After our night out in Sydney, we sleep in while the family gets up early and goes to Sydney for another day at the festival. John and I want to see more of the mountains and we’ve had enough of the trek up and down the mountain. I can’t imagine how so many people who live here manage to make that journey to work day after day.
Breda has suggested we might find Wentworth Falls and Leura worth a visit.
Wentworth Falls is small but busy, with interesting antique and home décor stores that give me ideas for things I could make. In a second-hand bookshop I pounce upon a pile of old knitting patterns and am thrilled to find a few worth buying. They are unbelievably good value.
We find a bakery for lunch and soon realise we have chanced upon what seems to be the local meeting place. It’s crowded. People stand around chatting, blithely blocking the counter queue and the aisles between tables. They all seem so excited to have run into each other. John tells the staff the pies are excellent and he will come back.
We drive on to Katoomba. In the 1980s a workmate lived here in a little house on a back street down near the Three Sisters and I once got the train up to spend a weekend with her, walking from the station to her house, my overnight bag getting progressively heavier. As we drive through town I think of her and wonder where she and her children are now. Later, at Willoughby, I ask Marg about her, she still sees her often.
It’s Saturday and Katoomba too is busy. Down near the Three Sisters, tourist buses line the kerbs and people wander everywhere. ‘Hazard reduction’ burnoffs are happening here, we can’t see the mountains for smoke and I doubt anyone can actually see the Three Sisters. Crazy people wander about in the smoke, breathing it in. It’s definitely not the best day to sightsee in the Blue Mountains but if I were a tourist and today were the only day I had here, I guess I too might be wandering around in the smoke trying to see as much as I could.
We take the scenic route to Leura. But we can’t see a scenic thing. The trees and the road are blanketed by smoke and John drives slowly. It’s looking like we won’t be exploring Leura, there’s too much smoke, but when we drive into the village, the air is remarkably clear. It’s a miracle!
Leura is a pretty town. Its main street has gardens down the middle and lots of interesting, if somewhat expensive, shops. We find a citrus scented candle as a small gift for our hosts, the makings of dinner at the local supermarket, and some exquisite chocolate for dessert in a gourmet chocolate shop. Back home John takes over the kitchen and has dinner simmering on the stove when our friends return home from a successful day in Sydney. John says food always tastes better when someone else cooks it.
Breda has enjoyed browsing the festival bookshop and has brought home some fabulous books. There is even one for me, an early birthday present, about writing. I read it back home in Brisbane and, together with my earlier conversations in Armidale with Ginny and Rod, it helps me break through my writer’s block.
After dinner we play Trivial Pursuit in front of the fire that Rowan has built. His Scouting days have been useful. Some discussion is required on how to divide up the teams and we eventually settle on boys versus girls. Since there are two of us and three of them, Breda and I declare that we reserve the right to phone a friend. The boys aren’t too happy, so we agree to use it only for music-related questions since we’re both deaf and can’t, we reason, possibly be expected to know those answers. And twice we don’t know the answers to questions about songs and we text Maree.
The boys do well but girl power wins! We probably overdo the high fives in our delight with ourselves and Maree.
“It’s only a game!” say the boys.
“Of course it’s only a game,” we agree. High five!
There’s a local farmer’s market on Sunday morning. The family buy provisions and I stop at a stall selling waxed gingham, where a woman shows me how to use and reuse it in place of cling wrap. I hand over $25 for a 3-piece pack and as we walk away John tells me I got sucked in again. True. It was ridiculously expensive. I could probably learn how to make it for a few dollars but I figure I’ve supported a locally based environmentally friendly cottage business and that’s a good thing isn’t it?
Leaving Cameron and Rowan to enjoy the markets, Breda, John and I set off for Blackheath. On the way we stop to browse a row of antique shops, one in particular has a huge range of goods including more old knitting patterns that John points out. I’m in heaven, two days in a row! John finds a lovely old lidded serving bowl that is perfect for one of his specialities, mushy peas. Breda excitedly waves me over to an amazing find: a large collection of old sewing materials including a Singer sewing machine, buttons, thread, crochet cotton, trims, and all sorts of period clothes.
At Blackheath we go first to look at Govett’s Leap. I’ve never been this far up the mountains nor seen Govett’s Leap. It’s breathtaking. http://www.blackheath-nsw.com/Govetts_Leap.html
Breda gives us a little education on bushfires. Down below us is the Grose Valley. At the bottom, far away and unseen, is the Grose River. When there’s fire in the Grose Valley they generally leave it, it’s too hard for firefighters to get in there. But in the October 2013 bushfires, when fire in the Grose Valley threatened to join up with the Springwood fires, a frightening possibility, they did go in and backburned in the Grose Valley to set a firebreak between the two fires. I get goose bumps listening to her. As beautiful as the mountains are, I doubt that I could live in such a notorious fire zone.
We wander around Blackheath village and check out the cafes for lunch, finally settling on a café in what would have once been the foyer of the old picture theatre. Inside is a massive antique store. John spends ages in there while Breda and I walk down the street to check out a craft market, returning to browse the antiques.
Before leaving home this morning I declared I wanted to stop on the way home and have a drink on the terrace overlooking the mountains at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath. But I change my mind. Breda and John are flexible. We go instead to see the Three Sisters. John and I have both seen them on other occasions, but Breda declares she will not feel she has done her hosting duties until we have been to see them. She wants to convince John that the Blue Mountains are more than just rocks and trees.
There is still smoke in a part of the vast Jamison Valley but mostly the mountains are clear today and we get a wonderful view of the valley and its famous rock formations. We take our time admiring it all. http://www.bluemts.com.au/info/thingstodo/threesisters/
Over the past few days Breda has been telling me about the trails in the mountains, and the people who regularly walk and run them, in particular an annual run that finishes at night with runners climbing a long set of stairs from the valley up the side of the mountain. She showed me a spectacular photo of a string of lights curving along the mountainside, runners with their headlamps shining in the dark. Now she points out where the paths and stairs are, although we can’t actually see them from here.
Beside me, John gazes out at the view. He’s quiet. I look at him and say, “It is pretty impressive isn’t it? Govett’s Leap and this.”
And finally he admits it is. It’s not just rocks and trees.
That evening, John and I enjoy a gin and tonic that Cameron has made for us while we watch television. As always, Taffy stands beside me, her chin on my knee for a long pat. She’s older now, more mellow, and now when I say and sign, “finished, go,” she goes. Cameron works in the study, Rowan reads on the couch and in the kitchen Breda cooks up a storm for dinner.
Tomorrow we are leaving these majestic mountains. Tonight we enjoy once more the conviviality of these dear friends in this warm and loving home.
We will return!