It is a real testament to the charm of the Old Stanley Grammar School Country House that three teachers were willing to spend two nights of their vacation there. Most of us educators find an almost physical aversion to even the sight of a schoolhouse, historic or not. Built in 1857, Stanley Grammar was a boarding school for country boys for many years. Afterwards, it fell into disuse and then disrepair. Its current owners Frank and Denise, are restoring it to former heights of beauty and hospitality. Original wood is coming to the surface and appropriate furniture is being sought out. Frank and Denise aren’t opposed to a little reality, however, and if they can obtain the agreement of the Heritage Council, they plan to modernize the bathrooms.
Beyond the charm, we stayed here to enjoy South Australia’s Clare Valley wine region. While the grape vines looked barren, the surrounding lushness and lack of crowds made us appreciate the idea of off-season travel. We envisioned a day of biking and tasting along the Riesling Trail, a marvelously located train easement converted to bicycle and foot path. We hired some bikes and made reservations for lunch at posh Skilogallee winery and off we went. The trail itself was lovely, complete with the Aussie-exclusive sight of kangaroos lounging among the vines. Unfortunately, our itinerary also included a turn on Horrocks Loop. The Riesling Trail is flat and comfortable. Horrocks Loop was not. After several steep hills, we found ourselves arriving at our lovely lunch sweaty and late. It took three or four servings of water before any of us even started to have the palate for wine.
After a lazy lunch of recuperation, we finished our loop and returned to the Sevenhills Monastery and winery where we had rented our bikes. The return journey was a little easier and we were able to enjoy several tastings at Sevenhills. While the winery used to be run by the monks, the last brother-winemaker retired recently. Now, as the woman at the counter put it, they are waiting for a winemaker to turn Jesuit or a Jesuit to learn winemaking.
Our first night in tiny Watervale we enjoyed a local restaurant but on our second night we only felt we needed some of the cheeses and snacks generously provided by Frank and Denise. This also gave us the chance to retire to the fire with our hosts, some other guests and an amazing port Frank buys by the keg. He told me it’s only available for locals and for export to Europe, which is probably for the better. Conversation varied from politics to economics, before Denise and another guest suddenly disappeared. Frank explained that Denise had taken her off to read tarot cards. Then he continued to tell us that Denise had a sense for such things and had, on their initial visit to the country house, seen the spirit of a nun surveying prospective buyers. We didn’t take the whole discussion too seriously until a week later, on driving back from the Outback, a transplant from Watervale asked us if we had “seen anything” during our stay!
We would have loved another day in the Clare Valley, perhaps even the chance to visit some wineries by a more comfortable car ride, but we had limited time and the Outback awaited!
Contest: Do You Know Blue?
31 minutes ago