On the way across the Horrocks, the Horrocks!
Heading east or west across southern Australia will probably see you cross Horrocks Pass. But maybe you shouldn’t leave it at that!
I don’t know what Apostrophe Man did to the Geographical Names Board, but they clearly got the poops with him and his little squiggle back in 2001. In an amazingly high-handed decision they simply abolished apostrophes completely. Well, in Australian place names, anyway.
“In all cases of place names containing an element that has historically been written with a final —’s or —s’, the apostrophe is to be deleted, e.g. Howes Valley, Rushcutters Bay, Ladys Pass,” read the official instructions. And why? “This is to facilitate the consistent matching and retrieval of placenames in database systems such as those used by the emergency services.”
Hmm, dunno. That would be just as good an argument for abandoning the “i before e, except after c” rule, or any number of other grammatical niceties. But who am I to argue with the importance of facilitating consistent matching and retrieval in (drum roll, maestro, please) database systems! Not databases, note. Database systems!
All right, all right, I know. Enough. Can’t help wondering how the explorer John Ainsworth Horrocks would have felt about being denied his apostrophe, though. Ah well, he’s been dead a long time…
What he’s left behind is a little cluster of places named after him, of which Horrocks Pass is possibly the best known. This excellent bit of road connects the Princes (another apostrophe gone!) Highway near Winnowie, just south of Port Augusta, with the east. Indeed, if you’re headed for Sydney, Brisbane or Canberra from any point west or north of Port Augusta this is the road you’ll take on your way to Orroroo, Peterborough and Broken Hill via the Barrier Highway.
The pass itself is typical of the roads crossing the southern Flinders (yes, yes, enough already) Ranges. Coming from the west there’s a flat and more or less straight stretch until you reach the hills, which jump straight up out of the coastal plain. Then the road follows a (usually dry) river valley, twisting and turning through the spurs, until you suddenly find yourself on a mild downward slope to the hilly inland high country. From there on the corners are gentler and the views generally open out.
All in all, a thoroughly pleasant state of affairs.
Horrocks Pass is better than most of these roads, due no doubt to its importance as a major connection. The surface is good and well maintained, and drainage is arranged so that a minimum of gravel gets swept across the road during the rare falls of rain. There are even a few places where you can pull off the road for a break (oops, almost wrote “smoke” — and wouldn’t that have got me into trouble!). You do need to be wary of the retaining walls that drop off down to the stream bed. They look as if they’re made of drystone and wouldn’t be able to handle too much clambering.
After about 20km you will reach the pretty little town of Wilmington, in which I don’t think I’ve ever seen a living soul except behind the wheel of a car. Is it a ghost town? I don’t think so; its gardens are well kept and attractive. But where are the people? Maybe it’s because I only ever pass through Wilmington in the heat of the day and the locals are too smart to be out in the sun.
A little further south is Melrose, with the remarkable Blundstone’s Blacksmith Shop which, contrary to the name, is a café and a very good one, too. Parking is available right out front so you can keep an eye on your pride and joy, not that I would suggest you need to take this precaution in Melrose. Blunnie’s also has rooms; I’ve never stayed there so I can’t recommend them, but if the attitude is the same as in the café, then they should be good and good value.
But don’t hang about for too long, because we have another pass to tackle. This one isn’t called a pass. It is Port Germein Gorge and it is the next cross-range connection to the south. Carry on down along the Main North Road through the practically non-existent Murray Town and take the first major road to the right. Well signposted despite being a less important road than the one through Horrocks Pass, this is a little bottler.
It doesn’t take long before you’re into the twisty bits. The corners are tighter, but they’re still quite manageable on a cruiser — even a big one. I last rode the gorge on a Triumph Rocket III Touring. They don’t come any bigger, but it was still fun.
The road surface is not especially well maintained and there are both major ripples and patches of loose gravel. It pays to pay attention, especially if you’re heading down the gorge. But it’s also very pretty and gets less traffic than Horrocks. If you feel like grinding away a bit of weight, this is not a good place to do it due to the variability of the surface, but you’ll probably find yourself grounding something at least once.
Take care; you don’t want to go over the edge into the stream bed!
At the bottom there’s a long and more or less straight stretch that takes you back to the windswept and desolate Princes Highway. If you turn right you will find yourself circumnavigating Mt Remarkable, but to be honest the most remarkable thing about that would be that you’ve bothered. Maybe the best thing would be to turn around and give the gorge another go, uphill this time and probably a bit faster. In fact you could probably do this all day, just stopping for a drink in Port Germein at reasonable intervals.
And there you go. Maybe you’d like to enter this little story into your database system to facilitate retrieval if you ever find yourself in the southern Flinders looking for a place to ride.
Say hello to Apostrophe Man if you see him drawing his inverted commas back in on any of the road signs, won’t you. Or wont you, as the case may be.
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