If you do nothing else on your stay at Poppy's Cottage near Armidale, you must go for a walk with Jessie and Miffy.
The two extraordinary little dogs abandon their bones at the sight of
any new guest and quickly communicate that they want to show off their hill.
Poppy Abbott says: "Even when we haven't been here and guests have arrived, the dogs have taken them for a walk."
So it was on a cool and gusty late afternoon that the farm gate was dragged open and the dogs eagerly scrambled through.
The track leads across a meadow of creamy-coloured grasses and curves
up around the back of Arthurs Seat – an extinct volcano stump topped with
blackberry briars, ferns and a scattering of rocks.
The dogs' glee at showing strangers their walk is obvious.
They scurry back and forth, occasionally looking up to get their
bearings in grass which is as tall as they are. But their priority is to
show their guests the way.
Jessie even stopped at one place to stare pointedly at a fallen fence wire, making sure no one tripped.
The climb up Arthurs Seat and back can easily be done in 45 minutes.
From the summit the New England Tablelands stretch out in all directions:
the blue of the bush-covered national parks on the horizon; the neat lines
of trees planted as windbreaks. Graziers have been replanting trees across
this rolling country to combat erosion.
This is the domain of the merino. New England wool is in the 18-19
micron range, meaning the sort of high quality used in the most expensive
designer suits from Italy and Japan.
The landscape is quite different from anything in Queensland. Like
the ranges further north towards Tenterfield and Stanthorpe, the plateau
has a beautiful brutality to it.
With its heavy skies and cutting winter winds, there is more than
a hint of Jane Eyre about the district – echoes of the windswept moors of
Even in February, after the stultifying heat of Brisbane, the cool
drizzle and hilltop gusts which tug at hats and coats are a pleasure.
Armidale is five hours' drive via Warwick and Tenterfield from Brisbane,
or a quick hour's trip on the Sunshine Coast-based Sunshine Express airline.
With the manses of both Catholic and Anglican bishops in Armidale,
this community of about 25,000 people calls itself a city. It has a Toowoomba
feel to it, with interesting homes, lots of big trees, multiple training
colleges, boarding schools and the University of New England.
You can ride a helicopter down the wild river gorges from Armidale,
or be guided to places where bass, brown and rainbow trout await. You can
take a horse trek, or drive the scenic Waterfall Way eastwards towards the
Coffs Harbour area.
And what you shouldn't miss is the New England Regional Art Museum.
This gallery's pride is the impressive Howard Hinton collection:
a mix of privately collected art which includes fine examples of the work
of Arthur Streeton, Lionel Lindsay, Edith Cusack and others.
Poppy's Cottage is an award-winning bed and breakfast farmstay just 10 minutes out of town.
Poppy and Jack Abbott keep a farmyard menagerie of ducks, geese,
chickens and a tame sheep, and guests stay behind the house in a cosy "Settler's
This very private sanctuary is stacked with books, games and puzzles,
and is divided into two rooms, with ensuite bathroom. It would suit two couples
or a family with children.
The country walk up the hill is recommended because Poppy's evening
meal deserves a healthy appetite. The food is better than in some highly
regarded Brisbane restaurants, and our hostess clearly enjoys this aspect
of her business.
Poppy first served a ricotta cheese tart made with oven-dried tomatoes
and basil from her garden and pastry made with eggs from the farmstay's hens.
Main course was chicken fillets in a delicious bacon, garlic and
rosemary sauce, with sauteed potatoes, steamed artichokes and caramelised
carrots. There was just enough room for a superb dessert of small fresh strawberries
in a caramelised Sambuca Galliano sauce, topped with clotted cream.
Breakfast was another feast of fresh fruits and berries, cereals
and croissants, and Poppy's keenness in promoting local produce was evident
in the packed lunch, which included rolls packed with smoked trout.
Just the facts:
Poppy's Cottage, just off the Dangarsleigh Rd, Armidale. Bed and breakfast
is $115 a double, $50 for an extra adult and $40 for each extra child under
12. Dinner, with a complimentary bottle of wine costs $40 a person. Tel:
(02) 6775 1277.