We had a wonderful rest last night, and awoke to a cool and peaceful morning and a delicious breakfast of cereal and fresh strawberries. As we ate we watched a pair of Mourning Doves sparring with each other under the bird feeder, a Chipping Sparrow feeding its young, and a Common Grackle searching for peanuts - its favourite food. The low buzz of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the feeder could be heard, as well as the calls of Cedar Waxwings and a House Wren. It was very difficult to leave the peaceful oasis and head back to the trail.
Our wonderful hosts gave us a ride back to the trail and bid us farewell, leaving us with an enormous bag of summer ripe strawberries. Such a treat!
None of the activity of yesterday was evident at the trailhead, and we entered the cool green tunnel relatively alone. As we followed the rail trail long the banks of the Grand River a slight breeze rustled through the canopy, setting the sunlight and shadows on the trail dancing. We were very grateful for the shade as we could already feel the sun's heat reaching down through the leaves.
When we came to the picturesque stone ruins of the wool mill we were in for another surprise. Last time we hiked this section of trail people were free to wander among the two-story high walls and look through the missing windows. A lot of formal photo shoots were done at the site. Today we found a tall wire mesh fence around the mill posted with 'No Trespassing' signs. So sad to watch both a historical and popular location get closed off to the public. The pictures that follow were taken two years ago.
We continued on towards Cambridge, pausing at a few of the lookout points to enjoy the expansive views down the wide, shallow, meandering riverbed. There were plenty of benches along this stretch of trail as well, one of which we took a break at to enjoy some of our refreshing strawberries.
The Cambridge to Paris Railway Trail follows the abandoned Lake Erie & Northern Railway that used to transport passengers between Cambridge and Port Dover, on Lake Erie. The portion of the line we walked today was completed in 1915, and it was unique in that it was an electric railway. Modern diesel engines replaced the electric railway in 1961, and in 1990 the railway was abandoned.
When we reached Cambridge we crossed the Grand River on the road, giving us a beautiful view of the new pedestrian bridge a little farther down stream. We then made our way through a riverside park that featured benches, shaded picnic tables, and several interesting, rusty rod iron art installations that brought to mind the industrial mills that once dominated Cambridge.
After passing through part of the University of Waterloo campus we found ourselves on a street lined with old limestone churches of several denominations, a central square with a multiheaded fountain, and a cafe! Of course, we took the opportunity to have a cranberry square and iced coffee.
Cambridge was settled by the British in the 1700's when they bought the land from the Six Nations, who were under the leadership of Joseph Brant. It became an industrial center, with mills, tanneries, breweries, and other factories being powered by the Grand and Speed Rivers. Today the remains of many limestone buildings from the 1800's can be seen in the downtown core, giving the town a historic feel. It also hosts a vibrant art community, a world class theater, and many opportunities for fine dining.
After enjoying our refreshments we continued down a forest trail running beside the river. Occasionally we would pass an overlook that offered a spectacular river vista and a bit of breeze. One of the highlights was spotting a cottontail rabbit munching on grass by the side of the trail.
We also passed several areas where the limestone cliffs were exposed. Around 400 million years ago Southern Ontario was periodically covered by warm tropical seas. Large reefs were formed, and the remnants can be seen in the limestone bluffs in this area, as well as in the Niagara Escarpment.
Cambridge is home to 57 km of recreational pathways, and as we walked the river edge we passed several trailheads. This always makes us wonder about the trail not taken, and where they lead. What possibilities, adventures and birds was I missing out on by staying on this one trail?
Although the temperature was racing up to an uncomfortable 38°C, we still heard a few Red-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinals, and Gray Catbirds calling along the banks of the river. A pair of Caspian Terns was hanging out on a rocky island with a group of Canada Geese and a single Ring-billed Gull. One of the highlights was watching a pair of Osprey fishing above the river. They were gliding along as though laying on the air, calling with their distinctive keening voices. We were happy to see a number of occupied Osprey nesting platforms installed along the river,many with large babies visible above the edges of the nest.
As we left the Galt portion of Cambridge behind we began a section of extremely hot, shadeless, road walking. On one side was a very busy road, but luckily the passing vehicles provided a bit of a breeze. On the other side was the large Rare Charitable Research Reserve. A posted sign indicated that this large marsh, meadow, and natural area was home to over 205 bird species in 24 different habitats.
This reserve is a community-driven urban land trust, nature reserve and environmental institute. It consists of over 900 acres within the Haldimand Tract that spans six miles on either side of the Grand River from source to mouth. It is located on land granted to Indigenous Peoples in 1784 to recognize their support for the British in the American Revolution and is rich in cultural history as well as wildlife.
After this stretch we began walking the Galt to Berlin Rail Trail, which ran along the western bank of the Grand River. In 1870 the Grand Trunk Railway was built to run between Galt (now part of Cambridge) to Berlin (now Kitchener), running through Blair, Doon, and German Mills. The passenger service was discontinued in 1932, and in 1961 the tracks were taken out. Today it is a lovely, shaded recreational trail.
After navigating a slightly hair raising roundabout we found ourselves traversing a wide open soy field. Two cyclists stopped to talk to us as they passed, and ended up sharing a story about hiking across England. It only took them eight days. In the extreme heat of the afternoon we began thinking maybe we picked the wrong country to hike across!
We then crossed the artistically designed pedestrian bridge over the busy 401. Apparently it was constructed in 2007, and was the first pedestrian bridge to be built across this busy freeway.
As we entered the edge of the Conestoga College Campus we came upon a lovely sight. Baby Killdeer!! The mom was doing a very impressive broken wing display, flashing her rusty red rump like a bull-fighter waving his cape to attract the attention of the enemy and lead it away. The two fluffy babies were peeping and running around on the trail on their long legs, looking adorable.
There followed another long stretch of walking beside the Grand River. By this time it was so hot that frequent breaks were necessary, even under the shade of the lovely deciduous trees.
One of the highlights of this section was passing the limestone remains of the Doon Mill, giving us a peak into the history of this river.
A short section of the Grand Valley Footpath followed that was beautiful but included extremely steep ascents and descents. We loved the feeling of being immersed in the forest while on a narrow path, but the loose gravel and hills were tough in the heat.
Things got easier when we entered a tall, old stand of hemlocks in Homer Watson Park. As we wound through the thick, dark trunks, under the tall, feathery canopy of needles in this beautiful green space we saw old forest stands, marshes, and a boardwalk. Homer Watson was a Canadian landscape painter who was born in Kitchener (Berlin) in 1855. It is easy to see where he got his inspiration.
By three o'clock we were starting to feel sick from the heat. Even with the shady trails, hiking in 38°C temperatures with heavy packs is tough going. Unfortunately, it looks like there is no end in sight for the high temperatures, and it is supposed to get hotter over the course of the next few days. Add to this the fact that, for the next couple of days, the trail weaves thru urban centres and along exposed road concessions. We will have to monitor things carefully to avoid getting heat exhaustion. Although it was still early to call it a day, we felt like the heat gave us little choice.