11 June 2017
RUN FORREST & THE OTWAY SOUP FESTIVALby MATT CHARLESWORTH
On the outskirts of the Great Otway National Park, lies the township of Forrest. A quaint rural community that plays host to the Otway Soup Festival. Yes, that’s right. A festival dedicated to soup. The only one of its kind in Victoria! The day’s schedule coincides with the Run Forrest event; a trail run that takes competitors through the popular and extensive mountain bike tracks in the area. We had our sights set on the 10km race and then, the plan was to enjoy the festivities of the Soup Fest later in the afternoon. My partner and I arrived early, enthusiastic to discover all that this Great Ocean Road gem had to offer.
The race village was nestled in the lush vegetation surrounding the Barwon River. All of the 5km, 10km and 21km variations were due to start and finish here. But most importantly, it was where we located the coffee van and warm fire pits. A diverse crowd filled the village. Families, die-hard competitors, charity runners and Sunday joggers made up the 1000+ entries. After collecting our race bibs, it was time to find a place on the start grid. Spirits were high as the count down signalled the start of the race. We quickly came to a rude realisation about the nature of trail running… HILLS. There was a total of 3 gruelling climbs on the 10km course. Luckily, we were treated to intermittent views of the stunning hinterland region. Gaps in the vegetation revealed the Barwon River; just enough distraction to forget the burning sensation in our legs. Actually, there was never a dull moment. It became very obvious why Forrest is labelled as the #1 mountain bike destination in Australia. Despite the undulating hills, we ran a consistent race, crossing the finish line in just over an hour. A proud moment that we celebrated with freshly cut Oranges courtesy of the village volunteers. The locally grown produce, just a taste of what was to come at the Soupfest.
The only clue as to what to expect from the Soupfest was the program we had been handed earlier that morning. The program read: Soup tasting, soup competitions, market stalls, live music and a number of activities for the kids. The brief was very intriguing and it seemed like an ideal way to unwind after the run. We soon spotted a troop of locals slaving away in the pop-up street kitchen. The menu certainly did not disappoint. “Roasted Cauliflower & Jerusalem Artichoke” and “Freaky Beefy Broth with Local Purple Potato” were just two of the stranger combinations available. And of course, it wouldn’t be a real soup festival without the traditional pumpkin brew. I opted for the “Cream of Celeriac”. A decision made with no real knowledge of the ingredients… but hey, I was feeling adventurous. Set with our soup and bread rolls, we wandered around the market stalls, browsing and mingling. We followed our ears, listening in to a catchy strings band and grooving along to the folk music projecting from the outdoor stage. A truly SOUP-erb way to spend our Sunday afternoon.
The town and its residents portrayed a real “think local” sentiment. Passionate volunteers joined forces to showcase their region with a unique and quirky display. Taking the risk on the Celeriac soup, most definitely paid off. The cook’s insisted that the secret ingredient was the locally grown produce. The delicious vegie fix playing its part in the recovery of our sore and tender legs. A small price to pay for the sense of achievement we felt; the 10 kilometre course being our longest and most interesting run to date. The town of Forrest certainly did not lack character, passion or excitement. The soup warmed our bellies and the kind residents warmed our hearts.