by Ruth Barden
I first holidayed at the Spotted Chook in 2012 and have been back with my extended family many times since. It was simply love at first sight. We loved the stylish, spacious accommodation, the fresh mountain air, the beautiful valley views, the homely yet luxurious facilities, the pets and chooks which roamed the property, the garden, the myriad birds that visited, the vast star filled skies at night, the frog chorus of an evening, the delectable breakfasts and last but not least, the warmth of our hosts, Jane and Leeroy Hutton.
On the first occasion that we visited the Chook we were greeted by one of the Hutton’s cats, Jumelle, who came up to us for a Pat. Leeroy arrived on his motor Scooter with his dog Badger, shortly afterwards. It was a warm day and he had taken Badger up to the lagoon in the village for a swim after spending the morning painting the house. His T shirt and shorts were covered in blue speckles so he apologised for his appearance but we felt immediately at home with his easy manner and friendly charm. The house too, embraced us with its charm, all the while drawing us to the windows for its beautiful views of the valley.
For those who are familiar with Montville, Western Avenue follows the contours of the western ridge which departs from the main eastern escarpment of the Range. The Chook hugs the hillside of this ridge, overlooking farmland and rainforest with distant views to the hills of Witta. It is beautiful at any time of day but especially at sunset when the sky changes from soft pinks, greys and blues to rich oranges and reds. We spent many an evening on the verandah or in the guest loungeroom upstairs just watching the wonder of it all. Ducks flew in to spend the evening on the pond next door where the frogs began their night time chorus, tentatively at first but building up to an assertive crescendo once darkness descended! We later scanned the awesome night skies which were bright with constellations and were occasionally rewarded with a glimpse of a shooting star.
Sunset from the upper verandah
Each of our rooms had a private verandah with views of either the valley or garden and was individually decorated with delightful, fresh colours and soft, velvety furnishings. We slept soundly in comfy beds to awake early to the dawn chorus of the woodland and rainforest birds. This was gentle at first but increased in intensity as the myriad birds of the Range joined in the symphony; currawongs, magpies, peewees, lorikeets, King parrots, black cockatoos, whip birds, fig birds, fruit doves, kookaburras, butcher birds, honey eaters and fantails, to name those that we recognised.
The peewees got us out of bed as they sparred with their reflections in the window. Opening the French doors onto the verandah we delighted in the cool, fresh mountain air and watched the day emerge with our first cuppa. We watched the mist rising from the valley below, brush turkeys scooting across the paddock, a lone hare in the distance enjoying the warmth of the first rays of sunshine, a kookaburra sitting on a fencepost waiting for breakfast or black cockatoos flying past so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. The chooks which had spent the night safely protected from snakes in their little house squawked as they lay their eggs, some of which would be our breakfast in days to come.
Jane and Leeroy’s breakfasts were simply delectable. The old country kitchen tables in the guest dining room were set with fresh flowers and cloth napkins, each of which were embroidered with the Chook insignia. A buffet of local fruits, home made granola, hot croissants, local yoghurts and juices and a selection of freshly cooked or baked dishes awaited us. Jane seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of delicious egg dishes, patties, muffins, pastries and French inspired cakes. We fondly remember her Madeleines and Far aux Pruneaux.
We always did justice to these generous breakfasts. However there was one occasion when our enthusiasm for breakfast gave Leeroy a small heart flutter when one guest arrived late. Leeroy anxiously scanned the sideboard and said “Gosh, have they left you anything”! It so happened that we had, but it must be said that even the tardiest of our party never ran the risk of arriving late for our 8am breakfast.
Leeroy served us with pots of tea which we drank from fine china teacups. For those who preferred coffee he made Barista quality Montville coffee. Breakfast was a convivial affair with much laughter and discussion about our planned activities for the day. Leeroy advised us about the good places to visit in the area or where we could go for a tasty lunch. He also filled us in on the local gossip or regaled us with stories of the Chook, like the time he caught a burglar red handed (and lived to tell the tale) or the time when a couple from overseas with limited English found a “big thing” in their cottage (it turned out to be a snake) or the time when an elegant guest dressed in white wanted to be photographed with their quote “bad sheep” only to have Montville’s red dirt sneezed all over her (Leeroy did advise against it) or the time when a chook lay an egg on the cushion of a chair on the front verandah. Jane often had to rush off to her work in Palmwoods after cooking the breakfast but there were days when we also had her bright and bubbly company.
On one of the nights during our stay Jane cooked all the guests a delicious three course dinner. She was always colourfully dressed, but for one dinner she surprised us dressed as a saucy French maid in a short black and white outfit with black fishnet stockings. Leeroy who was always to be seen in shorts and T shirts dressed smartly as our waiter in an open necked shirt and long trousers. Not only did Jane dress with flair but she showed a flair for gourmet cooking. We remember her home made ravioli with burnt butter sage sauce, fresh fig and goats cheese pastries in the shape of chooks, home grown asparagus in a special butter sauce, soft cheese filled pumpkin flowers, crumbed snapper with green beans, chocolate tarts and pears poached in red wine. Everything was cooked to perfection.
Such was the comfort of the Chook that we were never in a hurry to leave in the morning or it was never too early to return after the day’s activities. Whenever we returned we were greeted by Badger or Jumelle. They would often join us when we sat on the front verandah chairs to chat or read a book.
At night after dining out in the village, we sometimes enjoyed a game of Scrabble in the main guest area upstairs. The serious players had a printed copy of the more unusual, yet legitimate, three lettered words which could be used when you were in a tough spot or when you wanted to maximise your score. These never heard of before words were used in so many moves in one game that one of the players challenging one move exclaimed “Now what is this e n d”? as he spelled it out, much to everyone’s amusement.
It was all good fun. We cherished these times when we could catch up with family and indeed, as the years went by, with Jane and Leeroy themselves, who as our hard working hosts, enabled us to share in their little piece of paradise and who with their warmth and good humour made our holidays at the Spotted Chook so special.