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Christmas Run 2014

Sunday 30th November

It’s got to be a record, outside Castlemaine. The last day of November, Sunday 30th, no less than 62 Lancisti headed north and east into the lesser known corners of the Yarra Valley for our end of year run. The program was to depart Westerfolds Park in Templestowe at a Sunday-suitable 10.00 am, motor to John and Sarah Brenan’s hill-top eyrie north of St Andrews, then proceed to Chris and Anna Long’s graceful vineyard home east of Yarra Glen. Of course the modern motorist could accomplish this in something like 45 minutes, but John and Chris had chosen a series of devious detours, loops and meanders to create a run of approaching two hours long.

With so many taking part, it would be perilous to attempt a comprehensive listing, but the many young  families setting up a picnic at Westerfolds were treated to a fair eyeful: Mark McKibbon’s delightful blue ’37 Bugatti all the way up from Warragul that morning; the magnificent Shellard Kappa; a trio of Lambdas; an Appia no less; two graceful Aurelias; a handful of Fulvia – Zagato Sport, Coupe, Sedan – though Bill Jamieson’s tiresome intermittent electrical fault confined Bill and Liz to their Subaru. (Bill pretended that the flat-four beat was a vee-four and none of us had the heart to disillusion him.) Then there were a couple of Flavias, a couple of Flaminias, a couple of delicious Montecarlos, a clutch of Betas including an HPE, a Delta or two. In short, a good showing! Pity that Russell and Iris Meehan missed seeing it all at Westerfolds and had to catch up. Their story was that they went back to get some chairs; we think they just slept in!

The more tedious fringes of outer suburbia were fairly quickly left behind, thanks partly to Dick Hamer’s legacy of the Green Wedge, partly to routes that skirted round built-up areas in favour of forest reserves, the golf-courses and parks of Doreen and the horsey-country thereabouts. That took us to Yan Yean, after which we could enjoy a network of sealed roads, originally built to service the orchards, vineyards and market gardens of the numerous villages along Diamond Creek and its tributaries, or the larger, wealthier estates of Yarra Glen.

But those routes also had to accommodate the lumpy little hills of the north-east and so we were offered a mix of driving. Broad sweeping roads, quite unspoiled by any other traffic on a Sunday morning, gave those so inclined the opportunity to adopt Italian driving posture, “give the girl her head” and travel at speeds not decently mentioned in a journal intended for family reading. Those of more pastoral inclination could simply roll along, enjoying long, green vistas of prosperous farming land. In other sections, we curled around small creeks and remnant villages on roads surveyed for horse and cart. On a bright, early-summer morning there seemed very little wrong with the world. Hello birds, hello sky, hello flowering stands of eucalypt. Woops, mind that corner.

But John and Chris were determined to place at least a little challenge with a series of ridiculously obscure observation questions – not helped by the fact that the unsuccessful candidates of Saturday’s election had already removed their billboards which we needed to sight for the first question, and John’s chronic inability to get numbers right torpedoed our chance triumphantly to answer “Brown-shouldered kite” for the Arthur’s Creek question.  Still, we all made to St Andrews more or less together, miraculously avoided being skittled by oncoming traffic in John’s quite absurdly blind hairpin-bend entry, did our best to park in his quite steep home paddock, and got stuck into a large array of scones-jam-and-cream, fruit cake, golden syrup cake, chocolate brownie and almond roll-up – washed down with tea and coffee. Those who had made at least a token effort with the observation questions were rewarded with the correct answers and one lucky man carried off a decent bottle of Pinot Noir made in the vineyard below the Brenan’s house.

So fortified for the road, we headed for Tarraford Winery, chez Long. The navigation notes recommended the old Butterman’s Track which these days is almost entirely sealed and should perhaps be renamed Butterman’s Road. This is a classic gold-mining era route which eventually descends precipitously down Mt Wise into Yarra Glen. However it does have 5km of gravel road – good quality, but gravel – so many elected to take the alternative path via Rob Roy Hillclimb and Christmas Hills. Was this nostalgia or a fantasy of zooming up Rob Roy in some extraordinarily fast time?

Reunited at the edge of Yarra Glen, we roared up the Steeles Creek Road, along a ridge then down again to the old Yarra Glen-Healesville Road and so to Chris and Anna’s. We are pleased to report that despite all blandishments, not one Lancisti was seduced into the Chocolaterie.

Instead we were welcomed at Tarraford by a most impressive array of gas barbeques, a table groaning with salads, sausages (of the region), delicious lamb (product of the estate) and later a selection of delicious sweets quite forbidden by dietitians, no doubt. Clutching our plates and glasses, we grouped ourselves in the shade of some magnificent old trees and abandoned ourselves to the pleasures of feasting and conversation with both old friends and new friends. Anyhow, by this stage the day was far too hot to move or do anything much.

What a splendid way to end our program of runs for 2014! Heartfelt thanks to our hosts, and particularly to Anna and Chris who had the most formidable amount of preparation, cooking and cleaning up to do. We hear that Chris is charged with planning routes for our next Castlemaine Rally. The omens are good!

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