Small Country Towns

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.

into braidwood

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.

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.

Tree in Braidwood

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.

Knitting in Braidwood

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.

cemetery - braidwood

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.

headstones - braidwood

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.

headstone in braidwood

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.

hut - braidwood

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.

Royal Mail Hotel - Braidwood

Bells

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22 thoughts on “Small Country Towns

  1. Braidwood was the site of one of those incidents that turn into anecdotes…. son was only very small, so maybe 10 years ago? We were going to Nowra, and went via Canberra for some strange reason (eg my grandmother’s advice), and as it got later and later we were more and more unlikely to reach Nowra before midnight. Hubby spied a road to the left, the map said it was unsealed, he decided to go that way anyway. What we did not know was that the local council had been working on that road, so all the guideposts were either covered in dust or graded out of existence, and the surface was covered in loose gravel. Farm-grown hubby took a corner too fast and we mounted up the hill on the wrong side of the road, taking out many metres of small trees, the running board and the rear tyre of the two week old work car. Son was jolted into screaming wakefulness, and once I got my breath back I refused to speak to my husband for a full half-hour, I was SO furious. We spent the remainder of the night in a cheap motel (booked by the NRMA man), and spent the morning wandering the sights of Braidwood, waiting for the car to be repaired. I bought a lovely free-from silk embroidery picture of a vase of flowers from a very funky gallery-cafe, and had a nice conversation in French with the owner of an antiques place across the road.
    It is a pretty little town, and we go back to that gallery-cafe anytime we pass through.

  2. I’ve heard so much about Braidwood and have been wanting to go there for ages. The bakery is famous and the guy that owns it is an amazing speaker, I went to conference once and he was there – very funny down to earth guy.

    I too love to visit these type of towns, and I too love old cemeteries they say so much about who lived there and the lives they may have lived – fascinating 🙂

  3. The office I’m working in now overlooks a cemetery. It’s in a row of houses, built after the cemetery opened. It’s peaceful and green and a little like overlooking a park. Very nice:)

  4. my mum loves cemeteries too, for the same reasons you outlined – the sense of history and the family stories you can piece together. i don’t think it’s morbid at all 🙂

  5. Having also grown up in a small town, I like VISITING them. I like their histories, their architecture, their containment – and their railway stations when they have them. But I have no desire to live in one – ever!

  6. That looks like an enchanting little town, and it sounds like you had a lovely weekend there. The graveyard looks as though it’s just brimming with stories!

    And you have pasties! We have them here in Wisconsin, too — left over from the Cornish miners who settled here and in Michigan. I do love a good old-fashioned pasty!

  7. Ooooh, I just love Braidwood too. I love stopping there on the way to the coast -except my kids always complain because I spend too long there and they are always impatient to get to the beach. Once we stopped there and they had markets in the park. It was heaven! I loved it! Kids and hubby were not as impressed!
    Thanks for your lovely message on my blog. You are right. I will have to try blocking wire on my next project (another shawl! I’m addicted) as the pins just wouldn’t work for the straight edge. I think you are the most experienced knitter I know (in my bloggy world) and I really appreciate your advice.

  8. I don’t think it’s morbid at all to like wandering around in old cemeteries – it’s the history lover in you coming out, I do the same thing – read the old headstones and try to work out the stories, and feel so sad when I see a family that has lost a lot of members close together etc.

    Braidwood looks like a lovely place, I’ve never been there. We might have to make it a weekend destination too! Can’t believe you had to buy a fleece though, heh! Too funny for a knitter!

  9. I love wandering through old cemeteries. One of Hubbies and mine favourite occupations, especially in the cooler months. Usually I am trying to find ancestors. Which reminds me that I have a few in Braidwood. Good excuse for a trip down there

  10. I can feel the history from here. We have quite a few old towns, some barely more than villages, within an hour or two of our home. It is fun looking back and working out the stories.

  11. I love photographing cemeteries too, especially the statues/big headstones. I have some great pictures I took in Paris. I should probably scan and blog them one of these days.

  12. What a charming small town. It feels real and I’m with you. I’d love to live in a place like that. It would be a very different lifestyle, although, I think we live a small town life here in our town. We are not flashy people and both enjoy homey crafts and working with our hands.

  13. Loved this post. It is a part of the world I’ve never seen before. It makes me think of small US towns from TV shows, you know, like Northern Exposure or something but with a very different twist. Fascinating!

  14. It sounds a perfect place for a ‘mini-break’!! isn’t it lovely when new technology enables a classic crafting thing?? I also agree that proper country towns are the go, not pretenders!!

  15. i love braidwood. ive been through there a few times, stopped once or twice, and always thought it had something special. enough creature comforts without being gentrified by tree-changers. i love places like braidwood too because they’re still ‘country’, not like ‘south mosman’ in the highlands. you could live there in peace and quiet, be one of the locals, have lots of chooks (or dogs), and knit over endless pots of tea on the porch of your little cottage. let’s do that some day!

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