Tuesday, April 23, 2013

'Red sky at morning,' Mr. Mick's for lunch ... meet The Ghost of Martindale Hall ... coffee in Mintaro, and -- homeward bound

Red sky at morning, sailor take warning -- or red sky at dawn, sailor be warned --

In fact, dawn over the Clare Valley was glorious, and we took a hundred photos -- more...

...but as the rose color faded, we could see just how much the weather had changed!

The morning was "sharp" rather than cold, but the sky was white, note blue...

Clare Valley Motel, on an overcast morning. It was actually dull ... a lot of enhancement makes
today's pictures much brighter, more colorful, and sharper, than the day really was.

Clare Valley Motel: checking out. Lola eager to be back on the road ... the natural habitat for Mitsubishi Magnas.

First: back into Clare for a few photos previously missed: the war memorial...

The Ninth Light Horse memorial, on main street, Clare...

There was a lot of glare on the window glass, but you can see inside to displays of photographs
and artifacts fro the First World War...

It reads, "For God, Empire and Home." A "grateful acknowledgment" of the
military service of one of the WWI veterans. 

The Ninth Light Horse: pro gloria et honore.

Main street Clare ... like a living time capsule. The buildings are original, and still in use.

A last look at the Clare Valley from the Quarry Hill Lookout...

Ready to turn south for home, with a just few more stops to make along the way --

First, lunch! We'd wanted to visit Mr. Mick's, a lunch restaurant attached to a winery, but every day since
arriving, by lunchtime we'd been far, far away from Clare. So -- 

Today was the day to visit Mr. Mick's -- and we were almost too late. They were virtually booked out.

Mr. Mick's ... ancient property, modern menu, and busy. We ought to have booked ahead, but --

They had a table left in the couryard, under cover and quiet. Nice!

Approaching Martindale Hall, the first building you pass is the coach house...

Welcome to Martindale Hall, with contact info and all.
About now, the camera started to seriously misbehave. Electronics in Jade's hands were whacko...

Martindale Hall, as you first catch sight of it, walking up from the parking lot...
The car had been zapping Jade repeatedly, with big static charges. Painful. Weird. About to get weirder.

The sky was lowering; the air was thick and heavy, as if a storm was coming in...
Martindale Hall seems to loom in the midst of its grounds, and its Merino sheep pastures...

A lot of photo enhancement makes this picture bright and colorful, In fact, the day was murky, dim,
and the original images are broodingly dark. Almost forbidding, in fact.

Martindale Hall isn't old by European standards, but by Australian reckoning, it's ancient...
there's a brooding feel about it. Jade began to feel weird within fifty meters of the steps. 

A plaque tells a tiny part of the house's history --

Photography isn't allowed inside, for security purposes. We've borrowed some of the brochure images to
give you a glimpse within. These pictures are in the booklet, which you can buy (we did), so it's cool to show them.
Credit where it's due: images are from the brochure, and call this a free ad for the museum and B&B.

A couple of Harleys in the parking lot. Now, that's touring in style!

Looking  for a -- strong! -- coffee after Martindale Hall, we stopped by the Magpie and Stump Hotel, in Mintaro...

Well, dang. No coffee today ... the coffee machine was busted! So, where next?

Main street Mintaro ... like a time capsule. The village is a heritage site -- almost the whole thing is original --

-- and one of the original houses is open as a cafe: the Teapot Inn. The walls are made of stacks of slate and
mortar; the ground floor is on three levels; the stairs are steep. A piece of history.

Outside the Teapot Inn, on main street Mintaro, an old Moreton Bay fig tree.

Red Sky at dawn, sailor be warned. Or traveler. The weather had changed overnight, and continued to worsen as Saturday passed by. Sunday, it would be raining, but on the last leg of the trip -- which ended at home -- the worst we had to contend with was low light conditions, murkiness and dust, a misbehaving camera ... a very haunted house, and a broken coffee machine!

We checked out fairly early, after taking a last stroll around the Clare Valley Motel. It had been a great stay. Cheers to proprietors Lee and Jan Stokes. One of the nice things about the place is that the Lee's "little mate," a lovely, friendly little whippet, is trotting around the grounds. He must be something like the mascot of the motel.

First stop after checking out: the Ninth Light Horse memorial, on main street, Clare. This Australian cavalry regiment served in Turkey and Palestine in WWI. If you'd like to know a little more about them, there's a great page on the Australian War Memorial website, and they also have a Wikipedia page.

We drove up to the Quarry Hill Lookout, for a last look across the Clare Valley from a bit of altitude -- and wished we'd done this before, in better light. The day was getting very murky indeed, when we returned to Seven Hills to see the Madonna of the Vines shrine close up. (We actually combined those images with the main Seven Hills and St. Aloysius post, and if you take a close look, you can see the weather was very different from the day the rest of Seven Hills was photographed!)

Lunch, anyone? We'd wanted to visit Mr. Mick's Kitchen, a lunch restaurant attached to a winery, since before we set out, and in the end we almost missed it. We hadn't booked ahead, and it turned out they had one table left when we arrived. We ate outside, in the courtyard, which was so nice. Mr. Mick's Kitchen specializes in tapas, and their menu is astonishing. Good food, and excellent service from friendly staff. A bit pricey, but worth it for the sheer elegance.

And then, it was on to Martindale Hall ... and that's a whole 'nother story!

Picture, if you will (and indulge Jade for going third person, past tense) ...

     The sky was steadily lowering, as if a storm lurked on the horizon. Daylight had grown murky, and the air was heavy with the mix of dust and smoke that is common to the region at this time of year. From the car park, a path wound up to the manor house, hemmed in on both sides by well-grown cedar trees that stopped any view. An ancient sundial stood at the end of the cedar-lined passage, neglected by the white, sunless sky -- it could have been any time. Any day ... any year.

    And then Jade stepped around the sundial, and the house seemed to squat in the gathering gloom, dark with shadows against the gray overcast. She paused to take more photographs -- grumbling and cursing the camera, which was misbehaving. It was not like a Fuji FinePix HS10 to refuse to take a shot, but the shutter and light metering were reluctant, as if simply declining to take a photograph. As if the device simply did not want to photograph Martindale Hall at all, much less under heavy skies, in thick air that swirled with restless winds. Something was messing with it -- perhaps the same thing that had been making the car give Jade big zaps of static electricity lately, every time she touched it.

    "Something wrong with the camera?" Dave wanted to know.

    "It's just ... I dunno ... you'd call it 'declining the shot,'" Jade grumbled as they approached the flight of stone steps leading up to the grand doorway.

     The door was open, but a grilled security screen was closed over. Through the steel mesh shone the light of a huge chandelier, but every window was dark. Old venetian blinds were closed over them -- save for the blinds at one particular window, on the east corner of the upper level. Those blinds were open, and they were slightly skewed, as if being held aside for someone to look out. But no faces or figures showed at the windows.

    Jade was not feeling very well, but this was the last day of the trip. They were headed straight for home after Martindale Hall, and who knew when they would have the chance to return? Dave had wanted to see the English manor house in the Australian wilderness since reading about it online, a week before they set out, so -- she 'sucked it up,' and followed him up the steps to the steel mesh door.

     An elderly lady was on duty there, more than likely a volunteer admitting tourists for $10 each, to view the grand house-turned-museum, on the proviso that cameras were turned off and lens caps were on. Jade tried breathing deeply and counting slowly ... the fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, faint nausea, tremors in the extremities, and breaking sweat were damned uncomfortable, but she could control them.

    Beyond a small lobby, or vestibule, double doors opened into the manor house itself. Incongruously, raucous 1980s rock music bared from an unseen boombox -- just enough to distract, to make it difficult for Jade to put her finger on what was wrong. Until she stepped up to the double doors into the enormous, ballroom-sized main hall.

     Dave was three steps behind, chatting to the lady volunteer, when Jade froze, just outside the doorway into the main hall. she couldn't go on, she couldn't go back. The volunteer lady was talking about looking at the antique collections in this house-cum-museum; Dave was fascinated. And Jade? The house looked at her.

    The house spoke to her, she heard the voice but not the words. She was aware of a feeling from it ... resentment. Her heart was fast and hard; sweat prickled brow, scalp, ribs, palms. A moment later Dave was right beside her, obviously wondering what was wrong.

    At that moment, she would have sworn the house was shouting at her -- silent, wordless -- but the feeling has shifted. It had started as resentment, and now it was something more like curiosity. It was almost as if it had begun by saying to her, "I don't want you people here any more than I want any people here -- I don't like my house being traipsed through by tourists, get out!" And then a moment later, "My gods, this one heard me! Hello? Hello?" And louder (silently), "Hello? Can you hear me now? Hello!"

    "Do you want to leave?" Dave asked quietly.

    But Jade stepped into the main hall and turned toward the smoking room, and the library with the enormous, full-sized snooker table. "No. It's not going to hurt you. I'm okay." She was just as curious as the house; and it seemed that most of the house was willing, now, to share.

    In the dining room a form, more shadow than substance, moved in the corner by the curtains. She saw it out of the corner of her eye, but as soon as she was looking right at it, concentrating on it, it was gone again. It might have been a child; but no child who was there on the day. Minutes later, someone moved in the doorway of an upstairs bedroom. Of course, no one was there -- at least, no one who had paid $10 admission.

    Only one part of Martindale Hall still said No!! Even with Dave right beside her, hands on her shoulders, Jade could not enter the rear passageways ... narrow, dim, old, chill, and ... there, the house still said No, and it said it firmly.

A few days later, describing the event to a friend, Dave described Jade as being "blue" during these minutes. She felt weak, chill, trembling, and the weakness persisted after leaving Martindale Hall. What can we tell you?

Martindale Hall is not just haunted, it's very, very haunted. If you read a bit about the history of the place, and have a look at the Wikipedia page on the Mortlock family, well ... Jade is pretty sure it's one of the Mortlocks who loved the hall so much, he never left. Moreover, he's resentful of the fact his home has been turned into a museum and -- gods help us -- a B&B. He has a little rant when strangers barge in through his front door (as would we all) ... and probably about one in a hundred visitors can actually half-hear him. Jade did. And even though she was able to view most of the house, one part of it remained strictly off-limits. The blaring rock music is there for a reason. It anchors people like Jade in 2013, glues them to reality, stops imagination aiding and abetting all the things you can half-see, half-feel, half-hear.

Interesting, no? Call this episode The Ghost of Martindale Hall. Be sure to visit the house when you're in the Clare Valley and Little Cornwall area ... but go on a sunny day, and go with friends --

And be ready to hunt down a coffee, when you leave! Coffee was on our minds as we left, so we backtracked to the Magpie and Stump Hotel in Mintaro, only to discover that their coffee machine was busted! No coffee today.

So we turned our attention to The Teapot Inn, about a hundred yards away. It was a private house, built at the time Mintaro was design as a stopover for the bullockies carting copper ore to the ports on the gulf: the walls are a foot thinck, made of layers of slate and mortar. It's just amazing ... and they serve wonderful coffee, too! Just what we needed to warm up and chill out after Martindale Hall.

In fact, Mintaro is a fantastic little place -- a piece of yesteryear that's far more charming than you'd guess, if you just blast through without stopping. In fact, check out The Ballad of Mintaro, a real bush ballad by Ian Bidstrup.

And this is where we turned south and headed for home. By mid-aftenoon, the sky was so low, the daylight so murky, we put away the cameras, put on some music, and played with the Navigon ap on Jade's phone -- not that we needed to be told how to get home, put it was a lot of fun playing! And this brings you round in a big circle to the beginning of this blog: Home again, home again -- a good place to start a travel blog!

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