The Hawkesbury River settlement of Windsor may not have a castle of the splendour of England’s royal Windsor fortress, but its colonial history carries much weight in the shaping of the colony of NSW.
Whether you are interested in its European pioneering history or just want to shop for locally handmade jewellery or perhaps sample a colourfully cone-topped ice cream, Windsor has all the ingredients to keep you captivated longer than initially planned.
Even the freshly battered fish and chips are tantalising enough to attract a crowd from different parts of Sydney, despite the fact the Macquarie designated settlement is a good distance inland from the ocean.
Originally settled in 1791 as a food bowl for the colony, Windsor (and its surrounds) was considered the third-oldest place of British settlement on the Australian mainland.
Much of its historic appeal is reflected in the buildings which have survived floods, fires and the general ravages and time, among them the Macquarie Arms Hotel which overlooks leafy Thompson Square, the birthplace of Windsor.
Visit on a Sunday and you can combine a leisurely stroll and family picnic on the riverbank with a bit of shopping at the open market along the Mall.
You may want to extend the visit with a drive across the newly opened bridge linking Windsor with fellow Lachlan Macquarie town Wilberforce.
Generally, the pace around town is slow, as many like it. Here are 10 good reasons to visit Windsor.
- Windsor, NSW
- Things To Do In Windsor
- 1- Discover History At St Matthew’s Anglican Church
- 2- Visit the Hawkesbury Regional Museum
- 3- Go For A Walk Or A Ghost Tour
- 4- Discover Filming Locations For ‘A Country Practice’
- 5- Wander Around The Sunday Market
- 6- Shop For Sweets
- 7- Buy Some ‘Guy’ Stuff
- 8- Go For Snappa and Chips
- 9- Scream For Ice Cream
- 10- Dine In A Historic Building
- 11- Have A Pint In The Church Bar
- 12- Step Back Into History At The Macquarie Arms
- Things To Do In Windsor
Things To Do In Windsor
1- Discover History At St Matthew’s Anglican Church
Not only did Windsor provide a vital food bowl for the early European settlers, but its place in history could not have been possible without the help of convicts who were shipped to our shores as punishment.
One such person was Francis Greenway who designed the impressive 1817 St Matthews Anglican Church, the “Cathedral of the Hawkesbury”.
Greenway, who was the feature on our $5 notes, was sentenced to death in England for forging a financial document, only to have his sentence reduced to 14 years transportation.
England’s loss proved to be Australia’s gain.
On the grounds surrounding the Flemish-style brick church with its familiar square tower – a donation from King George IV – and “walls of crosses”, are the graves of some of the area’s famous pioneers, among them 26 from the First Fleet, 12 marked, 14 unmarked.
Dominating the site is the giant plot where John Tebbutt rests along with 24 of his family members.
Tebbutt’s claim to fame was as an astronomer who was credited with discovering the Great Comet of 1861 from his Windsor observatory which still stands today.
The oldest grave is that of chief magistrate Andrew Thompson who organised barges to reach the settlement from Sydney.
Thompson, who died in 1810, was posthumously recognised by having the centrally located square of the town named in his honour.
Famous explorer William Cox, the first road builder over the Blue Mountains in 1815, is also buried in the graveyard which pre-dates the construction of the church.
2- Visit the Hawkesbury Regional Museum
Perhaps the best spot to begin a self-guided tour of Windsor is at the Hawkesbury Regional Museum, in the heart of Windsor.
Open six days a week – 10 am till 4 pm Wednesdays to Mondays – the museum is free to visit and is jam-packed with essential information.
The contemporary building also houses a quaint, eye-catching exhibition of Australian memorabilia which shaped the lives of people not only the area but throughout the nation.
At the entry to the exhibition is a taxidermy figure of the mythical flabbit, a cross between a bird and rabbit which was supposedly sighted and photographed in the area and was later found to be a hoax.
It is a quirky exhibit which grabbed the headlines of The Daily Mirror around the same time as the filming of A Country Practice.
Among the popular exhibits to be featured at the museum is Hawkesbury Riverboats, a small collection of replica model boats to have operated on the river over the years, each donated by the late Eric Mitchell who created around 60 models over a period which almost spanned 100 years.
A relatively new exhibition traces the cultural history of food production in the area since the first white settlers planted crops along the river in 1794, saving the infant colony from starvation.
3- Go For A Walk Or A Ghost Tour
Stretch the legs on a walk along the riverbank or through the heart of town and you will be surprised at what you will discover about Windsor.
For history buffs, there are self-guided walks with maps that trace some of Windsor’s heritage sites.
Organised ghost tours which focus on the “spirits of the Hawkesbury pioneers” can also be booked in advance.
You can almost sense the clip-clop sounds of the horse-drawn carriages as you stroll past such sites as the 1828-opened former post office, St Matthews Anglican Church with its countless historic gravestones and the 1834 opened toll house which was rebuilt in 1887 after the great flood of 1864 and is today overshadowed by a modern bridge.
Down a laneway from the mall is a colourful wall of street art which soon has the cameras or phones snapping away.
4- Discover Filming Locations For ‘A Country Practice’
Much of Windsor’s colonial roots date back to the early 1800s, but it was not until the 1980s that the riverside settlement and the neighbouring Hawkesbury towns came to prominence on the TV screens, as the exterior locations for the filming of multi Logie award-winning A Country Practice.
Fans have little problem identifying the “Wandin Valley” sites screened in the popular Australia serial, from the “doctor’s surgery” in North Street which, in reality, was once known as at the Court House Inn, Swallows Inn and Peninsula Inn, to the old garage in nearby Pitt Town.
A few strides away is the old courthouse which continues to be in use.
Wandin Valley Hospital was shot at Clare House in Oakville, character Molly’s house was at Maraylya, Windsor High was the local high school while Wandin Valley police station was located along Johnston Street, Pitt Town.
5- Wander Around The Sunday Market
Always a hive of activity on weekends is the Windsor Mall Sunday Market but don’t expect the pace to be quick as potential shoppers stop and inspect the various items on sale at each of the stalls.
Anything from art and craft, fashion items and fresh locally grown produce and locally produced jams and sauces can be bought with buskers sometimes keeping the crowd entertained by performing at certain spots on the short walk through the heart of the historic town.
The street market begins at 9 am with stalls closing around 3 pm.
It is not surprising to find that many of the shoppers are on a walk with their pet dogs on a lead.
6- Shop For Sweets
Minnie Mouse is popular in Windsor, but not as much as the sweets sold at the aptly named Lollies ‘n’ Stuff store in the mall where staff dress as the famous Disney cartoon character.
A magnet for children and parents and grandparents eager to relive their childhood, this particularly colourful shop has shelves beyond shelves jam-packed with British, American, European, New Zealand and local confectionaries that would be a dentist’s delight.
Don’t be surprised to find sweets from other parts of the globe as the store boasts over 1000 different variety of lollies, more than enough to put a smile on the face of chocolate-loving Willy Wonka.
Open daily, the shop has almost everything from polo mints, musk sticks and sherbet fountains to fudge, walnut whips, and Fry’s chocolates.
7- Buy Some ‘Guy’ Stuff
In contrast, on the opposite side of the mall and housed inside an old Art Deco building is a store aptly billed Guys Stuff, where over 1000 items are on sale, either from the store or online, for lovers of collectables or memorabilia Items.
Almost everything from pristine model cars and aircraft, and Harley Davidson items to
commemorative coin packs and puzzles are on sale along with a range of sporting merchandise – perfect for the pool room or man cave.
8- Go For Snappa and Chips
Visit Windsor from Thursday and Sunday (between 11 am and 8.30 pm) and chances are you will meet Snappa, a particularly cheeky Australian-born blue and gold macaw who, depending on mood, has plenty to say.
Housed in a large cage near the front door to the award-winning Windsor Seafoods, in George Street, Snappa is the much-loved pet of proprietor Barry Lane who works
feverishly with his team to cater for queues of hungry diners.
People have been known to travel as far away as coastal Bondi to sample the finger-licking fish and chips and seafood platters, either on the shaded deck or across the street in historic Thompson Square, the oldest square in Australia to be surrounded by 18th Century Georgian buildings.
“Snappa is a smooth talker who loves to practise new phrases on strangers,” said Barry.
“Ignore his cries though and he is likely to screech disapproval.”
Word has it that Snappa is about 20 years old but has the intellect of a four-year-old child.
Windsor Seafoods is open seven days a week, although Snappa and owner Barry have Mondays to Wednesdays off.
9- Scream For Ice Cream
Whether you are young or young at heart, a visit to Windsor is not complete without a call on the ever-popular Windsor Ice Cream Café.
With as many as 40 ice cream flavours and additional gelato and sorbets on the board, it is not surprising guests take their time making a choice.
Almost everything from Mango, Vanilla Choc Fudge and Rum and Raisin to Macadamia Nut, Ginger and Liquorice can be ordered. And particularly popular among the younger guests is the colourful Rainbow delight.
The café is only small, but the generous size of the single cone scoop is eye-boggling – at a price that would surprise even the most budget-conscious customers.
Just ask the café’s Lucy and Mirta (pictured).
The Windsor Ice Cream Café also caters for guests who request gluten or dairy free options as well as offering appetising desserts as pancakes and hot waffles topped with ice cream or maple syrup.
And, yes, coffee and an array of tea options can also be ordered.
For more things to do in NSW read:
10- Dine In A Historic Building
What makes Windsor special is that some of its historic buildings have been preserved, restored and converted into contemporary eateries.
For a taste of Italy with fresh Australian ingredients, Biviano’s has been a popular spot to dine since owners Anthony and Kylie renovated the 1840 heritage building 16 years ago.
Originally a merchant’s cottage, the building was transformed into what many believe was a doctor’s house before ultimately becoming an Italian restaurant where the warm and friendly décor of the rooms is as enticing as an extensive menu.
Expect to dine on Italian favourite entrees as arancini, calamari and traditional meatballs before tucking into a selection of pasta, risotto, meat, vegetarian or seafood dishes. And tiramisu is a hot number on the dessert menu.
Housed in what was a majestic bank is 89 Thai, a feature at the front door being the colourfully painted tuk-tuk, a familiar form of budget style three-wheel taxi commonly seen buzzing around the streets of the Thailand capital of Bangkok.
Here you can dine on your favourite, sometimes spicy Thai dishes from salads and soups to curries to stir-fries.
Plenty of food for thought the next time you visit Windsor.
11- Have A Pint In The Church Bar
Far from its original purpose as a church, Windsor’s The Church Bar in Kable Street is a magnet for pizza, schnitzel, and American-style pork rib lovers.
And the extensive list of main courses includes one which befits the location – a chicken dish described as the Holy Grail.
Apart from the dining menu, the bar prides itself on its range of beers, wines and cocktails and often hosts evening live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays.
The whitewashed building dates from 1869 and closed its doors to the last congregation a few years back.
Significantly, The Church Bar is a popular venue these days for family wedding receptions.
12- Step Back Into History At The Macquarie Arms
One of the most popular spots for pub nosh and a beer is the historic Macquarie Arms Hotel, a hive of activity on sunny weekends when local bands provide entertainment in the back garden.
This two-storey Georgian building with its eroded sandstone steps dates back to 1815 and is considered mainland Australia’s oldest hotel building, although this has been contested due to the fact that hotel has not had a continuous licence.
In summer, a good spot to dine on schnitzel or steak and chips and a schooner when the relieving north-easterly breeze is blowing is on the second-floor outdoor balcony overlooking Thompson Square.
In winter, the indoor open fires are particularly welcome.
According to the records from the pub, convicts found a way to entertain themselves by smuggling barrels of illegal rum from the Hawkesbury River into the quarters below through the “Rum Smugglers Tunnels”.
Two convict brothers – Richard and Fitzpatrick – were not so lucky in their pursuit of liquid gold when they blew themselves up from chemicals mixed wrongly, consequently dying in the cellar below street level.
Some locals say you can still find their spirits occupying the same cellar area today as the pair lived there.
Little wonder the cellar has been the finishing point for some ghost tours through Windsor.
For more information about the Hawkesbury, go here.