We love small country towns, which is perhaps odd given we both grew up in small towns and longed to leave them as teenagers. I think maybe there’s something about choosing a small town as an adult, or maybe it’s just that in mid-life we are more in tune with the lifestyle of small towns now than we were at sixteen or seventeen.
Most often we spend our holidays or short breaks in small towns but they are generally small towns where alongside the history and the views, there are communities where there’s a bit of city life infused. We might be outside the city but we still want options for good food and coffee.
For this reason, we chose Braidwood as our recent getaway. Braidwood is just over an hour from Canberra. To Canberrans, it’s most known as the town you pass through on the way to the coast. It’s the place where you might stop at the very well known bakery for a meat pie or a pastry and a coffee. Almost every time we drive through Braidwood, even if we stop, we say to each other ‘we should come here more often’ and so in our desire to explore places closer to home, we planned a weekend in Braidwood.
If you’ve ever seen the movie The Year My Voice Broke then you’ve seen Braidwood. It was the perfect setting for the bleak film starring a young Noah Taylor and Ben Mendelsohn.
You drive into town along a wide, almost empty road. A few small houses and the old Braidwood hotel welcoming you. Just like many small Australian towns.
Once you hit the main street, it’s all about the old buildings. You’ve gotta love a town that features as one of its most prominent buildings, a Literary Institute.
In the centre of town is a beautiful big park with some amazing trees – imposing beauties that are raining autumn leaves by day and, by night, are lit up in the most stunning way. Sean took this photo on way to the pub on the first night.
The other thing about Braidwood, the thing that I really should have remembered before we left home is how very cold it is. It’s still only autumn here but mornings and evenings in Braidwood were bone chilling. Because the weather has mild lately, I only packed light knitwear, nothing heavy. I know! What was I thinking? I ended up having to buy a polar fleece wrap on Saturday morning, just to survive.
All up and down the street there are small cafes with friendly staff (there was a waitress in one who recognised us from the pub the night before where she was the barmaid) and I spent a lot of time knitting over pots of tea.
I loved the cramped, slightly chaotic fabric shop where I gave an impromptu lesson on how an ipad can be of use to quilters and then spent some time choosing fabric for a new project. Lovely, friendly service – something you don’t always get in fabric shops locally.
We ate a delicious, wine fuelled meal in a French inn (with a real French chef!) on Saturday night and kept warm in our Bed & Breakfast, which I neglected to photograph at all, but which is a beautifully maintained late 19th century home that’s been lovingly converted to a guest house.
Almost best of all was the afternoon we spent walking around the historic Braidwood cemetery.
There’s a new cemetery now, but the old one, just across the road, is still looked after by volunteers, although vast sections of the early 19th century parts of it are incredibly sunken and overgrown. That does add to its charm, even if it is sad to see the old headstones so very dilapidated.
I’ve read a bit about the town – at one point it was the southern most town in New South Wales – and wandering around the cemetery gave us a great feel for where the street and building names came from. I love that Sean indulges my love of old cemeteries and shares with me the part where I love to look at names and dates and piece together details, such as the couples who died within months of each other in old age, or the families where numerous children died one after another. They tell the story of a vastly different world.
And the headstones themselves make for great portraits, I think. Is it morbid to love cemeteries? I don’t know. I just love the stories.
Finally, the houses in Braidwood, the little old cottages, the restored homes, the ones with chimneys and lovingly maintained gardens, I loved them all. Even the run down huts, like this one.
Everywhere we walked I’d see sweet, old cottages that made me ache to move there. If only the 70minute commute along the highway wasn’t such a hinderance, I think we’d really think about it. One day, hopefully, there’ll be an opportunity to make a dream a reality. In the meantime, we’ll be going back for breaks. It’s close enough to make weekend escapes both possible and very likely and there are things we didn’t get to see, like the big old churches and the galleries.