Sunday, December 5, 2021

Waterways, Railways and more Bakeries : Victoriaville to Danville

When we headed out this morning there was a thick layer of crisp white frost coating the roofs, grasses, and fallen leaves.  It created patches of white in the shadows, briefly reversing the usual perception of things, and it sparkled in the sun as we walked. 

Despite the cool temperatures, the paved bicycle path that wove through Victoriaville was busy with people cycling, jogging, and walking.  We passed a beautifully landscaped park, a charming downtown with an abundance of cafés, ice cream shops, and restaurants (mostly closed at that hour), many interpretive historical signs, a large metal sundial, and several works of art.  There was also a well restored train station with several retired gentleman sitting on the benches outside, enjoying the growing warmth of the morning sunshine. 

Victoriaville is a large town, and we walked for about 5 km before the homes began to give way to farmhouses, fields and countryside.  By 8 am the sun had fully emerged, melting the frost and giving the day a nearly summer-like feel.  We removed our mittens, jackets, and sweaters at one of the rest stops, although we got somewhat horrified looks from the still well-bundled people we passed afterwards.  

The pastoral landscape of rolling green fields, colorful stands of sugar maples, and numerous small farms was truly beautiful, and we had the privilege of walking through it for much of the day.  Though most of the leaves have now fallen leaving us to trek through tunnels of bare trees there is still some colour on the ground and the region has a natural beauty to it. 

As we approached the outskirts of the town of Warwick we came to a rare thing on Quebec’s rail trails - a small hill!  Although it was little taller than a large molehill it had been paved, and came with multiple signs warning of the change in grade and trail surface.  Given the highly variable conditions of the Sentier Transcanadien in the rest of the country, this conscientious trail signage made us smile, but it also made us once again appreciate how lucky we are right now.

The hill descended into a corn field where the tall blond stalks were still standing tall, extending above our heads and rustling in the breeze.  At the far end of the field the farmer was out harvesting, having just cut the first swath down the length of the field.  It brought back memories of the prairies, where we watched harvests taking place at a truly impressive scale and pace. 

Just after noon we arrived at the beautiful village of Warwick.  The town was incorporated in 1861, and named after a village in England of the same moniker.   Until 2014 Warwick hosted Quebec's annual cheese festival (it is now held in Victoriaville), and it also claims to be one of the possible birthplaces of poutine.  Although we didn't see too much evidence of industrial activity as we walked around its edges, Warwick is has an industrial center, with factories for agricultural machinery, washing machines, overalls, cheese boxes, and doors. 

The trail turned to follow the road and then took us through another railway tunnel, which was also covered in colourful and creative street art.  One panel featured a large cat shooting lasers from its eyes, and we were almost certain it made the tiny dog we saw being walked underneath it nervous. The voices of many happy children playing in the adjacent schoolyard echoed as we passed under the tunnel.  A short distance later we crossed a road and entered the downtown. A group of students, who were all dressed in creative Halloween costumes, was playing on the trail and very politely said 'Bonjour!' and wished us a 'Bon marche!' as we passed.

We walked past the restored train station, with its red wooden siding and white trim, which had been converted into a Halte Velo (sadly closed).  Large wooden cut-outs of a scary tree and a witch with a cauldron had been placed under the red and orange maples outside in celebration of Halloween. 

We made a slight detour off the trail to visit the P'Pain Boulangerie, which turned out to be a delicious decision.  We purchased freshly made waffles and strawberry jam for breakfast tomorrow, and two slices of banana loaf and cold ice teas for a snack.  Happily there was a picnic table situated right outside the bakery at which we took a break and enjoyed out treats. 

After our walk through Warwick we followed the trail back out into the sunny countryside once again.  A ridge of hills rose up to the east, and we could see the ski slopes and chairlifts of the Mont Gleason Ski resort beside us, the runs separated by forests bright with fall colours. 

At the edge of town we crossed a deep river canyon.  The waters of La Rivière des Pins reflected the clear blue sky above us as the water flowed slowly past in its rocky bed far below us.  A Halte Velo was positioned at the end of the long wooden bridge that spanned the canyon, offering anyone who stopped there a lovely view down the forested river valley. 

Over the next few kilometers the trail began to climb ever so gently, and the countryside around us became much more hilly. Forested foothills covered in orange and red leaves rose up on one side of us, and lush green fields lay on the other.  Periodically pieces of exposed limestone and moss covered shield poked up through the soil beside the trail.

We followed the trail through pastoral landscapes and stretches of forest where the sunshine set the feathery golden tamaracks aglow.  Wooden footbridges transported us over meandering streams and rivers whose clear waters slipped quietly by below us.  As the afternoon progressed it felt more and more like we were following an old train track, the bed raised well above the surrounding landscape.

Around 3:30 pm we came to a split in the trail.  One branch headed west towards Kingsey Falls and Drummondville, whereas our route continued on towards Sherbrooke.  At the junction there was a large metal sculpture covered in large painted sunflowers, with the words 'Bonne Randonnée' displayed on it.  The trail branch we didn't take was lined with large metal sculptures of flowerpots with sunflowers in them.  Together with the fall colours, that trail branch looked very inviting.  However, we stuck to our course and headed on towards Danville. 

A little while later we came to the end of the Parc Linear de la Bois-Francs, and the beginning of the Sentier de la Vallée.  As we made our way down the new trail section we noticed a couple of changes.  In the previous sections, the Halte Velos were each marked with a sign, which also gave the distances the next two resting places.  These signs seemed to have disappeared in the new trail section.  Another difference was that Halte Velos no longer multiple picnic tables and wooden gazebos that had been painted blue.  Instead they consisted of a single picnic table under a shelter made of unfinished logs, which gave them a more rustic look. Here the ATV barriers have also all been unlocked and tied back and the tracks on the trail are evidence that it is well used – though not damaged - by motorized traffic.

The final 7 km were a long but pleasant walk through a hot, sunny afternoon to Danville.  This town is located on the Chemin Craig, which is a road constructed in the 19th century between Quebec and New England.  American loyalists from New England began arriving in 1783, and the town was founded by Simeon Flint, who named the town after Danville, Vermont, where he came from. Danville, QC is only about 110 km north of the Vermont border. 

Until about 1971, much of the town was Anglo-Protestant.  However, in the mid 1970's many of the younger generation moved to Montreal,  New England, or other parts of English-speaking Canada, possibly in response to new French Language laws.  The town was once busy with workers from the nearby Johns Manville asbestos mine, and later Noranda's magnesium mine, but both enterprises ended up closing down. 

When we arrived in Danville we found a charming little village tucked into a river valley, with colourful forested hills rising up around it.  Unfortunately this meant that our accommodations were uphill, which neither of us was thrilled to discovered at the end of a 39.5 km day.  Luckily, at this point we received some much appreciated words of encouragement from a man who passed us on the sidewalk.  He ran across the street because he noticed the Camino shells hanging on our backpacks to ask if we were pilgrims, walking from town to town, and with a huge smile wished us well on our journey.

As we made up way through town we passed several cafés, many churches, and an abundance of artist's studios.  Each year the town has an art symposium in which artists from the area display their artwork in the churches of the area.  It was a charming town, and we are very lucky to be hosted here by Jeffrey tonight.


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