Wild Mersey

While Liz and I were holidaying in Northern Tasmania recently, my friend Darb took me for a ride to some of his favourite places.

Liz and I booked a house by the beach in West Ulverstone, half-way between Devonport and Burnie.

It’s just down the road from the quaint little town of Penguin, famous for the fairy penguins that build nests in the sand dunes on the beach.

I did a couple of short solo rides along the coast from where we were staying, using a bike that Darb had borrowed for me from one of his mates (thanks Lukas!).

The best way to see a new place, however, is to explore it with a local, and so I was happy to let Darb show me around…

We started our first ride by the banks of the Mersey River south of Latrobe.

Even though we were still officially in the last week of summer, the morning temperatures at this southern latitude were comparable to a winter morning in my home town of Brisbane.

The locals don’t mind it, but I rugged up.

The Mersey flows swiftly, so it’s not a good idea to wade across.

Thankfully, there’s a beautiful new bridge over the river, which made it easier to get over the other side.

On the other side of the river, we followed some gravel tracks through the pine forest plantation at China Flats.

Wherever they are, plantations are great places to ride a mountain bike.  Apart from harvest time they’re quiet and peaceful.  You can get lost for hours along the endless gravel tracks.

Eventually we left the gravel roads and followed a single track through the she-oaks towards the small town of Railton.

As we neared the town, the single track switched back and forth down the hill.

We had a lot of fun zigzagging downwards, sliding around the corners, trying to stay upright.

We were in no rush, so we stopped at a cafe in Railton.

While we enjoyed our coffee we chatted with one of the friendly locals.

I’m slowly learning that the best way to get the “feel” of a new place is to listen to the people who have lived there for a while and ask open ended questions.  The character of a town is more affected by the people who live there than the things that are in it.

We followed a rail trail along a twelve kilometre winding course between Railton and Sheffield.

As we rode out, we passed numerous runners finishing their Saturday morning “ParkRun”.

Rail trails are happy places.

We followed the old railway easement south-west through more pine plantations.

In a couple of places we had to ride on the road for a short stretch.

In other places, the track passed through cuttings which had been excavated decades earlier to form an easy gradient for trains.

These days, the only “trains” which use the tracks are the two-wheeled variety.

As we neared Sheffield, the pine plantations gave way to open farmland.

Mount Roland towered over the southern horizon, shrouded in clouds.   

This impressive mountain is clearly visible from most of Sheffield

Sheffield is a fascinating place. Many of the walls in town are covered with beautiful murals.

You could spend an hour or two wondering around its streets as if you were in an art gallery.

But Darb and I weren’t here for the artwork.

We pulled into a local bakery, and I ordered a local Tasmanian delicacy – a Scallop Pie and a coffee.

After a leisurely lunch, we jumped back on the bikes and rolled quietly out of town, past more huge wall murals.

Sheffield was our half-way point,  From here we started making our way back towards the start.

To mix things up a bit, we varied the course slightly, following some single-tracks through the trees.

Darb pointed out one of the early projects he was involved with when he first started work as an engineer with the local council.

The tank is still standing several decades later, which says to me Darb is a pretty good engineer 🙂

On the way back through Railton we stopped at Sykes Sanctuary.

Norman Sykes was an engineer, cyclist and environmentalist.

He lived a simple life, often cooking up roadkill in his cooking pot for dinner.  He hooked his bike up to a generator so he could have electricity for a reading lamp.

He bequeathed his 40 acre block to the local council to be used as a nature sanctuary.

Sykes had some novel and controversial ideas about using mathematics to decode hidden messages in RNA and DNA.  Some excerpts from some of his work is beautifully engraved on marble tablets under the trees.

We were both fascinated.

Thanks for the beautiful bushland, Norman, wherever you are!

On the other side of Railton, we climbed up the winding switch-backs we had rolled down earler in the day…

…then followed the “Railton Express” single track back towards Latrobe.

At the top of a steep climb we stopped for another snack and admired the view of the valley below with the Mersey River meandering through it.

This is beautiful country. 

We eventually arrived back at the Mersey riverbank to watch a few kayakers slowly drift past us downstream.

Total distance: 53.1 km
Total climbing: 874 m
Average temperature: 14.6
Total time: 05:53:15
Download file: activity_6340301110.gpx
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This was a great “vacation” ride with scenic variety and not too physically challenging.

We rode about 53 kilometres in just under six hours.  During that time we climbed about 700 metres in vertical elevation, and I burned about 2,500 kcal.

I’ll rate it 7.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.

Thanks for a great day out, Darb! I can’t wait to do it again.

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