Glenn Innes

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Crofter's Cottage, Glenn Innes
There is a strong Celtic influence in Glenn Innes

The New South Wales country town of Glen Innes prides itself on being the capital of Celtic Country … so much so that it even boasts its own ‘Stonehenge’, a collection of giant rocks modelled on those around which the ancient Celts danced. These Standing Stones, the centrepiece of the Australian Celtic Festival held each May, are both spectacular and atmospheric … but they are just one of the many reasons why this genuinely friendly New England town, with a population of around 6,000, is well worth a visit.

This attractive country town was gazetted all the way back in 1852, although graziers had been settling in the area for some time beforehand. Two of the district’s early stockmen were well known for their long beards and the region became known as the Land of the Beardies … a name that has stuck.

So, what has this bustling community got going for it? Well, it’s set in a scenic part of the country, is of endless historical interest, and is surrounded by an array of national parks offering great camping. And if that’s not enough, there’s fossicking for gemstones, a packed schedule of events, and some excellent reasonably-priced van parks.

It’s one of those authentic country towns where you immediately feel comfortable and welcome … and both the council and local businesses seem to have gone out of their way to draw in tourists in general and grey nomads in particular. Nonetheless, many of the free camping areas close to town were closed down a few years ago … allegedly because of the actions of careless campers.
That setback notwithstanding, the area indisputably possesses a certain knack for self promotion. The most spectacular example of that effort is, of course, the Standing Stones themselves. They were born out of an idea formed during Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations in 1988, and were officially opened in 1992. They comprise of 40 gigantic granite rocks, some of which weigh more than 30 tonnes, arranged in a solar-aligned stone circle. Really, they are a tribute to the region’s Celtic heritage and much activity has since sprung up around their existence.
The four-day Celtic festival has grown year on year and includes street parades, spectacular re-enactments, strongman events, kirking of the Tartan, massed bands, children’s entertainment, dancing, flag-raising ceremonies, poets’ breakfasts, yard dog trials, market stalls, a fun run and, of course, there are Celtic foods. If you can time your visit to coincide with this event you won’t be disappointed … it’s an awful lot of fun.

The area’s much-in-evidence Celtic links are certainly a huge draw for tourists but increasing numbers of gem-seeking nomads are also coming in search of sapphires. This is reputed to be one the most prolific sapphire regions in New South Wales and the Sapphire City itself, Inverell is just up the road.
As well as onsite fossicking being available at one or two local van parks, committed fossickers might come across anything from sapphire, zircon and garnet to topaz, quartz crystal and gold at some of the more out-of-the way fossicking sites.
So, if you want to stay in a park and do some onsite fossicking, that’s available, and there are also some excellent centrally located van parks where you can stay and explore the towns itself.

Glen Innes is superbly well located. It’s right on the New England Highway if you’re heading north or south but want to give the busy coastal roads a miss, and it’s only a few hours from the beaches. What a great place to get a taste of what a good old Aussie inland country town really is about.

There is no shortage of excellent national parks within easy striking distance of Glen Innes. The Washpool and Gibraltar Range national parks are both about 80 kilometres east on the Gwydir Highway and both have good camping. Washpool is the largest remaining wilderness rainforest in New South Wales and has the world’s tallest stand of coachwood rainforest, while the nearby Gibraltar Range is best known for its dramatic granite outcrops and its spectacular wildflower displays in the spring. Guy Fawkes River National Park, 70 kilometres or so to the south west of Glen Innes is a little bit harder to get to. Its seclusion and extensive river system has made it a haven for birds and animals. There is camping here but not really for a decent-sized rig so this may have to be a day trip. Then there is Kings Plains National Park, 50 kilometres northwest of town on the Wellingrove-Inverell Road. It’s got the lot, with waterfalls, forests and wildflowers. Again, this makes a great day trip.

Check out the toss the caber competition at the annual Celtic Festival; dust down your kilt and sporran and take a march down main street; stop shaving for a week before the Land of The Beardies festival (men only!); fossick for sapphires; head to Washpool to see the coachwood rainforest.

As you would expect in such a tourist-savvy town there are a number of well maintained van parks in town, some of which even offer you a chance to fossick for gemstones! Sadly, most of the free camping areas close by no longer welcome overnighters but visitors are spoilt for choice of looking for national park camping while in the region. You are literally surrounded by possibilities.

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