It’s raining when I arrive at the gates of Eden Equine in Bilpin, a 90-minute drive along the Bells Line of Road from Sydney. Considering what the town went through just a few days prior to Christmas 2019, I’m not complaining. That’s when the vicious Grose Valley Fire threatened to engulf this tiny hamlet of roughly 665, which is renowned for its apple and fruit orchards.
As the gates open, an expansive property of rolling green pastures patchworked together by white ranch fencing (some of it destroyed in the fires, which burned through bush right up to the edge of the farm) stretches out in front of me. Grazing horses give me momentary attention as I drive along a tree-lined avenue bound for the newest addition to the property, a collection of five bespoke self-catering cabins, collectively known as Eden Farm Escape.
Eden Equine is the passion project of husband-and-wife team Michael Cthurmer and Deborah Goodman (owners of The Grumpy Baker), who bought the farm after falling in love with it on sight. The couple were looking for a weekender to escape the city; they got more than 36 hectares and a new business.
When the youngest of their three children was diagnosed with behavioural issues, the couple researched and tried out various therapy techniques, eventually finding benefit in equine therapy; it didn’t take long for them to decide that the property would be the perfect place to share their experiences with other families in need.
The cluster of cabins that form the luxury farm stay are tucked at the back of the property, adjacent to a menageries of farm animals that includes goats, alpacas, donkeys and one very large rescue pig, Sir Russell Pigsley III, who was found wandering the streets of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. The resident chickens live in a designer coop named Cluckingham Palace, while the farm’s duck population paddle in the nearby dam.
Heading inside, my two-bedroom cabin is a gracious proposition, with its sleek modern lines stylishly layered with a mod-country vibe that makes it instantly welcoming. The open-plan living area offers a generous lounge room for relaxing in, while the adjoining kitchen has a big dining table and all the elements necessary to whip up hearty country breakfasts (using the farm-fresh chicken and duck eggs left as a welcoming gift) or roast dinners. A pot belly stove begs to be lit when the sun goes down. The bedrooms off the living space continue the cosy rustic theme, while the bathroom is rendered in an exuberant blue patterned ceramic.
It is tempting to do little more than sit and relax, looking out over the property through the floor-to-ceiling windows, but one of the joys of a stay here is the chance to take one of the resident horses (there are 13 living here when I visit) out for a ride.
I meet Karen at the stable; she is the owner of Grace, who boards on the property, and helps out with riding lessons for guests. I know how to ride, but it has been years since I sat in a saddle, so Karen, Grace and I spend some time in the riding ring brushing up on my basics – walking to trotting to a slow canter – before we head out on an easy amble of the surrounding paddocks.
As we go, Karen lovingly reels off the names and personalities of each of the horses we encounter. My ride on the gentle Grace is over too soon, but I know it will live on in the muscle memory of my legs for days to come.
After a restful night engulfed in country silence and inky darkness, the next day is all about exploring Bilpin itself before heading home. While the charred trees still stand as silent witnesses to the horrors of the fires, their trunks are already dappled with green shoots. I visit the family-run Shields Orchard, taking a basket into the rows of trees to pick my own crispy Granny Smith and sweet Julie apples.
Down the road, these same Julie apples are used to produce the sweet cider available at Hillbilly Cider Shed, where you can enjoy the wares while munching on a wood-fired pizza. My last stop is at the iconic Bilpin Fruit Bowl to grab one of its Pink Lady apple pies to go. As I am leaving Bilpin, the clouds above break and the sun shines through, as if promising that after such heartache, the future here is sure to be bright.