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Glen Innes and the surrounding Severn Shire are known as Celtic Country. The first people to settle in the district, fifty years after the First Fleet, were Scots. The first of these Scottish migrants was Archibald Boyd, a barrister who established Stonehenge Station in the region.
Another early settler was Williams Vivers from Dumfriesshire who recreated a Scottish castle (which still stands today) on his 30,000ha Kings Plain Station. Two other notable early locals were hirsute stockmen John Duval and William Chandler. It was Duval and Chandler who guided Archibald Boyd to the region and they are remembered today in the annual Land of the Beardies Festival and the Land of the Beardies History House. The town of Glen Innes is named after another Scot (and another Archibald), Archibald Clunes Innes. The town was gazetted at the height of the gold rush in 1852.
The Celtic heritage is cherished by the locals and it was a group of Glen residents who established the Australian Standing Stones, venue for the annual Australian Celtic Festival. The Stones are especially haunting on a winter’s morning when there’s often frost on the ground and the stones are shrouded in mist. There are more than thirty Heritage-listed buildings in the CBD of Glen Innes and more a little further afield. However, visitors don’t come for the historic buildings alone.
The World Heritage Washpool National Park contains some of the most varied and least-disturbed forest in the country. It includes the world’s largest stand of coachwood trees and some extraordinary specimens of the giant red cedars so prized by early timber cutters. Many come to the Park in the hope of sighting some of Australia’s rarest and most unusual creatures, like the long-nosed potoroo, the pouched frog, and the beautiful, cat-like spotted-tailed quoll. For birdwatchers, Washpool Park is heaven. Over 140 species have been recorded, including some very rare birds such as the powerful owl.
For those keen on fishing, the Glen Innes region has some of the best freshwater fishing in the country. The area is especially well known for its Murray cod, but trout and bass are also common.
From the time sapphires were discovered in the streams around Glen Innes, it has been a popular fossicking area and there are quite a few areas where big stones are still being found. Sapphires and other gems, as well as jewellery design, are celebrated in the annual Minerama Gem and Jewellery Show, and fossicking gear can be hired in town.
The arts are thriving in Celtic Country, thanks in part to the passionate enthusiasm of dedicated voluntary organisations. The Glen Innes Arts Council, founded in 1944, is the oldest continuously operating Arts Council in Australia. Based in a 122-year-old former church, the Council stages exhibitions, with movies on the weekends and monthly art house films.
For book lovers, Glen Innes is home to several stores selling antiquarian, classic and collectable books. One has an inventory of well over 100,000 titles and the stores have regular clients around Australia and overseas.
Of course, every explorer needs to eat. Luckily Glen Innes is famed for its produce. The area combines high rainfall with a cool climate. Traditionally renowned for local lamb, beef and fine wool, Glen is now at the centre of the burgeoning High Country wine industry. There are now over fifty wineries in the High Country region, with one of the pioneers, the Wright family, establishing their vineyards at Glencoe just south of Glen Innes.
There’s something special about eating beautifully prepared dishes using local produce such as grass-fed beef, traditionally smoked hams, fruits and vegetables picked from nearby fields. Of course, sometimes nothing satisfies like a traditional Aussie pie and they don’t come much more traditional than the ones they’ve baked at Smeatons for the past 70 years.
Whether it’s the unspoilt outdoors, the lure of gems, the rollicking sounds of Celtic music or a quiet glass of local wine in front of a log fire that lures you, you won’t forget your time in Celtic Country.