a country drive. The main purpose of my trip that day was to find a cute café in a charming country town serving reasonable coffee and a copious selection of homemade cakes. To provide some justification for that mission I incorporated a walk, and this was on the way.

It’s fair to say the selection of homemade cakes in Gunning was more impressive than the walk back then. This was mainly down to what it was like here back in mid-December: yellow grass wilting under the pain of a prolonged drought coupled with views to virtually nowhere courtesy of a shroud of smoke. Nonetheless, I reasoned that on a better day this would be a good, archetypal bushwalk. And that’s exactly how it turned out. 

After leaving the lowlands from the car park, the trail creeps gradually upward through thin trees to reach the border. Since the border was mapped out to take into account the water catchment, it offers here some exemplary vistas on either side. To the north, where the rainfall spills into New South Wales, rolling countryside spreads out for miles and miles, dotted with farmsteads and bush-cloaked hills. South, and the entire city of Canberra awaits – sometimes through the bush – but undeniably fanning out across something approaching 40 kilometres. You can see almost all the town centres from here. And the emptiness in between. The water catchment also becomes clear, the city in a beautiful bowl beneath the striking, wild Brindabella Mountains.

For much of the walk these views abound, reaching their pinnacle at a point marked as Oak Hill. A nearby telecommunications tower pumping out moronavirus promises an even loftier vantage. It’s slightly off-track but the gate is open and – spurred on by the more adventurous company of Alex – we head towards its conspiratorial beams. There’s a breeze up here, a freshness which is reflected in the deep blue of the sky. Lacking foil hats and a Twitter egg account, it’s a spot for minimal lingering.

The junction to the tower marks the end point of the Centenary Trail for today and the return to the car park requires some retracing of steps. Hmm, unless… there is a gate. Also unlocked. Lacking any keep out private property no trespassers we will shoot you signs. Leading down into the latest sprawling suburb of Bonner by the looks of things. Bringing a map up on my phone with amazing speed, a gravel track seems to lead past some water tanks and out into a looping crescent of comfortable homes and well-tended gardens. Surely those comfortable homes would have access to bushland in their backyard. Because surely that’s how this suburb would have been marketed by the brains behind such things. I think I met one of those brains once, and I can picture it.

Venturing through the gate and moving steeply downhill, we pass the first and second water tank and catch sight of the streets and gardens below. All lovingly tended behind a massive fence the likes of which I have not seen since the last walk I did on the trail. It’s a big, beautiful fence that you might boast about in place of a wall. In its middle, a securely locked gate sits steadfast in its quest to keep out the baddies. Unfortunately – or fortunately – this impressive structure only persists for fifty metres or so, an illusion of strength and protection at its most visible point. A façade. A great big fat lie, as a much more regular, lower fence spreads out for the remainder of the perimeter. Within this, a well-trodden gap leads into the promised land.

It was while negotiating this gap with a little contortion that I didn’t come across a billy button. That would’ve been too convenient a note on which to end. Nah, the billy button came quite early on, when I was anxious to disperse the coffee and tea I consumed before and during brunch. On a busy Sunday, opportunities to do so were few and far between and I grasped the first opportunity I could find. Even that was a tad risky, but I ventured into the undergrowth to conceal myself as much as possible. And just as I was about to release the floodgates, a bulbous yellow flower upon a long stalk smiled up at me. Pausing me in my tracks, something much easier said than done. It was the only billy button I saw all day.

the numbers

Trail Section: Mulligans Flat Car Park Amy Ackman – Oak Hill

Trail length walked: 6.2km

Total length walked: 10.4km

Total steps: 13,000

Altitude gain: 168m

Sunday May 31: I wouldn’t walk 500 miles

The observant among you who have actually got this far may notice a two week gap between walks. There were several reasons for this, not all of which I can accurately recall. The weather may have been one, though only for a few days here and there. I remember wind was a bit of a feature, and a cold one at that. Work too reared its head, both during the week and over the weekend. I recall feeling a bit achy at times and not particularly motivated to walk too far. And – above all – this leg of the trail was going to be a pretty long stretch.

I am fairly certain this part of the Canberra Centenary Trail will prove the most remote, with no access roads or trails cutting through private property. The only option is to start at the car park of North Mulligans Flat and finish at the village of Hall some seventeen kilometres later. There is even a campground partway through the walk for those who cannot make it. Or those who would choose to camp overnight into the first day of winter. I don’t know, perhaps that is a thing, just to say I camped on the Centenary Trail in winter. All for the atmospherics of toasted marshmallows.

Fortunately, the accumulating Centenary Trail thirst from my friend Alex meant that we could coordinate transportation between the start and end of the walk. A trip to the starting point in a smooth Audi and a return in a clunky Subaru with wearing brake pads. I really should get them replaced, but the whole pandemic thing threw a spanner in the works. Or quite literally didn’t, so to speak.

There’s probably no excuse now, as the whole pandemic thing has eased substantially in Australia since I started this journey…at least up to this point in time. It meant that today, meeting up in Hall, we could sit down for a coffee and bite to eat before getting started. Up to 20 patrons were allowed in cafes, as long as they adhere to some four square metre rule and don’t spit at one another. At the cutesy Daughters at Hall, various markings on the floor and disco dancefloor spacings between tables testified to the times. And while I enjoyed sitting down to indulge in a bacon and lots of other things roll, my eyes were firmly planted on the display of cakes. Takeaway and a squirt of hand sanitiser please.

After lunch we drove to the start at North Mulligans Flat car park. This all looked remarkably familiar from last time, though the impromptu shortcut we took then meant a slightly different, less fencey approach to rejoin the Centenary Trail this time around. After a sedate amble over grassland, the necessary climb up was sure and steady, revealing the ever-increasing views once again. As contrasts go, the foreground of natural Australian bushland descending to the new developments and land clearing of Gungahlin is stark. It’s amplified by suburbs still fresh, having had next to no time to bed down. Tree-lined streets are lacking, while the modern day quest to ensure you have two guest bedrooms, a rumpus room, a studio, and a double garage manifests in the tightly packed use of plots. But people have to live, spaciously, somewhere.

After passing over Oak Hill and with the moronavirus-emitting telecoms tower upon its nearby peak, new ground was on the agenda all the way to Hall. The initial part immediately wound downhill, guided by a series of switchbacks tailor made for a mountain bike. In fact, one was puffing and coiling its way up the trail right now and, with a certain empathy, I moved out of the way to let it pass. In doing so I found myself on the lower part of a switchback and – as Alex rightly pointed out – bypassing a whole ten metres of Centenary Trail.

Come off it, are you serious? I stood there briefly in a state of dilemma. Be totally anal about things and retrace my steps back to where I abruptly jumped off? Or just carry on content that following this trail isn’t exactly an exact science? I obviously went back, a nagging fear of regret and hollow accomplishment coming to mind.

At the bottom of this hill the Northern Campground sits within a rather lovely glade and would be a fine spot to spend the night if you can be bothered to carry all your gear in. The facilities look fairly new and well maintained, with a number of shelters and a pit toilet at the more deluxe end of the scale as pit toilets go. I think there has only been one night where I have camped without at least a pit toilet available. It was on the banks of the Darling River in Kinchega National Park, part of the Menidee Lakes system. Proper outback, where the flies eat your eyes, a man is a man, and a shovel is handy. Fortuitously I, nor my travelling companion Jill, made use of that fold up shovel purchased in our pre-trip Anaconda spending spree. It was just one of those things that came along for the 20,000km ride. In fact, the potato masher got more use.

Just past the campground, a dam offered a quiet mirror to the sunny sky and trees spilling out of a patch of forest. The trail meandered through this forest, following gentle contours of crest and gully. It proved quite the delight; not one of those dense and dark foreboding manifestations, but a lightly canopied affair diffusing the mild afternoon sunshine. Still autumn, for now.

By this point any sign of Gungahlin, of Canberra, had disappeared. The route crept on in between a mixture of forested glade, open grassland, and green pasture. On the New South Wales side an occasional farmstead emerged in the distance, clearly identifiable by a growth of rusting machinery and deciduous trees around a tin roof. At times, the verdant farmland blessed by our recent rains pretended at Devon. Or at least Hampshire.

After almost ten kilometres a brief glimpse of Canberra returns, inevitably dominated by the pinnacle of the Telstra Tower. With a sheltered valley feeding towards this view and a sizeable log for support, this stood out to me as the opportune spot for afternoon tea. There was, after all, a caramel slice for the occasion, a situation I did not at all pre-empt with the preparation of a flask of tea magically extracted from my backpack. Sure, the tea was lukewarm by now but any accompaniment to that caramel slice would have paled into eternal insignificance.

The break provided a little pep to the stride, a level of renewed vigour that was immediately put to good use scrambling out of the way of a stream of mountain bikers. This section of the trail seems to lure people on two chunky wheels, a groomed magnet to a confetti of garish pinks and lime greens slicing their way through the landscape. You can see why – the trail here appears to have been designed with bikers in mind, from the gentle switchback coils to the smooth, sweeping tracks through forest. It is also of a design beneficial to the walker, particularly when heading upwards.

Upwards was a growing trend as we approached the culmination of the day, One Tree Hill. The summit – positioned at the northern end of a rising ridge emanating from Hall – had been visible at several points during the walk. Back at the start, near the moronavirus tower, it appeared unfathomably distant. And at times, as we squiggled along the state border, it never really looked like it was getting any closer. Yet finally, with a gradual approach through a series of more generous switchbacks, the detour up to the summit appeared.

After a fairly quiet day on the track encountering a few bikers here and there, the path up to the top of One Tree Hill felt more like a trip to Westfield on a Saturday after a pandemic-induced lockdown. A popular outing is to walk to this hill from Hall, possibly after a fine lunch or coffee and cake. It’s a trip I would definitely consider in the future if it were arranged in such a way. Undoubtedly the views are impressive out across the whole of the ACT and, over the ridge, to NSW. There is a strategically placed information board and selfie-inducing installation. And I think one tree stands just below the summit, though other trees nearby throw up an air of confusion.

Probably the most striking feature though, at this point in time, is the land immediately below the hill. It is the realisation of a lego template, the base plates having been set out ready to create your very own town. Driveways are etched out along the roads to earmark a future home or post office or fire station with flashing lights and cool retractable hoses. Yellow diggers and trucks sit idle waiting for the weekday crew in fluoro overalls and plastic helmets. Away from the base plates, a few dirt clearings infiltrate hillier, woodier country. Destined to be the site of wealthier dwellings in years to come. This is Taylor.   

I’m pretty sure – because I have met the brains behind these kinds of things – that One Tree Hill will feature in the suite of lifestyle marketing for Taylor. Taylor. Be The One. With illustrative sketches in a soft light, vaguely coloured faceless people out for a run, families communing with one another while supping on a cappuccino, kids clustered in the park. Perhaps, in the middle distance, a pony in a field, a Galah perched on a gum, an undefined rise of a hill beyond. Hell yeah, be the one in Taylor. Just don’t step on any pieces of lego in the process because it sure will hurt.

At some point you’d imagine if the Taylor dream is to be realised there will be an access trail to One Tree Hill. But for now, the only way is Hall. Given One Tree Hill feels like the culmination of today’s walk there is a sense that we are done. Surely Hall is just down the hill a little. We are about 14km in and I suggested to Alex we were looking at 15km today, a figure I came up with via guesswork and a desire not to dissuade Alex or the internal recalcitrance in my own mind. Fifteen kilometres in an afternoon seems reasonable.

After 15km ticks over we begin guessing and taking bets around how many kilometres we will actually clock up. The route to Hall is entirely pleasant, slowly descending through low bush with views to the south and east. At some point the whole of Gungahlin disappears, a change in angle and altitude providing countryside once more. It is a darkening outlook, a combination of leaden cloud and fading light heralding the end of the day, the end of autumn. A few spots of rain fall to the ground. The twinkling lights of Hall cannot come soon enough. If only there was a B&B with a spa bath, a log fire, a glass of wine and a roast dinner.

But, alas, after 17.4km there is just a Subaru with worn brake pads waiting. The symbol of the end. The end of the longest trek on this endeavour to date. The end of the first half of the trail – at 72km I am over halfway there. And the end of this discovery of the border country. A country with generous vistas, hearty open air, billy buttons and sturdy fencing. I shall miss it. Busy roads and town centres await.

Dropping Alex back to his car I drive on through the dark, guzzling more petrol, passing that omnipresent tower glowing atop Black Mountain on the way home. Flicking between the awful selection of Canberra radio channels, the Proclaimers pipe up…something about walking 500 miles for heroin and a deep fried mars bar. Actually 1000 if you do the maths. Honestly, that must be some good heroin. 10.81 felt enough.

the numbers

Trail Section: Oak Hill – Hall

Trail length walked: 15.2km

Total length walked: 17.4km

Total steps: 20,900

Altitude gain: 370m

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