It’s easy to imagine the days of old when you visit Ambermere Rose Inn at Little Hartley.
The beautiful old building, mostly built with sandstone hand cut by convicts, was for many years a coaching inn for weary travellers braving the perils of a trip over the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia.
If only those bricks could speak; they would tell stories of the brave families who stopped there on their way from Sydney to Bathurst, of people getting rich during the gold rush, and of convicts, treated as little more than slaves, fighting back by becoming bushrangers.
What is hard to picture, as you feast on beautifully prepared food sourced specifically from the best the region has to offer, is the difficulties people had getting provisions in the town of Little Hartley.
FANTASTIC FOOD AT AMBERMERE ROSE INN
One of the region’s oldest inns, Ambermere Rose Inn prides itself on offering “regional fare with an urban flair” and as we sip on world-class wines, cider and beer from Orange, Mudgee, Bathurst, and Canowindra, perfectly matched with the delicious food, we are glad to be alive today.
The explorers Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth first laid eyes on Hartley in 1813 and were thrilled to see a valley of trees and good grass after the thick bush of the mountains, with its rock and clay base so unsuitable for farming.
The discovery soon had government officials excited about the possibility of a new place to raise cattle and the first road, bringing people off the top of the mountain, was built a year later and a stock station was established.
It was soon discovered the area’s extreme winter cold made it unsuitable for cattle, many of which had died during the winter chill.
The area was then opened for permanent settlement, land titles being handed out to worthy recipients by government officials.
Times were tough for those early settlers. The trip to Sydney was a treacherous one over the mountains and provisions had to be transported in so the cost of basic necessities was around 50 per cent dearer than the same thing in Sydney. Wages in the area didn’t compensate for this.
However, the township grew, especially after the building of Mt Victoria Pass and an upgrade to Bathurst Road increased travellers through the area.
It even had its moments of boom, such as during the gold rush era (The Hartley Gold Company was established in 1870).
During these times, the inns that had been built were invaluable, not just to give relief to weary travellers, but as meeting halls for the locals.
The Rose Inn started out as a small sandstone building, designed to service travellers on the Western Road during the early days of the building of Mt Victoria Pass.
It went through a series of owners and was bought out by Cobb and Co to be used as a staging inn for coaches.
Loss of trade due to the opening of the railway sent one leaseholder bankrupt in the 1870s and it was closed as a staging inn in 1873.
It was used as a private house and then, for more than a decade, as a guesthouse. New owners who bought it in 1962 won an award for their restorations on the building.
The latest owners bought the building in 1999 and it is fast becoming a happy destination for serious food lovers.
Little bits of history are constantly being discovered on the land. When the staff cleared the barn they discovered all kinds of wonders from the past, including a gramophone (wind up record player). There was even one record.
This barn was recently used as a wedding venue. The new owners also offer long lunches, regional tasting platters (we had this – it was amazing), regional wine tastings, morning and afternoon tea. As we arrived, a coach full of tourists were leaving, having partaken in a beautifully set up morning tea. A produce store will soon be an added attraction.
A HISTORIC JOURNEY
As we meander up the mountain towards Katoomba and home, our tummies full, our palette satisfied and enjoying the beginning of the beautiful autumn colours, I think about the story of a woman who made a similar journey with her eight children and 70-year-old mother nearly 200 years ago, and am once again glad to be alive in this era.
Elizabeth Hawkins, her mother, her husband Thomas, and their eight children took 18 days to make the journey from Sydney to Bathurst, where Thomas was to become a storekeeper in 1822.
It was the same time of year, just after Easter, when they loaded their wagons and drays and gathered the children, aged one to 12, for this treacherous journey.
They made it easily enough to Emu Plains but from then on is a tale of fear and discomfort that makes our frustration at being stuck in holiday traffic not moving fast in the one-lane sections of the highway seem ridiculous.
In a letter to her sister in England, Elizabeth paints a picture of the journey that would have had weaker women (and men) weep.
“We now slowly proceeded about a quarter of a mile further and now, my dear, imagine me at the foot of a tremendous mountain, the difficulty of passing which is, I suppose, as great or greater than any known road in the world, not for the road being bad, as it has been made, and is hard all the way, but the difficulty lies in the extreme steepness of the ascent and descent, the hollow places, and the large rugged pieces of rock. You will, perhaps, imagine, as I had done, that the mountains are perfectly barren. For forty miles they are barren of herbage for cattle, but as far as the eye can reach, even from the summit of the highest, every hill and dale is covered with wood, lofty trees, and small shrubs, many of them blooming with the most delicate flowers, the colours so beautiful that the highest circles in England would prize them. These mountains appear solid rock, hardly any earth on the surface; this land seems as if it were never intended for human beings to inhabit.”
She described how they travelled only one and a half miles the day they left Emu Plains to go up Lapstone Hill – “so-called from all the stones being like a cobbler’s lapstone” because the bullocks couldn’t make it up the steep hill.
Every night they endured being bitten by all manner of bugs, feared the poisonous snakes that abounded and faced the perils of the sheer cliff drops.
The 137 mile (220 km) journey took them 18 days.
“You must understand that the whole of the road from beginning to the end of the mountains is cut entirely through a forest, nor can you go in a direct line to Bathurst from one mountain to another, but you are obliged often to wind round the edges of them, and at times to look down such precipices as would make you shudder”.
You can reach Bathurst from Sydney by car in about three hours these days. The trip to Hartley takes just over two and half hours by car, a little longer by train.
Please note I am in no way being compensated for this post but was inspired by the beauty, the history, and the fabulous food to share it with you.
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.