I think I fell a little bit in love with Castlemaine during my day trip there last Wednesday. It really is a charming town. So much history, lovely old buildings, quaint cottages and quite a lot to see and do for such a small place. I feel like I only scratched the surface.
I arrived an hour later than planned because I realised on the way to the station to catch the 9.15 train that I should have been on the 8.15 train! Oopsie. The ticket man let me catch the later train at no extra cost (not that I would have minded paying another $12, especially as it was my own stupid fault I missed it).
I took a book to read but I spent the whole 1.5 hour trip looking out the window and wishing I could stop the train to take photos. I saw a young foal gallivanting joyfully around his paddock, old bath tub stock troughs, sloping green fields dotted with rolls of hay, and a little girl in a pink hoodie waving as the train went by. There was a lake (I forget where) with steam rising eerily from it and a tree full of those black and white ibis.
I especially wanted to take photos of some of the old country train stations we passed through (but didn't want to risk being left behind). Most have been renovated to retain their old world charm, but others - Malmsbury and Kyneton spring to mind - are getting rather ramshackle, and those are the ones I like the most.
It was overcast when I left Melbourne but as I neared Castlemaine, the clouds broke up and the sun shone. It was a perfect day when I arrived - warm but with a light breeze.
I wandered down the main street to the Tourist Information Centre and picked up the Eureka Reef Heritage Walk podtour (after being assured that if I was used to walking a lot, the walk to Eureka Reef from town wouldn't be too demanding...).
I passed a lot of of old buildings and cute little old cottages on the highway. I turned right at Eureka Street, crossed the rail bridge and kept going as the bitumen gave way to unsealed gravel...and walked...and walked...and walked and wondered if I was on the right track. There wasn't another soul around, just a swarm of dragonflies and the buzzing of cicadas.
I saw this sign in the bush on my right which gave me a moment's pause, given I was in the bush all on my own with no phone reception, but then I remembered it's a low security prison (clearly). What would they do? Defraud me?
I pushed on, admiring the colours and textures of the stone on the side of the road. Eventually I saw a sign pointing to the car park for the Eureka Reef. Eureka indeed. The car park was empty. I didn't mind the solitude.
Eureka Reef is part of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, which, I learnt from the podtour, is World Heritage listed because of its cultural significance. Men - some with wives and children - came from all over the world in the 1850s to try their luck on the gold diggings. Nearby Forest Creek, according to a sign on the highway, was the site of the "world's richest shallow alluvial goldfield ever".
Ruins of the mine manager's cottage
When I got back to the car park I was also startled by the sight of another human being. There was a guy with a metal detector going over the old tailings pile. It was whoop-whooping away as I passed by on my way back to the road.
Not for drinking...
I headed back to town (it turned out to be a 2.5 hour round trip!), dropped off the podtour at the Information Centre and got myself a cold drink. I then headed for a quick wander around the Botanical Gardens, then back to the station for the train home, foot sore and worn out, but happy (and a little bit sunburnt).
While it was a lovely day out, I don't recommend going on a public holiday if you want to poke your nose around the shops and galleries. Most of them were closed. I think I'll head back another time to see the stuff I missed out on. There's an art gallery and museum, a historic mansion, some other podtours, an old cemetery and I'd also like to ride the old Goldfields Steam Railway to nearby Maldon.
Mostyn Street shops
Old telegraph building on the right, main street