Julie Barry, “head girl” at Good Catholic Girls Wines, suggests readers hit the dirt roads to explore a different side of the Clare Valley, in the latest article in InDaily Travel’s My Backyard series.
The Clare Valley has always been my backyard and you may think that I know it like the back of my hand – well, I don’t, so exploring is a constant joy.
It began in my childhood, in the days when parents allowed their kids to disappear for the day as long as they appeared home before dark. My great childhood friend Mary Ann Knappstein and I would saddle up our ponies carrying sufficient supplies in our saddle bags to last us the day. We would then head off exploring the dirt roads of Clare and surrounds, as we were not allowed to ride on the bitumen.
We were the gang of two, exploring lost graveyards such as the Gallic and Aberfeldy Cemeteries, deserted churches and run-down farm houses, nicking fruit from trees, galloping through vineyards. On occasions, we would even make a little campfire and hang around that for a while, unbeknown to our parents!
We just rode where the tracks took us, delighting in the click clack of our ponies’ hooves on the rocky terrain; if a gate was left open, we would ride through to see what lay beyond, often surprised by a wonderful old mansion standing still in time, like Hughes Park.
We always felt we were discovering lost history. We were fascinated by the people who lived on the dirt tracks, like the three Miss Nobles in their neat cottage and vegetable garden and orchard. The smell of the bush and the sounds of the animals, the sight of a kangaroo or a snake always thrilled us. We were never fearful of becoming lost, as our ponies would always bolt at break-neck speed towards home as the sun was setting.
Wandering the dirt tracks is still my favourite thing to do in Clare, and a must for anyone with a sense of adventure. I no longer do it on horseback but in Miss Rosemary, my 1968 Morris 1100. I head off for the day with a friend, a hamper packed with a bottle of lush Clare Riesling. Spring, autumn or winter are the best times to explore; summer is too dusty and hot.
To really get the most out of this dirt tracking, there are guidelines: do not exceed 40kph, turn off all music, open windows, do not back-track. Now head for a dirt track and keep travelling on the dirt and start rolling along; if you find yourself within 1km of a town, you must enter the town (the only time you can go on the bitumen) and stop at the pub for one coldie, then continue on your journey (rule introduced by my father, Jim).
A great starter track for this adventure is the Skilly Road behind Penwortham. Another is out by Clare Racecourse and go from there, either left or right. If it is nearing the end of the day and you fear that you are lost, you will need to ask directions – no GPS allowed. It will only be after you have the exhilarating experience of bouncing along the old dirt tracks, viewing the valley in all its natural beauty, that will you appreciate why I feel blessed to call Clare home.
All the fresh country air builds up an appetite and a thirst. I can recommend some delicious feeding spots: the Sevenhill Hotel (been going there since I was a kid), Rising Sun Hotel, Terroir, Seed, Clare Country Club and, if you have the ankle bitters in tow, The Taminga. All these establishments have great wine lists; they also have on tap fabulous beer by the Clare Valley Brewing Co.
Before you depart Clare, and while still in explorer mode, you should get lost at the Mintaro Maze, or get spooked by heading underground to view the crypt of St Aloysius Catholic Church at Sevenhill.
Julie Barry set up Good Catholic Girl Wines after many years working for her parents’ Clare Valley wine company, Jim Barry Wines. She credits her late father, wine industry pioneer Jim, with setting her on that course when he selected a property called Limerick in the Armagh area of Clare, to plant her vineyard in 1997.
More My Backyard articles:
Eyre Peninsula – by Boston Bay Wines’ Tony Ford
Kangaroo Island – by artist Janine Mackintosh
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