My recent visit to the Castle on the Hill reminded me of the charm, eccentricities and mystery so often found in the Northern Rivers in NSW. This time, however, I found them all in one place…
I alighted from the car and strolled up the hill, past CDs that spun from trees and shimmered in the sunlight, round the corner, down a cobblestone path flanked by lush gardens and a cottage, past stone faces, knights and dragons.
Arriving at the front door, I was greeted warmly by hosts Irene Brown and Robert Pope, before being asked if I liked arts and science. A responding yes saw my next two hours filled with phrases such as fractal logic and creative physics while I sipped on a peppermint tea and took in the curious surroundings.
You see, apart from being a B&B situated close to the town of Uki and Mount Warning (or Wollumbin, as it’s known to the local indigenous), the Castle on the Hill touts itself as “The Science-Art Centre”. Here guests can engage in discussions (optional) on philosophy, history and Robert’s work on creative physics – a combination of arts and science at odds with conventional physics for which he has become world-renowned.
Sitting at the handmade dining table looking at Mount Warning – my head now spinning in fractal thought – I discovered the castle was built by Irene, Robert Pope and Robert Todonai (whom I didn’t meet). It took them 10 years to complete, using mud brick, wooden beams, ferro-cement and quarry stone. All three are artists while the two Roberts are also scientists and together they make the castle whiz and whir with history and mystery.
Witnessing Robert’s restless energy, he hardly seemed his 75 years and even though he’s accomplished so much, he spoke as if he was just beginning. I had to excuse myself from the room, adorned with towering slabs of red gum timber, as the views over the mountain looked stupendous and the light was fading fast.
I grabbed my camera and strolled around the back to the stone courtyard, where lay a wooden table and chairs, pretty pots, a stone arch and a handsomely sculpted temple – ‘the temple of Diana’. Made by Robert Todonai, the temple is a marvellous accompaniment to the castle and I stood for several moments admiring it as the sun bathed Mount Warning in a tangerine glow.
Stooping beneath the archway, I explored the garden, where carmine, olive and bumblebee flowers bloomed and copper pots overflowed with mythological creatures beneath capacious windows and stone walls. The whole place is in the style of a 14th-century Italian Renaissance castle, which I found very much to my liking.
Back inside I explored my room, the Earl’s Chamber, which had a large, cosy bed, a wooden ladder, writing desk and a Juliette balcony perched over a side lane with forest views. I had a short nap before enjoying Irene’s dinner of fish baked with mango, a steamed jacket potato and fresh asparagus. Chocolate-coconut ice-cream and fruit followed for dessert.
After our tasty meal, I had a lengthy chat with Irene, who, I gathered, is a well-connected person in the Northern Rivers. Irene has boundless energy, as she runs workshops, cooks and looks after the guest side of the castle. She coordinates on-site healing workshops and has had guests such as Aboriginal and American shamanic healers and even the famed Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull.
We chatted into the night and I told her a little of my propensity for exploring ‘mysteries’, which opened up discussions on ghosts, sacred sites and Aboriginal spirituality. The next morning I arose to catch some of the mist that lingers in these parts before Irene cooked us breakfast and I chatted with Robert about his 3D artworks and creative physics – a topic which deserves much more space than I can allow here.
Robert signed and gave me one of his books (he has written several) entitled The True Meaning of the Da Vinci Code, before I explored the rear of the castle where workshops are held.
What I loved
My interesting and chatty hosts, the lofty ceilings and small touches – such as the fountain, the numerous stone faces, gargoyles and creatures that occupy the grounds. I also love Robert Todonai’s temple of Diana and the progressive energy and tranquility that exudes from the castle walls, created no doubt by Irene and the two Roberts.
The gardens are also a wonderfully pleasant place to relax, explore and soothe the senses. Inside the castle grounds I felt like I was in Europe – a part of the world I miss, so the traveller in me felt satiated. I loved Robert and Irene’s curiosity about the world, their daring, perseverance and above all their hospitality.
Things to know
The Castle on the Hill has two rooms available: the Earl’s Chamber (where I slept) – a spacious quarter with a Juliette balcony ($170 per night); and the Lady’s Chamber – which has stained glass and church windows ($165 per night). Both rooms have ensuites.
The castle also holds numerous workshops, such as the pay-by-donation meditation sessions every Wednesday night, which include soup for dinner. There’s also regular art classes with Robert Todonai, where you’ll walk away with your very own painting. There’s always something going on within the castle. Contact Irene through her website for more details.
The Castle on the Hill is located just outside the town of Uki, in northern NSW, about an hour’s drive from both Byron Bay and the Gold Coast.
Disclosure: I stayed as a guest at the castle for review purposes, although all opinions expressed here are my own.