In Part Four of Cry of the Bunyips, Peter Thorpe recalls a bushwalk he’d done as a schoolboy which saw him spending a frightening night lost in the wilderness. “We’d gone on an excursion to the Blue Mountains to see the Three Sisters near Katoomba and ride the scenic railway down to the floor of the valley, where we wandered out along the track towards the Ruined Castle. As the new boy in the class, I was friendless at the time and consquently ended up walking alone, taking my time to examine plants and rocks of interest. The inevitable happened, I suppose, and I became lost.”
Today I retraced at least some of Peter’s steps, taking the Golden Stairs down from Narrowneck to do the 5km walk to the Ruined Castle, a rocky outcrop half way along the ridge extending south-east from the Castle Head spur off Narrowneck to Mount Solitary. It’s a delightful walk to do barefoot, with textures underfoot ranging from cool moist leaf litter to sun-warmed sandstone and the occasional pool of delightfully squishy mud. While it’s a fairly easy scramble up the rocks to the top, with my wonky sense of balance I baulked at the final ascent, leaving it to my walking companion to become King of the Castle.
Along the way, I kept an eye out for possible places where Peter may have been lured off the track, with the spot shown below seeming the most likely. Here the track turns up to the left, but there’s a curious path of sorts leading straight ahead that would have taken him off the spur and south into the wilderness. Upon realising his mistake, he may well have turned west towards the highest ground, hoping to rejoin the track, but that would have only led him into a maze of steep-sided gullies. As twilight approached and he realised his predicament, he would have found his cosy nesting spot alongside one of the tributaries to Cedar Creek. As they say, you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened next.
A further 5km south-east along the track is Mount Solitary, and it was near there that real life imitated fiction when, in July 2010, British backpacker Jamie Neale became lost, spending twelve grueling days in the wilderness before stumbing upon a campsite. That would have been at about the same time I was writing Peter’s predicament, but although I recall hearing about the lost bushwalker on the news at the time, I didn’t make the connection to the location until reading a magazine article about it a year or so later. Spooky.