Collits' Inn, Hartley Vale review: Innkeeping with the times

Read our writer's views on this property below

Natasha Wallace finds colonial accommodation — and the rest is history.

There was a time, in the early 1820s, when Collits' Inn was the only rest stop between western Sydney and the settlement of Bathurst. Travellers and explorers - even the post coachman - would arrive at the friendly Blue Mountains inn desperate for rest and food after making the steep, treacherous descent from Mount York via Cox's Pass, now a walking track.

Six of us arrive from Sydney, 188 years later, though in the airconditioned comfort of our four-wheel-drives. We need rest, too, but for different reasons.

We've planned a weekend around the Zig Zag Railway's inaugural roaring '20s night and Collits' Inn is the closest place to crash afterwards. Had we known how disappointing our time aboard the steam train would be - and how lovely our choice of accommodation - we would have bunkered down at the inn and drunk wine, just like they did in the old days, under the stars on our back porch.

But more on that later.

As it turns out, we're the first visitors at Collits' Inn since a recent restoration - its fifth incarnation as a guesthouse. My husband, Nick, and I and one couple are booked into the stable: comfortable, loft-style, two-bedroom self-contained accommodation. Our other friends are in the cosy (read: small) Governor's Room in the original inn, which is home to the owners, Col and Michelle Macdonald (whose bedroom is right next door) and their two sons.

Collits' Inn is a remarkable piece of history. Tucked away in a pretty valley in Hartley Vale, just south of Lithgow, it was opened in 1823 as the Golden Fleece by former Irish convict Pierce Collits and his wife, Mary. (Pierce was originally assigned to Mary as a slave; he later became the chief constable of Penrith.) One of Australia's first musicals, Collits Inn, is a fictional love story about one of the couple's daughters.

The previous owners, Christine and Russell Stewart, spent four years restoring the inn from 2001 and collected every piece of history they could find - documents, newspapers, letters, maps and books - now stored in the history room of the main house (once the district post office). They even kept the 40-odd types of linoleum found on the inn's floor, some of which are displayed in a poster, as well as newspapers dating back to 1915 and guest books from 1938.

We are pleased with our stable, which has been rebuilt from original clay bricks and timber. The back porch looks towards Mount York with a picture-perfect rustic view of a small dam with ducks, grazing horses, a restored barn (used as a recreation area), rusting old farming equipment and trees laden with pears.

Advertisement

The large kitchen in the stable has a minibar and table for four and the bathroom is modern, though it could do with some new fixtures. The lounge area has been tastefully decorated; its exposed beams and original sandstone doorstep complete the picture. It has a bedroom downstairs and two double beds in the loft upstairs. Its lack of airconditioning might make the peak of summer uncomfortable, though we're given bedside fans.

Our hosts are keen to show us around the labyrinthine inn, with its original fireplaces, antique furniture and bric-a-brac, including an 1809 flintlock and a 1700s matchlock rifle on the wall of their dining room.

After we settle in, we change into our '20s costumes - flapper dresses, pearls and feathers - and Col drops us off at Clarence Station, where we meet an enthusiastic group of railway volunteers.

Dave, our host, bustles us on board, waving his "persuader", a meat cleaver stashed in a violin case. It looks as if it will be a fun night, though the train feels a little empty, with passengers spread across several carriages. Then we realise that BYO alcohol also means bringing your own glasses; we make do with some paper cups.

We envisaged, for the $80-a-head price tag, having our meals brought to us, maybe by candlelight, aboard the train. But when the train pulls up at a station 30 minutes later, we realise we must alight, line up in a makeshift canteen and serve ourselves, disposing of our plastic plates afterwards. Dinner consists mostly of sliced cold meats, pre-packaged salads and a large slab of cake, so there's plenty left to dispose of. The mood music is too low, the guests look bored and the volunteers prattle on about their love of trains. At the end of the evening, there's a melancholy announcement that not enough people attended, and management has already decided it won't be repeated.

We're relieved to return to Collits' Inn.

Next morning, we take a short walk to a bush cemetery and its collection of historic graves. The father of writer and poet Henry Lawson is buried here: Niels Herzberg Larsen (later Peter Lawson), along with Mary and Pierce Collits.

Afterwards, our hosts prepare a generous, country-style breakfast of fresh fruit, muesli and yoghurt followed by bacon, eggs, mushrooms, hash browns, tomatoes and toast, which we eat in the inn's dining room.

Returning to Sydney, it seems every second of 188 years away from the colonial-style charm we've enjoyed so much.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Collits' Inn

Address 101 Hartley Vale Road, Hartley Vale.

The verdict A remarkable slice of history in a picturesque valley with plenty of attractions.

Price Governor's Room costs $150 a night; the stable costs $180 for a couple, $100 for a second couple. No minimum stay. Breakfast costs $15 a person.

Bookings Phone 6355 2072, email macmine@bigpond.com.

Getting there About 2½ hours from Sydney, 25 minutes from Katoomba via Great Western Highway, or an hour from Richmond via Bells Line of Road.

Perfect for A weekend with friends.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Visit Hartley Historic Village and its Greek Revival Courthouse (1837), where convict trials were held; take a ride on the Zig Zag Railway and visit the Jenolan Caves; see the Glow Worm Tunnel at Newnes Plateau or walk through the Wollemi National Park; browse antique shops; have lunch on the way at the Apple Bar in Bilpin, listed in the SMH Good Food Guide.