Skeleton Bridge Walk
Start - Off Railway Parade
Length - 5.9km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 97m
Time - 2 Hours
Signed - No but Occasional Marker
Date Hiked - 25th September 2020
Best Time - Autumn to Spring
Traditional Custodians - Kaniyang People
Directions - Located near Boyup Brook, from the centre of town head east along Donnybrook Boyup Brook Rd and turn left at Bridge St. Follow this down to Railway Parade and turn into the gravel area near the old Railway Station. The walk starts from there and heads east.
The Hike - With the Cape to Cape marking the first part of a four week South West road trip now completed, I settled down in Funbury for a few days spending time with my family. Part of this was to rest from the C2C but I also wanted some chill time where I wasn't hiking all the time, something that was about to happen a lot once I left. After taking my young nephew for a play day, Caris joined me for a couple of days and we had some family time doing a Funbury - Nannup - Bridgetown - Balingup loop and exploring Funbury. By the end of the week it was time to move on and my goal for the day was to drive from Funbury to Walpole, taking in a few trails along the way. This worked out perfectly for a hike I had marked down ever since I saw a single image of a wooden rail bridge covered in greenery.
Details about the trail that led there were sketchy and given how far Boyup Brook was from the main travel routes between Perth, Bunbury and the South West, it was always something I would do later down the line. With the planets aligning and it not being such a detour off my intended travel route, I decided to pencil in a visit and started getting serious about finding more information about the trail. The best source was the local Boyup Brook website that has been upgraded since I first started looking for this trail. With no map but a rough guess at where to go based off Google Maps, I set about driving out to Boyup Brook on a lovely spring morning. The countryside here was very picturesque with a mix of rolling hills, farmland and forest. Due to a brain fade my route was a bit different but it allowed me to relive some adventures as I passed along areas I had explored in the last couple of years including a ride on the Munda Biddi out of Donnybrook and an enjoyable trip on the Bibbulmun between Yabberup and Noggerup. Arriving at Boyup Brook in a good mood, I found the old railway station that is given as the start point and parked my car.
Not knowing what to expect apart from a lovely looking wooden bridge, I was impressed by the old railway station that had a certain romantic charm about it. It's a shame that the railway lines around the South West are mostly in disrepair as travelling through these areas on a tourist train would be plenty of fun. I found what looked like the Bicentennial Trail and joined it as it headed in an easterly direction towards the town's water supply and some old sheds. Being on the edge of a country town I knew the flowers I saw were not likely to be native and sure enough as I got closer they resembled escaped canola flowers. If I hadn't seen a walking symbol next to the water supply I would have doubted this was a trail that led anywhere but after passing the sheds, I arrived at one of a couple of water crossings. There was an issue here with danger tape over the bridge and no other way across the water but after a close examination of the bridge it looked like a few boards were missing and that was it so I made a decision to ignore the tape. On the other side was the remnants of an old railway bridge and a trail that forked off in two different directions.
The trail to the right looked more like a walking trail and with machinery sounds coming from the trail to the left, I picked right and kept going. The scenery was much nicer down this route with another water crossing (no danger tape on this bridge) but after checking my GPS I soon realised that I was meant to go left if I wanted a direct path to the bridge. I started to double back but then figured I could make my own loop through this nice section full of mature trees and blooming acacia. It would eventually lead me to a good looking public park called Music Park, so named because of the bandstand located in the middle where I'm guessing there are a few concerts played over the year. Boyup Brook does market itself as a country music town with the Harvey Dickson's Country Music Centre located just out of town. I followed the path through the park, saying hello to a local puppa on a walk with its owners and eventually found the banks of the Blackwood River. The town is built up on the hill above the river so unless you venture down this way, you might not know it was here. I was looking forward to exploring it a bit more but after crossing another little creek by the edge of the road leading towards the caravan park, it was obvious that the trail swung back north and followed the brook.
Based off an old sign I found, this is another of the heritage trails that were all the rage in the late 80s were you just had to slap the word bicentennial or heritage on something and you were given funding for a trail. Sadly most of these have fallen into disrepair and the one here looks to be no different. The trail still gets used by people and I followed it back to link up with the trail leading out to Skeleton Bridge. The paperbarks through here were really impressive and it would be a really nice trail if some rehabilitation work was done on both sides of the trail. From the edge of the creek leading all the way to Skeleton Bridge is a wide vehicle track taking you initially through a paddock, past the local rifle range and then on a better looking rail formation. You can see old sleepers still in the ground and as you get further away from town the scenery starts to look a bit nicer. With rolling farmland to your left and native vegetation lining the Blackwood River to your right, it makes the flat walking more bearable. Passing through one more gate I was pleased to see a walking symbol and then not far along, the bridge came into view.
The first thing you come across is a little gazebo that looks in good nick considering it feels like a pretty obscure spot to visit without obvious vehicle access. Inside there is an information board telling you about the bridge and it's history. Opened in 1912, the bridge was used for 70 years before it was closed along with the railway line. It crosses the Blackwood River and towers over the gentle upstream waters, although photos on the information board show it completely submerged during the 1982 floods that must have been devastating on this part of the South West. If you've ever walked along the Blackwood River at Nannup you would have seen the flood markers on a nearby tree and 1982 is almost twice the height of the next biggest flood level. My research has found that it was because of Tropical Cyclone Bruno that hit in January of 1982 and caused widespread flooding in the South West with Nannup being the worst hit. What a crazy time that would have been and it was an interesting thought to try and imagine the water levels as I had a look around the bridge. Access to the top of the bridge is closed thanks to a pretty sturdy fence but you can get up close to it and stick your camera lens in one of the gaps left by the metal links to get some semi-clear shots. Nature has somewhat taken over the top of the bridge with the green layer I was expecting mainly being wild lupins instead of native vegetation. Exploring the area under the bridge and next to the river reveals the true majesty of this structure.
Having never visited Long Gully Bridge of the Bibbulmun between Dookanelly and Possum Springs, this was my version of that experience given it is also a long, curved timber bridge. From down below you can see the damage to the top level has made it pretty dangerous if you were to walk along it and it's a real shame. A cycling rail trail running between Donnybrook and Arthur River would be a very cool way to explore this part of the state if money could be found to clean up the old rail formations and fix up these old bridges. I had a good look around here, snapping way too many photos and appreciating the cool patterns that the wooden cross beams made as the bridge gradually curved away. With a couple more trails to get in today and a long drive to Walpole ahead, I dragged myself away and headed back to the start. Walking the same trail for the most part made it easy to pick up the pace and someone must have heard I was coming as the paddock was hastily being mowed on my return leg (kidding, I'm not that important). The trail I didn't do on the way out turned out to be a nice continuation along the creek with lots of old paperbarks and eucalyptus trees providing some character to the finish. With plenty of places to eat in town I grabbed a snack for the journey ahead and pondered the experience I had just finished.
Final Thoughts – Finally getting out to Boyup Brook for this hike felt good after years of thinking about it. My expectations were low considering there was very little information about the trail and the satellite images didn't look special.
Trails starting near the centre of towns are always at a disadvantage because you inevitably get some messy parts near properties and the fact that over the decades, weeds and non-native species tend to take over the landscape.
This one was no different but the added history of the railway made it feel a little better and it wasn't long before you reached a water course. This really is a hike that is dominated by the destination and not the journey but Skeleton Bridge is good enough to be worth the visit just to see it.
As we saw with Long Gully Bridge, you never know when we are going to lose these structures to fire or the ravages of time so it's good to see them while we can. This probably isn't the route I would have taken a trail to Skeleton Bridge, instead I would have followed the Blackwood River from the Music Park on a purpose built path, maybe looping it back via the smaller creek.
Boyup Brook is a lovely little town with plenty of trail potential if there was some effort to revegetate the area along the water courses. There is a nice looking patch of small forest to the south west of town that as far as I'm aware doesn't have a trail. If that could be expanded upon then you could easily have two or three nice trails to attract hikers for the whole day.
Instead though I believe they want to cater to the grey nomad crowds with a big lookout in the centre of town.
Get out there and experience it!
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