Sunday, 12 June 2016

Out and Back Loop (Peace Be Still)


Located within Peace Be Still, a private retreat in the Chittering Valley that accepts day visitors, the Out and Back Loop is a 6.5 kilometre walk up the valley slope that briefly crosses the property boundary into Avon Valley National Park. Featuring steep inclines that are sure to get the heart rate up, the trail provides pleasant walking through mature Wandoo woodlands and features lovely valley views.


Distance: 6.5 km ('tadpole' loop - a main loop with a return section)
Gradient: Several steep ascents for the first half of the loop, followed by a flat section across the top of the valley before steeply descending again.
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and well maintained, with some sections uneven and suffering from erosion damage. 
Quality of Signage: Largely well signed, with clear markers at most junctions
Experience Required: No Bushwalking Experience Required
Time: 1.5 - 2 Hours
Steps: No significant stairs
Best Time to Visit: Late Winter/Early Spring, but okay from mid Autumn through to late Spring
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Peace Be Still is located on Chittering Rd. See their website for details.


The Out and Back Loop in Peace Be Still is a walk I've known about for some years but never got around to checking out. I read about it in More Family Walks in Perth Outdoors, however the age of the book (2005), the distance it takes to get there (its further north than Walyunga National Park) and the fact it is on a private property that may potentially no longer be open made it seem all a bit too hard. Having driven down to Denmark over many weekends this year, the Chittering Valley didn't seem quite as logistically difficult as it had in the past. After a quick email confirmation to ensure Peace Be Still was still open, Alissa and I decided to finally check out this somewhat obscure walk late in the afternoon.

Located on Chittering Rd, the driveway into the property crosses the Brockman River, and features a day use area with picnic tables along the river's bank. Immediately facing the driveway is a sign providing useful information about the walk trails on the property.


Unsure about whether we could park in the upper car park or if it was reserved for guests staying at the retreat, Alissa and I left our car by the river and walked up the driveway's slope to the main building and car park. Signage along the driveway indicates that the major walk trails start there.


Just beyond the main building, a sign indicates that this is the starting point of several trails, with the Out and Back Loop being an extension of the Harry Butler and Stations of the Cross trails. Immediately after the sign is a Labyrinth made from glass bottles. Alissa and I spent a bit of time walking through the maze before concern about getting back to our cars before sunset forced us to continue on our way.


The trail winds its way up the valley, and can be steep at times. Closer to the start are a number of signs that provide walkers with information about the flora and geology of the area. These are the signs of the Harry Butler Trail, named after the famous Australian naturalist who was an early visitor of the retreat. Further along are a series of pressed metal sheets depicting the Stations of the Cross. Those familiar with the Bible might have already clued onto the fact that 'Peace Be Still' are the words uttered by Jesus to calm the storm in Mark 4:39, and the appearance of these images is in keeping with the ethos of the property's owners.


Along the way, walkers are treated to expansive views across the Chittering Valley.


Walkers keep following the signage up the slope. On the day we walked the trail, there were plenty of kangaroos hopping around the track, making this an excellent spot for seeing these macropods in action, although they appeared more wary than the mobs along the Echidna Trail in Walyunga or the Ghost House Trail in Yanchep National Park.


The ascent ends at a junction. This is the start of the Out and Back Loop, with the signs indicating that the trail should be walked in a clockwise direction.


The trail immediately descends at this point as it heads towards the northern edge of the property.


There are a number of granite outcrops through this section. Although it would be a stretch to call them waterfalls, I imagine that water would flow over these rocks after significant winter rains.


The trail leads to what may appear to be a dead end, but this is merely a barricade that has been put in place to prevent people from driving their cars into the private property. Walkers simply need to walk around this barricade and continue onwards.


The valley views in this section are quite lovely, with Wandoo dominating the woodlands.


I'm a big fan of of the look of Wandoo's smooth white bark, and the mature examples in the section of the walk are superb, and seemed to continue on forever as far as the eye can see. This was easily the best part of the walk.


Which is just as well - the track climbs steeply in this section, continuously rising to the track's highest point. Alissa and I definitely felt our heart rates increasing on this ascent, making this a perfect walk for those training for steeper inclines.


At the top of the property, the track reaches a fork in the road and features DEC signage warning of 1080 poison baits and (more alarmingly) the risk of unexploded ammunition! This is part of Avon Valley National Park, which was apparently used for army training exercises in the 1950s-1960s. The vehicle track to the left continues on into the park, and apparently can be followed for some distance into the park for several extended walks.


Instead, the Out and Back Loop turns right and heads across the top of the valley. There are a few junctions along this stretch of the track, however the Out and Back Loop is signed well enough to be easy to follow.


The walking in this stretch is fairly flat, offering a nice respite from the trail's continually uphill start.


As with the earlier barricade demarcating the private property boundary, the trail passes over a pile of branches partially blocking off vehicle access to Peace Be Still. Again, signs in the area provide clear navigational information as long as you're paying attention.


From there, its an easy descent down the return slope to the bottom of the valley. They valley views here are very picturesque.



The track leads to the end of the loop, with walkers then heading back down the slope. As we were walking on the Harry Butler Trail section of the walk, an Emu bolted across the track. It happened so fast that I couldn't get the camera out quickly enough, and only caught a snap of the bird after it was some distance away.


Returning to the start of the walk, Peace Be Still's day use area near the Brockman River features a nice picnic spot for walkers to rest and perhaps have a bite to eat before heading off.

All in all, the Out and Back Loop was a pleasant trail with some good steep inclines in mature Wandoo woodlands. This makes it an excellent training walking for those looking to undertake trails in more difficult terrain, and the options to extend further into the Avon Valley National Park have certainly piqued my interest given the lack of official walk trails in the park. Still, the scenery on offer here is no where near as spectacular as the nearby Echidna Trail in Walyunga National Park and the Numbat Trail in Paruna Sanctuary, and I would recommend walkers visit both of those walks first before undertaking the Out and Back Loop. A good walk, just not a great one.

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