Adventure: Walking the Capital City Trail

Recently I walked the length of the Capital City Trail, a 30-ish km circuit walk around the inner suburbs of Melbourne. It passess through about a dozen suburbs and links up a series of walking and cycling trails that are human-powered arterial routes. I’ve wanted to do this walk for years as it seemed like something that was achievable in a day but also demanding. I also wanted to see how all these areas linked up without relying on motorised transport. The day I walked it was around 37 degrees – not my choice, but that’s the time I had available.

The whole circuit is pretty well signposted, except for the area around Docklands. Still, it’d be worth taking your phone to make sure that you’re not too far off the path. Drinking fountains can be found around every 2km and food sources abound.

The Eastern section – Richmond, Abbotsford, Clifton Hill

I started here, at Riversale Road, because it is the closest to my home. Most of this section follows the Yarra River and parts of Merri Creek and are accordingly prosperous, leafy and pleasant to walk along. This is by far the most attractive section of the Trail.

The Northern section – North Fitzroy, Parkville

By the time I got to the north it was seriously hot. I was sweating like a cornered nun and was happy for the drinking fountains every half an hour, since that was about how long it took to empty my, by now blood-warm, water bottle.

Much of the trail in this area follows the path of the former Inner Circle railway, so you’ll be sharing the path with lots of cyclists. Cafes and other food sources abound, including one where I spotted Eddie Perfect.

After passing through North Fitzroy, the Parkville section can be pretty uninviting. It’s still parkland, but a sparse and dusty one dominated by hot winds. Much of the track runs parallel to the Upfield train line so it’s tricky to get lost.

The Western section – Flemington, Docklands

To be honest, the western section of the walk is pretty grim. After the greenery of the east and north, you pass under a freeway at Flemington Bridge station and don’t emerge for another 5 km. Much of this route is underneath the Citylink freeway and beside the train line, with a stagnant stream on the other side. It feels a little like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, part of the downside of car-centred city design. That said there is an abundance of street art and interesting posters.

Passing out from under the freeway and crossing over Footscray road, you find yourself in the recently invented suburb of Docklands. It’s all very shiny and new, with loads of shops and apartments, but no-one seems to want to be there. I lost the trail at this point due to poor signage, but decided to just walk south until I hit the water. After stopping for lunch at a largely abandoned cafe I wended my way through the sterile offices of Australia’s banking industry, before crossing Spencer street and finding the Yarra River again.

The Southern section – CBD, Cremorne, South Yarra

The first part of the southern section passes through the southern edge of the CBD, with superb views and ample refreshment stops. At this point I had to stop at a chemist to buy some tape and tape up my abused feed. I must have looked hilarious to the passers-by – sitting on the concrete in a side street, sweating profusely, and using a pocket knife to cut up medical tape.

Once past the eastern side of St Kilda Road, you find yourself amongst the boatsheds of Melbourne’s posh secondary schools. Here the path diverges – you can choose to walk along either bank of the Yarra. I chose the northern bank, and was rewarded with a swampy grated walkway. It would have been unpleasant, except the views across to the South Yarra side were great, and I came across an outdoor rock climbing park under a freeway that I’d never realised was there. Around the bend at Yarra Boulevard and I was back at my starting point, 8 hours after having begun.

Lessons learned

  • Apply anti-chafing cream before setting out
  • Set a phone alarm to remind yourself to reapply sunscreen. Only idiots get sunburned.
  • Drink water. Lots of water. The best place to store it is in your body.
  • Provided adequate food and water, the human body can basically walk forever. Given our ancestral history of nomadism and migration, this makes a lot of sense.
  • Don’t leave home without a hat. I would never have made it without some sun protection
  • When fatigue and boredom are setting in, just keep putting one foot in front of another.
  • Pedestrianism triggers a strange magic – ordinary worries float away and repeated footfall becomes mesmerising. It’s almost easier to keep walking rather than stop.
  • The goal is not the goal. The goal is to enjoy the journey.
  • Walking allows you to see and enjoy the small things that are around you all the time.

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Lawns

Lawns are virtue signalling of the worst kind – where the owner can’t even remember what virtue is being signalled.

Lawns originated in ancien regime France as a way for aristocrats to demonstrate their wealth. In a time and place where subsistence farming was the majority occupation, what better way to show off than to use arable land to cultivate useless grass? And then to employ staff to maintain it!

The idea of the large lawn was transmitted from the formal European garden to the middle-class Anglosphere backyard. In this culture we worship the lawn, despite it being a great way to destroy soil quality and waste water. Neighbours compete with each other over their lawns by means of an arms race of herbicides and fertilisers.

When pressed we might defend our lawn on the grounds that it’s somewhere for the kids to play. But in our hearts we know full well that it’s a weak echo of the natural world that the kids actually want to spend time in. They want the bush, not a denatured paddock.

So here we are, virtue signalling using the language of ancient monarchs.

Give up. Let it grow wild. Plant vegetables and native plants. Abandon the monocrop fantasy.