Friday, July 24, 2020

Screaming Heads, Cornballs and Cottages : Dufferin Bridge to Magnetawan


Last night and this morning felt rather chilly, especially since all our gear and clothes were still wet. The humidity has simply been too high to get anything to dry. When a very enthusiastic and loud Winter Wren began singing insistently we were reluctant to leave what little warmth there was trapped inside the damp tent. When a Black-throated Blue Warbler began trying to out-shout the wren we decided it was time to get moving.  As we packed our gear, the water pouring out of the tent and sleeping bags was evidence that we needed to take the time to dry out and soon.

By the time we set off down Old Nipissing Rd again the sun was already starting to warm up the world. Long shafts of light and warmth were filtering through the canopy, and making their way through the delicate pine needles above.

For most of the morning we walked the hilly, winding, gravel road under the shade of a deciduous forest canopy. At first there was very little traffic, with only a few pickup trucks and one motorbike passing us.  However, only the motorbike driver acknowledged our existence, giving us a small wave as he passed us.  Sometimes it can be isolating and disheartening to be looked past and ignored by so many people.


As we walked the only sounds we heard for long periods of time were the crunching of our footsteps on the gravel, and the bumping and squeaking of the cart. The birds and insects were mostly quiet, and although we passed quite a few cottages and driveways leading off into the forest, we saw very few people.


One exception was an open grassy area bordered by shrubs. In that one spot we came across a pair of Canada Warblers feeding their fledglings in a shrub. There was a Chestnut-sided Warbler gathering caterpillars and other insects from the same tree for its young, as well as a pair of Common Yellowthroats. Across the road, in a stand of white pines a group of Black-capped Chickadees were chattering noisily as they foraged. Finding these pockets of bird activity when the landscape is otherwise quiet never fails to amaze and excite us.


We continued on past many beaver ponds, small lakes, and marshes. The air was still and hot by this point, creating mirror-like reflections on the smooth water. The voices of Swamp Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Yellowthroats could be heard, and the sunny gravel road was thick with dragonflies and damsel flies. A Great Blue Heron and a pair of Wood Ducks took flight above the water from one little marsh.


As we continued on we passed the Dufferin Bridge Methodist Cemetery, which is another point of historical interest on the Ghost Road. This pioneer cemetery dates back to the 1800's, and includes the graves of victims of the black plague outbreak of 1902. There is no evidence of the church, and legend says that when the members converted to the United faith in 1924 the building was there one day and gone without a trace the next.

We continued on for several kilometers, until we came to a cute little cottage with several elaborate wooden carvings in the yard, called 'Newfie's Corners.'  To us it seemed to be confirmation to something that we had been sensing throughout the day - that much of the region was similar in feel and appearance to the wilds of Newfoundland that we both loved.


At this point we crossed a seam in the road transitioning our pathway from gravel to a paved surface.  In short order the traffic began to pick up, and we found ourselves in a farmed area with open hay fields and beautiful old barns.


A little farther down the road we heard the high, sharp, repeated calls of a Broad-winged Hawk from the top of a tall spruce tree.

About 10 km south of Magnetawan we came to another pioneer cemetery at the crux of Nipissing Rd and Midlothian Rd. At this same intersection was the Cornball Store, which turned out to be a delightful general store and German bakery! We stopped for ice cream and incredibly delicious butter tarts, which we were treated to by the kind and generous Barb, whom we would meet later in Magnetawan. This little shop offered a wide selection of homemade pies, muffins and cinnamon buns, fancy tarts and pastries, and fresh made sandwiches. It was difficult to choose! If you're ever in the area, it is well worth a stop!

As we sat on the covered porch outside and enjoyed our treats we realized we have in fact been to the beautiful Almaguin Highlands region previously. While driving up to camp at Restoule Provincial Park, in the days before cell phones, instant answers from Google, and route planning by Google maps, we spotted something called 'Screaming Heads' on our Back Roads folding map. Curious, Sean drove down Midlothian Rd to investigate.


The Screaming Heads turned out to be an outdoor art exhibit located on the 310 acre property of the artist Peter Camani. Visitors are welcome to wander trails that wind through woodlands, meadows, and ponds while experiencing his artwork. Large concrete sculptures of screaming heads and hands reach up out of the earth. Geodesic domes dot the property, as do various ironwork structures exploring the three horsemen of the apocalypse theme. The artist's house resembles a fortified castle, which is adorned by an iron dragon and a warrior princess. Peacocks wander the grounds. It had an eerie and occult feel to it, and was definitely something out of the ordinary to experience.


Although the works of Peter Camani are unusual, the Almaguin Highlands region features the work of many other painters, sculptures, photographers, potters, and artisans as well. The community of Burk's Falls features a lot of the artwork from the region, and the beautiful, rolling farmland of the area, with its picturesque wooden barns makes it a lovely place for a country drive.

As we continued along the road to Magnetawan the pickup trucks passing us on the road were gradually replaced with smaller cars, the simple, rustic, cabins and hunting camps were replaced with bigger cottages and homes, and the gravel road turned to pavement.

After the Cornball Store there was very little shade on the road, both because the verges had been trimmed of trees, and because we were in more open countryside. Climbing the rolling hills became more of a challenge, although the views were beautiful.

As we passed Camp Kahquah on the shores of Ahmic Lake we found ourselves climbing an incredibly long and steep hill. Barb had mentioned we would need to fuel up at the Cornball Store to make it up the long hill into Magnetawan, and we were seriously hoping this was the hill she meant, and not a precursor to the big one!

The hilly road was bordered by beautiful deciduous forest in this stretch, most of which belonged to the camp. It seems to be a large facility, which normally offers a wide variety of activities, including camping, hiking, swimming, boating, tennis, archery, conference services, and interpretive programming.


Eventually we came to a grassy laneway that led to the cottage where we had been invited to spend the night. It felt so much cooler to be walking on the winding track, under the cool deciduous canopy!

When we approached the lake Alex met us, and walked the last few meters with us to the cottage, where we met Cay. Arriving by the lakeside cottage, set well back in a deciduous forest, was like visiting a small piece of paradise! Our kind, generous, and thoughtful hosts gave us the use of a whole cottage for the night, so we could remain physically distanced. We took a swim off the boat dock in the beautifully cool lake, did laundry, and laid all our soaking wet, gross gear on the gravel drive to dry and bake in the sun. The opportunity to clean and dry everything out is really one of the best gifts a long-distance hiker can receive. Being clean makes you feel like a whole new person!

We spent the afternoon cleaning up, and then a wonderful evening on the screened porch with a view of the lake, enjoying a cool breeze off the water. We were joined by Sylvia and Austen for a time, and together enjoyed a delicious dinner of fresh salad, portobello mushroom burgers, and apple crumble, along with great conversation.  (The taste of the food was amazing beyond description, and the evening of conversation was wonderful!)

After dinner we were joined by Barb, who turned out to be a wealth of enthusiasm and local knowledge. Learning about the places we visit from the people who live there is one the most interesting parts of this hike. It gives us a small glimpse into what life is like in the communities we pass through.

We learned about the Farmer's Market, the flowerbeds at the local church being done by a 70+ year old volunteer, a fire that burned down the historic General Store and Restaurant that occupied a central spot in the heart of the town, the ice storm that swept away Magnetawan's iconic lighthouse last spring and active social clubs that plan to rebuilt it.

The evening was a reminder of something we're coming to understand on this journey. The state of the world, and the changes we seek within it, are to some extent driven by big, bold ideas and higher inspiration. However, the realization of those dreams comes about largely as the result of the hard work, determination, persistence, and selfless work of volunteers who seek to improve their own communities. Every kilometer of trail was built by someone who poured their energy into it. Every conservation area exists because someone stood up for that property and fought to protect it. Every beautiful community is that way because of the people who chose to make it so and continually work to keep it that way. The ability of individuals to make a difference in this world should never be underestimated, and the importance of the work of countless individuals like Barb should never be discounted.

As we fall asleep in a huge, comfy bed (under a laundry fresh duvet!!!) with a view over the still lake and a cool breeze coming in off the water, we've found happiness in this moment. The stars and a crescent moon are bright in the sky, and somewhere overhead is a comet we won't have another chance to see in our lifetimes.

1 comment:

  1. we vacationed here as family when we we were kids - tthen vacationed with our kids - so many wonderful memories of Ahmic , friends we made , other cottage owners - someday hope to return - sorry that Jack's is gone , truly a fav !
    so many hikes, boat tours taken around the lakes to Magnetewan , Burks Falls , etc. - loved the area - so scenic , so full of life


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