November 13, 2018

Tea with Miss Lilian

First a mini-history lesson: Lilianfels Resort and Spa was originally owned by Sir Fredrick Darley, an Irishman who arrived in Australia in 1862 and was knighted in 1887 after serving five times as Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales. In 1888, Sir Darley and his wife Lucy wisely purchased 11 acres of prime real estate adjacent to Echo Point, in the Upper Blue Mountains village of Katoomba. The Darleys then commissioned architect Varney Parkes (son of Henry) to design a summer residence for their family. Built in 1889, the charming bungalow was named for Lilian, one of the couple's seven children, who died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 22. The word 'Fels' is German for 'high land'.

Knowing this sad fact adds poignancy to my experience at Miss Lilian Tea House, which overlooks the original bungalow (home to the renowned Darley's Restaurant) and is a genuine breath of fresh air. Sipping on a cup of soothing blossoming tea (White Tea Camellia Mango, to be precise), I imagine the spirit of Miss Lilian wafting through the property's manicured gardens, inhaling the heady mix of eucalyptus and roses.

I'm brought back into the room by the equally heady mix of aromas delivered to our table. Utilising local produce, the menu is inspired by 'authentic Asian comfort food' – steamed dumplings, spring rolls, pho, laksa and wonton noodles all make a welcome appearance.

Sharing was the obvious way to go for our group of 10, and the standout dishes for me were the ultra-fresh Prawn & Papaya Salad, $26; Vietnamese Pho with locally sourced Angus Beef tenderloin served rare, $17; and Mekong Chicken (turmeric-flavoured free-range chicken with a creamy coconut dressing), $20. Equally flavour-filled was the Circa 1888 cake (Amande Praliné Blanc, 65% Madagascan Smoky Chocolate Mousse and Kacinkoa Cacao Glaze with a mini 24K gold '1888' topper), $15.

The setting is as refreshing as the Ginger Punch mocktail I chose to go with lunch (the beverages menu also includes cocktails, wine, beer and cider). Coloured lanterns line the entrance and brightly painted antique birdcages add whimsy to the interior, which subtly blends oriental and modern features. The overall effect is cool and calming, much like a weekend visit to the Blue Mountains.

A two-minute walk to Echo Point is the perfect end to a lovely lunch. Looking out over the Three Sisters, I think again of Miss Lilian, who is surely resting peacefully in this magnificent corner of the country.

Miss Lilian Tea House
Lilianfels Resort and Spa
5/19 Lilianfels Avenue
Katoomba NSW 2780
02 4780 1200


November 11, 2018

Historic Train Journeys in Yorkshire

John Newton returned to his roots in northern England to jump aboard the Settle to Carlisle train, which runs across a stunning viaduct and takes in the unforgettable views of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and neighbouring Cumbria.  

It's recognised as one of the world's greatest railway trips - like the Glasgow to Mallaig route over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the 'Harry Potter Bridge'- further north.

But the Settle-Carlisle line was doomed to be closed by British Rail in the 1980s until a former government minister - now a UK and international railway guru - stepped in to save the tracks from being torn up.

As Britain's transport minister at the time, Michael Portillo, who fronts the long-running TV series - 'Great British Railway Journeys'- announced a government U-turn for the Settle-Carlisle railway line, after a long campaign by rail groups, local authorities - including the county councils of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire – enthusiasts and residents to keep the line open.

By far the highlight of the spectacular journey is the massive Ribblehead Viaduct, with its 24 arches. Its 402 metres (440 yards) long and 32 metres (105 feet) high. Every sixth arch is double the thickness of the others – so if one of these collapsed only five would follow.

Further down the line, at Dent in Yorkshire, is the highest main line station in England – and the glorious landscapes continue along the Yorkshire Dales National Park into the Cumbrian countryside.

The train – which now operates several daily services with diesel engines, although there are steam charters now and then – clatters past rolling hills, manicured moorland fields, kilometres upon kilometres of Roman walls, babbling streams, pristine rivers and historic towns and villages.

Although only a one hour 40-minute journey, what this short 117-kilometre journey lacks in distance is more than made up for in grandeur. From Settle to the England-Scotland border city of Carlisle, there are 20 stations (11 open, nine closed, 17 major viaducts and 14 tunnels.)

It was the last mainline railway in England built using pure physical strength and was opened to passenger trains in 1876 and has had its fair share of ups and downs since.

The line became famous through concerted efforts to save it from closure in the 1980s. Since its reprieve in 1989, millions of pounds have been invested in the railway, its stations, and the visitor centre at Ribblehead Station and to preserve signal boxes, including the one at Settle.

Situated in the foothills of the Pennines, Settle is a bustling market town and well worth at least a three-day stopover, allowing travellers to take in the sights - including Attermire Scar, with its numerous caves where bones of prehistoric animals have been found. And among the many other nearby attractions worth exploring are stunning waterfalls; the Settle Hydro, Weir and Salmon Ladder; and the dazzling limestone scenery of Ribblesdale, where the landscape is dominated by Yorkshire's Three Peaks – Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside – which tower over the surrounding countryside and moors. They are a top drawcard for climbers, hikers and ramblers. Walkers.

At the end of the line, Carlisle is a 2000-year-old city full of rich heritage and famous for Hadrian's Wall, the city's cathedral and Tullie

House, where there's a granite walkway which links it to Carlisle Castle.

Garsdale: Just north of Dent, there's a statue of Ruswarp the dog. A very special dog. Perched on the southbound platform, the statue commemorates the 20th anniversary of the government's reprieve of the Settle to Carlisle line. Ruswarp's paw print was accepted as a valid signature objection to the closure of the line, as he was a fare-paying passenger. But, sadly, just months after the re-opening of the line they helped to save, Ruswarp's owner died while walking with his dog in the Welsh mountains. It was not until almost three months later that his body was found near to a mountain stream. Close by was Ruswarp who had stayed with his dead master for many cold winter weeks. The dog was so weak he had to be carried from the mountain and survived just long enough to be at his master's funeral.

Where to stay:

Oozing character, The Angel at Hetton, formerly Angel Inn - just over 10 kilometres from Settle - is one of North Yorkshire's most historic pubs featuring a multi award-winning restaurant

This nine-room rural gem has recently changed hands and a start has been made on an extensive facelift by the two couples who have bought the property. However, it will stay open over the festive season and New Year before the major refurbishment resumes and the property closes again for a short time. The creation of a second dining facility featuring 'pub grub' gives patrons another option to the finer dining experience. One of the new owners, Michael Wignall, has achieved a Michelin star at every restaurant he has worked at since 1993.

*More details on the Settle-Carlisle train and the Yorkshire Dales region, contact www.yorkshire.com

Words: John Newton
Images: John Newton and supplied
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au

A.        Settle Station
B.        Ribblehead Viaduct
C.        Yorkshire Dales
D.        Country Manor
E.         The Angel
F.         Grand Bar and lounge The Angel
G.        Mars and Saturn over Ribblehead