Take time to mosey around Morpeth

Impressive: The view from Common Grounds and the historic wooden bridge across the Hunter.
Impressive: The view from Common Grounds and the historic wooden bridge across the Hunter.

Yes, the name is a very familiar one in baking circles. Indeed, Stephen Arnott, who runs a prominent bakery with his wife Allison in the historic NSW Hunter Valley town of Morpeth, is the great-great-great grandson of William Arnott who founded an Australian baking dynasty in the 1860s.

William's original bakehouse is very near Stephen's Morpeth Bakery (148 Swan St, phone 02 4934 5666) which was closed for renovations when I visited the town recently.

My loss is probably greater than his and Allison's, for they have become two of Australia's foremost experts in the art of baking sourdough and supply a regular band of consumers, both directly and through some of the country's top restaurants.

What the pair don't know about sourdough probably isn't worth knowing and they've certainly become integral fixtures on Morpeth's main street.

Morpeth Museum: a good place to start a walking tour of the town centre.

Morpeth Museum: a good place to start a walking tour of the town centre.

Morpeth is an old Hunter River port that in the 1800s rivalled Sydney Harbour in terms of the volume of traffic docking at its Queens Wharf. In short, it became an important hub in the colony's trading network.

These days the town's importance as a river port has given way to tourism, and it is worth including in most Hunter itineraries.

Morpeth is also an important dormitory suburb for the much larger Maitland to which it has become virtually conjoined.

A good place to start a walking tour of the town centre is the Morpeth Museum (123 Swan St, phone 02 4934 4301, visit www.maitland.nsw.gov.au), which is housed in the town's 1860s Greek-revival-style courthouse.

It's in quite a grand building that features displays arranged by rooms, including, of course, one dedicated to Arnotts. But having just journeyed Sydney-Melbourne by vintage train I found the historic rail display especially relevant and interesting.

Also in the main street is Campbell's Store (175 Swan St, phone 02 4933 1407 visit www.campbellsstoremorpeth.com.au), located in a two-storey brick building constructed in 1835 by merchant James Campbell, who attracted much of the passing river trade - and just about anyone else venturing to Morpeth - to his door.

These days its most obvious tenant is the Morpeth Antique Centre, though generally it's a pretty arty-oriented place, which also houses a ginger-beer factory and Guil the Bearded Woodworker.

Cuisine: A thoroughly enjoyed lunch at Common Grounds: rings of squid and delicious, crisp salad.

Cuisine: A thoroughly enjoyed lunch at Common Grounds: rings of squid and delicious, crisp salad.

But enough of Swan St is devoted to food and drink to keep most palates satisfied - and well fed and watered - so visitors certainly need not worry if meal time is approaching.

I found plenty to sustain me at a local craft brewery and even more so at Common Grounds (142 Swan St, phone 0499 342 002), where I thoroughly enjoyed lunch - including rings of squid and delicious, crisp salad - before hopping in a cab and heading back to Maitland.

The café has a gorgeous spot overlooking the Hunter River and a fabulous vine next door - blossoming when I visited with the most outrageous orange flowers. How could anyone think of removing it to show off a rusty tin shed?

I also found plenty of 'common ground' when I met the owner, Nadine Monaghan. She's originally from Forbes in the Central West of NSW; I live in Molong, also in the Central West.

We found a good deal to chat about, including, of course, why she'd chosen Morpeth to open a business in.

"That's easy," she replied. "It has city advantages, but it's also like being home."

Yes, I found it a bit that way, too.

Oh, and don't forget to stop and look at Morpeth's historic road bridge over the Hunter. I'm sure that it didn't always carry just local traffic.

  • Disclosure: John Rozentals was a guest of Destination NSW.
  • For general information about Morpeth visit www.maitland.nsw.gov.au.
  • For general information about NSW visit www.visitnsw.com.