A writer's journal and photography blog documenting 900km of hiking End-to-End on the Bruce Trail from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Tobermory, Canada
We were standing in the middle of the empty ruin of Decew House Sunday morning admiring the hearths and the stonework before setting out on our Short Hills hike. I was imagining how it must have been that June evening in 1813 when Laura Secord arrived there, footsore, travelworn and worried, to warn Lieutenant Fitzgibbon of a surprise attack planned by the Americans against his small British encampment, which ultimately led to the Battle of Beaverdams. She had walked over 30 km that day, on a route from Queenston Heights that was no doubt much wilder and strenuous than the Laura Secord Commemorative Trail or the Bruce Trail today .
The thought made me feel a little sheepish about my whining last week over sore feet that had covered only half that distance. I suppose this explains why she is a Canadian heroine, and I am not!
Sunday’s hike was — simply put — glorious. The sun was shining, the morning was cool, and there were more blooms and birdsong than ever. The fields were full of an old friend, Dame’s Rocket. Her violet and white spires, and her marshmallowy scent followed us all day. Although she’s an overbearing (yet pretty) interloper in our Canadian fields and meadows, Dame’s Rocket has a special place in my heart. Some day I’ll write about how we first crossed paths when I was 7, and she taught me a life lesson I’ll never forget.
Mid way through the morning, we arrived at Morningstar Mill. The turbine-driven grist mill was originally opened as Mountain Mills, by Robert Chappell in 1872. William Morningstar purchased the mill in 1883 and ran it for 50 years, until his death in 1933. The City of St. Catharines acquired the Mill in a bequest by the family in the early 1990s, and the mill, grounds and property, including the Morningstar home, have been beautifully and carefully restored by The Friends of Morningstar Mill. Ian was surprised to find that all of the separators and machinery in the upper floor were made of wood. I was just wishing that the water levels had been high enough to watch the grinding stones do their work. Volunteers run tours of the working mill today, and it’s a great place to stop for a rest and refill your water bottle. If your timing is good, you can even ask for some flour to take home.
In the forests of Short Hills Provincial Park, and Rockway Conservation Area, the tree canopy and forest floors had seen such tremendous growth since the previous weekend, we had the impression we were walking through a David Attenborough time lapse photography production. Along the route this week we saw daisies and goatsbeard on the dam, Dame’s Rocket and buttercups in the fields, False Solomon’s Seal, cranesbill and columbine in the forests and limestone outcrops, and a whole host of wildflowers just starting to bud that I hope we’ll see in full bloom when we head out again this weekend.
We stopped for a snack midway along the main trail in Short Hills, in a shady spot where a footbridge crosses the creek. Tree roots stretched all along the creek bed, shooting out tender red-tipped growth underwater in all directions.
As I was taking this photograph of Ian on the bridge, a toad came down to meet us.
Later, while walking through a forest edge meadow up a dry, hot section of trail, Ian shouted from behind me: “What the __! What’s that! Look down!” I had been carefully watching for signs of snakes, but Kelso, our dog, had distracted me. I almost missed this one — a beautiful full grown Eastern Milksnake was slowly curling back on itself just below my feet. I wasn’t fast enough with the camera as it slithered off into the bush, but it looked something like this.
Well, as last week’s hike finished, we were dipping our feet in a cold, cold lake. I thought the après hike couldn’t get any better for a pair of urban weekend warriors on the End to End. But it turns out I was wrong, after all, the Bruce Trail does wind through wine country. Jordan is a pretty sight after a 12 km hike and it wasn’t long before we were down on Pelham Road sampling the Short Hills Bench Reislings at Henry of Pelham, and then settling in for a much deserved late lunch on the patio. The perfect end to a perfect day.