So I’m not really quite sure where the time has gone, but I’ve somehow lost a month. Typically my workplace has this crazy period in March, or “Mad March” as it came to be known, but it’s been so busy this year and the projects just keep on coming so last month got the title of “Mental May”. I’ve only just completed my last event for the cycle this week, and just starting to wind down myself too. I’m a little disappointed that I’ve not had much time for the blog or journal-ling in general, but I’ve promised to be gentle with myself and I think with this month being as busy as it is, I’m OK with just getting on as best I can, especially if it means I get an earlier night of sleep! Being busy hasn’t meant that I’ve not been able to have any fun though and, definitely there’s been a cocktail or birthday in there to mix it up. One weekend early in May, I was able to get away with a friend for a day in Bilpin.
When the weather gets cooler towards the end of April, I love to go out to Bilpin for some apple picking. Usually this lines up well with the first school holiday break and my good friend K, a teacher, is always up for a bit of an adventure with her free(er) time. On this particular day, we had a clear plan of going apple picking, having some lunch then going hunting for walnuts. We were up early-ish and off to Shields Orchard to pick some apples. It was a gorgeous day and driving up Bells Line of Road is always a treat as you know you’re nearing Bilpin once you hear more and more bell birds – the road’s namesake – going “ping!”.
On arrival, it turned out that you had to book in advance, but the owner was kind enough to let us in despite a full schedule, giving us a quick rundown of what apples were available to pick and a taste too. The owner explained that the orchard had had a difficult season due to the hot summer followed by heavy rains through March, so unfortunately Pink Lady apples (my favourite!) weren’t available, but there were some spotty Braeburns, selling cheap due to the wet spotting that happens when fruit stays wet in the sun for too long, and also lots of Granny Smiths. Both were deliciously crisp and sweet and we were advised the Grannies would get sweeter as they ripened too. No need to tell me twice, I wanted to make some apple cakes so these would be perfect. So our briefing done, buckets in hand, we wandered off down the rows and rows of trees to get our bounty! It was a surprisingly warm day but perfect for the task at hand. Trees laden with fruit, K pointed out which apple was which and how to select them for picking, the budding apple fruits and apple blossoms with native bees buzzing around. I always love going on a day out with K — foraging is one of her special powers and I love all the random things I learn about flora and fauna, as well as the gardening tips, whenever I’m with her!
Shields Orchard is also home to Hillbilly Cider and you could sit on a tasting and enjoy some apple or pear cider in the sunshine. But you could just as easily come with your family, or group of friends, bring a picnic and enjoy the little picnic area as well – just remember to book ahead ;). K and I managed to fill our buckets – we decided to go halves on a bucket of Braeburns and a bucket of Granny Smith apples. We left with a box of apples each for about $30. Not bad for a fresh picked box!
Hot and hungry, food was next on the agenda and so off we headed to a popular spot for lunch, Bilpin Afire. Modern, rustic is probably the best description I’d give this restaurant with it’s chic interiors, high communal tables, open kitchen and picnic style cafe seating outdoors plus full-licensed bar. The menu offers a bit of everything and is more upmarket than the average cafe pit stop you’ll encounter along Bells Line of Road, with prices to match. Service is a little hit and miss depending on how busy it is – and it can get quite busy as one of the only obvious restaurants around – but we’ve always found the waiters pretty happy (if apologetic) and the food always delicious. In particular for me, the crispy potatoes have left an impression and I always order them – so super crispy AND fluffy and moreish and generous to boot… how can I not?!
After a long lazy lunch, we realise we’d potentially left it a little late to do more foraging as it was close to 3pm. We had originally hoped to make it out to Kookootonga Farm in search of walnuts, but a quick Google search told us this would soon be closed by the time we made our way to Mt Irvine at 4pm. We were in luck though, as Nutwood Farm, would be open for an additional hour until 5pm, and we were feeling adventurous! Google’s directions said it would be roughly a 45 minute drive, leaving us a good hour to forage for chestnuts and walnuts! I love going for a drive in the mountains – it’s so lush and green and the winding roads always make me feel like anything could be up ahead 🙂
On arrival at Nutwood Farm, we could see there was still a good crowd out and had lots of light still to go foraging. We checked in at the entrance and were advised that there weren’t any walnuts left – we were too late for the season and it had already been picked over – but there were still lots of chestnuts to collect. We were shown the best colour and method, which was to turn over any shells that had fallen from the tree and look for dark hard, shiny nuts. The farm provides you with a bucket and some gardening gloves to help you with your foraging. Chestnut cases are sharp and prickly so you don’t want to go at it barehanded!
A short walk into the farm and you’re greeted with a wide vista of chestnut trees, planted together in large groves. The scenery was quite magnificent and the air smelled so clean! The farm would be a beautiful place for a picnic and we could see there were some clearings where families with young children were starting to pack up their day out amongst the chestnut trees. We poked around on the ground and found there were plenty of chestnuts to be found that people had mostly trodden into the grass still in their cases. I was having little success with the thin gardening gloves I had (pro tip: bring your own stiff work gloves next time!), so resorted to turning things over with a stick I’d found. Digging around, we were able to turn over cases and find the trio of nuts hidden safely inside. It wasn’t long before our bucket was half full and we’d barely been at the farm for 30 minutes! We started to get pickier, hunting for larger nuts, and I found it a little overwhelming actually – all the choice! There was so much on the ground, I ended up abandoning the forage expendition and just going for a walk through the trees :D. K was on the mission and searched for more “meatier” nuts. While wandering, I noticed some people doing the thing that signs said not to do, launching sticks and rocks up at trees to try and make more casings fall down… this looked both awkward and dangerous, but I guess you can’t police everyone and with the day wrapping up, the farmers probably had other duties to tend to.
With the light starting to fade and the clock approaching 5pm, we slowly headed back to the entrance with a bucket full of chestnuts. I’m fairly sure the mostly full bucket cost us about $20 as well and we split this between us to enjoy! Out bounty of apples and chestnuts collected, we started on the drive home, back through the eucalyptus and fern glades. We passed a campsite and the smell of smokey campfires and the crisp cool air was an almost delicious smell, telling us that winter was really on its way. But I love it because its I think my favourite season – I love the fresh cold air, steamy morning haze and getting cozy under a blanket. I think it’s potentially the most stylish season, where winter coats and trenches suddenly appear, dark tights and boots. Or at least its the most cuddly of fashions with goose down, mittens and beanies!
Our drive home was fairly uneventful, save for a couple of stunning golden hours shots as the sun sank behind the trees. We managed to make it just in time also to catch a couple of the apple pie pit stops on the way back down Bells Line – this is an activity in itself as there’s about 5 different apple pie cafes all the way down! Anyway if you’re looking for a pretty chill drive and some fruit picking as the weather gets cooler, check out any of the Bilpin orchards, though check Facebook or call ahead to make sure they’re open as if today was anything to go by, the orchards can get really busy.
Have a lovely winter!
2270 Bells Line of Rd, Bilpin
2488 Bells Line of Rd, Bilpin
22 Danes Way, Mount Irvine