Melbourne: Hanging Rock & The Holgate Brewhouse

First on today’s agenda: some exciting news, if you haven’t already heard from my Mum. I’ll be moving back into my sister’s old bedroom, the master bedroom. Oh yeah! Just kidding. It is true but it isn’t the real exciting news.

It has been almost eight years (we might as well call it 10) since I failed my first and only driving test in the UK. After I moved to London and then started travelling driving wasn’t a priority for me. Money went on flights, excursions and adventures. After I came back from North America the idea of learning again has been tempting, although still not a priority. Much to everyone’s relief I came back from New Zealand, got my Australian learner’s permit, and booked a driving lesson. Before my first lesson Elena’s mum, Faye, got me in the car and made me drive to Bendigo. Some 150km from home. Nobody died and I’ve been moving forward 10km over the speed limit ever since.

Two weeks ago I failed my first test, again. Nerves, anxiety, the pressure. Something got to me. My focus dropped, I was gutted. I got home booked the second one straight away before spending the afternoon moping around the apartment. Having now failed twice I knew the outcome wasn’t important. All that mattered was I turned up on the day and did my best. At 12:20pm on the 23rd of July following the worst reverse park of my short driving career, aged of 26 years, 3 months, and 16 days I passed my driving test. I can hear my family letting out an exasperated “finally”. Hurrah!

Rock formations at Hanging Rock

I am now completely without excuse when it comes to visiting areas of Victoria unserviced by public transport. There aren’t many places left on my list of things to see in the state. Looking at Google Maps for inspiration I noticed I’d marked a location North-West of the city. The Holgate Brewhouse. What a surprise! Beer is on the menu. Situated in the rural town of Woodend at the foot of the Macedon Ranges, there had to be something else nearby worth checking out. A flick through the local government’s website brought Hanging Rock to my attention. Film buffs out there will recognise the name from Peter Weir’s critically acclaimed Picnic at Hanging Rock. Based on the novel of the same name Picnic at Hanging Rock tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of a group of school girls.

The view from Hanging Rock.

We invited Tamsin and Jag along for the ride and they volunteered to do the driving. We left under a crisp blue sky, but rain threatened as we drew closer to the mountains. Warning signs of kangaroos appeared before the residential suburbs gave way to farmland. We stepped out of the car into a frosty wind loaded with thick rain. The weather betrayed me. I expected we’d have a quick look at the rocks, get soaking wet and call it a day. We made for the visitor centre, ducking in for shelter. When we emerged into the great outdoors, the rain had hurried along and we were stood under bright skies once more. The race against the weather was on, we began the ascent.

The view from the top of Hanging Rock.

Thanks to the novel and the movie Hanging Rock is, according to all sources, a place of mystery. The disappearance of a group of school girls and a teacher was always going to cause a bit of a stir. A lasting legacy of mystery though? I’m not buying it. Somebody had gone to great lengths to find no mention of a disappearance in any local newspaper. If a group of school girls went missing without a trace, I suspect the media might have had something to say about it.

Looking for the vampire in the Vampire Cliff at Hanging Rock.

I could picture Hanging Rock shrouded with clouds, spectres moving in the mist, faces in the rocks. Scepticism aside, I don’t think it would be difficult to get lost amongst the rocks but to disappear without a trace is unbelievable. 700m tall pillars of rock create a labyrinth around the summit with windows opening over the surrounding plains. Had we arrived any earlier it would have been impossible to see anything at all. Instead we were in a pocket of clear sky with clouds racing around on every side.

Hanging rock at Hanging Rock

I couldn’t figure out why it was called Hanging Rock. There were reports of bushrangers having once been active in the area and using the rocks as a lookout post, but there wasn’t a hanging. It wasn’t until we began our descent when I noticed small boulders lodged between the pillars. Jag told me we’d come to the hanging rock soon. An unmissable boulder gripped between the pinnacles, hanging over a staircase carved into the bedrock. Everything made sense. We made our way back to the car with one thought in mind. It was time for a beer.

The hanging bull's head sign at Holgate brewhouse

Craft beer has been around for a while now, Holgate started brewing long before I was old enough to enjoy the taste of beer. Situated in an old red brick hotel, the brewery is surrounded by a maze of passageways and dining rooms spilling out around the bar. The sound of an open fire crackling in one room, a cool draft sneaking through the ever opening door, the smell of country pub food. I was overcome with nostalgia. A cozy pub, all four seasons raging outside, there’s never been a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed a pot of the pilsner, a style I’m not fond of but the refreshing, crisp taste made for a pleasant change. We started off with some beer bread with garlic butter, I followed it up with a lamb cottage pie cooked with the award-winning Temptress porter.

A pot of Holgate's refreshing pilsner.

Elena and I finished up with the most delightful creme brûlée. I washed it all down with a Little Red Riding Wood, the pun-tastic seasonal release saison. Another style I’m not confident with, but the toffee flavours were warming and melted well with the dessert. Towards the end of our most excellent meal, a band began setting up. The 40 Thieves Rhythm and Blues band. The were a couple of stand out members. The stern, grumpy looking keyboardist and the brace-wearing singer, who came in with a suitcase full of harmonicas. Mr Harmonica balanced his amp on a keg, which wobbled into the balanced keyboards. Mr Keyboard wasn’t impressed. There was some rather obvious tension between the two. After their rendition of Hoochie Coochie Man, feeling warm and fuzzy we called it a perfect day and headed back to the city.

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