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One Bushranger, Four Beers and Lots of Dust

Kevtoberfest #4 Uralla

Our first visit to Uralla, in 2009, coincided with a giant dust storm which blanketed more than 500,000 square kilometres of eastern Australia in a thick brown haze. Blown across from the inland deserts of New South Wales and South Australia, the cloud of dust spread until it measured 3,450 kilometres in length.

We were following the exploits of the notorious bushranger Fred Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. He roamed the district in the 1860s, holding up travellers and robbing homesteads, hotels and inns until, in 1870, he was shot and killed by a local policeman.

South of Uralla on the New England Highway is a large cluster of granite boulders known as Thunderbolt’s Rock. From this vantage point he would ambush passing stagecoaches, although if the dust storm had happened in his time he wouldn’t have seen them coming.

In the spirit of Kevtoberfest, the theme of our second, dust-free visit to Uralla was beer, not bushrangers. The New England Brewing Company, located in a converted woolstore on the main street, has been brewing preservative free, unfiltered beers since 2013.

The first time we stopped in Uralla a cold wind was blowing, and this time it wasn’t much warmer. Inside the brewery, the glowing fire in the fireplace was a welcome sight. On Glen’s tasting paddle were the four main brews of the New England brand.

His verdict – a tasty selection, ranging from light and refreshing to smooth and dark. One bottle of each was added to the Kevtoberfest stash, a more pleasant souvenir of Uralla than the film of dust we acquired last time.

Road Trip Tally: Breweries 2/Craft shops 1

Read more about the Eastern Australian dust storm of 2009 here

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Hills of Gold

Kevtoberfest #3 Nundle

Like many Australian country towns Nundle, in northern New South Wales, has a rich history. Gold was discovered in 1852 and remnants of the past survive both in town and the surrounding area, where the remains of gold rush settlements and diggings lie hidden in the bush.

A good place to begin a day in Nundle is the Visitor Information Centre where the Gil Bennet Rocks, Gems and Minerals Collection is displayed. Crystals, gems and polished stones collected by Gil over more than 20 years sparkle in their glass cases. Many of the stones were found locally, and fossickers today follow Gil’s lead in the hope of finding hidden treasures in the hills around Nundle.

Many leave Nundle and head up a steep and winding mountain road to the abandoned goldfields of Hanging Rock. Perched high on the edge of a sheer rock face, Hanging Rock lookout reveals an expansive view of Nundle Valley and beyond to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range.

At the site of the original Hanging Rock village, where several thousand people lived at the height of the gold rush, the homes, schools and churches are long gone. All that’s left of the pub is the information sign telling of its existence.

The only visible evidence that people once lived here is at the Hanging Rock Historic Cemetery, where many miners and their families were buried. Most notable of the graves is that of Mary Ashton aged 19, who died after childbirth in 1852. She was the wife of James Henry Ashton, founder of Australia’s famous Ashton’s Circus.

At Sheba Dams, the still waters tell another story of the gold rush era. Built in 1888 by Chinese labourers, the dams provided water for the surrounding gold mines. Today, the mines are overgrown by thick bush and the miners have been replaced by picnickers and fishermen.

Back in Nundle, the wealth gold brought to the area can be seen in the 19th century architecture of the historic buildings. Dating from 1860, the Peel Inn has provided food, beverages and accommodation for travellers for more than 150 years. Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores has been selling household goods since 1891. Feather dusters, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling still compete for attention with enamel bakeware, handmade soaps and wooden utensils.

Other buildings have been repurposed to serve new functions as income from tourism has replaced that of gold. What was once a service station now houses the Nundle Art Gallery and Volcania Art Glass, filled with works created by local artisans. The Primitive Methodist Church, built in 1882, is now a boutique.

The Nundle Woollen Mill only opened in 2001, but the yarn made from Australian merino wool is spun on vintage machines sourced from other defunct mills and lovingly restored to working order.

The Mount Misery Gold Mine Museum gives visitors a taste of life on the goldfields around Nundle. A 150 metre mine tunnel displays artefacts and mining tools, and the walls are lined with newspaper articles and photos of the families who lived and worked in the area.

The gold miners and their settlements may be gone but their memory lives on in the little town of Nundle.

Road Trip Tally: Breweries 1/Craft shops 1

Paving the Way

Close to home #12 Flagstaff Hill

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

At the north western end of Isla Gorge National Park in central Queensland, there is a remarkable example of  mid 19th century engineering – an isolated time capsule preserved in the bush. To reach it, we turned off the highway and headed towards Flagstaff Road. Wide, flat and unsealed, the road goes through private cattle properties. Several times we had to slow down as we crossed cattle grids and passed by stock grazing at the side of the road.

Ahead in the distance, the Dawson Range rose abruptly out of the dusty plain.

Just inside the national park boundary at the top of the range, a narrow walking track led through the bush to the remnants of a hand-made road.

Constructed in the 1860s, the road was used to transport wool from the western town of Roma to the coastal port at Rockhampton. For this 150 metre section up the range, massive slabs of rock were cut by hand from boulders on the site. No cement was used to lay the pavers; they were shaped to fit neatly together, creating a firm surface on the steep slope. Hand-made culverts drained rain water away, preventing erosion and conserving the area. Six men took six months to build the paved road at a cost of £200.

In the early days, bullock teams pulled massive drays loaded with wool on the journey east and returned with supplies for those living in the remote west of the state. The bullockies who managed the teams were highly skilled in the tricky maneuvers needed to reach the top of the hill.

The road was used until the 1930s but, when other sealed roads made the westward journey easier, most traffic was diverted. Today the hand-paved road up Flagstaff Hill lies hidden in the bush, a silent tribute to the men who laboured to build it.

In the Dark

Close to home #10 Boolboonda Tunnel

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Visiting the small Queensland town of Mt Perry, with its quiet streets and single general store, we wouldn’t have known it was once at the centre of a booming copper mining industry. Today around 480 people live in the town, but in the late 1800s a population of more than 30,000 supported several mines, shops, churches and five hotels.

To link Mt Perry to the coastal town of Bundaberg, a railway line was constructed in 1883-84. One part of the line included a 192 metre tunnel, dug by hand through the hard granite of the Boolboonda Range. The excavators worked for two years to complete what is still the longest unsupported and unlined railway tunnel in Queensland.

The railway opened in 1884 and was in operation until 1960, when this section of the line was closed. In 1961 the railway track was removed and the tunnel became part of an unsealed road linking Mt Perry to the town of Gin Gin. Several gates along the way remind today’s travellers they are passing through privately owned farmland; drivers must make sure they close each gate as they go.

The tunnel is wide enough for just one car and, while it’s interesting to drive slowly through with the headlights on, the best way to explore is on foot. It’s wise to carry a torch, as the light quickly dwindles just a couple of metres in.

The darkness, combined with high humidity and warm temperatures, has given the tunnel a second purpose, as the ideal home for a colony of little bent-wing bats. At the halfway mark the arched entrances seem far away, and the rustling movement and constant calling of the bats create an eerie atmosphere.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon with only the bats for company, it’s hard to imagine how loud it must have been when a train loaded with freight came rumbling through this dark and narrow space. That’s probably why the bats didn’t move in until the trains moved on!

A Loo With a View – The English Edition

Exploring England #43

Most English loos don’t have a view. They’re discreetly tucked away.

We found some loos with lovely views where you could sit all day!

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A medieval garderobe which felt a little airy

Brougham Castle, Penrith

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A neat Victorian bathroom – it was revolutionary

Bramall Hall, Stockport

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A tidy woodland toilet with a devilish reputation

Devil’s Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

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A functional facility at the edge of the nation

Lizard Point, Cornwall

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For him a motor bike museum, for her a café and craft shop

Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum, New Milton

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It’s quite a climb right up the stairs to reach this comfort stop

Charmouth, Dorset

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Finally, in Liverpool, behind the toilet door,

No view! Just John’s message…

We’ve all heard it before.

The Cavern Club, Liverpool

 

London Walking

Exploring England #42

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I do love London! On our second last day, we made the most of the fine weather with a walk in the city, where we found monuments, memorials and M&Ms!

After leaving the Jewel Tower, our destination was the Prince of Wales Theatre for a performance of  The Book Of Mormon. With a few hours to spare and not far to go, we had plenty of time for sightseeing on the way.

From Abingdon St, we turned into Great George St where we paused while the bells of Big Ben rang out on the hour.

At Westminster Bridge, we admired the mighty Boudicca on her chariot, charging into battle against Roman invaders.

Modern battles are also remembered along Victoria Embankment. The Royal Air Force Memorial is dedicated to Air Force members who were casualties of World War 1.

Further along, the dramatic Battle of Britain London Monument commemorates British airmen who took part in the Battle of Britain in World War 2. The monument also acknowledges those from 14 other countries who joined the Allied Forces.

Just before the Golden Jubilee Bridge, we turned onto Northumberland Avenue which leads to  Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch, commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria.

Trafalgar Square is dominated by Nelson’s Column, dedicated to the memory of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Four Barbary Lions surround the column while a statue of King George IV dressed in Roman regalia overlooks the square.

Leaving Trafalgar Square we walked around the National Gallery into Charing Cross Road. The small restaurants lining Irving Street reminded us it was time for lunch. After a break for pizza at Il Padrino, we walked into Leicester Square, the entertainment hub of London.

A kaleidoscope of colour greeted us at M&M’s World, where we stocked up on sweet treats for later.

Even after stopping at all these places we were still early for the theatre, so we continued on to Picadilly Circus and the Cool Britannia store where we bought some last minute souvenirs.

Finally it was show time, so we joined the crowd waiting to enter the Prince of Wales Theatre on Coventry Street.

That’s another thing I love about London – so many theatres, so many shows.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

One Tower, Many Stories

Exploring England #38

London’s skyline is dominated by skyscrapers and towers; some are famous and are visited by thousands of tourists each year. At a height of 27 metres the White Tower, part of the Tower of London, was the tallest building in London at its completion  in 1098. Standing at a far more impressive 306 metres and completed in 2012, The Shard is the tallest building in the UK.

Another tower, less well-known but claiming an equally significant place in English history, is the Jewel Tower, located behind the Houses of Parliament. Dating from the 14th century, the tower is one of only two buildings to have survived the 1834 fire which destroyed the Palace of Westminster.

Built in 1365 on the orders of Edward III, the tower was originally known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’. It housed his personal collection of jewels, silverware and luxurious wall-hangings. To protect the king’s belongings, the ground floor had no windows and 18 locks were placed on the doors. A moat surrounding the tower, filled by water from the River Thames, added extra protection.

The tower later became known as the Jewel Tower because of a misconception that, in medieval times, it had housed the Crown Jewels. From 1580 to 1864, it was used as a storage facility for the official parliamentary records of the House of Lords. Documents including Acts of Parliament and the death warrant of King Charles I were filed by the Parliamentary Clerk, who lived in a small house next door.

Occupancy of the tower changed again in 1869 when the newly-created Standard Weights and Measures Department took up residency. With its thick stone walls, the tower was the perfect place for testing delicate instruments and creating standardised units of weight and measure. It was here the imperial system of measurement was developed. The Department continued its important work until 1938, when it was found that vibrations caused by an increase in passing traffic affected the precision of the instruments.

In 1987, UNESCO declared the Jewel Tower and its surrounding land a World Heritage Site. It is also protected as an Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building. Today, English Heritage has custody of the tower, which is open to the public every day. Exhibitions on all three floors showcase the different roles the Jewel Tower has played over the years, with replicas of King Edward’s silver plate, copies of historical documents and 19th century measuring instruments on display.

The Jewel Tower may not be imposing or beautiful, but it’s worth spending a couple of hours learning more about this unique building and its fascinating contents.