Rocks, Religion and Rider Mowers

By Remy

The Bruce Peninsula – what a spectacular part of the world! And all the better to be able to explore it with some insider information. Tobermory, at the north tip, is within an aquatic reserve. I was familiar with it from many moons ago when I was a scuba diver and heard of the area referred to as a diver’s paradise, replete with clear waters and many shipwrecks to explore. Not sure how the families of those that perished in said maritime disasters would feel about that. The disaster these days is how tourism has affected the area, which has become a victim of its own success in attracting tourists from southern Ontario, all of whom are confined to visiting the area along a crumbling, 2-lane highway. It created such a problem that severe legislation, including on-the-spot seizure of vehicles, was passed to address the driving behaviour of summer holiday-makers and day-tripping buffoons. It also costs you $30 per day just to park a vehicle within the area.

Following the directions of our fellow van-lifer friends, Lucy and Joe, we found a place to park for the night off the highway and avoid the hustle of Tobermory. We are respectful of posted “no camping” edicts, and they knew of a quirky community park where there was no such posting. A local resident tried to imply such a restriction but we politely ignored him and found a discrete nook in which to park The Radvan for the night.

The following day we rode our bikes a couple of kilometres down the highway to Bruce Peninsula National Park on the shore of Georgian Bay to visit “The Grotto”. We rode our bikes, which allowed us to bypass the parking fee and the four-hour time restriction. A half-hour hike along a beautiful forested pathway brought us to a beautiful open bench of rock and the crystal clear waters of the bay.

The rock forms a series of shelves, which make it easy to access the water for swimming. The relative frigidity of the water doesn’t make it easy to enter, but the beauty of the place and the opportunities for cliff jumping easily overcome that.

The main swimming area at The Grotto, with Caribbean-clear and Northern-cold waters.
One of the very dangerous features of the area, which happily have not been ruined by the addition of safety rails.
Yes, this is as high as it looks!

After clambering along the cliffs, none of which have been sullied by paternalistic safety features, we found the grotto that forms the attraction. Some people were happy just to view it from above, as we were, while others climbed down the cliff, jumped off high ledges or swam around from the swimming area to enter the cave. 

The Grotto! It would be cool if someone could float a grand piano into here and play a concert.

Following directions provided by the Bruce Trail through-hikers we had met on the ferry, we located a property further south on the peninsula which had recently been acquired by the conservancy that develops and maintains the trail. It was a beautiful farm property of a couple of hundred acres on the shore of the bay. We hoped to be able to park The Radvan there for the night, but the gate was secured. We parked on the road and threw our bikes over the fence to explore. A double-track driveway led through verdant pastures and orchards for a couple of kilometres before delivering us to the farmhouse, which is now abandoned. It was only slightly eery as the house is still in good condition and of relatively recent vintage (maybe 1980’s, judging by interior finishings), with a most beautiful aspect atop the escarpment overlooking Georgian Bay. We had the whole place to ourselves and took advantage of a strong cellular connection to call a few people. What a strange era it is in which to live!

Eat your hear out Hans Christian Anderson! I have my own Littlest( or is it Tallest?) mermaid.
Liz having a Wiley E. Coyote moment 300′ above Georgian Bay on a ledge at the rear of the abandoned farm house.

We had to find a place for the night so we continued along a secondary rural highway looking for a place to heave-to. We only made it thirty kilometres down the road before Liz spotted the potential of a beautiful stone church right beside the road and we pulled in to the vacant lot. We were surrounded on all sides by farm land, with the sound of wild turkeys gobbling in the nearby woods. The chapel was left open and people were invited to visit, which was interesting. It was a totally serene and relaxing break.

Father Tompkins addressing a congregation of one in historic St. Margaret’s Chapel.

Our spot for the night at St. Margaret’s Chapel, one of the best so far! Idyllic rural setting and a natural place to reflect.

After totally recharging, we continued southward en route to visit with Lucy and Joe. I wanted to pass through Wiarton along the way as I knew of it from my childhood as the home of one of the original groundhog prognosticators of spring. Much to my chagrin, I learned that the last Wiarton Willie is no more, having lived out his natural life with no successor. Apparently it is too difficult to find albino groundhogs, which the various generations of Willie have been, so they relegated Willie to monumental status. The sculptural version will fulfill the same role of casting a shadow (or not) every February 2nd, but the anticipation of seeing a live Willie emerge will be missed. 

Rémy hugging his Willie in Wiarton.

It was time to connect with Lucy and Joe, who were themselves just returning from a trip abroad in their van, Sweet Pea. We pulled up to their driveway in Oliphant and after a refreshing local beer, were ushered to the water for a kayak tour. We put in to the bathtub-warm waters of Lake Huron and paddled about, scraping through tall grasses and checking out the wildlife. The waters never got very deep or cold, which was reassuring to the captain of my boat, and it felt good to exercise our upper bodies. It was also inspiring to be with our new friends who, while half a generation ahead of us, are fit and energetic and curious about the world – great role models! It will be fun to trade stories about our respective van travels after having already traded design ideas.

An aquatic selfie with our hosts and tour guides, Joe and Lucy.

Our feet itched and we wished to carry on, so we continued to follow the guide of our generous hosts and visited the longest freshwater stretch of sand in the world, Sauble Beach on the shore of Huron. It also bears the distinction of having been the destination of multiple family summer vacations of our good friends, Mick and Margot, and it was great to see what is so familiar to them. It had the typical beach town vibe, with restaurants and shops full of tacky wares, which is always fun.

Rémy obviously not hugging his Willie at Sauble Beach.

Having exhausted the Bruce Peninsula it was time to head for wine country. A long day took us through to St. Catherine’s, where we had a beautiful driveway waiting for us at Andrew and Rachel’s house. Good friends with good food and conversation made for a refreshing break and a chance to do some administration on the van. A tip from Joe had led me to order a keyless entry keypad for the van which should prevent us from locking ourselves out accidentally. I found out the hard way that it helps to read and follow all of the instructions the first time. Not doing so resulted in a very frustrating afternoon until I was able to sleep on the problem and finish the installation the following morning. Old dog, new trick – they can be taught.

Taking advantage of the wine country setting around Andrew and Rachel’s house. This is Henry of Pelham winery and art gallery.

The Niagara region is also fruit country. This one is for Bowen, to reassure that you can keep those foreign cars running forever! We hope his car never gets to look like this one, which does run but has been relegated to orchard duties.

What would a wine tour be without finishing with a craft beer! Hoisting a portion of a pint with Rachel at Bench brewery.

Liz flying nap of the earth on Andrew’s zero-turn lawn mower. At a certain age you have to get your fun where you can find it, and this device was fun!

Obligatory vanity shot with Andrew’s amazing mowing machine.

Our trip to the Niagara area would not be complete without a visit with Liz’s Aunt Lynne and her lover, Bob. They filled us with delicious lasagna then sent us on our way with armloads of peaches and an old bottle of Scotch that they have been carting around with them for over 25 years. Let’s see how long that bottle lasts once we land on the driveway of Nancy and Chris in Toronto tomorrow!

It’s good to spend time with family.

Having decided that we were sick of the bucolic beauty of the Bruce Peninsula and Southern Ontario, we are committed to throwing ourselves in to the crucible Toronto and the corridor east to Montreal. We waved goodbye to good friends and headed for the Big Smoke!


Published by tompkinsontheroad

Married mother of two awesome boys who is now living full time in a self converted Camper van and seeing more of the world. We gave up something super special to live our dream of living a free and simple life on the road exploring new places and taking joy in the discovery of the extraordinary

7 thoughts on “Rocks, Religion and Rider Mowers

  1. Oh goodness, I am feeling homesick! My children and I spent 21 years on Sauble Beach as we just a bike ride away! Lake Huron is in our DNA. Happy trails you happy people.


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