Highfield House

I know I’ve said it before but Stanley really is one of our favourite places and having guests from interstate is always a great excuse to return. The drive up the hill to Highfield House and the views as we descend back to the beach are quite spectacular. A few years have passed since we took the time to visit Highfield House so we welcomed the opportunity on a recent expedition. The Van Diemen’s Land Company was formed in 1826  by a group of London based businessmen to establish a wool growing venture on the island. Edward Curr, the chief agent of the VDL Company, arrived at Circular Head in the remote northwest with his family in November 1827. They lived in a small cottage until his new homestead, with twenty four rooms, was completed in 1835.

1.Highfield House

The garden is immaculate

and the house impressive even on an inclement day.

4.Highfield House

Through the front door, down the main hallway

5.hall

we entered the gallery where guests would be welcomed. Portraits and stories of those who lived and worked in the house and around the estate adorn the walls.

6.gallery

Storyboards in each room relate a different part of life at Highfield House, the history of the VDL Company and the settlement of Circular Head. First impressions of the settlers to the wild, rugged northwest are shared in the adjacent drawing room,

7.drawing room

while the failure of the planned fine wool enterprise and hefty financial losses are described in the study.

Across the hall, the china closet displays remnants of crockery that were found during restoration of the house

and parts of the original ceiling and walls have been exposed.

Henry Hellyer travelled to Van Diemen’s Land in 1826 as architect and surveyor for the VDL company. His explorations and mapping of the remote northwest opened up the area to settlement. In 1831, he began designing Highfield House but, sadly, he committed suicide in September 1832 and never saw his plans come to fruition. His adventures are told in the room set up as a nursery.

Beneath the staircase, two cellars provide ample storage for the plethora of goods imported on the Company ships. Detailed inventories indicate the residents of the house wanted for nothing.

Places are set at the dining room table and snippets of conversation are written on the cloth. The clinking of glasses and cutlery accompany the gossip of the day.

22.dining room

25.dining room

Upstairs,

the master bedroom is set out beautifully, though it is shrouded in sadness with the sound of a woman sobbing. Presumably, Elizabeth Curr is mourning the death of her two year old daughter, Julia, in a tragic accident.

28.master bedroom

Conversely, there is a calm ambience with stunning garments laid out

and a surprisingly comfortable ensuite.

32.ensuite

Down the hall, the children’s bedroom seems a bit on the small side for fifteen children, nine sons and six daughters. Apparently, all were sent back to England for schooling around the age of four.

33.children's bedroom

The guest room has a spectacular view of the Nut, the ancient volcanic plug around which the town of Stanley has grown. Suitcases half packed (or unpacked) give the impression of visitors in residence.

Returning to the ground floor, through the Butler’s Pantry (which is now the Reception Office) there is another hall

36.hall

that leads past the larder and pantry ( with more exposed original ceiling)

to the kitchen.

40.kitchen

A collection of not-so-modern appliances make us aware of how arduous the simplest of tasks were at that time.

The kitchen leads to a rear courtyard

46.rear courtyard

and we set off to explore the various outbuildings on the estate. A small stone building houses a chapel on the ground floor

and schoolhouse above.

51.chapel:schoolhouse

There are stables

52.stables

and a large barn that was divided up for separate uses.

56.barns

Through the straw barn

57.straw barn

there is a separate section that houses some old implements including a rather striking woolpress.

At the other end, on a mezzanine level, the original threshing barn is now a popular venue for weddings and functions.

65.threshing barn

Following Curr’s dismissal in 1842, Highfield House has had several owners until 1982 when the State Government acquired the estate. If you are planning on a visit to Stanley, be sure to take the time to explore Highfield House.

66.Highfield House & The Nut

Monterosso

A short boat trip along the coast from Vernazza brought us to the next village of the Cinque Terre, Monterosso.

1.Monterosso

Dating back to Roman times, the oldest and most populated of the Cinque Terre villages is divided into two parts. The old, medieval village

2.Monterosso Vecchio

and the new, modern area known as Fegina

3.Fegina

are separated by San Cristoforo hill.

4.San Cristoforo hill

A strong defence system was built on the hill in the 16th century with only three of the thirteen towers still standing. One of those is the Aurora Tower, with pride of place on the promontory it is now a private residence.

5.Torre Aurora

Ancient lookout turrets and fortress walls adorn the hillside.

Dominating the headland, the Convent of the Capuchin Friars has had a turbulent history since construction in 1619. Closed for the Napoleonic laws in 1816 and again for the Savoy laws in 1867, it has been used as a hospital and warehouse and eventually returned to the friars in 2006.

8.Convento Frati Cappuccini

Across the bay on the other side of the old town, the Hotel Porto Roca clings to the rocky foundations of Punta Corone.

9.Hotel Porto Roca

In 1960, Giacinto Jacazzi, a fashion creator from Milan, fell in love with the village and bought the land. Rather than a family home, he decided to build a hotel so more people could enjoy it. Workers had to construct roads to the isolated site and fearless excavator drivers manoeuvred their machines on the edge of sheer cliffs.

10.Hotel Porto Roca

Three years later, the dream came true. I will definitely be staying here if we are lucky enough to return one day.

11.Hotel Porto Roca

The boat tied up in the harbour of Monterosso Vecchio,

12.Monterosso vecchio

we climbed some stairs and walked along the path to the new part of town. Fegina Beach is the biggest sand covered beach in the Cinque Terre and is a popular destination for tourists.

15.Fegina Beach14.Fegina Beach13.Fegina Beach

We enjoyed a seafood lunch overlooking the bay and then, armed with gelati, wandered along Via Fegina where majestic hotels and apartments afforded uninterrupted views of the coastline.

16.Via Fegina

Returning to the boat, we farewelled Monterosso for a sedate cruise back to Riomaggiore in time for aperitivo.

17.Monterosso Vecchio

Kangaroo Ground

On a crisp, clear winters morning, we left Healesville after another delicious breakfast at Cherry Tree Cafe to fortify us for the drive to Werribee. We had only been driving for half an hour when we passed a sign announcing Kangaroo Ground Memorial Lookout Tower. Executing a U-turn, we went to investigate. Kangaroo Ground is a tiny town about 26km from Melbourne and the tower is located on the highest hill in the area. Unveiled on 11th November 1926, the 12 metre tall edifice was erected in memory of local men killed in action in World War I.

1.memorial tower

The memorial now commemorates those who also lost their lives in World War II. A large bronze plaque above the doorway lists 107 names of the fallen. In 1974, the rather unattractive box on top was added for the purpose of fire watching and is still in use during the summer months.

2.memorial tower

We didn’t climb the tower to take in the 360 degree views across Melbourne, the north eastern suburbs and the Dandenong and Kinglake Ranges. We were quite happy with the ones we had from ground level.

3.panorama4.panorama5.Melbourne city6.panorama7.panorama

A single pine tree near the tower, succumbing slightly to the prevailing winds, drew our attention. Planted as a sapling on 11th November 2005, it is a direct descendent of the original Lone Pine from Gallipoli.

8.lone pine9.lone pine plaque

Vernazza

The village of Vernazza was our first onshore experience of the Cinque Terre, arriving late morning with a plan for coffee and pastries.

1.Vernazza

Dating back to the early 11th century, the fortified military base defended the coast from Saracen pirates. In the middle ages, the water went right up to the buildings and the boats would tie up there, as they do in Venice.

2.Vernazza

These days, they remain on buoys in the harbour unless rough weather is forecast, then they can be found in the main piazza.

3.Piazza Guglielmo Marconi4.boats outside Albergo Barbara

Seated on a base of rocks at the entrance to the inlet, the parish church of Santa Margherita d’Antiochia was built in 1318.

5.Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia

The views would be spectacular from the tower, almost as rewarding as those from the cemetery on top of the hill where, rather than being buried in the ground, the coffin is slid into something like a drawer in a wall, known as a loculo.

6.Chiesa di Santa Margherita d'Antiochia

In October 2011, Vernazza was devastated when torrential rains, resulting in flooding and mudslides, buried her under four metres of mud and debris. For months the village was uninhabitable and years later, restoration work still continues. It is hard to imagine the peaceful harbour

7.harbour8.harbour

and beautiful pastel shades of Liguria under siege from nature.

9.Vernazza

We wandered up the main thoroughfare, Via Roma, my aversion to crowds and having people in my photographs meant my eye was drawn to the upper level of the streetscape.

10.Via Roma

Returning to the harbour, houses seemed to be suspended above a cave entrance

11.cliff houses

which, it turned out, led to another beach.

12.beach beyond

From this side of the harbour we could see the next town, Monterosso, in the distance.

13.view to Monterosso

The remains of Doria Castle and its lookout tower stand proudly on the rocky promontory

14.Doria Castle

while below, on the terraces of the medieval watchtower, Ristorante Belforte has been serving quintessential Ligurian cuisine for the past fifty years.

15.Doria Castle & restaurant16.Ristorante Belforte

We had time to admire the stunning rock formations

while waiting for the boat to take us to our next destination, Monterosso.

21.Monterosso

Porto Venere

We had an early start for our day trip to Cinque Terre, catching the bus from Le Grazie for the 3km trip to Porto Venere. The winding, narrow road made for an interesting ride, one of the reasons we opted to leave the car behind. We alighted at the Grand Hotel, a majestic building from the 1600s that has seen many incarnations since. The original monastery became the Hospital of the Marine Military in the 1800s and then the headquarters of the Municipality of Porto Venere. A hotel was established in 1975 but closed in the 2000s before being refurbished and re-opened in 2014 as the luxury boutique hotel it is today.

1.Grand Hotel

The tall, narrow houses seemed to defy gravity, as though they were being pushed toward the water by the cliffs behind.

2.Porto Venere

We followed the road along the harbour to the headland, spying a perfect spot for breakfast. Unfortunately, Le Bocche was closed and thoughts of food would have to wait.

3.end of the road, Porto Venere

Climbing the steps to investigate the church at the top of the cliff

4.Chiesa di San Pietro

we found much more to explore. Part of the ancient stone fortifications are still standing,

5.old stone wall

a plaque above a doorway announced Byron’s Grotto through which steep stone steps led to the bay below.

6.steps to Byron's Grotto

English poet, Lord Byron, would swim in these waters and even crossed the bay to visit his friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who lived in Lerici. Hence, the stretch of water is known as Golfo dei Poeti, the Gulf of Poets. The legendary swim is commemorated each year with the Byron Cup swimming race across the 7.5km from Porto Venere to San Terenzo. We were content to remain on dry land and savour the spectacular scenery.

7.Byron's Grotto

High above the sea caves, the remains of Doria Castle dominate the ridge. Built by the Genoese in 1161 for the wealthy Doria family, the military stronghold has undergone major restoration and is now open to the public.

8.Doria Castle

On the opposite side of the cove, the remains of an ancient defensive post balance on a tumble of rocks

9.ancient defensive post

and the views across the gulf are mesmerising.

10.Gulf of Poets

I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Just beyond the steps to the grotto, the serene figure of a rather buxom lady sits gazing out to sea. The bronze sculpture, Mater Naturae, is the work of Lello Scorzelli but there is no indication as to how long she has sat here. Her thoughts are summed up beautifully in a wonderful piece of prose, The custodian of Portovenere by Francesca Lavezzoli.

We spied the octagonal domes of the 11th century Chiesa di San Lorenzo, in the centre of the village, arising from the terraced hillside

16.Chiesa di San Lorenzo

before we retraced our steps to explore Chiesa di San Pietro.

17.Chiesa di San Pietro

Dating back to ancient Roman times, the town was called Portus Veneris and a pagan temple, dedicated to the goddess Venus, occupied this site. An early Christian basilica replaced the temple in the 5th century and was consecrated in 1198. The black and white bands were added in the 13th century by the Genoese, though the belltower retains the original stonework.

18.Chiesa di San Pietro

Sculptor Lello Scorzelli created the magnificent bronze portals depicting the handing over of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven by Jesus to St. Peter.

When the doors are closed Jesus, dressed in the robes of a poor man, offers the keys to Peter who reaches up to accept them

21.St. Peter

while intricate figures representing the apostles bear witness to the ceremony.

Morning light streamed into the central apse, the striking vaulted ceiling seemed impossibly supported by black and white marble.

25.central apse with altar

A small pipe organ fills an alcove and a statue of St. Peter resides in an adjacent niche.

We savoured yet more spectacular coastal views from the sheltered loggia

28.loggia, Chiesa di San Pietro

before returning to the town in search of breakfast. Via Giovanni Capellini is the main shopping thoroughfare, stone steps connecting it to the harbour.

31.steps to Via Giovanni Capellini

The street was quiet at this hour, shops were just opening

and thoughts of food amplified in our heads.

Replenished with coffee and pastries, we made our way to the harbour to meet up with friends, Deb & Jim, to board the boat for Cinque Terre.

37.Porto Venere harbour38.Porto Venere harbour

As we rounded the promontory, we could appreciate a different perspective of Chiesa di San Pietro and Doria Castle clinging precariously to their rocky foundations.

41.Chiesa di San Pietro42.Doria Castle