Stay a few nights in an old ghost town, they say. You’ll love it, they say. I’m not sure at what point I should interject and explain that although I am a history nut, I am also an anxiety-prone, card-carrying scaredy cat. And the idea of staying in a 200-year old cottage located a few hundred metres from an old courthouse that’s a renowned hotspot on the Blue Mountains haunting map, isn’t really my bag.
But somehow in the ongoing communications I fail to mention my aversion to apparitions of the ghostly variety. Hence the Eats World clan pulling up for a few nights at Old Trahlee, a beautiful sandstone cottage in the town of Little Hartley that has been painstakingly restored into an accessible three-bedroom cottage with modern amenities.
Built between 1846 and 1854, Old Trahlee is the perfect base for the kids to discover Australia’s colonial past. Surrounded by sprawling pastures, cottage gardens and beautiful sandstone buildings, the cottage is one of only 17 buildings in historic Hartley village and I’m happy to report that despite my initial reservations, it’s not even remotely spooky.
In fact it’s delightful, the period renovations having been beautifully done, the bedrooms and lounge are perfectly comfortable, and lovely touches like bunk beds and a baby’s cot make it ideal for a family stay. There is also an accesible ramp into the house as well as an enormous accesible bathroom. They’ve thought of everything here.
Of course being the utterly ridiculous and overly dramatic creature I am, that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend most of our first night wide-awake, with phone in hand and the Ghostbusters on speed dial. But our only nocturnal visitors are a few mosquitos, and besides a couple of bites from the bolshie bugs we survive the night unscathed.
As well as providing great accommodation for exploring Hartley Historic Village with Kids, Old Trahlee is a great base for a day trip to Jenolan Caves and the upper mountains. But we decide to stay local and, after a quick breakfast in the cottage’s cute period style dining room, head off to explore the historic township, which was abandoned when by-passed in the building of the mountain railway in the 1830s.
It only takes opening the front door to discover we really aren’t alone. You see, a family of fat, happy lizards have taken up residence on the front porch and are busy sunning themselves in the morning light.
They scurry off at our intrusion and I realise at that moment that we’re the only souls disturbing the peace around here.
The village’s sandstone buildings preserve an important piece of history – the settlement of inland Australia. And far from being a ghost town, there is a lot happening in the little village. The pretty Old Post Office is now a café and a popular stop-off for passing travellers.
It is conveniently located right next door to Old Trahlee and we stop in for coffee, served by a perfectly alive and very friendly human before exploring the rest of the village.
Clutching our caffeine we wander into the grounds of the gloriously gothic St Bernard’s Catholic Church and its pretty presbytery, built by the Irish as a place to worship in the 1840’s and pretty as can be, but also rumoured to be a place of spectral sightings.
Here we do find further evidence that the town isn’t entirely deserted, as two gorgeous horses come bounding over to the fence for a scratch and a nuzzle with the kids.
Our equine neighbours are delightfully friendly and the kids busy themselves with feeding them some long grass while I take in the beautiful architecture.
The Kew-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Art Gallery is closed when we pass by but we take a stroll along the Kew-Y-Ahn Bell Rock Heritage Trail. The walking track leads from the rear of the former Post Office to the majestic ancient granite tor embedded in the hill overlooking the village, and we are followed part of the way by our new pony pals.
Then there’s the Hartley Courthouse, the place responsible for much of my heebie-ing and jeebie-ing the night before. Seriously, the stunning Greek Revival Courthouse, established in 1837, was not only the setting of many a convict trial but an overcrowded jail, and is said to be so haunted that it is practically a nightclub for spooks.
Now a museum, the kids get a kick out its stories of notorious convicts, bushrangers, cattle thieves and random naughty folk, but I find it oppressive, the dark energy of its brutal history still lingering in the air.
While I don’t bump into any inhabitants of the ectoplasmic variety, I don’t dally and scurry out and back up the street, while the kids stage their own jailbreak, and then spend the next ten minutes taking the piss out of their oversensitive mother’s scaredy cat ways.
Among the other notable structures in the village is The Shamrock Inn, a place that, if it isn’t already haunted, ought to be.
Dating back to 1856, the hotel enjoyed the patronage of thirsty miners who passed through Hartley on their way to the to the goldfields at Turon. Now a ruin, its sagging old tin roof and beautifully gnarled old tree look like something out of a fractured fairy tale.
We head out of the little historic village for lunch at Alchemy Woodfired Pizza , just a few minutes down the road, where Raffles befriends a dragon.
We gobble up wood fired pizza and salad, while enjoying a vista of lush green paddocks. The pizza proves as magical as advertised, with a crispy base and generous fresh toppings.
On our way back to the village we spot The Lolly Bug, and of course have to stop and check it out. The colourful candy store is packed with thousands of varieties of sweeties from around the world. Raffles and Sugarpuff are… well, exactly like kids in a candy store and stock up on bags of treats for later.
Back at the village we walk off our pizza along the bank of the River Lett in search of one of the elusive platypi that call it home. We enjoy the walk but fail in our critter-spotting quest.
But there is still one more mission, at least for Raffles, to complete before we call it a day.
We head up a track between St. Bernards and The Shamrock Inn to Talisman Gallery, where artist Ron Fitzpatrick works his magic on metal.
We chat to the man himself as we browse the gallery of imported jewellery and Ron’s own metal and glass art works. I can’t help but notice Ron bears more than a passing resemblance to Bill Murray and, like everyone’s favourite Ghostbuster, he soon has us in stitches with his dry sense of humour. Ron also seems to share Murray’s knack for those random acts of kindness that make strangers’ lives fabulously stranger.
Despite the uncomfortable heat of the day and us having turned up unannounced, before we can say “boo”, Ron is firing up his forge and dressing my awe-struck boy in boots ten sizes too big, an enormous leather blacksmith’s apron and a huge fire-proof glove that he could just about use as a sleeping bag.
Under Ron’s expert tutelage, Raffles is soon removing a white-hot iron rod from the glowing fire, carefully placing it on an anvil and banging away at it with every ounce of his strength.
Then its on to bending and twisting the metal into a fire poker.
Ron runs what he calls his Fire Poker Challenge during the Summer and Easter School Holidays, teaching kids and adults the art of blacksmithing in short classes (which are by booking only and generally recommended for those aged 12 and over).
He declares Raffles the creator of just about the most perfect twist he’s seen in his Firepoker challenge, and my proud boy holds it aloft like it is Excalibur.
Beaming and sweaty, we bid our goodbyes to the lovely Ron and head back to Old Trahlee to settle in for the evening, content with our day of exploring Hartley’s remnants of colonial Australia. And where I fall into a calm, contented sleep, because haunted or not, this place is magic.
And anyway, content in the knowledge that Ron/Bill is just up the road, suddenly I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
Disclosure: BoyEatsWorld stayed as guests of Old Trahlee, however all meals, experiences and overactive imagination induced heeby-jeebying were at our own expense. Opinions, as always, are our own.