Recently I rediscovered one of my favourite pleasures. Not chocolates or fantastic romance novels or movies or chatting with friends. I'm talking about the simple Sunday drive. The chance to escape from the normal routine and get out somewhere different and picturesque.
I know it doesn't sound thrilling or exotic but I realised recently how hectic my life has become. Even weekends seem fully booked with a range of commitments, including writing, and taking a whole afternoon off just to enjoy myself is a real treat.
I grew up in a family who loved getting out in the bush to walk, camp, picnic or just drive and find out what was around the next curve on some quiet dirt road in the country. I always loved the sense of exploration, of being somewhere tantalisingly new, and still have memories stored of forgotten valleys and homesteads glimpsed on a weekend jaunt, which seemed romantic and alluring in the late afternoon sun.
Recently a dear friend, Anna Campbell, came to visit from interstate and we spent a Sunday afternoon driving up to the Hunter Valley of New South Wales (Eastern Australia for those not familiar with it). It was a perfect autumn afternoon and we were pleased with ourselves as we'd worked hard over the weekend and felt we deserved the treat of an afternoon escape.
The Hunter Valley is renowned for its vineyards, its coal and its horse breeding. We focused on the vineyards but no, we didn't stagger from vineyard to vineyard, tasting all afternoon. We were far too busy soaking up the gorgeous day and the terrific scenery. These top two pictures are the view from Tyrell's Vineyard towards the Brokenback Range and then from the Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, not far away.
We managed to fit in a scrumptious late lunch at a local cafe, and it was wonderful not to cook or clean up afterwards (one of my fave things about a country drive). After all, if you're having the afternoon relaxing from the usual range of chores, time in the kitchen can't be a priority. Isn't this a lovely setting for a meal? Needless to say, we didn't want to move.
One of the things I enjoyed about our drive was the chance to see some of my fave places in the area. We only tried the wine at one vineyard and I chose Tyrrells. It's impossible to choose one 'best' as there are so many terrific producers in the area. But from here there are marvellous views and I've got a soft spot for the old vineyard, one of the oldest in the area. Instead of being all polished and new, the buildings are old and weathered. When you enter the area where the vats and barrels are stored you walk on old hard-packed dirt floor. It's unpretentious and down to earth and about the reality of wine-producing, not just the glamour.
To finish the afternoon we drove to the sleepy hamlet of Wollombi, one of the oldest in the area. We drove along a scenic river valley, past the cave where ages ago a bushranger (outlaw) had hidden from the police. There's not much of
Wollombi to see but the old buildings are worth a look and so is the gorgeous, peaceful old cemetery where some of the first European settlers to the area are buried.
Returning home very late in the day we were tired but satisfied and best of all, someone else did the cooking! Wonderful. We got fresh air, terrific scenery, some delicious wine, great conversation and a glimpse into the past in some wonderfully peaceful valleys. We felt refreshed and ready to tackle the work of another week.
How about you? Do you enjoy the pleasures of a Sunday drive? Are you a picnicker? Camper? Do you seek out markets or craft stores or antique shops? Or do you prefer to stay at home to relax? What is your favourite place to escape on a weekend?
This month my new release UNDONE BY HIS TOUCH is released in the UK (Australia in May and North America in June). To celebrate I'll give away a copy of UNDONE to one person who leaves a comment. You can read about it or read an excerpt on my website or here at Amazon.