Full of the joys

Wow, I see it was a totally different financial year the last time I posted something on here. What has happened since then? Well, I calculated I’ll probably owe some tax. I decided I’d lodge the return at the last possible moment. And I figured I should get some work to help pay it. Meanwhile, Melbourne happened, Canberra didn’t and Sydney sort of wavered on continual tenterhooks. I opened my first carton of UHT milk purchased in March because it was due to go off. Oh, and I completed the Canberra Centenary Trail. In case you missed it.  

Midwinter released its grip in fits and starts. And the seeping light of mornings stirred me closer toward an uncivilised hour. Wakening in the fives, I flit between hope of additional slumber, a boring interview on Radio National, and a curiosity about what might be going on outside. Sometimes this gets the better of me and I heroically part from my cocoon to embrace the day. Waiting for a coffee shop to open.

In that time between sunrise and coffee shop opening I potter through parks or take a drive to a nearby hilltop. It both surprises and comforts to find that I am not the only one out and about, the only one climbing hills, towering over the mist. There is shared solidarity on the hill, unspoken recognition that we are the lucky ones, that everyone else is missing out.

Misty mornings on Red Hill

It was on one of these mornings, mid-August, that I went in pursuit of a rainbow over Mount Taylor. A pot of gold would be handy even if the Tax Office are inevitably going to nab a handful of it. Alas, the rainbow had faded by time I parked up, but I walked a while and found treasure elsewhere. The perfect tunnel of cherry blossom in full extravagance. Adjacent to an open coffee shop.

A parade of cherry blossom

It is hard for me to conclude that spring is starting ever earlier because I’m usually in Europe during August. I return from overseas to a different world, jetlag weariness tempered by the thrum of bees and the tantalising prospect of future months bedecked in shorts. Bundles of flowers sprout from the trees and Bunnings becomes overwhelmed with people buying tomatoes far too early. The temperature trajectory is upward, but don’t remove that electric blanket just yet.

And sure enough, barely days later I was up early on another nearby hill looking out to snow. Not only on the distant ranges – dramatically revealed in the parting of valley mist – but also dusting the upper mound of Mount Taylor itself. Like a frame of pink blossom providing a window to the soul of Mount Fuji, one does not travel downstream to the replenishing river of spring with not first accomplishing the ultimate frozen mountaintop of mangled metaphor.  

Snow-capped mountains

Dotted among lurid yellow wattle and purple Paterson’s curse sprawling down the hillside, even the kangaroos looked a bit perplexed. Bemused. Ever so slightly pissed off. What the heck was this all about, this most bitter weekend of winter, when there was such colour burgeoning all around? Why on earth are we up so early on this godforsaken windswept ridge to look at snow? Is the coffee shop open yet? Click once for yes, two for no.

Kangaroo vistas

Inevitably the following weekend was A-MAZ-ING in a caps lock way that even Donald Trump would find difficult to resist. I feel like I wore a T-shirt sat on a log eating homemade quiche watching an echidna pass by in pursuit of love. I could still see snow on the highest ridge line of the mountains, but 1200 metres lower it was all sunshine and butterflies and frisky monotremes. Surely, definitely, the turning point leading to fake summer.   

Indeed, the year moves on and it is strange how quickly and yet how slowly it is going. This weekend would have heralded the start of Floriade – Canberra’s celebration of spring attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to gawp at tulips. But this year it is, of course, cancelled due to you know what. Instead, they have planted bulbs all across the suburbs, a Floriade Local if you like. The closest to me is down by the Youth Centre, so goodness knows how all that will pan out. All I can picture is a scene from The Inbetweeners.

Luckily, us locals don’t really need an organised parade of millions of flowers planted in the pattern of a unicorn pooping stardust to truly appreciate spring. You can just walk out into the street, any street. In 2020 I feel like I have gotten to know my local streets more than ever, witnessing their withered pain during brutal orange summer skies, their relief moving into an autumn technicolour, and their barren stoicism through winter frosts. Now, they are undeniably full of the joys of spring.

Blossom
Blossom

And as I continue to wake with the lighter mornings on a regular basis, I experience a microsecond of newfound joy as I pull up the blinds. The trees on my street have been steadily gathering buds then white cauliflower blooms then green shoots. The daffodils stand proud and the marigolds burst like orange lollipops. My snow peas, planted as part of doomsday prep, finally gather some momentum while the kale goes to seed. I may get one stir fry’s worth.

The morning too doesn’t feel as chilly as it used to. And I contemplate going outside. Or returning to bed. Just what time does that coffee shop open again?

Spring streets
Australia Green Bogey Photography

Another Day Out!

Stretching even further afield for a day trip down to the South Coast of New South Wales…


Clyde Mountain

Around the top of Clyde Mountain, vivid green growth flourishes almost six months following the devastating bushfires of summer. Away from the road, it’s a serene, mesmerising world filled with gentle birdsong. Heading down the mountain, different stages of recovery are discernible: from vibrant thickets to some very barren, charred terrain with little new growth in sight – clearly subject to fire of such intensity that it may never fully recover.

Broulee

At Broulee there is an island that isn’t really an island but is almost an island attached to the Australian mainland by a narrow neck between Broulee Beach and Shark Bay. No sharks spotted today but best to keep out of the water!
Shark Bay
Approaching something close to 18 degrees with only light winds, sheltered spots at least prompt consideration of short sleeves. While a little cloud bubbles up from time to time, the views out to sea and back to the coastal ranges are striking.

Burrewarra Point

A rugged headland offers a maze of rambles through coastal heath dotted with flowing Banksia. At one point a couple of seals are pointed out to me by a man wistfully seeking whales. However, the largest lump sighted on the distance horizon proves to be the spiritual peak of Gulaga.

Guerilla Bay

Guerilla Bay seems a little off the beaten track. Grand homes and shacks hide in the bush. No shops or cafes to tempt the tourists. And a cove reachable only with a little instinct and good fortune.
Golden winter afternoons
Australia Driving Green Bogey Photography Walking

Marvellous

Late Friday afternoon on the road between Braidwood and Bungendore and the wind is buffeting my car as it trundles into the sleety clouds of winter. I’m returning from the coast, where two hours before I was eating lunch on a sheltered cove saturated in warm sunshine. It’s a slightly weary drive and, for some reason, I decide to play The Lightning Seeds for probably the first time in twenty years.

After several jaunty, scousish ditties that sound identical, the sage words of Alan Hansen and Jimmy Hill emerge as the infectious, glorious, deprecating anthem that is Three Lions blares out. I cannot listen to this without bobbing my head a little, chanting, smiling like a Cheshire Cat. As much as you might try. It’s Coming Home! At least I hope so, in light of the possible blizzard up ahead.

It’s Coming Home. Euro 96. An era that now feels halcyon, days when the Donald and BJ were still complete dicks but at least not complete dicks inexplicably leading disunited states and precarious kingdoms. Back in 1996, John Major was trundling his way towards the end of years of Tory rule, a regime which now somehow seems sane and reasonable. The Spice Girls were zig-a-zag-ahing and both Mitchells were polishing their heads behind the bar of the Queen Vic. I was completing my first year of university, undistracted by a phone, immune from the ranting coalescence of conspiracy lunatics on the internet.

I don’t remember that much about my university course (who does?), but in a convoluted way which coincidentally brings us back to the present I suppose it led me to be in the South Coast NSW town of Narooma on a mild, golden evening in August 2019. I studied, I got a job, I travelled, I went back to that job, I transferred to Australia with that job and I ended up on a boardwalk meandering past calm and clear waters toward the ocean.

nar01

nar02Did I ever imagine back in 1996 that I would be gazing out to the Pacific hoping to sight a whale? Meandering downhill alongside gardens strewn with exotic plants and colourful birds? Wandering past parks dotted with electric barbecues and sinks for dealing with the entrails of fish? Who would have thought I would have previously parred the treacherous Bogey Hole of that golf course wedged between the town and the plunging cliffs of the coastline? Certainly not me, or anyone else, which is why I bring it up again.

nar04

Even with its ageing hackers, Narooma is a pretty quiet kind of place, especially in a midweek in winter when the temperature has dipped to something around nineteen degrees. It’s tough going, having to put a light jumper on as the sun disappears behind Gulaga, pondering whether to have fish and chips for dinner or wait until tomorrow.

nar03

———————————————-

While I know Narooma pretty well, the first night in a strange place always seems to lead to a fitful sleep, even when you’ve opted to forego fish and chips. Waking too early the next day, the murmurings of RN Breakfast do little to inspire or send me back to doze, so I head out into the dark. I love this time of day, especially beside the ocean; facing east as the black fades to blue and grey and red and yellow, and shafts of sunlight glitter off the sea. The sun kisses the layers of morning cloud, spreading to the tops of trees, and illuminating the coffee shop on the hill. A beacon which makes the reward of an early start in Australia all the better.

nar05

With plenty of the day still ahead I took the car for a little explore south of Narooma, stopping first in the so-good-they-named-it-twice hamlet of Tilba Tilba before heading on to the relative bustle of Central Tilba. This is a corner of the county oozing genuine charm, with plenty of tin roofs and lacework awnings, flower-filled yards and rustic leftovers. By Australian standards it’s usually a green and lush place as well, which is great for local dairy products; but even here the drought looked to be taking its yellowing toll.

nar06

Given my early start it was probably pushing it to head to the bakery in Central Tilba for local produce straight away, so I took a gentle amble along the track which eventually leads to the top of Gulaga, the dominant, forest-clad peak of the area, spiritually significant to the local Yuin people. You can walk to the top, but I wasn’t really in the mood and I heard that summit views were lacking. The valley was perfectly happy enough.

nar07

Did I mention dairy products? One of my favourite topics which, back in 1996, probably didn’t come with any moral distaste from ethically sourced eco-vegan leftists typing away on their not-so-pure iPhones. I guess at a philosophical level, there is valid debate as to whether we can still have our cake and eat it? At an individual level, the answer was a resounding yes. Not only in Tilba, home to Jersey Cows and related outputs. But also in Bodalla, a pitstop on my journey into and out of Narooma and for all journeys this way in the future. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

nar07a

South of Tilba, the main highway veers off towards Bermagui, along a splendid road of eucalyptus forest and the shores of Wallaga Lake. The maps indicate a few coastal rock formations here, names suggesting a likeness to horses and camels which enticed me to explore with the hope of discovering an Australian Durdle Door or Bedruthan Step. While there was not quite the same grandeur, the coastal scenery, now bathed in warm sunshine, proved a tonic after that massive apple turnover.

It was pleasing to discover I was on part of the ‘Great South Coast Walk’ according to a few signposts. This doesn’t appear to be an official trail but may yet develop into something more formal. One of my bugbears with Australia is that it doesn’t seem to have the same right to roam philosophy as the UK. Huge tracts of land are locked up in private hands or just downright inaccessible unless you have Ray Mears on hand with a machete and / or a big gas guzzling ute. Being able to just rock up anywhere on the coast and walk has an appeal unmatched. See, for example, South West Coast Path.

nar08

nar09

It was along this walk, overlooking the expanse of Wallaga Lake, that I learnt of another resemblance in the landscape around here. Gulaga is a pregnant woman, partly explaining its significance to the Yuin people who were here well, well before 1996. Today, its fertility abounds as a cluster of whales drift down the coast, mother and calf distant white caps sporadically splashing in the rich waters.

I probably wouldn’t have spotted the whales if it wasn’t for a couple of retired locals staked out on a headland near Horse Head Rock. For me, this is usually the most successful method of spotting wildlife. If you’re driving in country Australia and a cluster of people have pulled over to look up at a tree, there’s a fair chance you’ll get to see a koala. The other way you tend to discover local wildlife is when you nearly run it over. Beware Wombats.

nar11Spurred on by earlier whale sightings I ended the day back up near Narooma, taking a scenic coastal drive alongside Dalmeny and Kianga which boasts several panoramic viewing platforms along the way. The platforms are sited in between yet more pristine bays that you can have all to yourself. It was at the last of these points that I glanced a surfing dolphin, followed by a few more and a few more still. Passing below, there must have been around twenty dolphins, tracking north on a feeding mission. A whole two football teams.

nar10

———————————————-

I doubt I would have seen dolphins in 1996. Nor would I be questioning the prospect of snow in August, even counting for British weather. Today, this was a possibility heading back to Canberra thanks to a vigorous succession of cold fronts coming from the Antarctic. My solution was to linger down on the coast for as long as possible.

It was undoubtedly windy, but the skies were blue and with a little shelter you could sit comfortably in a light sweater or even T-shirt. Neither of which were really possible in the blustery settings of Cullendulla Creek and the nearby Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens, but these were attractive diversions nonetheless. At the gardens, the stronger gusts were a tad alarming and it felt only a matter of time before a branch would fall on my head. Mercifully it didn’t, and the march towards Spring carried on.

nar12

nar13

Just north of Batemans Bay – and the road junction back to Canberra – the graceful, tall spotted eucalypts of Murramarang National Park were probably less appealing to walk through today. Especially when picking a walk that follows a ridgeline facing the bay, directly exposed to the strong southwesterlies. The crashing chaos, the constant buffeting, the noise and fury do not entice a pause to look up and marvel. Impulsion instead for a brisk pace and the hope of respite on the other side. And what gentle and idyllic contrast this proves.

nar14

A bay with no-one and nothing. Nothing but calm clear waters, untouched sand and the backing of a gently whispering bush. A driftwood log, downed in some other storm and also finding its way to this paradise, is now a perfect setting for a late lunch. The breathlessness is not only in the air, the warmth not only on the outside. Perhaps even in 2019, these are still the days, this is still the life.

nar15

 

Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography Walking

Warming

It is a fact truer than anything to have ever come out of the British Prime Minister’s mouth that I will always take up an opportunity to work in Brisbane in July. While the locals may gripe about the icy depths of winter where overnight it might just slip below double digits and require a good for humanity coal fire, I’ve packed two pairs of shorts. And just the one jumper.

brs01And a raincoat. For it is even truer that Queensland is far from beautiful one day, perfect the next; a dubious marketing slogan dreamt up by mediocrities that continues apace in the supposed Sunshine Coast, a place frequently sodden by epic downpours and possessing a clammy mildew befitting the swampy subtropics. Saturday here was so damp that the highlight was a doughnut, and even that wasn’t much of a highlight, more a triumph of social marketing style over substance.

brs02Queensland: pissing down one day, sweaty the next. The sweatiness emerging on Sunday as the sun makes an appearance, triggering rising heat and rampant moisture. Liquid particles are lifted by ocean gusts, filtered ineffectually through the thrum of air conditioning to congregate in damp surf club carpets. Puddles among snake-infested flood plain linger, waiting for passing birds and passing property developers to drain. The ubiquitous HiLux secretes fluids while idling outside Red Rooster, as a leftover billboard of some redneck running for parliament gazes down approvingly. Just thank the lord or some other unelected deity that it is not yet high summer.

Indeed, the sweatiness is relatively tolerable this time of year and is alleviated by the pleasure of wearing shorts in midwinter.  As dark clouds sweep north to reveal a sky of blue, there is an hour of pleasant sunshine on the coast, a welcome companion on a bare-legged walk along the beach and promenade to Mooloolaba. I rest at Alex Heads watching sandcastles being built and surfers being demolished, and sharks being hidden just out of site. Probably. It’s not even a whole day let alone an entirety of existence, but for a few moments it seems that things are beautiful, tending towards perfect.

brs03

Somewhat annoyingly the sunshine was a sign of an improving pattern of weather as I returned to Brisbane and the prospect of work. On the plus side, there was a bit of downtime and a later flight back to Canberra on the warmest day of the week, giving me the opportunity to don shorts once again, while all around me wore coats. And then there was the hotel I was staying in, which was rather fine with its rooftop pool and terrace overlooking the ever rising city and the ever flowing brown of the Brisbane River.

brs04

Actually, the hotel was somewhat funky and felt more like a spot for special treat bogan holidays and shadowy foreign gambling syndicates fast-tracked by Border Force than a place where weary businesspeople rest their weary heads. In my room there was a wine fridge, the TV was in the mirror (what?!), and there were a series of illuminated switches that operated a configuration of lights that I never was able to master. Switches that glow in the dark and give a sense of Chernobyl as you try to sleep. Only the lift was more luminescent, alternating between being in a Daft Punk video and a fish tank of the Barrier Reef before it got bleached.

Walking out of the lift and onto the street was a sure way to ease a headache, especially as outside it was warm and sunny and just oozing that relaxed vibe that comes with a level of warmth and sunniness. Think how England feels when the misery of flooding rain and gloom dissipates for a freakish sunny day, golden and mild after months of despair and before the impending furnace of yet another unseasonal heat plume from the African colonies. A bit like that.

The Brisbane River acts as something of a waymarker wandering the city, guiding you along South Bank and its gardens and galleries, channelling you across to the north with angular bridges and sweeping curves. Disappearing as you cut across the CBD with its blocks of one-way-street and chirruping pedestrian crossings, before emerging again in an amalgam of mangroves at the terminus of the Botanic Gardens.

brs05

Back across the river, the cliffs of Kangaroo Point provide fine city views as well as clichéd place name delight for international visitors to post. Some people abseil down the cliffs, others look up from the riverside path below. All try to avoid getting run over by yet another dork on one of the city’s electric scooters. Most sit and wait and contemplate what it would be like to be on a scooter, as the sun goes down on another day in Queensland.

brs06

And for me, as darkness descends, it is back to the light. The florid light of that lift going up to the many lights that I cannot figure out how to arrange in my hotel room, the switches for which will light up at night as a constant reminder that they have won. Along the way, the lights of the city flicker on, as the temperature drops below twenty.

brs07

After a few days here I rummage in my bag for that one jumper. It’s starting to get a tad cool, just a little off being perfectly comfortable. I could survive without it, but I did pack it after all, and it would be a shame to carry it all this way and not put it to use. For the first time in Brisbane, I seem to fit in. Now all I need is a scooter to carry me off into the night, towards the light.

Australia Food & Drink Green Bogey Photography Walking

Hop, skip, jump

Or how to catch up two months in one thousand words.

Can it really be more than two months ago that I was faring well an England seemingly destined for Johnsonillae exitium philanderus? Well, yes, it was and with that comes the strange and daunting prospect this year of an entire Canberra winter. Which, to tell the truth, hasn’t been overly taxing thus far. A few cold nights and fresh mornings, the occasional horror day featuring bone-chilling winds and foggy drizzle. Yet time it right in the afternoon and you can be bathing in 15 degree sunshine. And as the temperature plummets overnight, watching a cricket world cup at four in the morning in bed is cosy, if not calming.

Arriving back in mid-May delivered me to a climate marginally warmer and certainly sunnier than the realm from which I came. A mild, ambient goldenness that stretches into early June, as leaves linger and fade and float slowly down onto the ground. It was pleasing to still see autumn abounding after experiencing spring sprouting. A soothing ointment for jetlag.

tdf_01_edited_edited

Like the 4pm sun on a scarlet leaf, there is a distinct contrast returning from the UK to Australia, and Canberra in particular. Where are the streets clogged with parked cars and the friendly waves between drivers allowing one another to pass? What happened to the sweet birdsong and bounty of green? Just where is everyone? On the light rail maybe.

Wilderness, absolute emptiness is not really a trait of the British landscape, but here it practically feels as though it’s around every corner. A lingering day trip holiday hangover prompted me off to Braidwood for the token mid-morning coffee and cake and then on into the Budawang Wilderness. A landscape of escarpment and gorge, ferns and eucalyptus, blue hills and blue skies. A new peak to conquer – Mt Budawang – and those very Australian views. Not in Kansas or Kensington anymore.

tdf_02_edited

There was more sandstone bush aplenty on another day trip into the Southern Highlands with two friends – Michael and Angela – who were briefly in the country for a change; equally keen to taste that generous sense of antipodean air and space before embarking for the freneticism of Europe. It was a right proper miserable public holiday morning in Canberra, but a little north and east near Bundanoon the drizzle faded, the skies cleared, and the hills and valleys of a small pocket of Morton National Park glowed. It became – still – comfortable enough for t-shirt.

tdf_03_edited

Given such fortuitous conditions we stretched the day out with a visit to the ever popular Fitzroy Falls. The bulk of day trippers take the short stroll to the top of the falls, a few less meander on to the first couple of lookouts, and just the hardcore like us go all the way. It’s not that taxing – around 6km return – and it’s a walk constantly accompanied by generous vistas and plentiful woodland. Today, we had the bonus display of a lyrebird, perching and prancing and going through its repertoire of impeccable mimicry, reminding us, once again, how unique Australia truly is.

tdf_04_edited

These Australian winter days are in many ways incomparable to those of the north; I could not imagine being so comfortable and surrounded by the continuing flourish of nature on a windswept Princetown tor in January. Or May. Yet, coincide some of the higher, harsher landscapes with the handful of genuine wintry days, and it can feel like a cream tea in front of a log fire would have been a far more sensible choice. Such as exposed upon the summit of Booroomba Rocks, as a tenuous sleety shower whips across the valley.

tdf_05_edited

There is snow to be had as the year progresses into July, a clue provided by the proximity of the Snowy Mountains to Canberra. Most of the white stuff falls above 1800m or so, but a dusting can accumulate at lower levels to coat the western backdrop to the Australian capital. Clever foreshortening with big zooms can make it look as though the hill behind Parliament House is some kind of snow-capped Mount Fuji, but it takes around an hour to reach these powdery playgrounds.

When these powdery playgrounds receive a fresh dusting on a Sunday during school holidays, carnage can ensue. In fact, it creates a scene reminiscent of the frenzy after a dusting on Dartmoor, when cars stop and pull over willy-nilly, the white blanket concealing rocks and ditches and any intrinsic common sense remaining. The snow becomes muddy and slushy and by noon the picture resembles a bad day’s racing at Exeter Speedway in which the childcare centre has experienced full on meltdown.

I assumed leaving around eight in the morning I’d be one of a handful of pioneers to add fresh footsteps in the virgin snow around Corin Forest. Yet I find I’m in a queue of mainly oversized Utes idling while the road remains closed. I could wait, for goodness knows how long, to follow the many vehicles in front as they lose all sense of common sense upon the first sighting of a pile of slush. Or I could park up on this nice flat grassy verge and walk. Somewhere.

As fortuitous as the parking spot was, my luck doubled with the gate leading onto a fire trail which eventuated into a loop walk taking in a bit of a climb and gradually moving away from the road and the sound of idling engines and despairing parents with despairing children who need a wee. Fresh, fragrant eucalyptus with just a dusting of snow; seemingly not enough to really close a road, honestly, but a coating of white nonetheless. A scene sufficient to paint a picture of transition from the spring blossom to the autumnal gold to the middle of winter in two months. Two months and one thousand words. Okay, not quite one thousand, but if I just add up the words as I write this extra bit, I reckon I might just get there.

tdf_06_edited

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking

Sapphire sea to blue sky

As Europe scorches and folk back home whinge about it being too hot, the disjuncture between England and Australia heightens. Minus fives accompany football matches at four in the morning, condensation provides a ceaseless battle, and pictures of a sun-soaked France on steroids beckon like an electronic blanket and doona. Mercifully, once the fog lifts the afternoons are pure Canberra winter, with clear sunny skies proffering warmth in which a jumper can remain sufficient (today, an unseasonably warm 18 degrees). Still, it’s not shorts and thongs stuff exactly. For most people.

Queenslanders are a different breed and rarely own a pair of long trousers. It’s understandable up that way – see, for instance, my previous post in FNQ – but is something that would present a challenge visiting Canberra in July. For most people.

I never truly expected my mate Jason to appear off a flight from Brisbane in shorts and thongs. Okay 5% of me did, but there he was. Queenslander. Ready to catch up on Canberra haunts and friends, strategise and hypothesise, and prove that Real Australians Welcome Shorts. And should the minus fives and condensation get too much, there is always chance to flee to the coast.

Two hours away on the South Coast of NSW, the moderating effect of ocean keeps the minimums higher and a chance for daytime sunshine to warm things enough for a T-shirt to still be possible. But not today, with a brisk breeze tempering things. For most people.

jd01_editedStill, sheltered by untainted forest and rolling coastal hills, kissed by the radiance of the crystal ocean under clear skies, there is certain comfort to winter here. It is at one tranquil and vivacious, glowing in a freshness swept in by cold fronts and a seasonal lull in nature’s freneticism. The tried and trusted walk between Depot and Pebbly Beach proves to be at its very best.

jd02_edited

jd03The kangaroos and wallabies appear to be fans of this weather, out in force grazing on the luscious fringe of grassy dune and really, really hoping for a stray sandwich. While far from the explosion in #quokkaselfies on Rottnest Island in Western Australia, the placidity of these animals – along with the idyllic Australian coastal setting – have made #rooselfies a thing, sort of. Especially when there are tourists about.

——————————————————-

One of the boasts made to lure tourists to certain destinations (for instance I’m thinking California) is that you can be surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. Well, Canberra is very much like California, though perhaps not as strong in the sun-kissed-girls-so-hot-they-melt-your-popsicle department. From sparkling ocean to snowy mountains…

An hour or so out of Canberra, traversing a winding but decent gravel road, the Brindabellas rise to something like 1900 metres. Sometimes the road is closed for snow, but the run of fine dry weather allowed access to a world in which human intervention is almost impossible to perceive. Looking west from Mount Aggie, it is a concertina of ridge and valley, fold after fold of deep green eucalyptus cascading over the horizon. With a silence so striking that it cries out in distinction.

jd04

A little further down the road, Mount Franklin used to house a very archaic, make-it-up-as-you-go-along skiing area for Canberra devotees. It wasn’t exactly exemplary cover or persistent across winter, but the hardiest pioneers gave it a shot. Today, a few remnants linger including the necessary patches of snow. Indeed, snow was a surprising bonus accompanying a walk gradually upwards to an overlook south and east. A vista again largely untainted by anything whatsoever. Just the world and the blue, blue sky.

jd07_edited

It wasn’t entirely peaceful here however, as we came across what were probably the only other people in this section of Namadgi National Park on a Monday in July. I think they were quite astonished to a) see someone else and b) see someone wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I explained the Queensland thing and that seemed to appease their simmering incredulity. Bidding farewell, we lingered for a while before the coolness eventually started to descend.

jd05_edited

jd06

Heading back down to the car, our new-found friends were still lingering in the parking area, I sense relieved that not just one but both of us had made it back without catching hypothermia and resorting to cannibalism. In reality though it was an Australian winter afternoon; yes there was some leftover snow on the ground, but in no way whatsoever was it distressingly cold. Indeed, from the sapphire sea to the blue sky, winter here can still be divine. For most people.

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking

Shadows and light

Well haven’t things been a little quiet? I mean on this obscure little blog of mine, obviously. Elsewhere life has been as hectic as a white house full of vainglorious charlatans; shady meetings here, photo opportunities there, late post-work nights scrolling Twitter and watching better men climb mountains. Lots of covfefe to keep me going.

IMG_0350

IMG_1464It’s kind of a winter thing, a cross-hibernation leisure shut down enforced by financial year leftovers and inevitable doses of bugs that may or may not be flu but love to linger. Canberra has had more than its fair share of cold, but – the last week apart – it has been phenomenally dry, with big clear skies bringing about pleasant afternoons before ruining the whole mood with sharp, sadistic frosts.

IMG_2179It has been pleasant enough – out of any wind, with a little time spare – for a few walks into the bush. There are Red Hill ramblings of course, but throw in a few Mount Taylor hikes, Black Mountain bush and Botanic Garden explorers, Mount Ainslie parkways, and add a random sprinkling of Cooleman Ridge countryside ambles and Urambi Hills thrills and there’s enough to keep reasonably sane and fit. Especially when the bike is gathering cobwebs.

IMG_2306

The nice thing with winter is that, largely, it is far from drab. The other nice thing is red wine accompanying slow cooked meat falling apart in a lather of gravy. Outside, the eucalypts still have leaves and there is always something, somewhere that is in flower. At this time of year the wattle loves to be all extravagant in gold, while resistant rusted on leaves mingle with ghostly bare branches and the alluring onset of early blossom. Three seasons in one, proof that Australia, really, honestly, doesn’t quite have a ‘normal’ winter.

20175

Colour comes too in evening skies, given the right combination of luck and persistence. A lot of my time in the last month has been spent at the National Library; a change of scene from working at home, with heating supplied and coffee options close. Outside the bookish interior I have seen a lake whipped up into peaks, a fog chilling to the bone, and a giant water feature named after Lieutenant James Cook spray passers-by with a spirit of generosity. And then, you get a calm one, when the lake becomes glass and duplicates the sheer beauty of our skies. It’s not a bad office from home office.

IMG_2024

I’ve formed a bit of a love-hate relationship with the library; much as I have with winter. I dread to think how many words I have written there in the past month, all of which are far more insight-oriented with indications of strategic positioning than anything you might read here. A key topline take out though: it’s in a great location and, as an almost Canberran, I feel so fortunate to have ready access to such fine institutions on my doorstep.

IMG_2300And a few strategic recommendations for winter? Anything with gravy and a glass of red helps; get out in the warming afternoons even if this means working at night; and, in the midst of analytical bewilderment, book a flight to the UK, where the daytime temperature will probably end up being the same anyway! See you oop North….

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking

Snow day

Yesterday, the morning proffered an icing of snow around the hilltops of Canberra. It is the closest that snow has got to my front door in ten years of life here. Usually, any frenzied anticipation that snow will fall is quickly dashed in much the same way it was in my childhood; Plymothian style cold rain mixed with just perhaps the odd sleety globule if you squint hard enough. But yesterday, if you got up early and aimed high, you might just have been able to build a dwarf snowman and get it featured on TV by an excitable ABC news crew.

Today, waking early despite a late evening watching bikes in France, checking my work emails to see practically no-one loved me, doing laundry by nine and wondering now what, I aimed higher. Up towards Corin Forest, but largely avoiding that school holiday playground which quickly descends into brown sludge and tears. I parked in mud and ice and ventured up onto the Smokers Trail. Not for a cheeky ciggie, but for a walk under deep blue skies and fresh eucalypt forest. Leaving a pioneering trail of steps imprinted in a few centimetres of powder, a journey capped off with a bucket of hot chips amongst the browning sludge and escalating tears. Today, off the beaten track, rewarded by chips, a perfect snow day.

snow1603

snow1601

snow1604

snow1602

snow1605

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking

Lighting up the dark

Winter in Australia can be a bit of farce, particularly as you move closer to the sea. As temperatures dip shockingly to sixteen degrees Celsius, department stores in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall rapidly sell out of chequered scarves and jaunty hats. Soup and sourdough are on offer in Eastern Suburb beachside cafes, their outdoor chalkboards adorned with a seemingly endless supply of lame metaphors about life and coffee. Summer is a distant dream and Instagram is overflowing with not-so-instant flashbacks of bikini-clad sands and shark infested waters. Meanwhile, in Britain, equivalent temperatures bring out the barbecues and an aura of fuzzy disbelief that it is actually kind of nice. I miss those days.

vivid01I was envisaging a challenging winter weekend in pleasant Sydney sunshine when assigned a work trip there recently. Instead, torrential, stormy, incessant rain submerged a large part of eastern Australia and I delayed my visit. Stuck in Canberra for an extra day, I discovered that the apartment complex I had moved into had acquired an English-like riverside setting, which immediately put the rent up a hundred bucks, and probably inspired people to dump shopping trolleys into the storm drain to complement the graffiti before blaming it and everything else on foreigners.

Rain was still teeming the following day when I caught a flight to Sydney, where it was not only wet but wildly windy. Such a pleasant experience coming into land, giving up at the last minute, and just about successfully trying again. Only tea and cake could remedy such nerve-jangling travails, followed by a welcome disco and some warming Thai food for supper with friends and their family.

Of course, by time work was back on the agenda the worst of the weather had mostly cleared. Still, some compensation was to be had in the fact that I finished this work by 8pm on Monday, rather than the usual 10. I could, with some willpower and effort, cross over that little bridge from North Sydney to the city and at least catch a little bit of Vivid.

vivid02

Vivid is a winter festival of illuminations and associated artsy commercialism. Basically, Sydney tried to copy Canberra with Enlighten but obviously shows off far more about it. Like Enlighten it really seems to have grown over the last few years and, well, to be honest, benefits from being in such an iconic setting. Projections on the Sydney Opera House or the National Library of Australia? You decide.

vivid03

It’s quite amazing how these projections have become so detailed, intricate and advanced over the past few years. It used to be an event when a landmark was bathed in a slightly different light, often commemorating something sombre or jubilant like a war or a baby. Now multicoloured animations are timed with music and coordinated across a variety of sites and I daresay we are all rather blasé about it. Sometimes though you can’t beat a dose of good old-fashioned simplicity from a more subdued angle.

vivid04

Perhaps more amazing than the illuminated cityscape and anything else that night was the fact that I had a delicious double scooped ice cream on my way to Wynyard Station. It really is that lame an excuse for a winter, even when it rains.

vivid05The next day in Sydney offered a return to sunlight, though still possessing a cool enough breeze to warrant jackets and scarves of course. I should probably have been catching up on work, making notes and thinking about what it all means. But after a breakfast catch up in Milsons Point, the harbour again beckoned, and an impromptu boat ride just for the hell of it. No matter how many times you encounter this city’s jewels, it is almost always impossible to avert your eyes, so I said in an instant on Instagram.

vivid06One more day and I would return to something a little wintrier in Canberra, where there are frosts and even some rare single digit daytime maximums. It’s part of the reason so many people hate it despite never having been there. I can see their point a little, and the cold nights do drag well into September. Thus I am more than happy to embrace a bit of time down in Wollongong – prior to another nightshift – in which there was a window of T-shirt wearing opportunity. This plus fish and chips and the pounding drama of a still frenetic swell makes for a contented couple of hours.

vivid07As much as I love Canberra there are times, in the heart of winter, that I question my decision not to live beside the sea. Why would I not want to briskly stroll along a boardwalk? Why would I not want to find good coffee and tasty brunch fare with an ocean view? Why would I not want to do a spot of work on a bench in a foreshore park so I could claim that food on expenses? Why? Maybe because I don’t want to turn into a softie who rushes to David Jones for a chequered scarf and jaunty hat at the sight of sixteen degrees. At least let’s go through something a little darker to really, truly savour the light that follows.

Australia Green Bogey Photography

Floody ‘ell

So it turns out ‘The North’ is more than just a fictional imagining in George R.R. Martin’s gargantuan head. There is a real place in which gruff folk with grizzled beards mumble about stone walls. The weather can be cold, but it is mostly just bone-chillingly wet; sombrely leaden. Expansive wilds present a bleak, gritty beauty, tamed only in picturesque patches of lowland. Sheep cling forlornly to the slopes, anticipating, finally, the coming of winter. Further North, an ancient wall struggles to keep out wildlings, armed with Tennants Super on the 0900 to Euston. We are in Cumbria.

lk04

Cumbria before the floods, but only just. After a soggy few days on the Lancashire coast, it wasn’t much of a surprise to travel up the M6 in a medley of drizzle, dark cloud, and downpour. While a brief period where I didn’t have to use windscreen wipers offered hope, this was dashed with unending persistence once in the Lake District National Park. And so, from umbrella buying in Bowness to umbrella usage in Ambleside to umbrella drying off in a neat hotel in the middle of nowhere, there really wasn’t much to do in this greatest of outdoors.

As the dim skies faded black and the patter of rain continued apace upon the skylight I decided to make a break for it and check out the bright, Christmas lights of Keswick. I was hoping for a Dickensian scene of late night shopping, market stalls with hubbub and mulled wine, brass bands blaring out Once in Royal David’s City, and ribbons of light twinkling above curving cobbled alleyways. The reality offered some lights but little else, as the town appeared to be hunkering down for the night. With sodden shoes and a reduced-price pork pie from the Co-op, I retreated back to the car, umbrella decimated by a gust of wind, facing only the promise of driving through surface water in the dark. I made it, but Keswick did not. Two days later it was flooded.

Oh for a dry day and, for most of Friday, it happened. It wasn’t exactly bright or pleasant, but for a few hours the rain had paused before it was to come back in such vengeance. A few puddles dotted the road alongside Derwentwater on the way towards Honister Pass. Softened valley villages and stonewalled farms yielded to barren upland, coated a deep brown with the dying bracken. A steep decline worthy of the Tour De France returned things to something closer to the idyllic around the idyllic sounding Buttermere.

lk01

This was my chance to revel in dreary dryness, to soak up bleak melancholy, to wander lonely as a big grey cloud. The lake could be circumnavigated and it came as something of a surprise that the path was still in good condition during the two hour loop. Only once was a rocky detour required due to a swollen lake edge. Oh, and a couple of steps through a rising brook. Hang on…I almost forgot…that falling ass over tit moment on a small stretch of grass linking the road back to the path. Muddy bottom, muddy camera, but thankfully no-one around to see my slippery fall from grace.

lk03The scenery was undeniably beautiful. One wonders whether it would be improved by sunlight and fluffy white clouds, buttercups and warmth. Probably. I remember it as such on a brief stop ten years past. Today, it was moody and, to be honest, me too. After a week without it, I just really really REALLY craved the sun. But at least it was dry…so mustn’t grumble.

lk02

lk05

lk06With all the previous day’s rain it was no major surprise to encounter a series of stretched out cascades and falls plunging down the steep-sided fells towards the lake. I suppose this is some recompense for the deluge, but so frequent and incessant is the sound of water that it makes you want to pee really really badly. And there is not much in the way of foliage left to offer shelter and protection.

Still, relieved and closer to the end, an alien sliver of blue sky opened up to the northeast. A chink in the steel armour, it was something to cling to, something to chase. Briefly it illuminated some hills in the distance, but failed to deliver anything of solace on my face. There would be little chance for anything to air for long.

lk07

lk09Completing the Buttermere circumnavigation, I jumped back into the car to venture over a narrow pass and down to the western edge of Derwentwater. That chink of blue sky was somewhere in this direction, and I may have bathed in it for all of twenty seconds. Unfortunately I was in the car at the time, but it was still a very special twenty seconds. A valley glowed. A farm building shimmered. The sheep murmured quiet contentment. And then the strong wind sent it away, off into the distance.

lk08

Early afternoon in Keswick and things had actually dried out a little – perhaps it too had been briefly kissed by the sun? There were people on its streets and a hint of something Christmas-related in the air. There was no wafting smell of hot pork pie though, but then I began to question whether this ten year old recollection was actually in Kendall rather than Keswick? So, of all things, I ended up with a Cornish pasty in the cute town square.

Determined not to suffer a food disappointment to compound my rapidly redeveloping British glumness, I set out on a mission for afternoon tea. For what else is the Lake District if not the archetypal biscuit tin setting for afternoon tea? Grasmere sounds a likely spot, full of tea shoppes and crafty gifts to cater for poetic dreamers. A place where a pot of tea can – at a single moment – feel like the best thing in the world. Elation amplified by a gigantic slice of treacle tart, sickeningly delectable. A high on which to leave the lakes and to treasure a day of figurative sunshine amongst the December clouds.

 

Driving Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Icing sugar sprinkles

In three weeks time my inevitable annual trip to the northern hemisphere will have commenced. That is, barring the outbreak of world war three or whatever else the supposedly evolutionary pinnacle that is humankind has cocked up. I am, of course, looking forward to it; not only for cheese and family and summery walks and clotted cream and friends and pork pies and a few spots of gorgeousness, but also to have some interesting blog content and potential calendar pictures gathered!

Fortunately just the odd foray in this massive place called Australia keeps things ticking over on here. But, more so, the changing seasons become a theme, a response to (relatively) being in situ and watching the world around me change. And the seasons are a-changeable, something which may, or may not, support the wild ramblings of those crazed climate warriors, aka pretty much everyone in the profession of science. Scientists, with their fact and reason and logic, what have they ever done for us anyway!

snow00

Winter in Canberra is a curious beast. Blissful sunny days can be as pleasant as any a spring day in southern England, and you can still rightfully take a somewhat bemused perspective on the common discourse of winter, taking place in snug coffee shops amongst people with double quilted scarves and rapidly disappearing Ushankas. Call that a knife, er, I mean call that cold? You know nothing Bruce. But then when that sun goes, down for the night, or behind steel grey clouds blown from the west, winter reminds us of its chill.

snow10I may not know through typical absence, but winter here this year seems to be a little less sunny and with a touch more in the way of squally bitter winds coming off the mountains and hills. Indeed, the Brindabella Ranges have more than once now had a nice dusting of snow, all accessible in about 40 minutes or so, depending on the high likelihood of traffic.

I wish the snow came down further to coat the city streets and make new Senators even more querulous about their decision to become a Senator, compelled to sit in Canberra in midwinter. I mean, if we are going to have a winter to endure, at least make it a fairytale one with snowy streets and people frolicking with their sleds and drinking mulled wine and perhaps even indulging in warming things like cheese fondue around a log fire. At least that was the sentiment I was trying to convey when the ABC News reporter accosted me amongst the beautiful white world of Corin Forest and understandably left me on the cutting-room floor.

snow01

One of the many good things about snow is that it is one of only two words in the English language that is associated with being dumped. We have had several good dumps recently, up in the hills, and I returned once more over the weekend to see what had been dumped. Unlike the first foray there was no ABC News crew around but, more importantly, the sun was out in one of those sublimely blue sky days that only come in winter. The snow had melted somewhat – the dump was on Thursday I think, but then, who keeps track of their dumps? – though pockets remained to enliven the forest.

snow11

snow07Frozen paths gradually thawed into that horrid mud slime as I made my way to the outlook at Square Rock. It can be a drag, that walk, but the snow made it clearly more distinctive than usual, offering up plenty of natural rest breaks to stop and take stock, to hear the birds, to spy the wattle, and to breathe in the eucalypt air. And then there is a reward at the top, where that blue sky meets the icing sugar dusted mountains, endless gum trees filling the void below. It is a fine stop for a couple of digestives and a Freddo Frog basking on a squarish rock.

snow06

And so, that is winter, perhaps the winter blog post. I think I made it fairly wintry, given the constraints of wintriness that exist in Australia. Next for me will be summer, though including likely rainstorms and snow lying around higher alpine climes, followed by spring and then summer again. I told you the climate was topsy-turvy, and I’m not even a scientist!

Australia Green Bogey Photography Walking