Walking the secluded and peaceful Red Hill Rail Trail offered me a great opportunity to get away from it all – or get back to it all, depending on how you look at ‘it’ – if only for a few hours.
The track, suitable for all walkers and riders runs between Red Hill South and Merricks Station Ground, mostly along the route of the old Red Hill Rail Line – an extension from Bittern that stopped at Balnarring, Merricks and Red Hill. The line operated for a little over three decades from 1921 to 1953 before the rise of motor transport made it unprofitable.
Though relatively short lived, the rail line has an important place in the history of both Red Hill and Merricks. It played a key role in the development of the region, bringing in stockfeed and fertiliser, and helping to distribute locally-produced apples, strawberries, stock, timber and firewood; and the township of Merricks, which has maintained its charming rural character and function, was essentially established around its station.
I started my walk at the Red Hill South end, with a light lunch on the deck of the Mornington Peninsula Cellar & Pantry or if you’re after something a little more grand, you can choose the Red Hill Epicurean Centre. Not only is this enjoyable, it’s pre-emptive reward for the gentle walk ahead, it is also a fitting way to incorporate a little more history into the experience.
The Mornington Peninsula Cellar & Pantry was used originally as the post office and the Epicurean Centre was used as a packing shed for apples. The original buildings were constructed at the same time as the railway, with the rail station established at the rear to freight apples to Crib Point for shipping. However, the Cool Store burnt down in 1929 and was rebuilt the same year as the heritage-listed building that stands today.
At a relaxed pace, stopping to take some photos and take in the rural and sea views along the way, the walk took about an hour.
The trail has a distinct local feel, being tucked away from the nearby tourist stops and taking you past the back of stunning private, rural properties, and vineyards. At other times tall pine trees provide shelter from any outside distraction. It is an informal walk with little obvious signage. Drinking water is also not available along the way, so take a drink bottle for hydration, and to minimise the temptation of the vines.
Horse riders trot by now and then, and the trail is well-suited to families and dog walkers. Children, and enthusiastic adults, can keep an eye out for butterflies local wildlife including hawks, eagles, kangaroos, wombats and this time of year mushrooms – though make sure you know your edible varieties!
Cyclists certainly can, and do, enjoy the trail, although with its varied surfaces of dirt, grass and crushed rock, and susceptibility to a little mud, it seems to be designed more for two or four legs than two wheels.
Some of the land the train once rolled through is now privately owned, meaning the trail takes a slight deviation near Merricks and is a little more undulating than a regular rail trail. A couple of kilometres from Merricks, after a short ascent, I enjoyed views of Western Port towards Philip Island and the Nobbies, before the descending back down into Merricks.
With the Peninsula Quarter Horse Association located at Merricks Station Ground the trail is popular with horse riders and offers facilities including horse troughs and tie up at the Merricks end.
There was plenty of horsing around, literally, at Merricks Station Ground, providing another point of interest for the kids about. I drove back towards Red Hill with my companions and couldn’t resist stopping in at a couple of the wineries, remembering the lure of the vines along the walk.
At Merricks itself, both the historic Merricks General Store (built six years after the railway) and Stonier Winery are nearby and fantastic options to enjoy the relaxed state such a pleasant walk induces, or as a nice break before making the return trip.
If starting at, or returning from, Merricks, there is the option of extending the walk up towards Arthurs Seat although, again, it can be difficult to resist the shops, food and beverages on offer at Red Hill. Additionally, the Red Hill Station Ground Reserve offers picnic and BBQ facilities.
Whatever way you approach it, and by whichever means takes your fancy, it is a delightful way to spend a morning or afternoon.