Sunday, 9 January 2022. Today we drove to the small town of Woodend, which lies about 70 kilometres northwest of Melbourne in Victoria’s Central Highlands, just to the northwest of Mt Macedon. We intended to walk around the Woodend Racecourse Reserve. The reserve occupies the site of the former Woodend racecourse and comprises recreational zones and a large area of protected grassland. A pleasant walking trail, an extension of the Five Mile Creek walking trail, runs around the grassland reserve, partly following the course of the old racetrack.
Woodend was founded in 1851 on the banks of Five Mile Creek as ‘Woodend at Five Mile Creek’, a rest stop on the road between Melbourne and the gold diggings around Bendigo. A school and a number of churches were established by the end of the 1850s, and in 1861 the railway from Melbourne reached the town. The Woodend Race Club was founded in 1860, and over the course of the years attending the Woodend races became a popular pastime, with people travelling up from Melbourne for picnics. But by March 1982 the club was amalgamated with the Kyneton Race Club and the last race was run. Macedon Ranges Shire Council assumed management of the land in 1992.
After arriving in Woodend we bought cakes and a sausage roll from Bourkies Bakehouse on High St and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the extensive and pleasant Woodend Children’s Park, part of which lies alongside Five Mile Creek. After our picnic we set out to follow the Five Mile Creek walking trail, which we reached via a path between the children’s park and the adjacent bowls club, westwards to the Woodend Racecourse Reserve. The Five Mile Creek walking trail runs alongside the creek between the reserve and Romsey Rd, which delimits the northern extent of ‘old’ Woodend.
The Five Mile Creek walking trail led us under Woodend’s historic bluestone bridge, here looking a bit scrappy.
After passing under the bridge we came to the Woodend Visitor Information Centre. We had no need to call in so continued on our way.
The Woodend Swimming Pool, next on our left, was evidently open but not a single patron was to be seen. Curious, as the weather was certainly warm enough. The trail then took us past public tennis courts.
A little further along we spotted a broken Woodend & District Heritage Society Heritage Walk sign. This part of the Five Mile Creek walking trail also constitutes a section of the WDHS’s Heritage Walk, which leads from the old courthouse building on Forest St (where the society has its offices) to the bluestone bridge.
Soon we arrived at the northern end of Jeffreys St, where the Five Mile Creek walking trail nominally ends but in effect merges seamlessly into the Woodend Racecourse Reserve path.
Now our walk continued along the northern section of the Woodend Racecourse Reserve path proper, where the local Rotary Club have sponsored the installation of exercise stations.
It’s not really our thing but we did stop to try a couple of chin-ups.
Since entering the Woodend Racecourse Reserve we had been walking alongside a grassland reserve of regional significance. The Woodend Grassland Reserve consists of nine hectares (of the racecourse reserve’s total of twenty-six hectares) of native grassland, predominantly Kangaroo Grass, but also grassland herbs, lilies and orchids, according to the Macedon Ranges Shire Council publication Woodend Grassland Reserve Environmental Management Plan.
We continued in an anticlockwise direction south then east around the Woodend Racecourse Reserve and before long reached the recreational zone. At this point we left the reserve, instead to walk eastwards along Forest St, the reserve’s southern boundary.
From Forest St we saw that some of the racecourse infrastructure remains intact, including this curious structure. I think it may be the old photo-finish tower or perhaps race-caller’s tower. I don’t recall whether the racecourse’s grandstand is still extant. It was a few years ago.
Finally we left the racecourse reserve behind as we continued along Forest St towards the centre of town. En route we passed the old Masonic Lodge.
We passed the attractive rendered stone Uniting Church.
And we passed the old courthouse, as noted earlier occupied these days by the Woodend & District Heritage Society.
We reached High St, Woodend’s main shopping drag, and walked along it as far as the clocktower.
On the way back to the car we happened upon a crocheted Christmas tree, like a colourful, oversize pixie hat or a very tall tent.
We stopped briefly for afternoon tea and then set out for home. It had been a fabulous day out.