Episode 2 – Fullers Bridge to Thornleigh
In keeping with my claim in my first blog on the Great North Walk – that the walk is a really accessible way to get immersed in Sydney’s suburban bush – I decided to give section 2 a go “FPT” : Full Public Transport!!!! So post morning commute time had me on a train from Cardiff to Epping, then on to the Metro to North Ryde and finally the 259 bus down the hill to Fullers Bridge and for the princely sum of $6.44 on my adult Opal card I was essentially ready to walk home!
Hot Tip #1 – once you head off from Fullers Bridge in the direction of Thornleigh you are heading into an urban wilderness, insomuch that there are no facilities on the track between the two for water, food, or ablutions. So be prepared, you’ve got 14 kilometres to sustain and contain yourself, and apart from toilets in the Koonjerie Picnic Area at Fullers Bridge, if you haven’t brought food and water with you at this point, get ready to be hungry and dehydrated!
Hot Tip #2 – having found your first signboard directing you over the weir within the park, now would be a good time to decide whether you’ve chosen the right activity for the right time. The weir will be a bit of a litmus test for what the upper reaches of the path are going to be like in terms of how wet your feet are going to get. There are numerous points where you have to cross the tributaries of the Lane Cove River without the aid of bridges or tarzan-style swings. I went about a week after isolated storms in the area, and so while there was fresh water, the creek levels were very low, and my shoes barely got wet. If it had been raining for some time it could be quite a challenge to complete the trail north of Fiddens Wharf.
Hot Tip #3 – unless I was simply overcome with the joy of being out and about in nature on a fine December day, and therefore distracted by cuteness of Moorhen chicks and whispering Sheoak trees, there was a staggering inconsistency with signage at critical points along the walk. So do have your online maps at the ready to ascertain whether you’ve managed to navigate the numerous forks and decoys of the path. Getting out of Fullers Bridge requires you to follow Max Allen Road up to the edge of the Uniting Venues site, and then veer off to the right on to the Naamaroo Trail, which is of fire trail proportions.
Hot Tip #4 – it was as I finally got underway that I assessed my accoutrements in light of the trail ahead. Hat – tick – although it’s all forest, the canopy is sparse in many places, so there’s plenty of direct sun beating down through the trees. Insect repellent – no tick – but in light of limited rainfall I found no mosquitoes (other weather conditions – other experiences no doubt). Good walking shoes – tick – my faithful Eccos provide a thick sole and good support, well needed in the final third of the trail. Protective socks – no tick – and this is where my anxiety level was somewhat heightened. Being warm and dry, with the path quite narrow at times, I quickly wished I’d worn more than ankle socks. It’s usually the case that the things you don’t see on a walk in the Australian bush are the things you should be most worried about. I didn’t see funnel-web spiders and I didn’t see any snakes, I did however hear that urgent rustling sound of smallish creatures dashing for cover amongst the undergrowth, oh, probably every fifty metres. I wished I had longer and thicker socks!
Enough Hot Tips – just get out there and enjoy yourself! After twenty minutes I was wondering whether I was going to see anyone else on this walk (it was a workday Monday), when the soft padding of a jogger approached from behind on one of the wider, flatter stretches of the path. On the question of snakes she was quick to proffer stories of the huge King Brown she’d encountered in Canberra the weekend before, but seemed ambivalent to their presence in the current locale.
I will offer one more Hot Tip here though : #5 – don’t wear your body mesh muscle T or loose weave cardi on this walk, they will be shredded and you’ll feel like a human pincushion after the fiftieth grass tree you brush past on the trail. Save them for Oxford Street! This tip is more an assumption than an actual experience, for the record!
The gentle curves and quiet waters of the Lane Cove River on this early stage of the walk really are refreshing for the soul. Unlike Episode 1 of my GNW experience, there were virtually no aircraft overhead, and the limited connection points with the adjoining suburbs are very quiet and unobtrusive. Instead, there was a perpetual chorus of small song birds high in the trees or deep in the undergrowth, with the occasional raucous interjection from a cockatoo. And when I say perpetual, it really was. It is reassuring in the centre of Australia’s largest city that there is still a vast stretch of habitat for small birds that haven’t been pushed out by those species better able to adapt to urban life. The endless playlist of natural peeps, tweets and twitters was sweeter and more uplifting than any modern soundtrack or manufactured commentary.
So really, just enjoy the walk. It’s that classic Hawkesbury Sandstone landscape with boulder shelves looking out over the valley, caverns hewn by wind, water and time, a jumbled palette of gum trees, grass trees, banksias and sheoaks. While the NSW bush is never a carpet of wildflowers there were dustings of flannel flowers, grevillea, pea, and a whole lot more for which I have to do some identification homework!!! And, the Holy Grail, one confirmed sighting of a Waratah, albeit without an actual flower onboard.
The only point where the outside world comes crashing through is at De Burghs Bridge, where Lane Cove Road sweeps across the valley, high above the river. Apart from appreciating the brutalist concrete engineering of the 1960s structure, there’s nothing much to see here, in fact you don’t even get a full view of the 30 metre void between the river level and the bridge deck due to the encroaching vegetation. Just east of the bridge is the area known as Blue Pools – a poetic name if ever I heard one! Slimy green and definitely of dubious water quality in light of the current drought, but nevertheless a vital oasis for yet more tiny birds. Also a good place to stop in the shelter of the surrounding rock walls, protected from the noise of nearby Lane Cove Road, and reflect on the gems of the first third of the walk. By this stage you will have worked out whether you’ll have wet or dry shoes for the rest of the walk!
Heading northwest the next third is definitely more of sandstone plateau than a riverside walk, but this is where the wildflowers truly come to the fore. It’s also where the traffic on the path seems to peak, as middle aged men undertake their best efforts at heart attacks and sprained ankles, by engaging in lunchtime jogging excursions on the rough trails from the nearby although unseen employment facilities. Best to ignore them, and the background drone of the distant M2 traffic that accompanies this central section of the trail. The water dragons are behind us, the path is wider and generally flatter, so you can up the pace a little.
As the trail passes below South Turramurra there’s a bit of a maze of intersecting tracks, and an invitation to diverge on to the STEP track set up by the local suburban conservation group. They’re encouraging you to take a diversion, slow down, listen to the birds, appreciate the environment. All good, and well intentioned, but if you’re doing 14 kilometres today, just stick to the main path (the signage is actually pretty good through this section). The birds are just as proximate, and you’ve still got creeks to cross, and the most uncomfortable part of the path to go!
There’s a peculiarity I had read about in one of the reviews of the path, referring to a collection of bras hanging off a branch at a point along the path. Well, it was there, not sure what the significance is, and being down below the Canoon Cliff Lookout, it’s hardly an easily accessible part of the trail. And for what it’s worth, they seem like they’ve seen a bit of weather, so maybe there was a spontaneous liberation ceremony one day amongst the PLC Walkers Club some time back!!?? Well, whatever gets people into the great outdoors, I don’t think it will achieve “shrine” status any time soon.
Nearly at the end, and before the final ascent, there’s a nasty stretch of loose cobble stones to traverse. For those who have walked the challenging streets of Tallinn or Lisbon you’ll know what to expect, except, devoid of the mortar keeping the cobbles in place, and surrounded by the architecture of nature rather than medieval craftsmen. But it leads you soon enough to some puffing and panting and emerging suddenly into the suburbs, and few short blocks to Thornleigh railway station. And yes, it seems to come to a sudden and abrupt end. So if you’ve time, linger and have a coffee at the Curl and Whisker Cafe on the eastern side, or the Monday Morning Cafe on the western side of the station. Both were pretty quiet at 2.30pm on a Monday! And from there it was homeward bound before the afternoon rush hit the trains.
I found this website helpful in planning out the walk:
To see my previous blog on the Fullers Bridge to Sydney section: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/beyondthehill.blog/57