In the late 1880s, when Marvellous Melbourne was booming and land speculation rife, a railway line was built around the city’s semi-rural eastern fringe. It was part of an ambitious railway expansion derailed by the stock market crash of 1891.
The fringe has long since become inner Melbourne and trains now rattle along only a few kilometres of the original line. But we are riding its length on the Outer Circle Rail Trail.
Our 18km two-wheeling starts where the historic line originated, at Fairfield Station. The first section, across Heidelberg Rd and the Yarra, is no fun and unsuitable for youngsters despite some bike lanes and a pedestrian walkway.
Having navigated Chandler Hwy bridge and the river, we cross the highway at pedestrian lights, landing safely on the kerb at a tree of blue-and-white cycling signs. The Outer Circle Rail Trail is to the right but we wheel left and down to the Yarra Trail, following it up river past golfers and greens on the far bank. About 1.5km along we turn right under the Eastern Fwy, then pedal uphill through a linear park to Sutherland Ave, Kew, and an Outer Circle Rail Trail sign. Still climbing, we reach Harp Junction, on High St, Kew, where the bike path continues to the right of the brick-walled old siding.
Beyond Burke Rd (crossed with care), we ride one of the trail’s prettiest sections, along a leafy cutting and under four red-brick road bridges. The Deepdene Dasher, a steam locomotive hauling twin passenger carriages, belched through here from 1900 to 1927. Continuing south-east on bike path and road, we follow the only section of the Outer Circle Line still in use, the Alamein Line.
There are plenty of direction signs, although most are graffiti tagged, and photographic information boards identify points of historical interest. The board at Hartwell Station shows Messrs Cunningham, Grey and Monash with surveying equipment. Knighted in 1918 for his First World War service, John Monash was 22 years old and not yet formally qualified when appointed engineer-in-charge of the Outer Circle Line’s construction.
The weatherboard Hartwell Station building was built in Walhalla and transferred here in 1938 after the decline of the Gippsland gold town and the Moe-Walhalla line.
The Resident Cafe, beside the rail trail at High St, Ashburton, makes the perfect pit stop. Then we cross Gardiners Creek and veer left, pedalling through Malvern Valley Public Golf Course before dismounting to climb a ramp to a pedestrian bridge over the Monash Fwy. Down the other side we swing right through the car park to pedestrian lights on Waverley Rd (the bike path running along the freeway’s southern sound-abatement wall is the Gardiners Creek Trail, which would take us way off course).
An easy run through the restful Malvern urban forest – it’s divided by Dandenong Rd which we cross at lights 100m to the right – brings us to Hughesdale Station and the end of the Outer Circle Rail Trail.
However, for a longer run we could ride another 7km to Elsternwick Station on the Rosstown Rail Trail.
The days of scenic drives in inner Melbourne went the way of the horse and buggy but there are some pretty spots along the Boulevard at Kew and other river roads. Or you could just follow the Lilydale line to the Yarra Valley and take in some views over the rim of a wine glass.
Keep your feet firmly planted and stroll the leafy rail trail corridor north of East Camberwell station, imagining steam whistles and the clatter of trains. Or spend a day walking a loop around Yarra Bend, between the historic boathouses at Studley Park and Fairfield, to a chorus of bell bird chimes.