Cycling the backroads to St Albans
This cycle ride is a hidden gem - and is best tackled midweek and we recommend doing it on a cooler day. The ride is 42km long circuit and involves riding along fairly narrow, shared roads. One way is dirt and the other way is sealed. We recommend this to people who have cycled before - it's not one that is suitable for the kids or cyclists who aren't confident.
Don't be put off by the description above - this ride has some challenges but is delightful. There are river views, farm animals on the side of the road as well as rural vistas and a chunk of history to absorb. It's hard to believe you are so close to Sydney. As the ride follows the MacDonald Valley there aren't many hills to contend with.
We recommend starting your ride at the historic village of Wisemans Ferry. Stock up on supplies and water for your ride as you won't pass any shops enroute. You'll be crossing the Hawkesbury River using the main Wisemans Ferry, turning left on the other side and then heading west then north along Settlers Road. The ferries are free to use and there is a special spot that takes pedestrians and cyclists - the ferrymaster will give you instructions on approach. The 10 minute journey across makes this cycle special - where else do you start and finish with a ferry ride!
After passing a number of weekenders the road eventually becomes dirt but is sealed closer to St Albans. For the history buffs stopping to stretch your legs at the MacDonald River General Cemetery provides an insight into the early life of the settlers in this valley. Another 20 minutes on the tiny hamlet of St Albans will be reached. The Settlers Arms was built in 1836 and was originally a stagecoach stopping point for people travelling between Sydney and the Hunter Valley. The return ride to Wisemans is all sealed and involves cycling down St Albans Road to Webbs Creek Ferry. Cross the river using this ferry to get back to Wisemans. This road can get busy on the weekends so if you can do it midweek it's more pleasant.
Let's get to the Point
Duration : allow 4 hours for an average cyclist (plus breaks)
Length of ride: 42km return
1. Park your car in Wisemans Ferry Park which is adjacent to the ferry crossing.
2. Get on the ferry and take the 10 minute trip across. Leaving the ferry immediately turn left onto Settlers Road. After 1.5km you'll see the signposted Devines Hill/Great North Road entrance on your right. If you want to learn more about this convict constructed road then a short walk up the hill is worthwhile. You can't ride your bike on the road so leave it locked up at the gate.
3.Follow Settlers Road initially going along the Hawkesbury and then the MacDonald River. The riding gradient is gentle.
4.Pass more weekenders and shacks - the occasional farm will also be passed. The steepness of the ridges above the road will impress you.
5.Eventually the sealed road becomes dirt - the dirt road can be corrugated so take your time through this section.
6.The dirt section is about 6km long and you'll be happy to see the bitumen again. Glimpses of the MacDonald River and the white sand banks keep you company as you head north. Make a point to stop at the shady MacDonald River Cemetery - the solid wooden fence surrounding the cemetery can't be missed. There is an information board and bench seat through the gate.
7. Continue on the road which veers away from the river - passing fields and rural properties. The sandstone cliffs of the valley tower above.
8. Arriving at the tiny village of St Albans you'll take a left turn passing the Settlers Arms Inn. This is good spot to stop for a drink and a break. There are toilets in the park opposite the Inn. You'll see a road sign near the fire shed pointing to Wisemans Ferry via St Albans Road. This is the start of your 21km return journey. St Albans also hosts the popular Convict 100 Mountain Bike Event in May each year .
9. Follow the road - initially it crosses the MacDonald River on the bridge. After the bridge turn left following the sealed road south. The upside is that this road is all sealed however it can be a bit busier and is more undulating than the way you came.
10. Halfway a long keep an eye out for the restored St Josephs Church on a hill on the right - which is now a private BnB. The church was originally a gothic styled Catholic church to serve the local settlers. The foundation stone was laid in 1839.
11. You'll finally approach the Webbs Creek Ferry signally the end of your ride. This ferry crosses the Hawkesbury River taking you back to Wisemans Ferry. Once off the ferry turn left going up to the village. Turn left passing historic Wisemans Inn to return to your car.
Want to do more great rides in the Hawkesbury?
Best Cycle Rides Around the Hawkesbury (RRP$6) is a handy booklet available from the Hawkesbury Visitor Information Centre, 328 Hawkesbury Valley Way, Richmond (Ph.4560 4620). It details 12 rides in the Hawkesbury area that celebrate the diversity of cycling in this area. Get your copy today!
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