It might actually have described the access road, I discovered: a rough limestone and gravel track that went on for longer than I was counting upon. Just as I was pondering whether to turn back, the cliffs of the coast appeared. And I was prepared to admit that spectacular could indeed be an appropriate word.
Woolshed Cave and its surroundings are quite extraordinary. It’s one of those places that makes me feel small and unsure of myself – but in a good way. A set of wooden stairs and boardwalks takes you down the cliff edge to a series of rock platforms jutting out into the aptly named Anxious Bay and framed by high cliffs on the other three sides. From there you can view back into the opening of the cave, with its honeycombed ceiling, and narrow water channel pushing in and emptying out with each wave.
The surging restless sea, pounding the rocks and surrounding cliffs relentlessly, is confronting and wonderful all at once. In the rough fragments of former cave ceiling that have tumbled onto the wave-worn rock platforms below, fragments of shrubs can be seen, having spread their roots through the limestone many years before with a tenacious grip on life. Birds wheel about enjoying the joy ride on the coastal winds. Here the natural world displays all its power, grandeur and beauty – inspiring awe and wonderment.
Earlier, I had stopped at Murphy’s Haystacks – also on the west coast of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. These are inselbergs (“island mountains”) – huge pink granite rocks protruding from a gentle hill surrounded by farmland and “purporting to be over 1500 million years old”. The scenery reminded me a lot of Wiltshire, where I lived in the late 90’s and was a regular visitor to the Avebury Stone Circle, West Kennet Longbarrow and Silbury Hill. Despite the man made nature of those monuments and the natural processes that created the Haystacks, there is still the same sense of mystery, of spirituality and primal power. Maybe the brooding weather at the time of my visit to the Haystacks also helped!
As my drive southward continued on, the distracting beauty of the Eyre Peninsula’s west coast slowed me down, despite the hastening darkness. Irregularly shaped fields of golden flowering canola and emerald green wheat were framed by silver-green nature strips, interspersed with bright blue lakes and inlets, broken up by stands of tall woodland, and all with backdrops of white sand dunes to the west or the brooding Marble Range mountains to the east. (PS. no I haven’t found religion! the trinket hanging from my rear vision mirror is from Medugorje in Croatia – a gift from the Croation Zumba instructor at the class my good friend Mel dragged me along to in Perth just before I left on my adventure. I loved travelling in Croatia, and figured it was a good sign that those happy travel memories were reignited just as I prepared to leave on this journey.)
At Lake Hamilton, the historic Eating House by the roadside has been beautifully restored, and though not open to the public it still provides a welcome photo stop. The stark white stone building looks across the lake towards farmland and the Marble Range, and I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming about being in Scotland. I could clearly imagine it bustling with activity in the late 1800s when it would have served coaches and travellers passing by. It’s a pity today’s descendants of this ancient tradition – the modern roadhouses – aren’t even half as picturesque and welcoming.