Mount Brown Walk Trail
Start - Avon Park Suspension Bridge
Length - 8km (Loop)
Rating - Orange
Dog Friendly - Yes
Terrain - 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 168m
Time - 2-3 hours
Signed - No
Date Hiked - 31st July 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - York is an hour and twenty minutes from Perth and the long version of this walk starts at the Avon River Suspension Bridge. From the centre of town take Glebe St and then Lowe St with plenty of parking along the river. The bridge is at the northern end of the park.
The Hike - After a fantastic hike at Mokine Nature Reserve in the morning, I drove to the sight of my second adventure for the day in the historic town of York. I had seen a few photos over the years from the Mount Brown Lookout so decided to add a visit here to see what was what. Finding out there was a longer walk trail you could take from town all the way to the summit was intriguing but the only information I could find was the brochure from the Shire of York website. Big on written notes but not containing even a small map, I was hoping the app that is mentioned had more information but sadly it's just a basic map of the town centre with historic sites to click on as you walk around. After a hearty lunch at the Flourmill Cafe (highly recommended), I went to the Visitor Centre to see if I could get more info on the walk but I was just handed the same brochure I downloaded online.
With no option but to decipher the somewhat confusing trail notes, I made my way to the park on the edge of the Avon River to begin the longer version of this walk from the suspension bridge. There is a shorter version where you park at the base of Mount Brown but I know of a certain person who always says that The Long Way's Better. I love a good suspension bridge and this one is a good example so with all my tracking apps on and camera ready I started the walk. A group of three guys were busy taking a million selfies in the middle of the bridge so I squeezed past after taking a few photos myself of the views looking up and down the river. Having the walk start near the middle of town gives you the chance to see a few more elements you wouldn't see by driving straight to Mount Brown and also sets up a connection between the trails and the main part of town. Passing the Holy Trinity Church on your left, this first stretch as you head up to the base of the hill is full of old world charm and exactly what you'd expect from a small country town. With Mount Brown framed in the distance, you continue along Pool St all the way to the end before taking a sharp left onto Herbert Rd and head past the dead centre of town (the cemetery). While this portion of the walk is not the best as you walk along empty blocks and past people's houses, it's nice to see the summit of Mount Brown from this point of view.
Turning right onto Steere Rd, this is the road leading all the way to the summit if you're driving but the walk trail takes you along the gravel 4x4 track to the left of the Mount Brown Reserve sign. Excited to get stuck into the nature part of the walk, I was expecting the trail to run almost parallel to the road and head up the hill that way but after re-reading the notes on the brochure and checking that against Google Maps, it was clear that you headed away from the summit along the base of the hill. The 4x4 track initially takes you through some scrappy looking undergrowth (can't name the tree but maybe in the Casurina family) before the views to the north start to open up. The big feature as I drove into York was seeing Mount Bakewell and after initially thinking this was Mount Brown (I quickly realised it wasn't), I soon wondered if there were any trails leading up there. Sadly there is not but the Shire of York commissioned a Trails Survey recently that suggests that it could be used as a location in the future. From this part of the trail Mount Bakewell is the main feature off in the distance, along with the farmland to the east. The farmland views are pretty idyllic this time of year so I can see why the trail comes this way instead of a more direct route.
Once you reach the paved road you do a U-Turn and start heading up the hill on another 4x4 track. Normally walks close to town have an element of the landscape being corrupted by other land use so I was hoping that as I climbed, a more natural looking setting would ensue. Apart from a small clumping of sundews in the grass (a little off track too), it was becoming clear that the majority of this trail would be covered in introduced grasses with little to no wildflowers to speak of. I tried to capture what I could in the monotonous landscape with a few fungi attaching themselves to nearby trees but overall I wasn't super impressed with what I was seeing. Reaching Pioneer Drive, I was hopeful things would get better as the brochure mentioned native yams and the introduction of York Gums. Between here and the lower car park for the Mount Brown lookout, it was more of the same but seeing the car park brought a smile to my face knowing the best bit was up ahead. Being a Friday afternoon, there was not a car is sight so after admiring a few of the York Gums that grow here, I headed up to the stairs that lead up to the lookout. Even at the base of the steps you can see across to town and as you climb those views only get better. Unfortunately the clouds had decided to roll over at this point so the photos looking back to town were a bit bleak. There were a couple of girls at the lookout so I walked slowly up the stairs so they didn't feel rushed taking photos.
I had plenty of photos to take myself of the town below with the Avon River splitting it down the middle and also across to Mount Bakewell. There are plaques and information boards around here for both the colonial history and the dreamtime stories. I was more interested in the dreamtime stories and this one about Wongborel (Mount Brown) and Walwaling (Mount Bakewell) is a really interesting read that I encourage you to spend time with if you visit. With a free lookout I admired the wheel plaque showing you the various points of interest and the distances to them. With clearer skies to the east, the farmland was looking pretty as a background to the rocks set upon the summit. It's a nice place to be up here and I took my time to enjoy the views. Wanting to get back to town and have a look around some of the shops before they closed, I was aware that the loop trail back wasn't well written in the brochure. This was confirmed when I tried to located the fire break they mention at the main carp park below the summit. Near this point there are a number of goat tracks used by mountain bikers but no clear fire break that the brochure mentions as an alternative to the road. After having a good look around I walked down the road and found a goat track on the right that eventually looped around to a well formed fire break under the rock formations that are mentioned.
I did explore the rocks at my own risk as it suggests and they were something different to see given much of this trail is pretty same-same. There are some gnarly York Gums in this location so I took the opportunity to get up close and admire them while exploring the rocks. Spotting a 28 parrot I was happy the new camera could photograph it without having to stop and change lens like what happened at Mokine. Back on the 4x4 track I wasn't looking forward to this bit as it sounded a bit convoluted with many mentions of forks and multiple tracks but in reality you just keep turning left and you'll be fine. It was more of the same with introduced grasses and much the same trees lining the trail with no signs of anything else. I thought that the kangaroos must love this area with an abundance of food but I didn't see one all afternoon. I did see a Red-Breasted Robin lurking on one of the branches of a tree and the splash of colour was a welcome sight. Evidence of previous land use can be seen as you descend down a little hill with an old rusted out diff/axle and several tyres dotting the track. This was the site of many early motorsport events in York, a town with a heritage of cars and bikes (see the York Motor Museum if you're interested). With an easy path back to the base of the hill (you basically run parallel to the road), I was happy that the sun was starting to make an appearance again. An open section of grassland with an interesting York Gum growing at a weird angle was a fresher sight compared to the gnarled limbs that lurked either side of the trail in the previous section.
Descending down the steepest hill of the track, you are facing Mount Bakewell and it's a cool presence through the treeline. Reaching the Mount Brown Reserve sign once again, I decided that I would take a different way back into town to see a bit more. Continuing straight along Steere Rd and following this all the way as it becomes Lincoln St and then Newcastle St, this was definitely a good choice as it was something different and the views looking out over the empty blocks back to Mount Brown were enjoyable. The goal was to cross the river before the suspension bridge and follow the river back to the start but the road on Google Maps that crossed the river (Ford St) turned out to not exist. I'm thinking there used to be a bridge there but there was no access from Newcastle St so that turned out to be a bummer. Nevertheless, there were some cool old buildings along here with some nice gardens and soon I was back at the suspension bridge. With no one around I took my time here photographing up and down the river in better light (at least looking south towards the traffic bridge). With the walk over I explored the river a little more and then headed into town for a wander around the shops. I wish I had more time in York to walk around but I'm sure I'll be back in the future (perhaps when the Trails Strategy has developed into more trails).
Final Thoughts – I don't often say this and I'm not being completely facetious when I say that it wouldn't be a bad thing if Mount Brown was burnt to the ground and they started over.
In reality this would never happen but it would be nice to see patches burnt and then rehabilitated properly with what used to exist in the area instead of the smothering blankets of grass. It would take a monumental effort to redo the whole hill but it would make a huge difference to the natural landscape and give the area a real boost.
Because of the dull walking along Herbert Rd and most of the 4x4 tracks on the hill, I can't really say thing is a walk I would recommend in its entirety. The Mount Brown Lookout is fantastic and should be a must visit for anyone heading to York and the river/town area was also lovely but the rest felt like a trail for trails sake.
Maybe if the Jam Trees were flowering (they are a type of Acacia with bright yellow flowers) I might feel a bit different about the 4x4 trails but without that, the trail is underwhelming for the most part.
The Trails Strategy that was prepared for the Shire of York looks great and I hope the area gets some investment in the next 5-10 years as there is a lot of potential here, provided they can sort out the access to private land issue around the river.
My final advice would be to visit York, it's a great town with cool historic vibe but reduce this walk to starting at the Mount Brown Reserve sign or a loop around the lookout.
Get out there and experience it!
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