What’s in a name?
And who cares, as long as the bacon and egg rolls are good?
A rose is a rose is a rose, according to Gertrude Stein. But is a Spencer a spencer a spencer?
And what is it? It could be a short, close-fitting jacket, worn by women and children in the early 19th century. Around the same time, it could be a boomless gaff sail on a square-rigged ship’s foremast or mainmast. A hundred years earlier, it could have been an English wig. And today, according to a contemporary dictionary, the word could mean “a great guy who cares about a lot, usually very easy to talk to but can be shy; just someone who cares and is very sweet”.
Conversely, Spencer could be “a suburb of the Central Coast region of New South Wales … on the north bank of the Hawkesbury River just upstream of that river’s confluence with Mangrove Creek” and “part of the City of Gosford local government area”.
I’d like to write that we went on this ride to find out, but in truth all that happened was that someone claimed the bacon and egg rolls at the Spencer Village Store were pretty good, and that we should go and sample them for Sunday brunch.
And thus we set out, a half dozen or so on wildly different bikes. It’s a short ride for us up through Beecroft to the Cumberland Highway and then onto Castle Hill Road and New Line Road up towards Dural and Glenorie. It’s also the sensible way to go just at the moment, because you never know when Galston Gorge will be shut — those landslips are a bugger to move, it seems.
Just as an aside, one of these days I’ll have to turn off to see Fiddletown. The sign has intrigued me for years and yet I’ve never bothered to go and look at it. Isn’t it a terrific name, though!
Once you’re out of the denser suburbs this road is a lot of fun, and by the time you pass the T-junction at Maroota you’re getting into the bush proper. Do keep your guard up; some of these corners change radius rather surprisingly and there are lots of irregularities in the tar, courtesy of the many trucks the road sees.
On the day I turn off to Fiddletown I’ll also turn off to Canoelands, another intriguing name for a locality.
Down the steep hill into Wisemans Ferry, taking care to scrape something on the right-hand hairpin (a matter of honour) and then it’s just the ferry across the Hawkesbury and we’re at the beginning of the Spencer Road proper. It’s probably called something else, but this will do and everybody knows what you mean.
It’s a very enjoyable run along the river, with few side roads or houses and an exciting mix of corners and short straights. The road surface could be better, which can be a problem in corners, but you can’t have everything.
Sure enough, the bacon and egg rolls proved to be tasty and excellent value. The petrol bowser outside the store proved to be useful too, because a couple of members of our little party became somewhat carried away and used a touch more fuel than they might have expected — and the servo at Peats Ridge, up the road, has closed.
It’s from here on that this road gets interesting. You’re following Mangrove Creek now, on a road similar to the one along the Hawkesbury but generally speaking more recently surfaced and in better shape. And then, when you leave the creek and start to wind your way up to the plateau, you’re on a very enjoyable but reasonably technical bit of road that will keep you entertained all the way to the farms on top of the ridge.
Care is indicated from Mangrove Mountain to Central Mangrove, where we turned right, and on to Peats Ridge if you don’t want to shed license points. The same is true all the way to the end of the ride at Calga; this stretch used to be the Pacific Highway and still looks a bit like it, but the speed limit is relatively low and enthusiastically enforced.
Over coffee at the Corrugated Café at Peats Ridge, one of our little dusty troupe who shall remain nameless for his own protection popped up with his own explanation for Spencer’s name.
“I bet it’s named after Edmund Spenser. It’s got that otherworldly feel to it down there. You know, he wrote the Faerie Queene.”
“Who wrote the Dairy Queen?” said one of the others (you can see I’m being very careful to maintain anonymity — I get into enough trouble as it is).
“Faerie; f-a-e-r-i-e. Queene; q-u-e-e-n-e. Faerie Queene. Edmund Spenser wrote it.”
“Just because you can spell words that don’t even exist does not make you better than the rest of us. Smartarse.”
It developed into a kind of Geargrinders Arms scenario from there on, and I’ll leave you to imagine how that played out …