A light on the hill

Like the weary Blue Mountains adventurers of old, Judy Prisk stops in Hartley to enjoy some bush hospitality.

A LONG time ago, when it took two days not two hours to cross the Blue Mountains fromSydney, the little village ofHartley was a must-stop spot. Sitting patiently at the foot of Mount Victoria, itwelcomed its exhausted visitors by offering everything they could need: pubs, inns, a blacksmith, a church (St Bernard's Catholic), a post office, even a courthouse and some police.

Therewere kerosene shale mines and goldmines - it was all bustle.

Then the government built that pesky railway line, bypassing Hartley and putting Lithgowon the map.

About 120 years later, it is the place you whip through at 90km/h after you've manoeuvred your way downthe tortuous Victoria Pass as you head to the Jenolan Caves, Bathurst or Orange. You notice "local honey" out of the corner of your eye; the orange-coloured Talisman Gallery & Cafe; the teahouse and gallery; "historic Hartley village", then you slowfor the speed camera and centralwest here you come.

Keith and Vivienne Berry didn't get as far as the speed camera. Seven years ago, they took one look at a block of land on Bonnie Blink Drive - a block on a hill at Little Hartley surrounded by valleys, bush and sandstone cliffs - and stopped. They built their dreamhome,Hartley on the Hill Bed and Breakfast, which, just like the village in the early 1800s, is a must-stop.

It was dark and cold whenwe arrived.No,weweren't travelling by coach and dray but the Friday night traffic along theGreatWestern Highway through the Blue Mountains seemed as slowgoing as Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth found it. Almost.

Hartley on theHill's lights glowed and the promise of warmth was fulfilled whenwe stepped inside. Our roomwas big, yet cosy, with a huge bed, a windowseat and an ensuite, thick curtains to keep out marauding bushrangers, a television, good-sized table and an extremely comfy armchair. Being adventurous travellers,we curled up immediately. Later, rumbling stomachs forced us out - to one of the best pizzas I've had in years.

The Berrys tell no fibs: the Talisman - run by a couple and their son, whomoved fromNorton Street, Leichhardt, 12 years ago - is exceptional.

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There's a thick frost the next morning and a mist over the trees and valley. The Berrys' dog, Ollie - a blue-eyed German coolie-border collie cross - takes no note as he crunches across the grounds, his thick coat no doubt more protection than my many layers of clothing.

Vivienne doesn't just do breakfast; breakfast anyone can do. Vivienne does morning feast. The country boy - he who considers himself a judge of these things (whose wife has a cup of tea and toast on a really big day) - salivated over Vivienne's scrambled eggs the first morning and her omelette the second, both of which were enriched by herbs from Keith's garden.

Keith used to be the principal of Mount Victoria Public School until he retired in 1998; he and Vivienne met at Jenolan Caves 40 years ago. So these two knowthe district - and love it. They send us sightseeing to gorgeous Hartley Vale, home of the famous Collits' Inn (no longer operating as a restaurant with accommodation, sadly) and the delightful Comet Inn, which is.We also learnt the back way through to Mount Victoria - the original route down the western escarpment of the Blue Mountains that's not for the faint-hearted. Magic.

Saturday afternoon on the verandah of Hartley on theHill and the sun is setting. Vivienne brings out cheese and biscuits with her home-made tomato relish and, with a glass of warmred wine in hand,we have a word or two with old St Bernard, patron of those who travel through mountains. What's 120 years or so between friends?

The writer was a guest of Hartley on theHill and Tourism NSW.

Where Hartley on the Hill, 57 Bonnie Blink Drive, Little Hartley. (02) 6355 0201, hartleyonthehill.com.
Getting there Follow the M4 until you reach the Blue Mountains and keep going. Hartley and Little Hartley are at the bottom of the western escarpment.
How much $300 a couple for a weekend; $150 a night midweek.
Style statement The best guest room in your parents' new house.
Perfect for Feeling like a pioneer — without the travail.
Take the kids? No. Go exploring, just the two of you.
Don't forget To take some wine to watch the sunset. It's 15 minutes to the closest bottle shop at Lithgow or Mount Victoria.
A shame about In-room heating control would be nice and a vent in the en suite.

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