Mitchell Cottage, Scone review: Exploring outside the box

Read our writer's views on this property below

No television! How will the football-mad teens survive? Peter Gearin finds out.

The race was on within 30 seconds of arriving at Belltrees. It was dark and quiet as my teenage boys scrabbled out of the back seat, almost knocking over their mother in the rush to the front door of our cottage in the Hunter Valley. Friday night football had already kicked off where's the TV?

The marauders zoomed down the corridor to the living area. With two sofas facing a wall of large windows, it looked a nice place to sit for a while, maybe in front of the TV. But there was no TV.

So the frantic search continued on the other side of the kitchen, where an old spring-based sofa sat beside an older-style sideboard. There was no TV on top, so there must be a portable behind one of the doors. No dice.

OK, boys, don't panic. Maybe a TV is hiding in one of the three bedrooms. With striking blackbutt floors and high ceilings, the rooms have been kept simple, each dominated by a properly framed queen-size bed. One room had a dresser and mirror and all had a quaint period-style chair; none had substantial clothes drawers or hanging space. Or a TV.

Now the search got desperate. The youngest one had a look in the bathroom you never know but came up empty. No TV, no DVD player, no PlayStation, no internet. What's this? No mobile reception, either. How were we going to survive?

We had tried to explain to the boys on the way here that the recently renovated Mitchell Cottage, one of three properties available for guests at historic Belltrees Station near Scone, is self-catering. This did not compute for our modern boys; "you have to bring everything you need" clearly didn't translate into "you might have to do without a few daily comforts".

Typically we brought enough food for a week but the son entrusted with finding the board games "kinda forgot". Whatever. Now we were going to rely on a few card games and the ancient art of conversation to sustain us for two nights.

Belltrees has been in the White family for seven generations. At the beginning of the last century, the then 64,500-hectare property had dozens of staff, some of whom looked after 180,000 sheep. The current generation of Whites entrusted with Belltrees' future are brothers Antony and Peter, whose wife Serena looks after the guest accommodation. The 7000-hectare property now boasts 40kilometres of river frontage, up to 5000 Black Angus cattle, some of the best polo horse flesh in the world and one of the grandest homesteads in the state, completed in 1908. Some of the Belltrees properties were built in the 1830s, including the White Cottage, which has been lovingly renovated to accommodate guests.

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Serena promised we'd get a look through the grand original house as well as a tour of the property the following morning. It was something to savour but first we had to avert a mutiny and eat dinner.

The clean but basic kitchen didn't have a microwave but did have a small fridge and all the cooking/crockery equipment you'd need. And as the large dining/living area got chilly, we discovered the reverse-cycle air-conditioner. Things were looking up. Before long we'd organised dinner, unscrewed a bottle of Hunter red and started chatting. Our oldest boy insisted on teaching us a card game that took far too long to explain and even longer to play but it had us laughing and cursing and screaming as happy families do ... but not often enough.

Soon the room was so warm that we turned the heater down, consigned the younger ones to bed and read books on the sofas, wrapped up in the amazing stillness that comes from being in a quiet, uncomplicated place. After the initial flurry, the absent TV wasn't mentioned again.

The writer was a guest of Belltrees and Tourism NSW.

TRIP NOTES

ADDRESS Mitchell Cottage, Belltrees, Gundy Road, Scone.

BOOKINGS Phone (02) 6546 1123, see belltrees.com.

RATES All three cottages have the same rate $330 a night. Weekly rates available. The Mitchell and White cottages have three bedrooms; the Munro Cottage has four bedrooms. It also has a small television.

VERDICT

A unique historic property where you get a chance to escape.

Why you'd go No electronic devices to distract you from serious relaxation.

Why you wouldn't No electronic devices to keep you in touch with the modern world.

FIND TIME TO

- Visit Scone, an authentic town seemingly untouched by hordes of city try-hards. An Akubra looks right.

- Find a polo match, if only to marvel at the horsemanship on display.

- Drop into a couple of upper Hunter wineries and be astonished at how much cheaper you can buy their bottles at Dan Murphy's.