Welsh Village, Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park

I’ve been attempting to complete this entry for a few days now, but I fell victim to the ‘suburban blues’ on the one day I was really psyched up to do a little writing.

There I was, sitting down at the computer with a cup of tea when the infernal sound of a lawnmower started next door. Yeah, okay, that wasn’t too bad, but then suddenly on the other side of my place a bloke started hammering. I’ve heard hammering before, but this was constant for about four hours. I didn’tย realizeย I was living next door to ‘King Hammer’? He either re-built his entire house or he had an ant infestation and was killing them off one by one with a huge boot.

Any writing mojo was gone after that and I considered either jumping head first off the roof of my house or just watch reruns of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. I ended up sticking with Larry, which is quite obvious I guess. As you’re reading this, it’s assumed I didn’t spear head first into the ground.

What about this walk? Well, I’d waited for about a year to do this one, as it’s a couple of hours drive to Castlemaine. I think by now you’re aware of my driving policy, so I kept putting it off, until I had a free day and headed up mid-week for a bit of a ramble.

This is the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park and the old mined areas look like a World War One trench system.ย The long abandoned Welsh Village sits amongst this area, where between 1851 to 1854 it was the world’s richest alluvial goldfield. Now the diggings are part of the largest, non-indigenous protected cultural landscape in Australia. I had better get up there and have a look then, shouldn’t I?

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Do you realise the previous paragraphs were written three days ago? Trying to get this entry going is flaming my brain. How about this then? Do you realise I’m meant to be related to George Eliot through my mother’s side of the family? Mum was an Evans, but then again there are a lot of Evans types in England. Mum was also crazy, but artistic and writers are meant to be nuts. Mm… I’m onto something here. Did George Eliot like to go hiking with underpants on her head? If so, then the relationship is confirmed.

That’s better, I’m off and racing with this post now. You’ll find this walk in Glenn Tempest’s book, ‘Daywalks Around Melbourne’ and I followed his track notes.

Setting off, guess what happened? In about the first 150 metres I got lost. Oh yeah, I was also in the main street of Castlemaine at the time. I’m quite the die-hard wilderness bushwalker by the way.

Well, there’s an explanation and it’s from the books notes which I briefly perused and I remembered as,

…walk along the Pyrenees Highway…cross the bridge over Forest Creek. Turn left and walk up the gravel road…“.

This is what I duly did, but there was no gravel road to walk up. I continued aimlessly strolling besides the highway and decided I had to turn somewhere, so I ducked up a side street and came across weeds and a creek.

What’s weird is I could see the track I was meant to be on, across the other side of the creek. I decided to go bush and tiptoe through the water to the track. What happened? Well, I looked at the notes and they actually say,

“…walk to the bridge over Forest Creek. Turn left up the gravel road…

See where I went wrong? I wasn’t meant to cross the bloody bridge! I really should read the notes more carefully, rather than glancing and then trying to commit them to memory.

It was a sunny day at this point and I couldn’t control the urge any longer. It was time to wheel out the polariser.

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All part of my fluffy cloud fetish. I’m seeking therapy for this condition.

No wonder I have a stuffed neck, as I spent the first half hour looking straight up into the sky, whilst stumbling along. I was making the most of it though, as I could see the sky closing in with cloud and it didn’t look like the sun was going to be out for the entire walk. The one time I happened to look down, the first feather of the day was spotted.

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I was making my way to the first ‘attraction’ of this walk. The Pennyweight Flats Children’s Cemetery. About 200 people (mainly children) are buried in this small cemetery, which was used between 1852 to 1857. There were tough living conditions for the miners during the gold rush era and I was interested in checking out this spot.

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Pennyweight Flats Childrenโ€™s Cemetery

It’s a peaceful little place with only a handful of headstones. Some have full inscriptions, but others have initials only and a few are just a matter of a few rocks on the ground. There were also a couple with Chinese letterings.

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This spot may appear rural, but there are houses opposite the cemetery, so I hadn’t gone into the heart of the old diggings just yet. After a little while I continued on my way, whilst still keeping an eye on the sky. There was a slash through some clouds, which I assume was from a plane at some stage?

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What caught my eye was small spot near the track, which has a number of Aboriginal style engravings on paving stones. It appears recent, but do you think I can find any information about it though? Anyway, here’s a few pictures.

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Well, onwards and after about five kilometres I began to head bush with the track leading to my next stop. The Garfield Water Wheel. Every time I think of the word ‘Garfield’ the only vision I have, is of a large orange cat.

Anyway, it was easy walking and I reached the remains of the ‘wheel’, which is protected by the National Trust. In its heyday it was one of the word’s largest water wheels. It was built in 1887 for the purposes of mining, but that remains today is the foundations.

I was intrigued by how it looked in its pomp, so I’ve done some Googling for you. Here we go.

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Garfield water wheel – State Library of Victoria

Check out the super-sized wheel! I’d loved to have seen it back then, but the question is, what’s left today? Are you ready?

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Not a lot! The foundations are all that remain, with the bush closing in around it. A closer look shows where the wheel rotated in the centre.

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What I do like is the human aspect of the individual marks, carved into the stones that make up the foundation.

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I got slightly geographically off-track for the second time of the day when I headed out into the nearby car park instead of following the trail. It turned out to be quite a beneficial mistake though, as I found a pair of sunglasses. In a desolate car park I claimed them, as I recalled the old rhyme, “Finders, keepers/handy protection for my peepers”.

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Where to now? Well, I was in the heart of the diggings and this is where the landscape has been thoroughly mined and turned over. There’s not much left untouched, as I began walking up an old water race.

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The terrain was quite flat, but I was made aware no one else had walked on the track that day, as I passed through dozens of spider webs. Most were so fine, I didn’t even see them until they’d wrapped around my face. In fact, I felt like Spider-Man, as I continued, cloaked in webs.

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My next target was a group of old buildings called the ‘Welsh Village’ and I had no idea what they looked like. I still prefer a surprise, so I didn’t do any Googling before the walk, which would spoil the occasion.

Oh yeah, the camera was in full use as well, whilst trying to ramp up the bokeh, plus I had to capture one of my caterpillar friends, which were everywhere again.

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During this time I did come across some fenced off, old mine shafts. It’s a very prudent move. as I looked into one of the holes and couldn’t see where it ended up. Mm… There wasn’t much else to do other than throw a stone in and see if I could hear it hit the bottom.

I threw one in and for a few seconds heard nothing, so I assumed the show was over, until suddenly there was a splash of water accompanied by an echoing ‘boom’. Wow, that’s deep! I was so excited by the substantial delay of ‘throwing until noise’, that I tossed in a few more rocks. I guess if everyone does this then the mine will be filled in within a few years time?

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Definitely a sign worth heeding.

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This is deep.

I found that to be one of the highlights of the walk and I was a little sad to leave it behind as I continued on through the cobwebs. Now, I was entering an area with deep mining trenches and I began to pick up a theme for their current use. They seem to have been handy over the years for the dumping of cars and parts. A lot of the trenches had some sort of metal lump at the bottom.

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In fact the place felt like a perfect spot to remake Peter Weir’s film ‘The Cars That Ate Paris’. It certainly had enough car parts already lying around, which would save on the budget a little.

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Moving on, I was closing in on the Welsh Village and after a few more kilometres found it at the bottom of hill. As you’ve seen the photo at the top of the post, you probably know there’s not a lot left. It’s often said, “They don’t build them like they used to”. All I can say is, “That’s lucky!”

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Welsh Village

I sat down for a snack, but didn’t factor in the haze of a billion mosquitoes that descended on me. I was an attractive target being covered in sweat, but the light coloured shirt I was wearing was doing its job at repelling the buzzing hordes.

My legs were getting attacked though and I managed to perfect the ‘one hand eating and the other hand swatting’ method. I was racking up quite a few kills, but it was pretty annoying, so I decided to head off. There were still a number of mosquito corpses splattered on my pants, which I left there as trophies and as a warning to others that I’m classified as an ‘SOS’ (Sensei of Swatting).

I was now heading back and you may have noticed I haven’t included any leaf shots yet. Well, don’t panic as they’re coming. In fact, it’s time to include a few photos I haven’t managed to slot in anywhere else due to my rambling.

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I was heading back to the Garfield Water Wheel, but this time on a different track than before and again it was easy walking. Why not throw in a few more photos?

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In parts, the area looks pretty chewed up.

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Mirror reflection

I reached the water wheel in good time and walked around it again, hoping to take a photo from a different angle I might have missed before. I couldn’t get the sort of picture I wanted, so the best you’re going to get is some of the old bolts sticking out of the foundation.

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Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, besides dumped cars, there’s also lots of pieces of rusting machinery lying around, which seems to be a familiar sight on the old gold fields.

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From the water wheel it was time to retrace the track I’d walked earlier in the day. There was always a chance for some more highlights though and I was rewarded with another echidna sighting.

This bloke saw me coming and curled up into a spiky ball. I waited a few minutes to see if he’d starting moving again. After waiting about five minutes, I gave up and began walking off. It was only after I’d moved some distance did he begin moving.

Lately I’ve been using a 270mm zoom lens on the DSLR, which has been handy for moments like this. It’s also been my second echidna sighting in the past month.

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There you go! Another one. They can be hit or miss, as I hadn’t seen any for the past year before the Strath Creek walk. It was a pretty good ending to the hike.

I wasn’t done yet though, as I focused on a few flowers. I also noticed an old building that I’d missed earlier in the day, but as it’s on private property, I unfortunately couldn’t get a closer look.

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Since the early part of the walk it had been a grey cloudy day, but there was no rain about. That soon changed though when I’d reached my car and started to drive home. Through the Mt Macedon area a tremendous downpour started, which made driving a little tricky and after it had passed I had a nice view of enormous storm clouds gathering over Melbourne.

I couldn’t resist trying to get some photos and after a while spent trying to find a decent spot to stop, I managed to park on the side of a freeway and snap a few photos out the windows.

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I do love a stormy sky, but that’s it finally for this walk!

Do I have any advice regarding this day hike? Well, it’s a reasonable distance, as I’d covered 18.29 km, but the total elevation for the day was a comfortable 472 metres.

If I returned, I don’t think I’d start in Castlemaine. The opening few kilometres are behind houses near Forest Creek and I’d rather start from the Pennyweight Flats Cemetery or even from the Garfield Water Wheel. It would drastically shorten the distance for the day, but you wouldn’t be missing much at all.

In fact, if starting from the water wheel, there are a lot of tracks through the diggings, which could be interesting to explore. Instead, I was generally on the move the whole time, as I was mindful of the time, so I wouldn’t finish too late in the day. That’s it!