I am a freelance writer for a range of lifestyle magazines, Executive Producer of the John Laws Show on Radio 2SM Sydney and a busy personal trainer.
Published April 26th 2011
It's always a treat to discover the authentic, to enjoy an experience that's genuine and unpretentious. The Settlers Arms Inn at St Albans is the real thing, so quaint it almost looks like a themed replica - however it is not. The atmosphere isn't manufactured; soak it up, because it's rare and priceless.
The Settlers Arms sits across a gravel road from the McDonald River, 21 kilometres past Wisemans Ferry. It feels a million miles from the city and the suburbs, but from the centre of the Sydney CBD, it is just over two hours drive.
There are two ferries providing a novel but highly efficient traverse of the Hawkesbury River - one at Wisemans Ferry and the other just around the corner at the Webbs Creek crossing, taking you into the land that time forgot – or at least turned it's back on for just a bit.
St Albans Rd is bitumised and provides thirty minutes of spectacular verdant scenery, breathtaking in Autumn, bucolic in Spring, every corner opening up a new vista of mouth-dropping beauty. Settlers Road is gravel for most of the way and curls around the base of sheer rocky hills and winds through bush and farmland, past the ancient cemetery of first settlers. There is one more crossing before you enter the tiny township - St Albans bridge, built in 1901 and the only surviving timber truss road bridge in Australia.
The Settlers Arms is one of just two public buildings in the village - the Anglican church is the other. Built in 1836 from convict-hewn sandstone, the Inn was a stopover for Cobb and Co coaches delivering supplies. It's hardly changed - the doorways are low, the wooden floors are worn, there's an open fireplace, communal tables and usually a game of dominoes or chess going on.
There's a nod to the 21st century with a television tucked away in the corner and the menu offers hearty pub fare. Enjoy it by the fireside or listening to jazz under the shade of white cedars and mulberry trees on a Sunday afternoon.
You don't have to worry about work catching up with you – there's no mobile phone coverage and just one phone box servicing the 70 or so permanent residents. Bring the children - there's space to play and no traffic to speak of. Bring the dog - there's always a couple of four-legged patrons keeping the hearth warm.
If you don't have to leave in a hurry, the Inn also offers modest accommodation, but call first on 4568 2111. There's a swimming pool for the civilised or the river if you're up for something a little less so - just walk across the road to the banks of the creek and jump in.
In 2011, it's hard to imagine a place like St Albans exists, and that it hasn't been cleverly crafted for tourists. Surprisingly, magically, it's the real thing.
Sounds positively idyllic. Nothing better than hearty pub fare, a million miles from care. The little towns along the Hawkesbury are Sydney's best kept secrets and well worth a weekend's investigation.
By Dora Bona - senior reviewer Wednesday, 27th of April @ 10:57 pm