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Saturday, 4 June 2016

NELLIES (NELLY’S) GLEN KATOOMBA



1909 Map of the Bonnie Doon track network
Both spellings have been used over the years, so I’ve used both in this Blog!
Located on the western side of Katoomba, Nelly’s Glen provides a way into the Megalong Valley from the plateau. It was no doubt used by indigenous people as one of their many routes up the barrier of sandstone which surrounds all the Blue Mountains valleys. When coal and kerosene shale mining became profitable enterprises (around 1870), the Glen provided one of the safest routes up to the railway and the western road. All this happened before the establishment of the township of Katoomba.
The expansion of mining under the leadership of John Britty North (1879/80) and the subsequent growth of Katoomba led to the Glen being visited by a growing number of visitors (tourists, we would say). The first reference in print to the name “Nellie’s Glen” that I have found is in a real estate advertisement for the sale of subdivided land owned by JB North, in the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 25th August 1883. The Glen appears to have been named for one of North’s daughters.
The growth of tourist numbers to Jenolan Caves led to the construction of a bridle track linking it with Katoomba. These were the days when horses were indispensable in moving people around. The Tarana and Mt Victoria routes were the most commonly used and it was becoming clear that the Mt Victoria route via Hartley and the present Jenolan Caves road was superior and that this would lead to more and more tourists using Mt Victoria as a base.
Nelly's Glen from Cahill's Lookout
A glance at any map will show that, as the crow flies, Katoomba is the closest mountain town to the Caves. However, the valley of Cox’s River lies in between, making it unlikely that a road for wheeled vehicles could be built to the Caves that way.
The entrepreneurial leaders of the Katoomba community saw that a bridle track, descending into the valley via Nelly’s Glen, could provide a way of drawing visitors to Katoomba. This was the origin of today’s “Six Foot Track”, which is now used by pedestrian traffic only.
Nelly's Glen from North's Lookout

A report and rough survey was commissioned by the NSW government in 1884. We are fortunate that Mr WM Cooper (described as “Surveyor of Public Parks”) wrote a report in 1885 titled “Track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves”. You can download a copy from Trove here. Cooper does not use the name Nelly’s Glen, referring only to “Megalong Cleft”, which I understand to mean the narrow gap in the cliffs where today’s steps lead down into the valley below. “Nelly’s Glen” includes the Cleft and the widening valley below it where Megalong Creek runs down to join Cox’s River, though where the Glen becomes Megalong Valley I can’t say.
From the Sydney Mail 4th October 1890
The track was quickly constructed and soon in use by those looking for an adventurous route to the Caves. The name “Six Foot Track” was given later because it was constructed wide enough for two horses to pass without requiring a rider to dismount. The illustrations shown here are of the section immediately below the cliff line, in the vicinity of Ethel Waterfall. Naturally most of the route was not constructed to this standard. The main descent down the Cleft was built as a zig zag to lessen the grade. Nearly all of this track was destroyed by the ravages of time and the misguided attempt by the Blue Mountains City Council to construct a fire road down the Glen in the 1960’s.
More recently, the entire Six Foot Track route was reconstructed and has become a very popular walking (and running) track. Where the zig zag track descended through Megalong Cleft there are now hundreds of well-made steps. If you are planning to visit the place, make sure it’s not at
Katoomba Leura Tourist Guide 1905
the same time as one of the running events which bring crowds of athletes pounding up and down the steps. To me, such activities are akin to staging a race through a public library or a cathedral. They have no place in what should be the peace and quiet of our National Parks and reserves.
More reading material: From Katoomba to Jenolan Caves The Six Foot Track, 1884-1984 by Jim Smith. You can try Megalong Books in Leura or Lamdha Books in Wentworth Falls for a copy.
Bush walking guides: WildWalks - Nelly's Glen Lookout (here), Nellies Glen and the Devil's Hole (here).
Tourist Sketch Map Showing Paths at Nelly’s Glen or Megalong Pass 1909 (here). If you look carefully you will see that there are 2 tracks shown into Megalong Cleft – the present route and another which appears to descend the cliffs from the Bonnie Doon track network (which has mostly been lost over the years).
My videos:Nelly's Glen Katoomba (here), Explorers Tree to Bonnie Doon (here), Bonnie Doon Track (here).

The top of the Megalong Cleft steps
Ethel Waterfall

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