Not the best day! Apart from noisy youngsters to disturb us, we found that there was a power cut in the night, with more people chatting – presumably Walmart employees who had come outside.
We now left Hanover and headed east, past York to Lancaster! This is a town where a lot of Amish people live. We headed for the centre of town where a farmers market was being held today. We first found the visitors centre, where we could park outside, but had to resort to meter parking to visit the market. As we stepped out of the Bam, a chap in a bright yellow T-shirt, and looking a bit like Tony, got into conversation with us. He liked our idea of touring around, and was very fond of Mexico, where he would like to set up a tourist business. He walked round to the market with us, then we said our goodbyes and went in to explore it.
There was a nice selection of fresh goods, and the stall holders all seemed very pleasant.
Now it was time to head into the ‘Dutch Country’, as it is called, although the early settlers were German/Swiss rather than Dutch. The Amish, a sect of the Anabaptist, came here after being persecuted for their religious beliefs in the 16th Century. The people apparently still live simple lives, with no mechanisation. They use pony and trap and scooters, but no bicycles, and all dress in a simple way. We passed many of the carriages along the road, but were very disappointed when we stopped to visit the so-called craft shops. We were not impressed with the goods, and everything seemed very touristy. We drove through the small town of Bird in Hand, and stopped at the town with the unbelievable name of Intercourse! Of course the T-shirt makers had made the most of the name!
Covered bridge in the Dutch country
We took smaller roads to the town of Paradise, then began heading towards Philadelphia.
The road we were on was really busy, with numerous signs saying not only ‘Buckle Up’ etc, but also ‘Be aware of aggressive drivers’! We tried turning off to a smaller road, but immediately came to a bridge which was too low for us.
We continued on our trail, looking for somewhere to stop for the night, when eventually, at Avondale, Adrian pulled in to reassess things. We were by a garage, with a spare bit of land behind it, so that was it – the chap said that he didn’t mind, so that’s where we stopped.
Wednesday 24th August 76 miles
We left at 9.30 and continued into Delaware, to the outskirts of Wilmington. Adrian was still hoping to buy his computer (as there was no sales tax in Delaware.)
The first place we arrived at didn’t have the computer, so we navigated to another store in Christiana, and this time they did have one.
We now drove north, stopping at Greenville, where I had spotted a Post Office, and was at last able to buy some stamps to send postcards home (but they had no stamps for Canada!)
We now headed for the gardens at Longwood. These were sheer delight. They had been started by the Peirce family (friends of William Penn) in the 1700s, and more recently renovated and extended by Pierre du Pont (of Nylon fame) in the early 1900s.
Words cannot describe the beauty, it was just perfect!
The annual flower beds were beautifully colour co-ordinated; there were wonderful fountains which were installed in the 1920s; amazing trees everywhere; a delightful house with amazing conservatory; glasshouses that took your breath away – ferns, orchids, epiphytes, insectivores.
The outside water lily area was out of this world. Even the gift shop was exquisite.
We spent the whole afternoon there, so sadly the Brandywine battlefield site we had wanted to visit was closed when we drove past it just afterwards.
We headed into Philadelphia, wanting to get to the area called Chester, where there was a Walmart. We could see that Chester had once been very attractive, but it was now really run down. When we finally located Walmart at 6.30, we found to our horror that there was no overnight parking. Adrian went in to enquire, and was told that the police didn’t allow anyone to park ‘on the streets’ overnight.
We were now pretty stuck, but decided to try another Walmart a bit further out. In trying to find our way there on the complicated road system, we took a wrong turn, going east not west, and found ourselves crossing the wide Delaware River on a huge bridge into New Jersey!
Now what to do! To make it worse, it was a toll bridge – payable on the return journey! We continued for a way, and then turned off to ‘Old Ferry road’, which we had spied from the road we were on. We found a little spot which we thought would do us. It was now 7 o’clock. We hadn’t been there long, and I had just got supper ready, when a police car pulled up. The policeman (black), said that it was very dark here. We said that we were OK to stay, and he said that they would check up on us every so often during the night!
Thursday 25th August 61 miles
Despite not sleeping too well (the policeman had got me worried), we were up early and left soon after 8 o’clock for Philadelphia.
We headed north on very bumpy roads until we crossed on the Walt Whitman bridge across the Delaware River. This cost us an amazing $9, whereas a car was only $3.
We continued into the town, following our noses, and were able to find a parking area for $8. They quibbled a bit about the size of our vehicle, but we assured them that we could fit into a parking space.
We set off for a really good day in Philadelphia, enjoying the perfect weather. We started (of course) in the vast modern visitor’s centre, where we were able to get tickets for the 10.30 tour of Independence Hall, where the declaration of independence was signed. All the historic buildings, and this tour, were free, although there were plenty of things you could have spent your money on – tours and trips etc, but we didn’t.
Of course the history isn’t as important to us as it is to Americans, but as all this early history was about America’s break with Britain, it did have its relevance.
The Liberty bell Statue of Washington outside the Independence building
We first saw the Liberty bell – much smaller than I had imagined, and then had our tour of the independence building. Our guide had a booming voice, with plenty of facts, but little charisma. Strangely, we had him again for a tour of the adjacent Congress Hall. We wandered around more of the historic buildings. Many guides were in period costume, but what really took my fancy was a blind lady playing a glass instrument called an armonica, rather like a crenulated glass cylinder, and with a lovely sound. She said that because she was blind, she had the ‘feather touch’ necessary to play it. It seems that it was invented by Benjamin Franklin, one of the many famous people associated with this city.
We also saw a man playing a hammer dulcimer, and chatted to a lady making lace, who turned out to be Scottish, although she had lived here many years.
We bought salad for lunch, and ate it on one of the park benches behind the congress buildings, before wandering about some more, including lovely Elreph’s Alley, a narrow road of delightful old houses. We did feel though that Philadelphia hasn’t made the most of its historic past, and has knocked down far too much of the old centre, and replaced it with ill fitting modern development.
‘Penn’s Landing’ is just the name given to the recreation area beside the Delaware River.
We made our way back to the Bam, and boldly set off to drive through Philadelphia. It wasn’t too bad driving through the old part, and it did give us a chance to see something of the rest of this vast city, but traffic was building up, and with road signs often not being clear, we had quite a lot of trouble!
We found ourselves inadvertently crossing the Schuylkill River, on the western side of Philadelphia, and managed to cross back, but after that we got in a real ‘pickle’, driving on roads with much fast moving traffic, and lanes too narrow for us. All told, a bit of a nightmare. When we finally did get on to the motorway north, the traffic was often at a standstill. We hadn’t been able to enjoy the lovely scenery of this part.
But – we weathered the storm, and finally got to Norristown, a northern suburb, at 6.15, and pulled into Walmart. Our hearts sank at first, as we thought that there were signs saying no overnight camping, but all was well.
Friday 26th August 41 miles
We were very near the village of Audubon. There was a small museum here in the former house of the naturalist/artist of that name, who we had got interested in when we were in Florida earlier this year. There were also trails through woodland, so we walked off through the woods, above the river. The museum concentrated on Audubon’s paintings of wildlife, but I would have liked more about his actual life.
Now it was time to head for Valley Forge National Historic site. This is where Washington stayed with his army during the cold winter of 1777-8, while fighting the British in the Revolutionary War. As usual, there was the OTT Visitors Centre, with masses of information, much of which we found interesting, even if we were looking at it from the ‘other side’.
We now drove around the ‘circuit’, which seemed to be a popular route for walkers/cyclists. While not enthusing at the intricacies of camp strategies here, we did stop to look at the house which Washington used as his headquarters during this time, and to go into the strange Washington memorial chapel with its deep blue and red stained glass windows.
Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge
We now drove on past Phoenixville, and eventually found French Creek State Park. Like so many of these parks, it is immense, and you drive for miles before getting anywhere. When we reached the campsite, it was the usual lengthy procedure to book in (Why don’t they just say yes?)
We enjoyed a fire, and didn’t come in until late.
Saturday 27th August Happy Birthday Paul! 18 miles
Although it was warm, rain threatened once or twice, and it rained quite hard as we left.
We drove through the park to Hopewell Furnace, a National Heritage site. There had been an iron furnace here from 1771 to 1883. We had intended just stopping here long enough to have lunch, but in fact stayed for the whole of the afternoon, and didn’t leave until gone 4.30.
The sun came out while we picnicked under trees in the apple orchard, but as we entered the visitors centre, it rained hard for a while. We were shown a short film of the history of the furnace before setting out to walk the trail around the buildings. We stopped by the actual furnace, where 2 chaps, calling themselves George and Henry, were making an iron cast, while talking about life as a founder, acting the part as if they were living in the 1820s (the time that the museum was portraying) and comparing it with life now.
‘Henry and George’ casting
It was both entertaining and educational, and it was great fun. Also by the iron master’s mansion, a woman acted the part of the housekeeper of the time. It was all really well done. We wandered around the ‘village’, peering into various buildings and enjoying the atmosphere. We even wandered down to Hopewell Lake, which we hadn’t visited from the campsite. All told, a really enjoyable visit.
Adrian nearly home!
We talked about our onward route, which initially was just leading us towards Reading, so we drove a few miles to the outskirts of the town stopping at a place called Seyfert. There was parking here for the walking/cycling path by the Shuylkill River, called the Thun Trail at this point. We had a little walk along it, passing some strange conglomerate rock.
Sunday 28th August 103 miles
It rained all night, and the morning hung grey and damp. We were awake early, as Adrian got cramp in his leg, which resulted in it being difficult for him to walk easily today. Consequently I walked along the trail after breakfast on my own, enjoying the fresh, damp smell.
We drove down into Reading – a large town, which had been important for textiles in the past. It had some nice buildings, but now looks rather unloved.
I posted the cards outside Reading library.
In trying to find our way out of the town (the road we needed was Walnut, of course), we inadvertently turned into a badly signed one way street. A woman in an approaching car kindly stopped just after to help us on our way.
As we drove on past the airport, we passed a group of people standing in a big circle, all playing saxophones and large horns, in the rain! It made us think of the man we had heard playing the ‘Last Post’ at one of the memorials on the Gettysburg battlefield.
We had lunch overlooking Blue Marsh Lake, while the drizzle still fell, but the visibility got clearer. It got much brighter as the afternoon wore on, and became really hot and humid.
We were driving North West now, which meant that we were continually crossing the mountain ridges, which run SW to NE. The countryside was really pretty, often through forest, but sometimes through agricultural land, with sweetcorn, cabbages and fruit trees. We passed several suitable stopping places, but thought that it was a bit early. By the time we wanted to stop, we had difficulty in finding anywhere. One whole area was taken over by dirt bikes, and then everywhere we drove through was more inhabited.
We had driven through an attractive town called Pine Grove, and now reached Sunbury, a large town with nice houses situated where the East and West branches of the Susquehanna River join.
We now followed the west branch, and just as we reached Watsontown, at 5 o’clock, we found what looked like a ‘fishermen’s parking area’ beside the river, so pulled in.
By the Susquehanna River at Watsontown
We ate inside, but went down by the river with the last of our wine. It was lovely until it got dark, and the mozzies got us, so we made a speedy retreat!
Monday 29th August 92 miles
The morning was very misty, and a dull, grey day followed. We left at about 9 o’clock and drove on through attractive Watsontown, taking a scenic route, partly in cloud to Williamsport.
We had come to Williamsport as we needed to find an RV place to fix a leak on our propane gas. We managed (with the aid of yellow pages on the computer), to find one. Luckily a man was able to fix it right away. We got the propane tank filled, then left the large sprawling town of Williamsport, without being able to find out anything of its history – the large number of old buildings showed that it was once an important place [found out later that it was an important logging town].
We drove through vast areas of forest, but the drear day didn’t show them at their best.
We were disconcerted to find that the route we had planned turned out to have a section of unpaved road, but it was all downhill, and not too bad, and we were delighted to find that the latter part of the road was paved.
We arrived at Slate Run, and found a parking area beside the river. Light rain now began to fall and later it rained really heavily.
Tuesday 30th August 71 miles
Rain continued all night, often heavy. It was still raining in the morning, so we felt no desire to rush off. We didn’t leave until 10 o’clock. The cloud lifted a bit, but the day remained really damp and grey, with more outbreaks of rain. The scenery was beautiful, being mountainous and forested. The leaves of the young rhus plants were already changing colour. We had just passed a sign saying ‘falling rocks’, when we came across a huge one in the middle of the road. There were smaller rocks strewn across the road as we drove along, and later we heard a large tree fall when we were walking.
We pulled into a parking area for the West Rim Trail. There was a newly made cycle/walking trail along the course of the former railway here – it looked fun for a nice day.
We drove into Wellsboro, an attractive town, with gas lamps along all the roads. We continued to the Leonard Harrison State Park, on the eastern rim of Pine Creek, known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Despite the dampness, we enjoyed the lovely views down to the river at the bottom of the forested canyon. The area had been completely deforested by logging in the past, but is now one mass of green, and is apparently beautiful in the autumn.
Pine Creek Canyon – the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
We set off on a fairly short but steep and uneven trail above the gorge. On our 8 mile drive back to the main road we stopped to buy sweet corn and a marrow from a roadside stall.
At Ansonia, we pulled in to view the river, and a ranger followed us in so that he could give us leaflets of the local area. He chatted to us for some time, oblivious of the steady rain which was falling! By the river we saw a humming bird feeding from the flowers.
We drove on to Colton Point, on the opposite side of the gorge, where again we enjoyed the lovely views down to the river, in the rain. We could have camped here, but didn’t see much point, as it was too wet for a campfire.
At 5 o’clock we pulled onto a large rough area between Gaines and Galeton. It continued to rain all evening.
Wednesday 31st August 176 miles
How much more rain? It rained all night, often torrentially, and was still raining in the morning. We continued driving westwards along Route 6, wishing that we could enjoy the mountain scenery more. We pulled into the Lumber Museum, but didn’t go in, as most of it was outside, and so it wasn’t the day for visiting!
We drove through the pleasant town of Coudersport. We had noticed the escalating price of petrol (even more than usual), but knew that we had to get some more, as we now intended taking a road through Allegheny National Forest, so pulled into a petrol station at Kane.
We had to wait a while, and the chap before us said that this was the cheapest petrol around, so was busy. We thought no more about it, until we heard more conversations about ‘the storm’. We thought that we ought to log in and see the news, on the internet, and amazingly we had a connection here. It was then that we found out about Hurricane Katrina, which has just devastated New Orleans. We now knew the reason for this excessive rain, and counted ourselves lucky.
Prior to this, Adrian had gone into the adjacent booze shop to buy beer, and found that you could only buy beer in lots of 24 in Philadelphia, except in a bar! Lucky that it hasn’t been beer weather!
We headed off into the forest, driving on to Warren. We now had to decide on our route, and having read in Lonely Planet that there were Amish living around Jamestown, to the north of us in New York State, we headed there.
We tried taking small roads, but this just got us stuck behind a school bus, unloading children at each and every gateway, and so was annoyingly slow. We still feel that this thing of all vehicles stopping for a school bus is really bad. The children get off the bus, and just tear into their houses, without looking out for traffic at all. What training is that?
We saw no evidence of the Amish at all, just the ‘horse and carriage’ signs, much later. We were using the GPS system to find our way, and headed around Lake Chautauqua, but it was too busy and inhabited for us to find anywhere to stop for the night. We saw that there was a Walmart not far away, and were making our way there, when at Brocton we saw a sign to Lake Erie State Park. We decided to make for that, as the weather had become slightly brighter, and the rain had stopped.
We found a position above the lake – it was now 5.45. We walked across to view Lake Erie, reminding us of the Great Slave Lake, as it looks like the sea. The wind had got up, so it didn’t look very inviting, and there were several dead fish on the shore – not very nice.
When we looked out at bedtime, the sky was clear, and full of stars.
Thursday 1st September 55 miles
Lovely to wake up to blue sky! We had a pleasant walk around through the trees, hearing loud frogs, and ending up by the beach area, which had been cleaned since last night. It looked as though they were taking away the swimming ropes for the end of the season. Adrian unfortunately got stung by a wasp.
We left the park now, and stopped a bit further along at a place called Dunkirk. There was another nice beach park here, and we thought how lovely it would be to sit outside at a picnic table for lunch, overlooking the lake. We coped with the wind (the day had become very warm and sunny), but not with the hordes of wasps which attacked us, especially after Adrian’s earlier experience, which he was still recovering from! We had to flee to the Bam to finish lunch, but did have a short walk on the beach afterwards, where again there were lots of dead fish.
As we drove on northwards, we saw lots of vines growing beside the road, as we had done yesterday.
We had a really pleasant laze on a sandy beach (called Lake Erie Beach – capacity 499 people, according to a sign!)
Lake Erie beach
We had enjoyed nice views of the deep blue lake and paler blue sky through the trees, but it was too busy to find anywhere to stop for the night, so we ended up heading into Walmart in a suburb of Buffalo called Hamburg. We had a lot of trouble in locating it, as it was marked in the wrong place on the map.
Friday 2nd September 69 miles
A wonderful day spent at Niagara Falls!
We awoke to a blue sky and Adrian went across to get some money (then we remembered that we going into Canada!)
We found our way towards Niagara Falls – there are 2 towns named this, one on the American side and one on the Canadian. We needed to find out information on the falls, but found that all the so-called Tourist Information or Visitors centres were just trying to sell tours. We decided to head in and try our luck on our own!
The outer part of Niagara Falls (U.S.) was unattractive and run down. We were amazed as we approached the actual falls at how low key and undeveloped it was. We were able to park beside the road (free – 2 hours). This gave us a chance to walk around and suss things out. In fact we did more than that – we had a wonderful time walking around above the falls. I was filled with excitement from the first moment I saw the spray wafting up! Like most wonders of nature, words are inadequate to describe it. Apart from the beauty of it all, it was lovely to see people of all ages and nationalities (many Asian Indians) just being happy.
From the American side, you can view what is known as the American Falls from above.
You can also walk the ‘Cave of the Winds’ trail, which we did, to come right under the section of the falls known as the Bridal Veil Falls (there always has to be one of those!). We had to don yellow plastic capes and water shoes – both included in the $8 fee, and go down by a lift inside the cliff to start the fun walk, getting soaked in the spray of the falls above. I loved it!
‘Cave of the winds’
Afterwards we walked on to view the Horseshoe Falls from the American side, and then drove onto Goat Island, where we were able to park long enough to walk across to the islands called the Three Sisters, having nice views of the rapids which lead to the falls.
We drove back and were able to park by the roadside again and walk through the Falls State Park (apparently the oldest in USA) to the observation tower at Prospect Point.
Having paid our $1 to view from here, we looked down at the famous ‘Maid of the Mist’ boats (tours have been running since 1846!) and decided to go for it today, as the weather was great, and the boats not too busy on the American side. The boats run from both sides, but the Canadian boats looked much busier. The lady deducted our $1, as the observation platform was included in the tour, and we set off down another lift, taking you to the water’s edge to get the boat. This time we were given blue ‘macs’ – much needed as the boat plied its way past the American Falls, and right up into the heavy spray of the Horseshoe Falls. Again it was great fun to be plummeted by the spray – we were glad that it was such a lovely day – we got soaked!
What do you mean you are wet!
We took the lift back up the huge tower, which juts out into the river, with a large ‘arm’ at the top standing seemingly unsupported high above the water. Back at the Bam, now 4 o’clock, we set off across Rainbow Bridge ($5 toll) into Canada.
We had seen on a leaflet that there was a campsite in the town, but signs directed us in another direction. When these signs ‘ran out’, we used the GPS to try to find the first site. All in all, a bit of a wild goose chase. When we did eventually locate a site – in fact there were 3 close together – we didn’t like the price at all. Good old Walmart came to the rescue again, and we made our way there. We had wanted to visit the falls from the Canadian side this evening, as they are illuminated at night. Also tonight there were going to be fireworks.
There was no transport in from here (or from the campsites, which were further out), so we had to drive back in. We were amazed once more – the Canadian side is much busier, more touristy and built up, and with no easy nearby parking. We had to drive out a considerable way to the ‘Park and Ride’. At C$6.50, this was good, compared to the C$18 it cost to park nearer the falls.
We had a quick tortilla supper before catching the bus down to the falls, where hundreds of people were wandering about enjoying themselves. We joined them, although time dragged a bit while we waited for the 8.30 illuminations, and then the fireworks, which weren’t until 10 o’clock. A live band was playing, which was a lovely diversion. The lights on the falls, which changed colour from white to red and to all colours of the rainbow, were impressive. The firework display was short, but delightful. What we noticed was that there were lots of very young children with their families, and we didn’t see one who wasn’t happy.
We thought that there would be crowds of people waiting for the shuttle bus, but there wasn’t, so we were soon back at the Bam. We then had to drive back to Walmart. It was 11 o’clock when we got there – exhausted, but it had been a great day.
Saturday 3rd September 35 miles
We decided to have a last look at the falls, so drove back to the shuttle parking area.
We then caught the shuttle down to the falls area, which was really busy today. We were glad that we did our ‘Maid of the Mist’ trip yesterday, as it would have been difficult today. We had wanted to ‘Walk behind the Falls’ – Canada’s answer to the ‘Cave’ trip we did yesterday, but would have had to wait 2 hours. Instead, we just enjoyed looking at the magnificent falls again, finding a space amongst all the other hundreds of people.
We did buy an icecream, after waiting ages, but had to retreat inside because of the wasps, which was annoying.
We caught the shuttle back, stopping to look at the ‘Greenhouse’, a lovely sanctuary of plants after all the bustle at the falls. We then caught the bus back to the Bam. It was now 4.15, and time to head off.
We drove past the falls and up beside the gorge, stopping at the whirlpool area, which had lots of tourist attractions, but at least we could view the impressive whirlpool far down below. A gondola takes tourists across the gorge here, but we just viewed (from both sides).
There was a walking/cycling path beside the gorge, and lots of picnic areas. Being the Saturday of Labour Day weekend, it was very busy everywhere. We stopped to look at the ugly hydroelectric plants on both the U.S. and Canadian side, and then headed for Niagara on the Lake, driving through an area of vineyards, orchards and estates. It was all very smart and nice. By the lake, where there were views to the skyscrapers of Toronto in the distance, dozens of people were picnicking. We stopped for a while, but as it was 6 o’clock, we needed to find somewhere to stay. We started navigating through the lovely winelands towards St. Catharines, where there was a Walmart, but just before getting there, we came to a lovely spot beside the bridge over the Welland Canal and pulled in there at 6.30.
We had a little walk along by the canal. The excitement of the evening was a huge tanker coming past, and through the lock. This happened with a lot of noise from the bridge, which had to open to let it through. The siren was ear piercing. The cars had to wait ages, as the road was closed when the tanker was just a blob in the distance.
Sunday 4th September 92 miles
Well, we knew about those boats, as lots went through during the night – always with the booming siren. We hadn’t realised that this was the St. Lawrence Seaway. There were more boats in the morning – at one point two passed each other, so the cars had to wait even longer. Adrian said that I should never complain about Thatcham level crossing again!
Boats on the Welland canal
The boats were enormous from this close up. Most of the workers on them called out hello to us.
We didn’t leave until gone 9.00, and drove through St Catharines. Adrian had realised that this is where Dave and Annie, from our Panama trip live. We navigated our way to their house, but as we imagined, they were at church. We spoke to their nephew, before continuing on our way.
We had turned on the computer, and read of some of the horror and the reality of the hurricane in New Orleans. It made us feel very sad, as we had so enjoyed ourselves there earlier this year for Mardi Gras.
We took the fast road now, known as the - QEW, (and that’s what we did on it later!) –actually the Queen Elizabeth Way. We turned off, after Hamilton, at Burlington. I had seen that there was a Visitors Centre here, and we needed maps. I was given some and we drove on a bit, stopping by Lake Ontario for coffee. Two people came over separately as we sat at the picnic table and chatted and tried to be helpful. One was a young chap with his fellow cyclists, who asked about our van. The other was a bit older, and told us of things going on locally, including the ‘Ribfest’ which we had passed in the town.
We decided to go back and see what was happening there. We were able to park for 2 hours, which turned out to be plenty. The Ribfest was just that – dozens of stalls selling ribs of pork – a whole rack (which we bought) cost C$20. They tasted excellent. It was apparently a competition to see whose were the best.
‘Sticky Fingers’ at the Ribfest
A live band was playing, and hundreds of people were milling about. There were a few other stalls, but nothing very amazing. We enjoyed the atmosphere, and the setting, right by the lovely lake, and the weather was beautiful.
In a shop next to our car park, we were able to buy some bottles of beer from a very novel store, where all the brand names were displayed on a wall, and after you had selected one, your box of beer arrived on a carousel!
I thought that we should visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, which were a bit further back on the outskirts of Hamilton, so we made our way there. There were 5 separate garden areas, all included in the C$8 entrance fee.
As we parked, the chap next to us came and asked about our van (another one!) He was with his wife (black), and their little girl of 2½, who, like Ruby, had a mind of her own! They were a really nice couple – we chatted some more later, when we were on the shuttle bus.
The gardens are a popular place for wedding receptions, and we passed several wedding groups as we walked around. We found the gardens pleasant, but not exciting. From the first gardens, we took the free shuttle bus to the Arboretum. This wasn’t too great at this time of year. There was a medieval faire going on – Henry 8th stuff (extra admission), which we didn’t go in to.
The people driving the bus – an English double decker – were from England. They had come out 8 years ago to run this, but had a son back in England, so had mixed feelings (they looked like Beryl Reid and Ronnie Barker). We were talking to the driver on the return journey, and he asked where we came from. When we said Newbury, a voice said ‘That’s my home town – well Bracknell.’ The voice came from an Asian Indian lady (in full Indian dress). She now lives near Toronto with relatives -I think that her marriage had split up – and she really missed England, which was her home.
We got off at the gardens called the Laking Gardens, which weren’t too colourful just now. From here we walked back to the main entrance and drove to the last garden – the rock garden. This was the most attractive and enjoyable – a bit like the Butchart Gardens, but not so grand.
Royal Botanic Rock Gardens
We enjoyed the scents of the late afternoon, but it was now gone 6.00, and that’s when our nightmare began!
We needed somewhere to stop for the night, and in this affluent area we knew that it wouldn’t be easy. We decided to head for Walmart some miles further on. This meant travelling on the overcrowded motorway, getting stuck in non-moving traffic, and finally turning off to a smaller road Then a sequence of wrong turns, going the wrong way, turning into a one way street, going generally round in circles, until we finally got to Walmart and saw the ‘No overnight parking’ sign. The nightmare continued as we drove endlessly around this smart area, with nowhere to pull off at all – just fast roads and non-stop properties. We even tried a half built housing estate, and thought that the security guard said we could stay, but he didn’t really speak English, and just wanted someone to jumpstart his car! It was gone 8 o’clock and just getting dark when we spied an area just big enough to pull on to. We were both exhausted, and it was some time before we were able to enjoy our supper of feta salad with a beer.
Monday 5th September 123 miles
We slept amazingly well and woke to a cool morning, which rapidly became hot, with a clear blue sky.
We set off, stopping to get some fuel, for what Adrian called his most expensive fill up ever, before making our way down to Lakeshore Drive, through ‘posh’ Oakville, then more ordinary Mississauga, towards Toronto.
We stopped by a lovely lakeside park called Richards Park, and could see the CN tower of Toronto in the distance.
We stopped again at a lakeside park, where there were lots of Canada geese. People were beginning to arrive for the day, as this is Labour Day, and a holiday here as in USA.
We then hit Toronto, and was it busy! There seemed to be functions of all sorts happening everywhere! No chance of stopping, but we saw a lot as we drove around, including the extra tall CN tower.
I navigated, and Adrian drove, expertly, as we found our way around. There was a parade along the central street I had wanted us to drive down, but as we had to stop for it to pass, we were able to see a bit of it - (CAW/TCA presumably the ‘workers’ parade). We drove through the colourful Asian and Chinese quarters to the Queens Park area, where the parliament buildings are, and the university.
We then navigated out to the eastern side, eventually finding our way down to Scarborough ‘Bluffers Park’. Here we found a spot to park (it had become impossible by the time we left), and took our sandwiches to eat on rocks by the water’s edge. There were high cliffs up behind, and we found a lovely little bay, away from the crowds, to enjoy a few minutes laze.
Bluffers Park Scarborough
It was really busy, and very hot, as we left and drove on past Pickering to Whitby! We hadn’t expected this to be much, and it has nothing on ‘our’ Whitby (which we last visited in May), but it was a lovely low-key spot on the lake, with Lions and Rotary Parks, where once there was industry. Just a smattering of people enjoying themselves. We remembered, on leaving, that it must be twinned with Whitby, Yorks – we had chatted to the former mayor in Staithes, and he had been instrumental in setting up the twinning association.
It was now 4 o’clock, and we headed northwards, but there was absolutely nowhere where we could pull off for the night. We diverted to drive through the pleasant town of Uxbridge! (no overnight parking allowed),
Mural in Uxbridge, Ontario
but then headed for Sibbald Provincial Park, on Lake Simcoe.
It had obviously been really busy here today too, but now the large campsite was pretty empty. The ‘no alcohol’ ban for Labour Day weekend was still on. We thought the price for camping was expensive, but having found our spot, we made our way to look at the lake, before coming back for our illicit beer, and lighting the barbie. After our meal, we sat around the fire until 10.45, by which time it was cool. The stars were clear.
Tuesday 6th September 53 miles
A very cool night, but blue sky and a lovely day. Had breakfast outside at our picnic table – heavy with dew! The table was still damp at coffee time, but then we had a delightful swim in the lake – deserted today – what a change from yesterday! Had a lovely walk past the museum (closed – former home of Sibbald family who lived here) to pretty church – more English looking than any in England!
Had to drive back a bit, then north past eastern side of lake. Diverted past lakes and rivers to Kirkfield Lift Lock, which we stopped to look at. This is a hydraulic lifting lock built in 1903, which lifts boats some 15 metres between Lake Canal and Lake Balsam and is very impressive. Drove on to Hannivans Creek near Goboconk, on an old bit of road beside an odd bit of Balsam Lake. Sat outside - lovely.
A chap came to launch his canoe to go and shoot geese. He told us of nice places further north – which we hope to visit next time – Killarney, Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay.
We had an excellent barbie of tilapia fish, and enjoyed our lovely situation until we came in at 8 o’clock – ahead of the mozzies!
Wednesday 7th September 79 miles
A milder night, followed by blue sky all day. We ate breakfast outside by the lake and left at 9 o’clock. A few miles along the road we came to the town of Coboconk. A funny name, but a useful place! We were able to shop in a well stocked IGA store, buy some beer from the shop next door and at last buy some wine from a wine store. We were able to log in and receive several messages, but annoyingly we weren’t able to send the ones I had written.
By the time we had finished all this, it was time for coffee, which we had in a pleasant Lion’s Park beside the water. There was a sign saying ‘Feel free to chase the Canada Geese’! They are obviously a problem here, and have polluted the water so that it isn’t safe for swimming. A man was testing it while we were there.
A bit further on we stopped to walk to Elliott Falls. There was a hydro plant here, and we didn’t find any real falls, but it was a pleasant temperature, and we had a nice little walk around.
As we drove on, it was water, water everywhere – there are just so many lakes. Most of them have nice little properties all around the shore, but we did stop at an isolated picnic table by a small lake for lunch.
We continued to Dorset, a pretty town, where we pulled into a parking area by the lake. I plucked up courage to try a swim in the lake – it was lovely!
Now we needed somewhere to stay – we had seen several suitable places earlier on. We took a long ‘no through road’ near to, but not beside Kawagama Lake. Again there were properties lining the road, but having driven several miles to the end of the road, we returned to a large gravel area, arriving at 4.45.
After a beer, sitting outside (the beer we had bought at Burlington turned out to be one brewed near here, so we had bought some more as it was good),Adrian lit the barbie and we ate chicken, although we had wondered if it was OK, as something in the fridge was smelly. The wine we drank with it came from Niagara on the Lake, and was also good. We ate inside, and later sorted the photos for the website and Adrian printed off more of the diary.
Off to shoot geese
Thursday 8th September 56 miles
It had been cloudy at bedtime, and a mild night, but we didn’t expect to wake to rain! A school bus came to collect a child who had been brought here by car – so that’s what this area is used for!
We didn’t leave until gone 9 o’clock, and soon found our way to Algonquin Provincial Park. This vast remote park is mostly made up of lakes and rivers, but Route 60 crosses the bottom SW corner of it. You need a pass ($12) to use the park, and at first we thought that we would just be driving through, as the weather was grey and damp. Having stopped at the first pull-off, with the weather brightening a bit, we realised how lovely it was, so went back for a permit.
The reflections of the trees in the water were beautiful.
Reflections in Oxtongue River
We had coffee sitting outside near the entrance, but huge drops of rain fell as we were finishing. After that, the day became pleasantly warm and sunny.
We walked several trails, all with very informative and comprehensive booklets, which you could either use and put back, or keep for 50 cents.
The first walk we did was to Whiskey Rapids, on the pretty Oxtongue River. It was apparently only just over 2 km long, but seemed much more because of the rough terrain.
The next trail was called the Hardwood Lookout Trail – supposedly under 1km long, but again seeming much longer, as it was all up and down, with a very uneven path. The brochure told how the Sugar Maple forms the canopy, and other plants find it hard to grow.
View to Smoke Lake – with the leaves just beginning to turn
An extra walk at the end led to the seemingly rare red spruce.
The 2km trail around Peck Lake took us an hour, and certainly was not the level lakeside walk we might have imagined!
We called in at the Art Gallery, where we viewed beautiful and expensive paintings and works of art of the area.
Now it was time to stop at Mew Lake campsite. After the always lengthy procedure of booking in we found ourselves with a delightful lakeside position.
We had a barbie and then a fire, looking to our lovely view of the lake as the light faded. We were about to come in, when a lady came along and said that the astronomers had their telescopes set up by the lake, just across from us. We had seen that there was a ‘stargazers’ weekend coming up, and these people had obviously arrived a day early. We both enjoyed looking through telescopes to see constellations far away – Andromeda and others. It was fascinating, but by now very cold. It was gone 10.00 when we came back to the Bam.
Friday 9th September Happy Birthday Tom! 34 miles
Our first really cool night – we even put the heater on for a little while in the morning!
Early morning mist on Mew Lake from our camping spot
It was a beautiful morning, with mist rising from the lake, and a clear blue sky. We took our breakfast to eat by the lake in the sunshine, which was already becoming hot.
We made our way to the bike hire place, just along the road, but it always takes ages to drive out of the park – they seem to make the roads take as long a course as possible!
We hired our bikes for 4 hours, from a large, fat, unattractive Indian looking lad, with a down turned mouth (later with a fag hanging out). Everything seemed to be too much trouble for him, and he puffed and panted constantly.
We loaded the bikes into the Bam to drive back to our campsite.
On yer bike!
We left at 11.30 to cycle along the former rail track, firstly across an area of heath which was a former airfield, then through forests and beside several lakes. It was a beautiful morning for cycling, and the conditions were ideal – no traffic, just a few other cyclists and walkers. We felt a bit saddle sore by the time we reached the end of the trail, stopping by a little beach area on Whitefish Lake where I had a delightful swim before we started on the long cycle back. We arrived back at 1.30 after our 23km ride and had a hurried lunch at our picnic table, before we drove out to hand the bikes back.
We started driving eastwards out of the park, stopping to walk 3 enjoyable trails. The first was the Spruce Bog boardwalk – an ‘accessible trail’, so easy walking for a change. We walked through an area of stunted looking black spruce trees, similar to those we had seen in Alaska.
On the Spruce Bog Trail
The second walk, the Beaver Pond Trail, was through much more difficult terrain. We didn’t see any beavers – or any other wildlife anywhere for that matter (except for a variety of squirrels and a few birds), but it was a very pretty walk. The last trail we walked was behind the Logging Museum (which had closed at 5 o’clock, just before we arrived). It was an excellent trail with superb life size exhibits which gave an insight into the harsh life that the early loggers led.
It was 6 o’clock when we drove out of the park, and 20 minutes later we found a large gravel area to pull off onto for the night.
When we looked out at bedtime, the stars were magnificent, the stargazers at Mew Lake would be enjoying it.
Saturday 10th September 83 miles
Another very cold night, but blue sky in the morning, and a lovely day followed.
We left after 9.00 and drove eastwards towards Barry’s Bay, passing numerous lakes which looked lovely in the morning light.
Barry’s Bay seemed a nice little town, and we got everything we needed, except an internet connection! Well, we did manage to receive a few emails, but still couldn’t send any. We got fuel (down quite a bit in price), stamps, and a bit of shopping, including a lovely fresh loaf.
We had decided to take a secondary road from here, but nothing said anything about it being unsurfaced after the first few miles!
Initially the road was fairly level, but finding the route wasn’t easy. We joked about unsurfaced roads in Australia, but shouldn’t have done, because this one became just as bad – one big corrugation! Ah, the relief when we finally came to tarmac again!
We soon stopped by Jack’s Lake for lunch – just one of the thousands of attractive lakes in this area. Despite the blue sky, it felt cooler today.
We now headed for Pembroke, a former logging port on the Ottawa River. We tried desperately to get an internet connection, and finally did manage to send the few emails I had written several days ago. We are realising that Canada is much more difficult than USA to send our emails from. Pembroke must have the worst road surfaces around, but having driven down to the pleasant waterside park, our image of the town changed a bit.
We walked round a bit. The ‘Millennium Walkway’ was made of 2000 donated wooden slats, each with the donors name on. There were historical photos of the town on the shelters. It was here that the first ‘Pointer’ boat which we had read about yesterday in Algonquin, was made, by a former Scot called Cockburn.
Our view from Pembroke
It would seem that it is OK for us to stay here, in the boat park overnight – more attractive than Walmart!
We walked to the end of the jetty to see the sun go down before coming back for supper.