The forecast temperature for Penrith in Sydney’s West is always a few degrees higher than in the rest of Sydney. Today is no exception – it is likely to reach 31o with an afternoon storm. Hopefully the forecast is wrong.
I have read about the Penrith Arcades in Vanessa Berry’s blog and book, Mirror Sydney. Today, I’ll discover these arcades for myself and then, take myself off to walk a section of The Great River Walk. Alighting from the train at Penrith Station, I make my way to The Red Cow Hotel contemplating the long day ahead.
Penrith’s Urban Centre
The Red Cow Hotel
At the Hotel, a young man avoids my camera by pulling his hoodie down to obscure his face. The Red Cow, with one of the longest continuous liquor licences in New South Wales, has changed considerably, but restoration work completed in 2006, re-established its cultural heritage. A cheerful young woman takes me upstairs to see historical photos which depict scenes from Penrith in the early 20th Century.
Pawn shops with names like “Captain Cash” and “Cash Converters” are highly visible. Discount stores abound. The Western end of High Street is a work site, barricaded off – like Sydney’s George Street.
The cheerful staff at the Friendly Choice Café certainly live up to the name of the café. My late breakfast of smashed avo and poached egg on sourdough is delicious and sets me up for the day.
Starting at Skiptons Arcade, I zig zag through the many arcades discovering numerous specialty and hobby shops. For knitters there’s “The Wool Inn”, cake decorators go to “One Stop Shop Cake Decorating”. Going to a fancy-dress party? You’ll find something suitable in the Cottage Lane arcade. “Memories” is a shop filled with old wares and there’s a sewing centre and a fabric shop with rolls of brightly coloured fabric leaning against the walls.
“Spice Collection” has set up shop in yet another arcade, filling the air with a rich aroma of spices. Looking for a book? Elizabeth Arcade Bookshop has you covered. There are beauticians and hairdressers (including one catering to Afro hair), tailors and masseurs and health-related services. Pre-loved clothing shops and op shops are plentiful.
Crossing High Street
Pedestrian crossings at regular intervals make it easy to walk back and forth across High Street from one arcade to another. The arcades, with names like Calokerinis, NK Centre and Parker Arcade, Broadwalk, Nepean, Commonwealth and Elizabeth Arcade, provide a pedestrian walkway between car parks and High Street.
More than once I wonder how people find these interesting specialty shops hidden away in one of many arcades.
Memory Mall is opposite Memory Park, where people relax on the grass in the shade of a tree. A man watches me photographing the war memorial and then reads a plaque. I enjoy it when my presence encourages others to look around and see things differently.
In “Pets Charming”’ four Cavalier King Charles Spaniels relax on a couch. The owner, Nicole, is happy for me to take a photo, but I’ll have to wait “as they are not dressed”. Nicole introduces me to Lady Darci, her daughter Dame Zahli, Princess Raven and Coco Chanel. The dogs are therapy dogs. They accompany vulnerable people (often children) when they give evidence via video link in court cases and they go to Accident and Emergency to help calm children.
St Aubyn’s Terrace
A woman stops to chat to me. We talk about St Aubyn’s Terrace, a row of terrace houses opposite the heritage listed St Stephen’s church. The woman tells me that when the terrace was being painted she told the painter that the building would look a million dollars after the facelift. He replied “I hope I get more than that”.
Thornton Hall, is in the final stages of a complex restoration. A childcare centre will make its home in the heritage building in early 2018.
A blue tongue lizard scuttles into long dry grass when I disturb him. Exercise equipment placed at intervals outside the white picket fence of a cricket pitch, sits dormant. New high-rise unit blocks are under construction while in the distance I can see the foothills of the Blue Mountains. A dual-purpose canal provides an attractive public feature while controlling storm water.
Museum of Fire
One of the many pleasures of my fortnightly walks is discovering new things. The Museum of Fire is one such discovery. I could spend hours here inspecting the large range of old and new gleaming red fire engines, learning about fire safety and firefighting from colonial days up to today. When my grandson is older I know he will love this museum.
Leaving urban Penrith, I walk towards the Nepean River descending a steep hill besides the Nepean Rowers Club. According to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the Victoria Bridge to my left has been a “vital component in the rail link between Sydney and the west of the State for forty years, and in the road link to the west for over 130 years”.
The Great River Walk
I am going to walk a section of The Great River Walk on the Penrith side of the Nepean River. The temperature hasn’t reached the expected 31o yet and there’s a nice cooling breeze. Water dragons, as still as statues watch me anxiously. One is startled and scuttles into the water.
Water birds are plentiful – there are pelicans, a heron, cormorants and of course various species of duck. There are also little wag tails, blue fairy wrens and the distinctive call of bell birds follows me along the track.
Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth
The Weir (once known as Emu Ford) is where Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth first crossed the Nepean River in search of a route west. Here, the air is still and the temperature rising. The area is prone to flooding and an indicator pole shows the level reached by the 1867 floods – way above my head.
Retracing my steps, I fill my water bottle at the Nepean Rowers Club. The icy water is refreshing and very welcome. Back at the Victoria Bridge, a sign warns walkers and cyclists to beware of snakes. I keep a close watch until I climb the steps to Nepean Avenue where the houses are big, mostly modern and priced at well over $1,000,000.
Mulberry trees line the path through Tench Reserve. Californian Redwoods honour those Australians who served in WW ll. A woman powers past me and comments that we may get wet. The clouds certainly look threatening.
Nepean Belle, the paddle wheeler, is coming in to dock after a lunch time cruise. While eating my late lunch at the nearby Coffee Club I consider taking an Uber back to Penrith city centre but in the end, decide to walk the three and a half kilometres. On the way I buy some honey from a roadside stall, and pass a paddock with a couple of horses.
Cables Wake Park
At Cables Wake Park I stop to watch how people are pulled along the water by cables on a pulley system. They must be on skis. Next, I pass the massive Penrith Panthers Complex. Besides the main building, there are fast food outlets, a hotel, an indoor sky diving facility and even a chauffeur driven golf cart to return guests to their car. Nearby, a sign points the way to the Museum of Printing.
A couple of blocks further along, is The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, located behind Westfield. Some really good productions were performed here this year with the most recent being the Wharf Revue, by The Sydney Theatre Company. Just because you live in Penrith doesn’t mean you are starved of good theatre.
Suggestions for when you come to Penrith
Today ended up being a long and hot day, but I step onto the train feeling that I know the Penrith so much better now. If you decide to explore Penrith for yourself, I suggest you choose between the Great River Walk and exploring the arcades and urban centre. Doing both in one day is just a bit too much.