At 19 years old, Archibald
Bell’s inquisitiveness, and use of aborigines as guides,
resulted in the opening of a stock route via Bilpin and Mt
Tomah (Fern Tree Hill) to Hartley Vale, the original Bell’s
Line of Road. His first attempt during 1-5 August, reached
the top of Mt Tomah, followed by a second successful attempt
in September 1823. During October, the road was surveyed by
Robert Hoddle with Bell, 5 whites and 2 native guides,
passing through Bell, along the Darling Causeway and down
Hartley Vale Rd to Collitt’s Inn.
The new track saw
occasional use by drovers over the next 20 years, primarily
by families with landholdings in the Hunter and Hawkesbury
moving stock to their western holdings at
Bathurst. The introduction of a
road toll at Mt Victoria in 1849 saw an increase in traffic,
which then multiplied with the goldrush of 1851.
Accommodation was sparse, with caves being popular retreats,
such as the Cave Hotel near Mt Bell. The western descent of
Mt Tomah, known as Jacob’s Ladder, was to be a major hurdle
to heavy traffic. The first “wheeled” descent was not even
made until 1870, with the first car not until 1940. During
WWII, American engineers upgraded the road, making it
suitable for regular traffic.
It now remains as an
excellent route for tourists to enter the
urban sprawl, with obligatory traffic lights, fast food
outlets and once proudly individual towns melding together,
has marched along the Great Western Highway, the Bell’s Line
of Road continues to wind through picturesque orchards,
quaint localities that have not yet developed into towns and
on through the pristine World Heritage Area.
As you pass
over the Nepean River at North Richmond, you leave suburbia
behind, so stock up on your supplies here. The road is now
flanked by grassy rolling hills dotted with small rural
properties. It ascends the eastern escarpment, up Bell Bird
Hill (known for the tinkling of these tiny birds) to
Kurrajong Heights and spectacular views over the Sydney
area. As you proceed westwards, you enter the Bilpin and
Berambing districts, famous for apple and stone fruit
orchards. Fresh fruit is available direct from the grower’s
Mt Tomah rises abruptly and is capped
with ancient basalt, rainforest and is home to Australia’s
cool climate Botanic Gardens.
Call in and see the prehistoric
Pine, a relic of the forests that covered this area 150
million years ago.