On The Road Again as the Countdown begins : Richmond to Bromptonville
We had a bit of a late start leaving Richmond this morning because we waited for the post office to open in order to mail away some of our extra gear (and tourism pamphlets). With the temperatures picking up and camping impossible along this stretch it was time to gamble by sending our winter clothing and tent away, while in the process lightening our packs. Since Canada Post's flex delivery service only holds packages for 15 days, we have effectively started the countdown to when we will step off the trail for the winter. As always, the end of a hiking season is a bitter sweet prospect.
As we waited in the small park at the foot of MacKenzie Bridge there was a strong wind gusting down the Rivière Saint-François. Leaves from the huge sugar maples we were sheltering under were falling like rain, not gently spiraling to the ground, but being whipped sideways onto the train tracks. Overhead flocks of Canada Geese were being swept along at high speed, honking loudly as they nearly tumbled through the air. Either they were having the time of their lives or they were deeply disgruntled, it's sometimes difficult to tell with geese.
After sending our packages off we made our way across the bridge, attracting the attention of a very curious older gentlemen who was out for his morning constitutional. He had been circling around us for some time, examining the war memorial and the picnic table where we were waiting, and he hurried to re-cross the bridge ahead of us again when he saw us getting ready to leave. Half way across he stopped and turned back in our direction clearly striving to elicit an explanation as to who we were, but a lady pushing a stroller passed us and forced him to move on. I regretted that I couldn't simply put his curiosity to rest by saying hello by striking up a conversation, but my French is simply not up to the task.
We crossed the wide, fast flowing waters of the river, and then made our way down a paved road lined with mature trees and old homes. Along this stretch of road we passed the Richmond County Historical Society Museum, which was located in a 170 year old red brick home known as 'the manse.' Although it wasn't open when we walked past, the interior is apparently decorated with 19th century furnishings, and contains furniture and objects donated by the local community.
Adjacent to the museum was St. Andrew's Church, which is the oldest church in the Val-Saint-François, and is one the first Presbyterian churches built in the Estrie region. To me the simple red brick building with its single white steeple looked like it belonged in New England, but according to local information plaques the structure’s architecture is apparently combined neo-classical and neo-gothic elements. It originally served Scottish settlers in the region, but now welcomes a more diverse congregation.
Eventually we came to a beautiful park with a playground, a wooden gazebo, and a large metal sculpture of life-sized metal horses in a wooden frame. The art installation was created by Jean-Marc Tétro in honour of Melbourne's great painter Frederick Simpson Coburn. He was born in Melbourne in 1871, and his paintings made the scenes of the eastern townships of Quebec known to the world. He also illustrated the works of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe, among others. His paintings can be found in museums around the world, but the bulk of his works are in the Musée des beaux-arts de Sherbrooke.
We stopped to enjoy the sculpture, and were happy to discover a well-stocked Little Free Library in the gazebo. It is the second one we've seen over the past few days and I love seeing how each community makes theirs unique! Here in Quebec there is a great deal of creativity that goes into these wonderful libraries! I love them.
We followed the gravel road for a short distance until it became a nice, crushed stone dust trail that wound through a forest stand of young tamarack, aspen, poplar, and balsam fir. A small flock of Black-capped Chickadees kept pace with us for a short distance, and a group of American Robins, who must have decided to stay put for the winter, foraged in the nearby shrubs.
Soon the trail took us underneath the busy and noisy highway, and then climbed into a stand of beautiful, tall hemlocks followed by a stand of sugar maples whose fallen leaves made a colourful carpet on the trail bed. The interactive map for the Route Verte suggested that we might encounter a lot of re-routes on the trail today, as well as stretches that were only suitable for mountain bikes, and a length of road that should be avoided due to the presence of large trucks. These warnings made us worry that trail conditions would be difficult, or that the trail might disappear altogether, so when we found lovely trail conditions and a rest stop in this first forest stand we were both surprised and delighted. It was the first Halte Velo of many today, and we found the trail to be in good condition all the way to Brompton.
For the next 10 km or so we followed a beautifully forested trail that ran between the busy highway 55 and the Rivière Saint-François. This very large, wide, fast flowing river begins in Lake Saint-François in the Chaudière-Appalches, near the Thetford Mines. It flows southwest towards Sherbrooke, then changes course towards Drummondville before emptying into the Saint Lawrence River near Pierreville.
The path meandered along, at one point bringing us back under the highway again, and at another point taking us out to a short stretch of paved road so we could cross a small stream on a bridge before returning to the pathway. The morning was generally cool and overcast, and although it was a lovely section of trail we were the only ones out enjoying it.
By late morning the sun began to break through the clouds, bringing a bit of
warmth to the day. In a patch of sun on the trail we spotted a large
garter snake, still cold and slow moving. We could see it watching us,
but otherwise it lay still, not flicking it's tongue or even seeming to
breathe. It was a rare opportunity to see such a beautiful creature - its intricate scales, wonderful colours, and amazing eyes up close. After a few minutes it slowly slithered off the trail and into the nearby under-story.
The stretch of trail leading in to Windsor was removed from the road and very close to the river. We could see through the corridor of trees to the water, and to the forested slopes rising up on the other side which were lit up by the sun. Periodically we would pass small groups of Canada Geese floating near the shore, who would hastily swim out to safety in midstream at our approach.
We took a short break at a forested and secluded rest stop with a wooden gazebo and a magnificent view down the river. A short flight of natural stone steps led down to the shore, which was exposed granite shield. Small ferns and plants grew in the cracks as if defying the odds of survival, and bright red sugar maple leaves added colour to the textured rocks.
Eventually our treed trail along the river was again exchanged for a paved road. Even in this stretch there were a couple rest areas, tucked into tiny stretches of pathway off the road. As we approached Windsor we passed a large sand and gravel pit, which as the fashion of the TCT would seem to require and which did indeed have a few construction trucks coming and going, hauling loads down the road. Compared to other stretches of trail it really wasn't too bad, and we had some interesting geology to distract us as we passed between walls of fern and moss covered rock.
Our first view of Windsor was of a bridge over the waterway, and a large factory on the far shore. The town of Windsor Mills was granted town status in 1899, and took its current name in 1914. It is named after Windsor Castle, in Berkshire village in England. Today Windsor Quebec has a population of over 5000 people, and it's main economy is built on the pulp and paper industry, as well as textile manufacturing.
We stopped at Tim Horton's for a coffee, only realizing afterwards that there was a small bakery very close by! I guess when you miss out on a bakery because you stopped at a coffee shop instead you really have nothing to complain about! Still, giving up an opportunity to enjoy French baked goods is a sad feeling.
After our coffee break we followed a paved road up a rather steep hill, through a quiet neighborhood that had many attributes of 1970's homes – such as fake stone facades and car ports, reminding both of us of watching reruns of Leave it to Beaver and the Brady Bunch. Many of the homes still had the remains of their Halloween decorations outside in their yards, which gave our climb a festive atmosphere.
Soon we came to another trailhead which was the beginning of another stretch of truly beautiful trail. We were very close to the highway, which was a bit noisy, but the patterns of sunshine and shadow on the trail, which seemed to dance in the wind, where mesmerizing. We passed through stands of sugar maple, their fallen leaves bright on the grown. In other areas we walked under huge white pines, the sunlight filtering through their feathery needles. A plantation of poplars, whose tall straight stems stood in rows, created geometric patterns on the pathway.
Around 3:30 pm, when the shadows were already long on the trail, we reached the town of Brompton. This large community is a burrow of Sherbrooke, and feels very much like a suburb. Although today wasn't the most exciting of days, we really enjoyed the trails, and were grateful for another day of warmth and sunshine, especially since there is now snow in the forecast.
It feels a little like we are back in Canadian Shield country in central or northern Ontario, with the exposed granite and stands of tall white pines, and this landscape is one that feels very much like home to us.
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