The Convict Trail or Great North Road
The Convict Trail is the name for convict built Great North Road, the surrounding land and historic buildings.
The Great North Road is a 240 km convict built masterpiece constructed between 1826 an 1836 to provide an overland route from Sydney to Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. It was — and remains — an extraordinary feat of engineering as it traverses sandstone gorges, razorback ridges and towering passes. Much of the original convict built road remains in use today although a lot of the original surface is well buried under bitumen. Convict built remains such as stone retaining walls, pick dressed cuttings, culverts, bridges and stone cut drains can be seen when driving along the road or when walking in Dharug and Yengo National Parks.
From which ever direction you travel to Wollombi you are traveling on part of the Great North Road thus along the Convict Trail. The Convict Trail Project has produced a series of E-brochures to make your drive more enjoyable.
The village of Wollombi was established as the administrative centre for the district, built where the Great North Road split with one branch going north and the other east. One can step back in time when you visit this charming little village. When traveling from Sydney via Tourist Route 33 you join the Convict Trail at Bucketty at the intersection of the road from St Albans.
For those traveling through:
A few minutes north of the Bucketty intersection is Ramseys Leap. The 100 metre long dry stone wall up to 4.5 metres high supports, beneath the bitumen, the road that was built by hand across the saddle between 1830-2 and you are driving on it.
After you have traveled down the hill and across the valley floor past Fernances Crossing you climb another hill. Halfway up the hill in an abandoned loop on your left is a large stone culvert set in a curved retaining wall. Down and up again and you pass Murrays Run culvert, also on your left in an abandoned loop.
Next you come to Laguna here there is a church, a school, a community hall and the Laguna Wine bar and store that also sells petrol. An abandoned loop of the Great North Road runs in front of the Wine Bar.
There is another abandoned loop at Dairy Arm intersection. Next of interest on your left set on a hill is the elegant 1840’s Mulla Villa built for the local Magistrate Dunlop by convicts. Wollombi is now just a few minutes away.
Those interested in the Convict Trail:
Plan to spend a few minutes at the Bucketty precinct or perhaps enjoy a picnic in the bush surrounds. Only 1 hour north from the start of the F3 you are surrounded by bushland without a building in sight. At the Bucketty Precinct there is a large abandoned loop that contains a large culvert (reconstructed), the remains of a bridge (the gap filled with a large pipe), stone packed road surface, cut drains, rock platform road surface and a small box culvert. This site is suitable for people with impaired mobility. Disabled parking is adjacent to the large wooden gate.
For those with a sense of adventure who don’t mind driving on a dirt (gravel) road a 4 kilometre detour to Mt Manning is very rewarding.
On this now little used road surrounded by bushland with the cicadas singing or a light wind rustling the trees it is easy to imagine your self back in time. Examples can be seen of most of the elements of the whole historic road. They can be viewed from the car or visited in short, easy walks. The greater part of this road is little changed since the convicts built it in 1830 to 1832. There are also great views to Mt Yengo across the wilderness of the Yengo National Park.
The road is well maintained and at Mt Manning there is a generous turning area for vehicles. Composting toilets are available just a kilometre further on at the Mogo Camping area.
World Heritage Listing:
In July 2010 the Great North Road and ten other Australian sites with a significant association with convict transportation were inscribed as a group on the World Heritage List as the Australian Convict Sites. These sites present “the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts”.
For more information about the Great North Road and the Convict Trail visit the Convict Trail website.
Download the E-Brochures:
Mt Manning to Bucketty: This is the last remaining section of the Great North Road that is public road without a bitumen surface. This section is surrounded by bushland that is part of National Park and a water catchment area. When driving on this isolated section of gravel road it is possible to imagine what it was like when the road was built in the 1830s.
Bucketty to Broke and Cessnock through Wollombi: This self drive brochure outlines what can be seen when taking Tourist Route 33 to the Hunter vineyards. This route leaves the expressway at Calga and travels via Peats Ridge, Mangrove Mountain and Bucketty to the Wollombi Valley onto Wollombi where wine tourists make a choice to travel to Pokolbin via Cessnock or Broke either way passing some boutique vineyards with cellar doors.
Where to view the Convict Trail:
At the Bucketty Precinct there is a large abandoned loop that contains a large culvert (reconstructed), the remains of a bridge (the gap filled with a large pipe), stone packed road surface, cut drains, cut rock platform road surface and a small box culvert. This site is suitable for people with impaired mobility. This was the furthest south the Newcastle gangs came. This section was built 1830 – 31 probably by Road Party 29 who camped at the romantically named Dennis Dog Kennel.
Directions: At the intersection of George Downs Drive with road to St Albans. Disabled parking is adjacent to the large wooden gate.
Circuit Flat Bridge
Circuit Flat Bridge was most likely built in 1831-2 by Arnold Clares bridge party, after they had completed the bridges at Sampsons Pass and near Ten Mile Hollow. It comprises two stone abutments originally 14.6 metres in length, 8.5 m wide, up to 2.7 m high and with a span of 2.75 metres and is the most refined single span bridge on the Road. Considerable restoration work was done on the bridge in the 1990s. The bridge can be accessed via 4WD, and also forms part of a short walk. You can also read more about the bridge’s history and the resoration project on the Convict Trail Project web site.
Directions: Access via Mogo Creek Campground, 6.5km down Mogo Creek Road from Bucketty (off George Downes Drive, towards St Albans).
Fernances Crossing Stone Culvert
This large culvert and retaining walls was built in 1830-1 by Road Party 27, under the supervision of the convict overseer Michael Lane, who reported to the Assistant Surveyor Heneage Finch. This area near Mt Finch with a swamp, several creek crossing and steep climbs provided a major obstacle in the construction of the Great North Road up the Wollombi Valley. The semicircle carved in the lintel stone is decorative. This culvert and retaining walls carried the road till the late 1980s, some of the original crushed sandstone road paving remains.
Directions: Up the hill from Fernances Crossing about 7 kilometers north of the Bucketty intersection.
Murrays Run Culvert
Built between about 1831 by Road Party 27 – note the elaborate arch supporting the retaining wall above. This is the only known example of an arched culvert on the road.
Directions: About 2 kilometers north of Fernances Culvert.
Ramsays Leap Wall has carried European traffic continuously since 1830, still in use it remains a substantially intact section of convict built road work. The wall is approximately 100 metres long and up to 4.5 metres high. A square culvert set in the centre of the curve has a sill that throws the water onto a spillway below the wall
Directions: About 2.5 kilometers north of the Bucketty intersection. Do not stop, parking is dangerous.