The rolling hills of the Northern Tablelands in New South Wales are home to fabulous National Parks where nature lovers and bushwalkers will feel right at home. The full array of Australian wildlife and bird life can be seen in the thick forests that drape the Tablelands, and there are plenty of interesting rock features that add an extra dimension to the countryside. But one of the most interesting features of the Tablelands is a little town called Glen Innes- a stronghold of Scottish heritage in the unlikeliest of places, 237 kilometers inland from Coffs Harbour and about a six hour drive north east from Sydney.
Glen Innes is known as the Celtic Capital of Australia- since just after the first colonial settlement here the Scots moved in and made this area of the countryside their own. Since then the 6000 residents of Glen Innes and the surrounding Severn Shire have maintained a lot of pride in their Celtic roots, providing the region and the lifestyle enjoyed there with a distinctly Scottish flair. The biggest tribute to their Celtic heritage was the building of the Australian Standing Stones, 40 large granite pillars that stand in a circle and were modeled on the Ring of Brogbar in the Orkneys. These are the only stones of their kind to have been erected in the last 3500 years, making them truly unique!
The mystical setting of the stones seems conducive to kilted festival-goers dancing in traditional fashion to the tune of bagpipes, and every year over the May Day Public Holiday this is exactly what happens. The colorful and vibrant Australian Celtic Festival takes place over this weekend, and features non stop entertainment including traditional music and dancing by artists from all across the globe. Market stalls sell everything Celtic as well as other arts and crafts and a tasty array of foods and drinks. There’s all sorts of games and things like strongman events- in fact the whole weekend is just one long party. Its a festival thats becoming more and more popular and its a good time to coincide with your visit to this part of New South Wales. If you are visiting the stones and its not Festival time you can still get traditional Celtic fare at Crofters Cottage which is next door, a combined cafe and gift shop that is also great to pick up a souvenir from.
The beauty of the Tablelands around Glen Innes make it a great base for a driving holiday. The cool temperatures and high rainfalls are conducive to wine production, and you will find a large number of wineries spread across the Tablelands (a total of 50 between Glen Innes and the Queensland border!) Its a rewarding day on the road spent visiting cellar doors and picking up some of the local wines. A favorite among locals is the Wright Robertson Winery, a family owned business lying 20 kilometers south of town. Relying purely on organic farming techniques, it is an inspiring place to visit especially in this time of climate change.
Another place worth visiting is the Kings Plains Station, which has been owned by the same family since 1832. Standing on the station is what is known as the Kings Plain Castle, built in 1910 to emulate a Scottish castle. Its towering and vine covered turrets are certainly unlike anything you will see in Australia, and the large country garden is well maintained and lush. Tours of the property are available, on which you will see the whole of the castle and other features such as the family cemetery.
Any self drive holiday through this region should take full advantage of the beautiful National Parks. 78 kilometers east of Glen Innes lies Washpool National Park, which is the last remaining wilderness rain forest in New South Wales. Its a beautiful and serene spot to appreciate the natural world. Lying nearby is the Gibralter Range National Park, a favorite among bushwalkers. Located in high granite country, there are some interesting rock features, and the vegetation is dominated by tall eucalypt forests through which plenty of wildlife roams. Colorful wildflowers come into bloom in the warmer months, giving the park a distinct character.
Glen Innes is the kind of location whose appeal changes during the year, yet always remains strong. Curl up next to a log fire in winter and if you’re lucky get snowed on, enjoy the bright colors of autumn or the crisp sunshine of summer. Whenever you visit, the unique Celtic heritage and the fantastic sights and sounds of Glen Innes and its surrounds will always be there. And a hire car is the best way to see it all!