Picturesque valleys surrounded by rolling hills, dirt roads that lead into sub-alpine bush, and paddocks filled with horses, cattle, sheep and the occasional rusty old cow shed - welcome to one of N.S.W.'s prettiest rural districts. I'm staying at Gloucester, near Barrington Tops, just over three hours drive north-west of Sydney. After a chilly winter in the city, (and being a country girl from way back), I couldn't resist the lure of Spring and the opportunity to get out in some wide open countryside. Gloucester won the Tidy Towns Award in NSW in 2014, and this compact country township has everything you need for a few days away.
1. Horseriding: I saddle up at Camp Cobark. The property is about 30 minutes drive north of town on the Scone Road. There's a great range of horses to choose from, including pony rides for kids, adventurous two-hour, half-day, and full-day rides. Our trail winds through bush and across a couple of shallow creek beds. The area was a favourite hiding place of Captain Thunderbolt, a horse-thief and one of Australia's bushrangers in the 1850's.
2. Hiking: There are some lovely ambles around the township. Gloucester River runs through town and a path follows the riverbank. It's shady and there are plenty of spots to stop and rest or have a picnic. Pick up a brochure from the Tourist Information and try the Antarctic Beech Forest Walk or the Gloucester Falls Walk. Both take in sub-alpine woodlands, wetlands, and eucalypt forests. If you're up for something a bit more strenuous, check out Buckett's Scenic Walk, which is steep but short and takes you to the top of a rocky escarpment and gives expansive views over the valley and town. Also check out the Hidden Treasure Track and, a little longer, the Basin Loop Track.
the caravan park, on the riverbank under the Buccan Buccans
3. Go Camping: The valley floor, surrounded on all sides by hills and the Bucketts Mountain range, provide some wonderful options. There's a caravan park in town, right beside the river. Plus bush camping sites located on the edge of creeks and rivers that run through the valley give you that real 'get away from it all' feeling. Some are located on private farms, plus Barrington Tops National Park and Woko National Park both give you the chance to really 'go bush'.
4. Walk the Main Street: . A museum, art gallery, lolly shop, book shop, shoe shop, clothing boutiques and homewares stores offers plenty to browse through and wile away a couple of hours. The gallery was having its Spring Exhibition the night I was there, showcasing some lovely water-colours and oils done by local artists. There's a Native Garden to wander through, and the District Park with swimming pool, skate ramp and tennis courts.
5. Do Scenic Drives: I did the very leisurely and picturesque 40-minute loop around the Buccan Buccans (the Bucketts Mountains). The road circumnavigates the rocky outcrop, passes farms, and has a couple of shallow river crossings, which gives you the opportunity to stop for a picnic. I pulled over in the shade of a willow and just sat to watch the water babble by. Birdlife included herons and waders catching insects, and there was always the cackle of kookaburras and magpies in the towering gums that lined the banks. Paterson and Dungog to the south-west of town, or Stroud and Nabiac to the south-east of town, are historical and quaint townships with antique and bric-a-brac stores, under one hour's drive. It's easy to make up your own itinerary and have a great day out exploring the countryside.
6. Markets: Every Friday morning The Tucker Patch has a farm-gate stall, plus check out their website for workshops in organic growing, preserving, gardening without pesticides, and how to make your own jam. Gloucester Farmers Market is the 2nd Saturday each month. Gloucester Community Market is on Saturday of long weekends. 7. Eat and Drink: Of course there are a couple of pubs to try. 'The Kitchen' at the Round-about Inn is really family-friendly, has outdoor seating, and music on weekends. There are some lovely cafe's - such as Thunderbolt's Café, Perenti's for healthy options, and Roadies which is full of biker memorabilia. The Bowling Club has a Chinese Restaurant, and there's a Thai restaurant at the southern end of town.
8. Special Events: I came to attend the Craven Creek Concerts. Set in an 80 year-old barn on a beautiful rural property, a string-quartet, plus American harpist Emily Granger, and cellist Heather Lindsay played Mozart. The afternoon was sublime and entertaining. Set amongst gum trees and cow paddocks, this annual spring-time event is a not-for-profit charitable organisation run by Craven Creek Music Association and made possible by owners Greg and Jenny Lindsay. Other events include Gloucester District Show in March, a Motorcycle Expo in April, a BBQ Competition in May, Pix from the Stick in June, Gloucester Chillout in July, Monkerai Sringers B & S Ball in August, Floral Festival in September, and Aero Club Fly-in in October. For more information, click here.
There are plenty of accommodation options ranging from Farm-stays at Trudgalong Farm, B&B's, self-contained cottages, a couple of motels, or luxury retreats. For more information, click here. You can make your stay as relaxing as you like, doing very little apart from breathing in the fresh eucalypt-scented air, or as energetic as you like trying out all the recreational facilities.