Sunday, 29 July 2012

Blowing out the cobwebs

A couple of weeks ago, in response to this post, one of my brothers suggested I get on the motorbike and explore the local countryside a bit. Find a bakery, have a coffee, that sort of thing.

The rest of the family is away in Canberra this weekend and, having done the laundry, swept up, and seen all the livestock to rights, I thought "why not?" I grabbed the road atlas off the shelf, worked out a quick route, tossed the dogs outside with a treat, and headed out.

My destination was Bridgewater on Loddon, a speck on the map about 40km north-west of Bendigo on the road to Mildura. But going straight there would be no fun, right? So I rode out through Eaglehawk on the Loddon Valley Highway.  There's a Tip Top bakery on the edge of Eaglehawk and it was obvious today was fruit loaf day - there was an invisible cloud of yeasty, fruity, spicy goodness enveloping the area that was delightful to ride through.

Undulating road and scenery persisted for 10 or 15 minutes until it finally gave way to flat grazing and cropping land. Consistent and decent rain has left the land green and the dams full. My turning came up, unmarked by any buildings. Just a cross-road cutting straight across the highway from east to west, as roads do when the land is flat and the property boundaries are straight.

It was one of those single-laned tarmac roads which exists merely to give access to rural properties. All the roads leading off it were dirt ones and the occasional herd or flock would be startled as I buzzed by. I quickly discovered I could prolong my view of them being startled if I gave my horn a toot on approach.  Ah, fun in the country.

The only real features on the road were those slightly humped bridges they build over irrigation channels, which you can't approach at full tilt because you're never quite sure what's on the other side. Country courtesy was also on show out here, as the two oncoming cars I encountered slowed and straddled the shoulder as we passed. I gave each a grateful nod.

Before long civilization appeared again, in the form of grain elevators and silos. Here was Bridgewater on Loddon.

Local tourist information reveals that the railway from Bendigo reached Bridgewater in 1876. The silos are built alongside it. At that time Bridgewater boasted two flour mills, a cheese factory, a soft-drink factory, a brewery, eight hotels, several blacksmiths, three churches, a school, a chinese market garden and several vineyards. There was gold in the area, but grain growing was already the dominant industry.

Today there's not much to Bridgewater. A population of 400 in a small rural town grid, and a main street with a couple of take aways, a mechanic, a curio shop, a playing field and the wonderfully art deco Loddon Bridge Hotel.

Loddon Bridge Hotel

Since I had more riding to do I resisted the temptation to prop up their bar and opted instead for the Bridgewater Bakehouse, apparently established in 1876.  (Popular year, that.)

Bridgewater Bakehouse

For a coldish Sunday afternoon they were doing a good trade, and I opted for their beef, bacon and cheese pie and a sausage roll. I recommend them both. The pie was high-sided, generously filled, not scalding hot but wonderfully winter-warming.  Buttery yellowish pastry and delicious. The sausage roll was equally good - the pastry wasn't that flaky stuff that you often see on sausage rolls, that causes a crumbly explosion leaving half your lunch on your plate instead of your mouth. No, it was crisp but yielding, with a firm, well-seasoned filling. Yum!

I watched the traffic while I ate under the umbrellas outside - it was just warm enough to do so, though there is seating inside. The Calder Highway is the main drag up to Mildura, so there are reasonably frequent semi-trailers hauling everything from fuel to livestock. Today there was a smattering of tourists as well, including families stopping to let the kids use the "comfort station" before pressing on to their final destinations. The groups stopping were predominantly older, and almost all went to the bakehouse in preference to any other place on the strip. Good to know.

Next door to the bakehouse is the post office, red bricked and probably late Victorian.  In front is an iron lamp post bearing its maker's name.

You can learn all about the etymology of "furphy" here, but I think it's nice to be reminded that the Shepparton company of J. Furphy and Sons made more than just water carts.

Halfway up the main street is an abandoned church. It occupies the highest ground in the street, and it's a little sad to see the site unused.

While it makes a picturesque sight, it would be nice if the building were put to some alternative use.

As I wrote a few notes and prepared to get back on the bike an enormous flock of cockatoos erupted from the river bank and flew over the town. The recent rain has been kind to the native wildlife, too.

I decided that the way home would be a straight blast down the highway back to Bendigo, so I headed south-east out of town. However, right on the edge of Bridgewater was a sight that prompted me to pull over once more.

Click for a bigger view.
It's a research and development site for solar energy generation. In this experiment the sun's rays are focused on the box on stilts using an array of parabolic mirrors. The box has a panel of "concentrated photovoltaic cells" on it (so, not your garden-variety cells). Anyway, the array of big shiny mirrors by the highway is certainly a bit startling when you've been travelling through largely pastoral scenes for a while.

On home again, and the kilometres certainly flew by once I spun the engine up to the speed limit. It was only a matter of 15 or 20 minutes before I was off the flats and back into the low hilly country surrounding Bendigo.

Winding back through the mundane suburban streets is a comedown after a blast through the countryside.  My brother was right, though, it was great to shake off the winter blues and go and explore the region.

I hope it's not too long before I can bring you another story like this one.

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