In June 2022, I completed the 700 km Island Walk, around Prince Edward Island. You can read about that walk over several posts, starting with this one.
This was before Hurricane Fiona caused so much damage on the Island, impacting many of the places I visited. Some of what I describe below may have changed by the time you do the Island Walk, but please, don’t let that stop you. PEI needs your tourist support as it recovers.
This post is about days 1-3 of my journey, between Charlottetown and Summerside. The links below have the details from the Island Walk website for the Sections that I covered during this part of my journey.
Note, by the way, that the section #s on the official website are somewhat confusingly labelled. They are based on each finish point, and since the overall walk start point is also the overall finish point, the 1st section is labelled as “32-1” with its accompanying web page titled as Section 32 (because it starts at the end of the last section, which is section 32) and goes to the end of section 1; thus the 2nd section is labelled as “1-2” and its webpage is titled Section 1, and so on.
That said, the links below reflect the sections as I walked them.
I highly recommend that you use the Island Walk website and its directions for the details of the official route, since that route can change from time to time such as for detours around major road works. I also encourage you to use the official route and its sections as a starting point. Find your own pace, detour as and when your fancy takes you, walk the sections in whatever order seems sensible, and remember – everybody walks their own camino.
If you are planning on doing the walk in chunks spread over several months or years, this portion is a good intro to the route and the island.
That first morning dawned a bit chilly with low grey skies and a breeze. I was fidgety and nervously eager to get started, and had to force myself to take a minute and check my pack again, even though I’d gone over it twice the night before. One cup of coffee, a bite of toast, a banana. Time to go.
My original plan had been to travel from bed to bed each day, as you would on the Camino de Santiago, so that every day I’d carry all my clothes, toiletries, electronics, and some snacks and food with me. That approach changed as I delved into the planning and realized that it was impractical to walk from accommodation to accommodation – in some stretches I’d have to do 40km or more, and deviate by several km from the route to find a place. As a result, I settled onto the idea that I’d base myself in several places for a few days at a time, and find transportation to take me to/from the trail each day. (See this post for details of my plans and gear choices).
So come that first morning, even though my wife Ann was still in PEI with the car and was travelling to our next accommodations in Summerside, I still chose to take all my clothes and gear with me that first day, just as a kind of penance for my original sin of mis-planning. That meant that my pack was pretty heavy for a day hike – about 11 kg. And since it was a cool morning, I was wearing a couple of warm layers.
I felt over-dressed and over-burdened as we walked together, a few blocks from the place we’d stayed at in Charlottetown over to Joe Ghiz park where the route starts. This wasn’t an Everest expedition but that’s how I felt. We didn’t say much. We reached the park, and then with little ceremony, Ann quickly took a couple of pictures, we hugged, and I was off.
In hindsight, that first hour, first morning, first day weren’t typical – I hadn’t yet found my routine. I fiddled with the shoulder and waist belt straps on the pack, trying to get it sitting just right on my back and shoulders and hips. I put on clothing layers and took them off. I started out with walking poles and then put them away. I was hungry but undecided about whether to stop and eat or just get going to let a rhythm build.
So I focused on walking. The 1st Section of the Walk starts at km 0 of the Confederation Trail in Joe Ghiz park, so the first couple of kilometres are along the Trail as you head north out of the city before turning west. This Section is “mostly a road walk with some great views of North River in Charlottetown and the Elliot River in Dunedin”, according to the Island Walk website.
And so I found it. Charlottetown does have some lovely quiet streets in its downtown, but a quick walk through them reminded me of an old joke I’d heard in England, about something being small but perfectly formed. Practlcally all of the downtown area (and there’s barely an uptown let alone a midtown) is within earshot of the bells of St Dunstan’s Basilica Cathedral. Joe Ghiz park is just a few blocks from the city’s centre, but it’s already on the outskirts of the downtown core in an area that at one point was obviously full of warehouses and manufacturing – hence a rail line, which is now the route of the Confederation Trail. All of that means that your initial sights on the Walk are urban/industrial, but you don’t mind because you’re Walking the Island Walk and eager to get going.
And in truth, the Trail is a good way to start the Walk since you’re away from traffic and there are benches and picnic tables where you can stop if needed, as I did with my adjusting and fiddling. And then, after only a few km, you realize that you’re already on the outskirts of Charlottetown, near the University of PEI, and there are farms on one side of the trail and big box retailers on the other.
Quite soon, you leave the Confederation Trail and the road-walking starts, because in order to get out of the city you have to cross some rivers, which are bridged by busy streets and highways. In fact, I followed the same route outbound along Capital Drive that we’d driven into the city, past the same fast food restaurants and strip malls, none of which was any more interesting at foot speed in walking than it was at road speed in driving. At a busy roundabout, Capital Drive turns into PEI Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Hwy, and you follow that for a couple of km. You do pass the big Cow Creamery shop just out of town, if that’s your thing, but it had started to drizzle so that first day it wasn’t mine.
It was only once I’d clicked off perhaps 10km of the route, having left Charlottetown behind and reached the outskirts of the nearby town of Cornwall, that I left the Trans-Canada highway behind and started onto the secondary roads, to finally get into the countryside.
But having reached rural PEI after a couple of hours of walking, my bladder was nudging me and my stomach was agreeing. Looking around, I thought it would be completely appropriate to make my first rest stop at a Tim Hortons – Canadian roads from coast to coast to coast are practically paved with Timbits.
But, ironically, that turned out to be the only Tim’s stop I made on the entire walk, which in retrospect still surprises me.
I had assumed before the walk that PEI was covered with Tim’s locations just like the rest of Canada. I hadn’t accounted for two things, however. One is the relatively low population of PEI, which can only support so many coffee and donut shops, so those that exist are on the main highways outside a handful of largish towns, places which are often bypassed by the Walk route. The other is that Islanders divide their loyalties between Tims, the rival Robin’s Donuts chain, and the many ice cream stands on the island.
What I also learned, as the walk progressed, is that the low population density, concentrated as it is in places like Charlottetown, Summerside, Souris, and Montague, means that things like diners, coffee shops, cafes, and corner stores are often non-existant along the Walk route.
But that lesson was in the future – here I just wanted my medium dark roast double/double with milk, a breakfast wrap, and a bio break. And after I’d sat for a short rest, and asked the staff to fill my water bottle (another first time for something on that first day), and wondered why no one was looking at the weird guy with a backpack and walking poles because I secretly hoped that I could tell crowds of awed listeners about my Big Adventure, I hoisted my gear and got going again.
Continuing that first day, heading south and west along secondary roads into gently rolling farming country that’s only 10 km from downtown Charlottetown as the crow flies but which feels like it’s much further, I was taken by the quiet. I’d lived for 40 years in big cities, and I still associated walks with city soundscapes and background noises. Here, there was little road traffic, nor many people about. I barely heard a dog bark. Just the measured click of walking poles, the clip of boots on pavement, and the susurration of breeze-stirred leaves. I did notice the crows, though – noisy buggers. All, in hindsight, a foretaste of things to come, had I known it.
I reached the end of Section 32-1 at a crossroads near the hamlet of Dunedin. I was disappointed when I got there, expecting some sort of prominent landmark and in fact seeing nothing but more farms and fields, with just the Island Walk marker next to a stop sign to tell me I’d reached the end of this first Section. It was mid-afternoon, and looking around, I confirmed that, yep, quiet, green, crows – all good.
In planning the trip, I had broken it up into walk stages of approximately 30 km each because I had a goal of finishing in about 23 days instead of the suggested 32. So, because Section 32-1 is only about 21 km long, I continued walking. Section 1-2 of the Island Walk includes “lots of walking on red dirt roads with a canopy of trees overhead. Two of the nicest quiet dirt roads on PEI – Rebokary Lane and Ferguson Rd”, says the guide.
And that’s what I found at first – this Section brings you into the “real” rural PEI, as the route initially follows paved secondary highways and then the first of the many dirt roads I would follow over the Walk, up low hills and past sunken lanes and hedgerows and roadside bushes and freshly tilled fields. Again, though, a bit of a disappointment – “nicest red dirt roads”? Yeah, they’re red and they’re dirt and they’re roads, but that’s it? Just red, dirt, roads? I was underwhelmed at the time, but I later came to rather like these modest, unassuming yet iconic PEI byways.
Still, it was here that I noticed something that was to become a pet peeve as the Walk progressed. I was getting tired, at this point about 6 hours into my first day, and I really needed a pee. No gas stations, community centres, or other signs of civilization were to hand, and since I was on a dirt road, in the middle of seemingly nowhere, I reckoned I could be a country boy and duck behind a tree.
That solved the immediate problem, but while I needed a rest, I didn’t want to sit on the wet dirt – oh for a park bench or a convenient set of church steps – so I just shrugged off my pack for a few minutes while I stood under a tree and sipped some water. After that less-than-refreshing break, I glanced at my watch, mindful of the pick-up time I’d arranged with Ann, slung my pack again – which someone had filled with rocks, clearly – onto shoulders that I knew would show bruises later that evening, and cursed the stiffness in my hips and knees. “So you wanted to walk around PEI, huh? Move it, slow poke.” The first self pep talk.
Plodding on, southwesterly, I reached the end of the dirt road and merged onto the paved Route 19 highway that runs along the Argyle Shore. I could feel the hot spots on my feet turning into blisters as I walked, but I was damned if I was going to text Ann for an early pick-up. That first day was ending with what was the first of many end-of-day, put-your-head-down-and-just-get-on-with-it trudges, west along Route 19 for several more km.
My target was the Argyle Shore Provincial Park as a pick-up point. Looking ahead, I could see the road climbing a gentle hill and I’d think, ok, last one, and then I’d crest it and stride down and and then look up to see another one, and each seemed to get longer and longer and steeper and steeper. The sun had come out and there were some nice views out over the blue-green waters of the Northumberland Strait, looking charming and calm, and I could see the Nova Scotia coastline just across the water. Home, I thought. Just over there.
And then I looked up with about 500 m to go and saw my wife walking towards me, down a gentle slope, to escort me for the last few minutes of my first day. “How are you feeling?” “Tired”. I slumped into the car when we got to it.
It took about 15-20 minutes to drive into Summerside where we were staying, and by the time we got to our AirBnB, I could hardly get out of the car, the muscles in my legs having stiffened and the blisters on my feet ballooned. After hobbling into the house, it took a desperately needed mug of strong sweet tea, a long hot shower, and a restorative glass of wine before I could look at my feet. Ugly puffy blisters greeted me from the bottoms of several toes on both feet along with the side of my left foot. I took out my first aid kit, extracted some alcohol swabs, blister bandages, and antiseptic cream, and reached for my Swiss Army knife. Ann looked on with disgusted interest. “Eeewww”.
An appropriate word for Day 1. It had proven to be more challenging than I had expected. The low rolling countryside, up and down crossing ravines and small river valleys, had been unexpected – PEI is flat, right? I was surprised to see the stair count on my exercise tracker – so much for my assumptions of an easy walk.
The Argyle Shore
Rolling out of bed the next morning was easy, as I’d slept like a log. Standing up was the hard part. The popped blisters covered in bandages and moleskin didn’t bother me so much as the stiffness in my legs and back. I hobbled about for 15 minutes making coffee and a light breakfast, then gathering snacks, assembling sandwiches, filling water bottles, grabbing a spare shirt and pair of socks, and tucking everything into my pack. I was ready to go by 8:00.
Ann drove me back to Argyle Shore Provincial Park, and I got out of the car feeling reluctence at the prospect of doing it all over again, competing with eagerness at the same time. But the sun was out, and while the westerly breeze had a bite to it, it seemed a fine morning to put on sun glasses, snug on my broad-brimmed hat, and shoulder my pack.
My goal that day was to finish the 2nd half of Section 2, which ends at Victoria-by-the-Sea, as well as then completing Section 3 of the route, which ends at Borden-Carlton. Altogether, that meant about a 32 km day.
I continued following Route 19 for several km to De Sable, and it took all of that to work out the kinks in my legs and feet. Or more precisely, to walk myself into a rhythm where I didn’t notice my feet. By the time I crossed the Trans-Canada Hwy to continue northwest on secondary and dirt roads, I was feeling relaxed and back into my mental walking zone, letting random thoughts play along with snippets of songs, tuning back into my surroundings occasionally to listen to the wind in the trees or inhale the rich earth loaming smells of the fields.
The route here along the Argyle Shore is relatively quiet, and compared to the northern shore up around Cavendish and the Prince Edward Island National Park, it’s relatively under-touristed. The day trippers go north from Charlottetown, so it’s the long term tourists who park their RVs here or rent seasonal cottages in places like the Argyle Shore. I passed several such sites, some with enviable views – since the road is set back from the shore by a km or two, the land between the road and the shore is privately owned and these campsites and cottage clusters get the seaside at first hand. And since it was very early in the season for tourists – the Provincial Park hadn’t even opened yet – there were few other people around. No walkers, no cyclists in view, and barely a vehicle.
There are spots here on the route where you climb a bit, and can look back south across the Northumberland Strait, and the air that morning was sharply clear (I’d even call it a bit crisp with the chilly breeze). For the most part, the scenery was of farms and fields, holiday homes down private lanes, small patches of forest, and modest houses. Only a few barking dogs. And crows – PEI seems to have 10 times more crows than people. They caw, the sound I recognized, and they cry with screeching-baby like sounds that I hadn’t heard before, and the thought occurred that this was the reason why the collective noun is of a murder of crows.
Sections 2 and 3 are all road-walking, west along Route 19 and then north up Route 116 into some hills, west and then south along red dirt roads, and back onto Route 116 south, crossing the Trans-Canada again and heading for the shore, and then turning west along a causeway into Victoria-by-the-Sea – the terminus of Section 2. By this point, the breeze had freshened into a proper stiff headwind, a light gale even, so that I had to lean into it and hold onto my hat. Later in the walk, I would come to appreciate any breeze as a mosquito defence, but that morning it felt like a fight with the stubborn westerly wind.
I took a break in Victoria, walking out along the wharf,
to stop for a late breakfast at a place out called Casa Mia. It was a nice stop, with a delicious omelette and friendly service. The restaurant’s views over the water were lovely. My planned 30 minute stop turned into 55 minutes, and it was a challenge to get up from the table and head back out just after mid-day, but I wanted to finish the 20 km of Section 3 that day by reaching Borden-Carlton by about 4:00 pm.
The Island Walk website says that Section 3 “starts with dirt road walking and then some road walking with a great view of the Confederation bridge”. Except that it’s more of a graveled road rather than a red dirt road, which granted isn’t paved but it is less pleasant to walk on gravel than packed red dirt – the stones can shift a bit under your feet so it takes more concentration. After a few km on this gravel road, I joined the bigger Route 10 highway, following it west for the rest of the day along the shore, through Augustine Cove to Cape Traverse. There were some glimpses of the Confederation Bridge, and as it slowly grew larger I knew I was making progress towards my goal for the day.
I was back into my walking rhythm after the break at lunchtime, and I was getting my pace figured out. If I sang Old MacDonald Had a Farm to myself at a moderate galloping beat, then that gave me a steady 5 to 5.5 km per hour pace. Over time, I tried other tunes. Little snippets of The Lion Sleeps Tonight or Sudbury Saturday Night. That helped, but when a song gets stuck in your head as you walk, it’s maddening, so I found myself looking around for some arresting sight to break my train of thought and change the music.
By mid-afternoon that day, I was learning that road-walking has its own challenges. Uneven shoulders scattered with chunks of pavement. Too many glimpses of roadside trash. And, worst of all, no place to sit and rest, no place for a pee. My habit on long walks, usually, is to take breaks every 90 to 120 minutes, and that was proving to be difficult here, unless I simply stopped by the side of the road and stood there with my pack off while having a drink. I did find a field with a small grove of bushes that screened me from the road, and had a bio break there. But places to sit were hard to find. And my feet were barking again, the blister bandages having rubbed off and balled up in my socks.
With steady walking, the distance to Borden-Carlton gradually shrank. 15 km to go. 10 km, then 5. The sun swung past its zenith and headed west to shine back into my face. At two pm, I checked the map to see where I was. At three, I looked again – closer but getting there by 4 was looking tough. And then, as I walked I told myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Let your body tell you when to stop, so I did, a bit short of my end-of-day target of Borden-Carlton to complete Section 3, and instead texted Ann to pick me up about 3 km early, at Cape Traverse.
Summerside was closer, but still far enough away for my legs to stiffen up in the car again, and the hobble into the house must have had the neighbours wondering about the cranky old guy who was vacationing there. After my new daily ritual of a strong, sweet mug of tea and a hot shower, I confirmed what I had suspected, that my old blisters had new ones, and got out the first aid kit again. After dinner, I read for a bit, and dozed while I did so. The exercise and fresh air had tired me right out, so it was an early night.
Onwards to Summerside
That 3rd morning was the last time that my wife would be with me for a while on this trip, until the latter half of my journey. It was bittersweet to give her a hug that morning when she dropped me off in Cape Traverse, before she headed home to Lunenburg. I was still ramping up, learning and slowly getting fitter, and I was becoming more inwardly focused as I locked onto my goal. At the same time, a friend to talk to each evening is a good way to unwind, and now I’d be on my own for a bit.
But it was good sunny, breezy, warm-but-not-hot walking weather, and I felt rested and ready, as I set out along Route 10, watching as the car disappeared into the distance, The rural character of PEI is strong in this area, along the Northumberland Strait – farms, some views of the sea, farms, more views of the sea, occasional glimpses of the Confederation Bridge, and so on to, through, and past Borden-Carlton to finish Section 3 within my first hour of the day, and then across the Trans-Canada Hwy in Borden-Carlton where I onto start Section 4 along Route 10 towards Summerside.
The Island Walk website stated that in this Section I would “walk by farms and fields and through small communities, including Central Bedeque. Busy road entrance to Summerside (8 km), then a peaceful walk on the Confederation Trail right through the city.”
And for the most part, that’s accurate. This part of the route follows Route 10 for about 10 km, and about 5 km out of Borden-Carten I stopped at a church that had a picnic table out front, for a short rest and a water break. Getting up to leave, I had a chat with the woman who looked after the church, who came out to see who this strange person was. She asked where I was walking, and I explained about the Island Walk. She was quite interested, and wished me well, the first of many friendly people I met on my walk. It was only later that I realized that in more than 2 days of walking to that point, I’d yet to meet another walker or a friendly local.
After that welcome break, I continued west towards Central Bedeque, where I stopped at a great little place called Baba’s Kitchen for lunch.
I walked in to find a queue of people lined up to place their orders, and several of the ladies in line saw my pack and asked where I was walking. It turned out that they were a group of quilters from all around the maritimes, in PEI for a quilting weekend. As we chatted, they asked where I was from – Lunenburg, I said. Oh, you have to meet so-and-so in our group, she’s from Lunenburg. And so I met Lynne, with whom I had a great chat. It turned out that she lived only about a kilometer from me, a nice little small-world moment.
After a very tasty sandwich and a coffee, I continued on my way. Outside Central Bedeque, the route joins and follows the Trans-Canada Highway (the “busy road entrance to Summerside (8 km)” part), and as I walked along I heard a series of cheerful car horn toots, as each of the quilters I’d met passed me – thank you ladies, that put a huge grin on my face.
But soon after that, I realized that I didn’t much fancy walking all the way to Summerside along the busy and noisy Trans-Canada Highway with its trucks and cars. Instead I detoured, and followed empty sun-bathed secondary roads north to Wilmot Valley, where I joined the Confederation Trail at Travelers Rest about 5 km outside of Summerside.
That detour was pleasant enough, and it did get me to the end of Section 4 in downtown Summerside via the Confederation Trail,
just as the official route would have, but it was at the cost of walking an extra 8-9 km that day. My planned short day had ended up being longer than I’d thought and I was ready for a rest by the time I reached my accommodations in Summerside. Lesson learned – stay on the route.
I did notice, though, that as you get closer to Summerside, you start to shed some of the ruralness I’d walked through earlier. Summerside is the biggest community on the island outside of Charlottetown, and you pass ice cream joints, antique shops, and other seaside resort town things as you get closer to the town. Then, somewhat suddenly as you join the Confederation Trail for the last bit into town, your walk goes back to being quiet and shady and green – quite a contrast after the busy stretch of the Trans-Canada, and a welcome change at that.
It also struck me that Summerside is a community that can’t make up its mind as to whether it’s a seaside resort town or a service and light industry town. There’s a big Canada Revenue Agency office here, and a former air force base, along with a great boardwalk by the sea and yet more ice cream places. It’s clearly a service town, but it has these seaside touches too. All in all, however, I couldn’t quite like it – it felt sprawly and tawdry in places, missing those lovely wooden houses you see in other parts of the province.
And so I finished the first part of my walk. Three days to get into the rhythm of it with help and support from my wife. The next couple of stretches would be solo. I was looking forward to them.
Day 1 Summary – Charlottetown to Argyle Shore
Pretty good day for walking – a bit overcast with a few showers in the morning, then sun all afternoon. Cool for June, about 6C in the morning, and quite breezy.
Completed all of Section 1 (21 km from Charlottetown to Dunedin) and roughly half of Section 2 (which in total is 24 km from Dunedin to Victoria-by-the-Sea).
Daily GPS distance = about 30 km, elapsed time almost 7 hours
Fitbit daily stats = 31.4 km, 42,100 steps, 395 exercise minutes, 154 flights of stairs
Day 2 Summary – Argyle Shore to Cape Traverse
Good weather, lots of sun, though coolish temps and strong breezes that kept me in a windbreaker all day
Completed the rest of section 2 from Argyle Shore Provincial Park to Victoria-by-the-Sea and then walked almost all of Section 3 (which is 20 km in total from Victoria-by-the-Sea to Borden-Carlton)
GPS measured distance = about 28 km, elapsed time just under 7 hours
Fitbit daily stats = 30 km walked, 40,200 steps, 367 exercise minutes, 97 flights of stairs
Day 3 Summary – Cape Traverse to Summerside
Another great walking day, sunny, breezy, and warmer so I could finally get down to shirtsleeves
Completed the remaining few km of Section 3 from where I had left off at Cape Traverse to Borden-Carlton, and then more or less did Section 4 (21 km from Borden-Carlton to Summerside), though I deviated from the official route entering Summerside
GPS measured distance = about 30 km walked, elapsed time just over 8 hours
Fitbit daily stats = 31.8 km, 42,600 steps, 400 exercise minutes, 47 flights of stairs
Cornwall, Victoria-by-the-Sea, and Borden-Carlton between them have several options for accommodation and dining, and the larger communities of Charlottetown and Summerside that book-end this portion of the Walk have many such options. That said, it’s still tricky to walk from accommodation to accommodation in this area – the end of Section 1 is out in the middle of the countryside though there is one B&B I saw about 500m from that point. After that, though, Sections 2, 3, and 4 all end in towns where you can find lodging. I’d strongly recommend booking ahead, especially in high season.
If, like me, you base yourself in a place like Summerside for a few days while you do this part of the walk, and if you don’t have a spouse or partner with you who can drive you to/from the route each day, then you’ll need to plan transportation options. Summerside has a couple of taxi companies that cover most of the west end of the island – they will run you all the way out to North Cape if you want. That can be expensive, however – expect rates in the region of $2 per km.
Other transportation options exist. There are some tour operators who will provide rides. There is also the T3 bus network, which can get you to/from some of the points on the Island Walk route. Check their website for full schedule info.
As for sustenance, in these first sections it’s possible to find a lunch spot each day, at Cornwall, De Sable, Victoria, Borden-Carlton, and Central Bedeque. Nevertheless, I would recommend taking some snacks, and you’ll need water. I was able to fill water bottles at the places I stopped at for lunch.
Bio pit stops are another matter. All that road walking means that if you need to pee, you’re either sneaking into the bushes by the side of the road, or holding on till you reach a gas station (and there aren’t a lot of those along these roads).
I did notice a number of churches along more major roads like Route 19 and Route 10, as well as a few community centres and museums, and I learned as I progressed over the rest of the Walk to look out for these types of places, because they often provided a restful sit-down on a bench or some steps. Outside of that, however, there are few other rest options on the road sections, unless you are comfortable just flopping on the ground.
In June 2022, I completed the 700 km Island Walk, around Prince Edward Island. You can read about that walk over several posts, starting with this one.
This was before Hurricane Fiona caused so much damage on the Island, impacting many of the places which I had visited. Some of what I describe below may have changed by the time you do the Island Walk, but please, don’t let that stop you. PEI needs your tourist support as it recovers.
This post is about how I planned the walk, deciding on things like the pace to follow and gear to use; where I stayed and how I found accommodations; how I worked out logistics like getting to and from the route each day; and what lessons I learned along the way.
Forgive the wordiness and lack of pics – this is full geek mode for me.
Once I’d decided to do it, I fell into my project planner mode, and started to figure out how I was going to walk it. How many days to take? Follow the route closely or ad lib in parts? What to take, and what to carry? Where to stay?
One of the good things about the Island Walk is that the PEI government has adopted it under its tourism umbrella, so the route signage is pretty good. The official website has a good map, and you can download to print out the route directions stage by stage if you want.
As well, the route has been added to map sets like Open Hiking and the Back Roads Map Books Canada Trails, which smart phone apps such as AllTrails or GaiaGPS can use. I used GaiaGPS on my walk, with a premium subscription so that I could trace my route and add waypoints. I did that in advance of the walk, to have markers show up for each of the 32 suggested stage end points as well as for each 30 km of the Walk.
There are other sources too. For example, the Island Walk website will point you to the official guide book which you can order online. I didn’t bother with it, to be honest, but it’s there. A few hours of Googlewhacking found several blog posts, Facebook pages, and YouTube videos about the walk, including one by the original founder of it, Brian Guptil, and I am sure that since I looked in the spring of 2022, there have been more posted.
There’s also an official Facebook page that’s linked to the Island Walk website, and that has a private message blog for which you’ll need to request access. That official blog is handy, because it lets you pose questions to other walkers and get advice on things like places to stay or eat, or transportation options.
While doing my research, I quickly determined that I wanted to do the walk in less than the suggested 32 days, partly to save money on accommodation and partly because I just didn’t want to be away from home that long. The stages as marked on the suggested route are mostly between 20-25 km, and I knew from experience that I could handle as many as 35 km in a day, so that led me to aim, initially, for about 30 km per day so that I could finish in about 23-24 days.
Based on that idea, and the notion that I’d walk from accommodation to accommodation each night (see the section below), I created a walking plan where each daily stage targeted about 30 km of the route, plus whatever distance I’d need to walk to/from accommodation each day. I used Google Maps to trace the route and scoured for places to stay – hotels, B&Bs, holiday cottages, and camp sites. I reckoned that I could take camping gear with me and use that for some of the nights.
The result was a plan that did get me round the Island in about 23 days, but which didn’t look very appealing. There were a number of pretty long days, approaching 40 km when I took the walk to/from accommodation into account. Also, in some cases there was only one B&B or holiday resort that would work given the stage lengths, but I was planning to do this starting in late May, and some of these didn’t open for the season till mid-June.
So Plan #1 went out the window.
For Plan #2, I went back to the drawing board. After more research, I saw that people on the Island Walk Blog were talking about using some of the towns as a base for several days, and arranging transport to/from there. That sounded like a better idea, so taking into account that the town I chose as a base had to be on the route and have some grocery stores and shops, I decided to use Summerside, Tignish, Kensington, and Murray Harbour as my bases. I rejgged my planned stages and was able to reduce the daily walking average to about 30 km, since with pickups and dropoffs I could stick closely to the route. That would get me to the finish in 23 days.
After talking it over with my wife, we also decided that she would join me for the 2nd half of the walk, so that she could explore the Island herself while schlepping me to and from the route each day. She had initially planned to be with me for the first couple of days anyway, so that gave me transport coverage for about 18 days out of the 23. Given that I could start or end a few stages in my base town, I assumed I would only need transport help for a few days.
Plan #2 survived the start of the walk, but hit a wall on Day 6.
I was slogging and foot sore, and everything felt like a grind, as I struggled up the west coast of the Island towards Tignish. I managed 20 odd km that day of a planned 32, and took a rest stop at Mimnigash, and then I basically couldn’t get up. After 30 minutes of self-pep-talk, followed by 30 more of now-what mental meanderings, I called my ride in Tignish and asked to be picked up early.
When I got settled into my hotel that afternoon, I called my wife and we talked through where I was at. I listened to her chuckling, as she said she had been wondering when I’d realize that 23 days was too short, and we agreed to lengthen the trip.
Looking at the official stages, I realized that I’d ended my Day 6 at the end of Stage 8, at Mimnigash. That put me 2 days ahead of the official 32 schedule already. To finish in 27 or 28 days, I just needed to pick up another 2-3 days over the rest of the walk, which I reckoned I could do by adding a couple of km per day to each of the remaining official stages. That approach allowed me to reduce my planned daily walk length from an average of about 30 km down to about 25-27 km per day, while increasing the duration to about 27 days in total. This became Plan #3.
In order to make this plan work, I needed to adjust my accommodation bookings. I had a place lined up in Kensington, and they were able to move my dates by a day, so that worked out. After that, however, I wasn’t sure where to go. B&Bs and AirBnBs were filling up fast, and were getting more expensive with the high season starting. Plus there was a festival of some kind in Charlottetown for the weekend I planned to finish, June 26-27, and hotels there were sold out.
Thus Plan #3 quickly evolved into Plan # 4, as I ended up booking a place in Murray Harbour, and then a final one in Vernon Bridge. This changed my stage plans, and I added one more day, so that I’d finish in 28 days. My daily average distance dropped a smidge more, and more importantly, things now looked doable.
And so parts of Plan #2 combined with Plan #4 became my actual as-walked plan. I ended up averaging 25.5 km per day, with a longest day of 34 km, and a shortest of 15 km. I started on Wednesday, June 1, and finished on Monday, June 28.
With all of that learned, my advice on Planning is simple – you should make one based on as much research as you have time for, and then you should expect and allow it to evolve as circumstances change. If I had tried to stick rigidly to my original plan, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the walk as much because I would have been more tired and possibly would have injured myself in pushing too much.
While I may have adjusted my plans a few times, in the end I did follow the official route quite closely in terms of the roads and trails followed, only deviating a bit around Summerside. I also had a few days where I walked the described route for a stage, and then added several km to it in order to get to/from that day’s accommodation. This added a few km to the overall total distance walked – it came to about 718 km compared to the official route length of 690 km, making my overall daily average of actual walking come to about 26.6 km.
Also, you will find that for the most part, the whole of the route is sign-posted quite well, with directional signs telling you when to turn onto this road or that.
The signs are placed with the assumption that you are walking correctly, and safely, facing oncoming traffic, i.e you are on the left side of the road with cars on your right. They are generally on the right side of the road – that is, on the opposite side of the one you should be walking on.
The signs are only on one side of the road, so this sign-posting practice also assumes that you are going clockwise round the island, following the sections from 1 to 32 in order (i.e start in Charlottetown, head to west Summerside, then north Tignish, etc). If you do the route the other way round, or a la carte in chunks, you may have to look over your shoulder for the signs.
There were a few places where I could have added a short detour to my day, to take in a place of interest. The official stage descriptions point out these sorts of things. For me, generally speaking, I didn’t do that. The only exception was the walk through Prince Edward Island National Park up around Cavendish and into North Rustico. There the official route follows the park walking/cycling trail, which is inland a bit beside the road. Instead, I cut down onto the beach and walked along it parallel to the road. It didn’t really change the distance but it was far more satisfying.
Over the course of my walk, I got into the habit each night of reviewing each day’s route as-walked, marking where I finished using my map app, and then scouting the next day’s route using Google Maps in satellite view to get a sense of the directions, sights, and possible rest stop options along the way. This became quite handy, particularly on road sections, as I quickly learned that finding a comfy spot to sit and rest was a challenge.
Later in the walk, when my wife joined me in PEI and drove me to/from the walk every day, using the map app and Google Maps also let me geomark the next day’s start and end points, and put those into my wife’s phone, so that she could just follow the directions in the car.
As you can see based on how my planning evolved, finding accommodation drove it as much as the route itself. While the Island Walk is referred to in some places as a “Camino” like walk, the reality is that it would be quite difficult to do it in the manner of the Camino de Santiago. You simply can’t walk from accommodation to accommodation expecting to find an inn or hostel or B&B more or less on the route every 5-10 km. The tourist accommodation on the island is concentrated in a few places (Charlottetown, Summerside, the Cavendish area, the Stanhope area, etc.), which leaves long sections at the west and east ends of the Island where there aren’t any B&Bs or hotels conveniently near the route.
It’s also important to realize when planning your accommodation that PEI has a short but intense tourist season. Many places only open after about mid-May or Victoria Day weekend (3rd Monday in May), and shut not long after Labour Day (first Monday in September) or at latest Thanksgiving (2nd Monday in October). But July and August are peak tourist – the island’s population doubles or even triples in these months. That leaves narrow 4-week shoulder seasons in June and in September, which can work as I found in June.
So all of that said, if you make your plans well in advance, e.g. in January for a walk in June or July, then you probably could book things out so that you could walk more or less from place to place, as long as you accept that you’re going to have more than a few days where you’ll need a lift as well as some extra distances to/from the route.
An alternative to that is to try to camp your way round the Island. There are some provincial parks that offer campsites as well as several private campgrounds, relatively near the route. In a few cases these align with the suggested stages, but for the most part they don’t, so you’ll have to improvise your stage lengths as needed. Even then, there aren’t formal campgrounds near the route in all cases.
For example, walking the Confederation Trail between St. Peter and North Lake covers more than 50 km, with essentially no nearby campsites. You could try knocking on doors and asking if you can camp in a field, and Islanders being pretty hospitable, you might be able to make that work. I wouldn’t try to stealth camp, though. There is essentially no crown land along the route, so if you try to stealth camp you’ll be trespassing on private land and that’s not just illegal, it’s downright rude.
By the way, another thing I learned in my research is that while there are many cottages for rent on the island, many of them are in holiday resorts where they only rent by the week. It was frustrating because some of these were right on the route, but since I only needed one night I couldn’t use them.
All of this is a long-winded way of explaining why I ended up replanning a couple of times and settling on a base-accommodation approach. In the end, I spent 5 nights in Summerside, 4 nights in Tignish, 6 nights in Kensington, 11 nights in Murrary Harbour, and finally 3 nights in Vernon Bridge. These places were a mixture of AirBnBs and inns. Since I had left it late, I had trouble finding AirBnBs around Montague and around Souris, which would have been a lot more convenient for the east end of the island than Murray Harbour, but on the other hand the place in Murray Harbour was great. If you book a few months ahead of time, and if you avoid peak season in July/August, you should be fine finding something.
Practicalities and Logistics
I met just a few fellow walkers on the trip, but in chatting with those few people a consensus emerged on a few things to keep in mind when planning this walk. In no particular order, I’d list them as follows.
Road walks = no place to sit down, no place to pee
Accommodation needs to be planned well ahead
Since accommodation is likely to be spread out and not near the route, transportation to/from the route is key
Timing is everything – you’ll have a short season to do the walk if you want things to be open but avoid the tourist crush
I think if I was going to do the walk again, I’d seriously consider packing a small portable stool or chair, which would be a blessing especially on the road walk sections. There are many stretches where you’re multiple hours between towns. Scouting each day’s route the night before using Google Maps in satellite mode helped me to spot community centres, public parks, churches, schools, post offices, and even cemeteries, where they might be a bench, as well as toilet facility candidates like gas stations, cafes, bakeries, and ice cream stands.
This let me make notes for myself about distances between these landmarks, so that, for example I could start on a morning knowing that after about 8 km I’d come to a church where I could sit on the steps for a break. Even then, I had a couple of frustrating days where I’d find the church I’d seen on the map but realize that it’s wooden steps had been removed because the church had been closed. On a rainy day when you don’t want to sit on the ground, that’s a real pain.
For most people, the other key is that while you need to stay hydrated, doing so usually leads to the need for a bio break every so often. If you are discreet and careful, you can sometimes find a conveniently located little stand of trees or bushes just off the road. Nevertheless, it always seemed that I had been walking for hours without seeing a car and then the moment I stepped off the road, 3 of them would trundle past. Or I’d walk along a promising stretch of road with houses on one side and fields on the other, only to realize that every stand of trees or bushes was exactly opposite someone’s house.
I did meet one fellow walker who’s strategy was simply to walk fast, drink little, and hold it all in. She would hydrate and pit stop before leaving, and then plow through each stage non-stop, only looking for a toilet when she had reached her destination at the end of a stage. That might have worked for her, but it wouldn’t work for everyone, and it certainly didn’t work for me. All I can say is that if you do need to “go”, al fresco, you need to be respectful of others and of private property and follow the backcountry rule – leave no trace.
Since getting to/from the trail and your accommodation may well require transportation, you’ll have to figure this out ahead of time. There are some options. If you’re near Summerside or Charlottetown, there are several taxi firms that you can book and they’ll drive you for 50 km or even 100 km if you need it so that you can be dropped at the start of a stage and picked up at the end. But that convenience will be pricey – expect to pay up to $2 per km.
An alternative is the T3 bus network, and it’s a good option in some cases. It’s very inexpensive at $2 per ride (as of June 2022). It runs from several of the towns you’ll pass through, on routes that lead back to Charllottetown but pass through several places, e.g. the route between Summerside and Charlottetown passes through Kensington. To use the service, you need to make a booking on their website, which can be same-day but is better done the night before.
Through careful planning, you can arrange these rides to get from your accommodation to your drop-off and pick-up points. The drawback is that the buses are on fixed schedules and run only 2-3 times a day, so there might be 4-5 hours between runs, thus you’ll have to time your walk to catch the bus. And, at least as of June 2022, the buses only run Monday-Friday so on weekends you’ll have to find alternate methods.
One of those alternate methods is to do the Walk without walking – ride a bike instead. I met several people who were doing the route this way. By riding, they could not only go a bit faster and do the route more quickly, they could also find accommodation as much as 10 km off the route, and they could adjust their daily stage lengths to go from town to town. The route is easy to cycle as the Confederation Trail is firmly gravelled, and the rest is on roads.
If cycling is not your thing, and buses don’t work, nor taxis, then one other option is to find a sherpa – a person to drive you to/from the route each day. This in turn takes several forms.
One is to use one of the private tour companies in PEI that have started to offer Island Walk packages combining accommodation arrangements as well as transportation, so that your luggage is schlepped for you and they take you from B&B to B&B. You can find outfits that do this by doing some research on the blog that goes with the Island Walk website.
A similar idea is to stay at one of several resorts, inns, and B&Bs which offer transportation to/from the route. You can usually book this at the time you book the accommodation. As the Island Walk becomes more popular, I suspect that this type of thing will grow. You can find these kinds of places by doing some research on the blog that goes with the Island Walk website.
One method I used was to ask for advice at one of the inns I stayed at, and they pointed me to a private tour operator named Stanley MacDonald. He runs custom small-group tours for cruise ship passengers coming into Charlottetown, and in between he’s happy to pick up Island Walkers like me and take them to/from anywhere on the island. There are several operators like this, and again, using the Island Walk blog can help you connect with them.
Finally, there’s the Little-Help-From-Your-Friends approach. In my case, my wife stayed with me for about half of the time I was doing the walk. She would drive me each day to/from my route, and in between she explored the island, visiting museums and shops and beaches and cafes and just generally chilling. Similarly, you could also walk with a buddy or two, and use two cars where you both drive to the endpoint to leave a car, then drive back to the start and park the other car, so that at the end of the day you can drive back and pick up the 1st car again.
There is one other way to do it, and that’s simply to plan your accommodation and your daily stages so that, as with the traditional Camino, you walk from place to place each day. A combination of camping (including asking people to stay in their field) along with B&Bs or hotels might well work, if you’re able to do the detailed planning required. I didn’t meet anyone on the Walk who was trying this, but I suppose it’s doable.
Food, Snacks, and Hydration
I’ve done all-day walks many times, and I’ve learned what works for me regarding nutrition. First of all, I focus on hydration – I’d rather carry the extra weight of an additional water bottle than run out on a hot day. For this trip, most days I started with about 1.5L of water and I tried to fill my bottles whenever I could at a store or coffee shop. On a few hot days, I also carried an extra 500ml water bottle, just in case. In addition, I always tried to include fruit with my snacks and lunches, since oranges, grapes, cherry tomatoes, etc. will provide a lot of hydration and electrolytes.
Regarding food, I try to eat lightly during the day while I am walking, saving the larger meal for the end of the day. That means starting with a simple breakfast – yoghurt and toast, a bagel and cream cheese, or oatmeal with honey, that sort of thing – and then carrying snacks and food to provide short bursts of calories every couple of hours during the walk.
I try to avoid junk foods like candy bars or high-sodium chips or jerky, and instead eat healthy foods like fresh fruits and veggie snacks, sandwiches with lean proteins like smoked turkey, whole grain breads, and so on. I’ll carry a few protein bars, as well as a nut-free (I’m allergic) trail mix of raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins, and dried fruit. I avoid things that need to stay cold – no tuna salad with mayo – so I can skip heavy ice packs.
On this walk, I also tried to limit caffeine during the day. I just had one cup of coffee in the morning, and then waited till I was done for the day before I had any more. Caffeine is a diuretic (it makes you pee), so limiting it made sense to me.
There were a couple of occasions where I was able to buy lunch along the route, but I think that only happened about 4-5 times for me. So the rest of the time I packed a lunch. You could adjust your route a bit I guess and hit a few more places, but you’ll need to pack a lunch at least half the time. I have seen that a number of the B&Bs and inns that offer Island Walk transportation and stay packages will sometimes offer to make you a packed lunch as well, so that’s up to you.
One other tip is to choose accommodation that’s near grocery stores – that’s in part why I chose to stay in Summerside, Tignish, and Kensington. It was much healthier to buy fresh food and prepare it myself for snacks and meals, rather than eating out all the time, and it was cheaper to boot. 30+ years of travelling on business taught me that there’s much to be said for home cooking.
As for what to wear and carry and take, I think there are only a few essentials.
Comfortable walking clothes suitable for the day’s weather
A knapsack or day pack
Snacks and often lunch
After that, it’s up to you. I carried a little inflatable seat pad, for example, and it came in handy several times when I couldn’t find anywhere to sit down. I also carried some spare clothes in a dry bag, tailored each day to the weather and conditions. It was great to be able to change out of a sweaty shirt before getting into the car for a 45-min ride back to my digs, or to have a warm fleecy handy, or a complete change of clothes when I knew I’d be walking in the rain. And the dry bag for these clothes was key as well. Despite the fact that I had a rain cover for my pack, there were a couple of all-day walks in the rain that would have soaked anything I was carrying.
On the other hand, I did not carry sunblock or bug spray. I don’t like putting chemicals on my skin (and suffered bug torment accordingly), but other walkers I met did have that on hand. It’s a personal choice, and of course the time of year will factor in as well. Peak mosquitoes are in May and June.
What else? Well, many people use walking poles, and I started with a set as well. I had used them previously on a 1-week 200 km walk from Niagra-on-the-Lake to Toronto that included part of the Bruce Trail, and they were essential gear there. However, after the 2nd day of the Island Walk, I gave them to my wife to take home, since the road and trail conditions were fine, and I wasn’t carrying a big pack. You decide.
A word on the foot wear – really, you could wear just about anything, as long as it’s comfortable. I wore mid-weight hiking boots, which I was careful to break in before the Walk, and they worked pretty well. I had some blisters early, and near the end of the walk I had a little bit of muscle/joint/ligament pain in the soles and ankles, but mostly that was just about walking for 6-7 hours a day. Overall I was quite pleased with the boots.
Other walkers whom I met wore running shoes, hiking/trail shoes, and in one case hiking boots, and I’m sure their respective choices worked for them too. Just keep in mind that if you’re doing the whole walk in one go like I was, you are going to exercise your feet more than you’re likely to have done before. Shoes that work for a 1 or 2 hour hike may not hold up for multiple 6-hour days of walking. Keep that in mind, and don’t wear either brand-new footwear or old comfortable-but-not-enough-mileage-left footwear.
As for clothing, it’s really about the weather. I walked in June, and at the start on June 1st the day’s high temp was about 10 C, with some rain showers and a cold wind in my face. I started the walk carrying a light touque and runner’s gloves, just in case. By the end of the walk, the daily temps were up in the mid-20’s and peaked around 30 C, with hours of blue sky above. I knew going in that I’d get a range of conditions, so I focused on lightweight layers that I could add or subtract as needed.
Also, since I had a few days where I’d be carrying all of my clothes and gear from one night’s accommodation to another, I kept my clothing selection small and focused on lightweight items – just 3 pairs of trousers, 3 wick-away fast-dry T-shirts, 3 pairs of underwear, 4 pairs of merino wool socks, 1 wick-away fast dry long-sleeve T-shirt, and 1 lightweight fleecy, and of course each day I’d wear part of that. All of my clothes fit into a 10L dry bag and I could get that plus everything else into a 38L overnight pack with no issue.
In addition to those clothes, I packed and often wore two bits of rain gear, a jacket and a pair of pants. The rain jacket also gave me another outer layer if it was cold, and it served well as mosquito defense too. As with most rain gear, you’re going to sweat under it if you’re working hard, GoreTex or not, so the jacket I used had underarm zips so that I could ventilate a bit as I walked while keeping out moisture. But even so, it’s hard to balance staying dry vs staying cool. Accept that rain gear helps but you’re going to get wet anyway.
The final piece of essential gear for me was my hat. I actually had 3 of them – a full brim Tilley hat for sun protection, a baseball style hat that I could wear under my rain jacket hood to keep the rain off my glasses, and my bug hat.
The latter was picked up at a dollar store in Alberton in the 1st half of my journey, after battling mosquitoes along the Confederation Trail, and it turned out to be darn handy. Your head, your choice, just keep sun, rain, and bugs in mind.
I ended up using two different packs on the trip. I have a 55L multi-day pack that I really like and I used it for the first half of the trip. During this part, my wife wasn’t with me, so I had a few days where I had all my clothes and gear with me as I left one accommodation and moved on to the next, so I had to carry stuff that I didn’t need during the day on the trail – all my spare clothes, my indoor sandals, toiletries, snacks, electronics chargers and cables, an iPad. Altogether, with some extra snacks, lunch, and full water on board, my pack came in at roughly 11kg. I could have left a few things out of course, but the pack made carrying that weight all day quite comfortable.
During the 2nd half of my journey, my wife joined me so we had a car available, eliminating the need to carry everything. That let me switch to a lighter 38L overnight pack. This was, to be honest, still a bit bigger than I really needed, and I also own a 22L day pack which would have worked, but using the 38L pack meant that I could just chuck stuff in and not worry too much about packing carefully, and that way I always had spare clothes, rain gear, first aid kit, sitting pad, snacks, lunch, and water all to hand.
You could of course get by with a much smaller day pack, especially if you have someone able to sherpa you around each day. I met a walker during my journey who carried a little 15L day pack, with just a rain jacket, some water, and a light snack. You decide what works for you.
Let’s see, what else? I did carry a first aid kit every day, though fortunately I never needed it during the day while walking. I went through a bunch of blister bandages, though, and the associated alcohol swabs and antibiotic cream that you need to pop a blister while reducing the risk of infection. My first aid kit also had tick tweezers, and thankfully I never had to use them.
Outside of all that, there was other gear that I used at night, rather than carry on the trail. Toiletries of course – toothbrush, shampoo, deodorant, etc. Also an iPad for entertainment, and that meant chargers and cords. Plus I had indoor sandals to wear, and what a blessing that is when you finally take your boots off each night. I had thought about adding a fancier shirt in case I went out for dinner but in the end didn’t carry that. I did carry a little sewing and repair kit, but never needed it. Your choice.
Gregory Balto 55L multi-day pack – used for the 1st half of the trip
Gregory Paragon 38L overnight pack – used for the 2nd half of the trip
3 pairs pants (all quick-dry synthetic material, 2 of them convertible into shorts)
3 wick-away stay dry T-shirts
4 pairs merino wool socks
3 pairs underwear
1 long-sleeve wick-away stay dry T-shirt
1 lightweight zip fleecy
1 pair slides as indoor shoes
1 merino wool lightweight touque
1 pair runners lightweight gloves
Training and Fitness
It’s a bit of a cliche, but really, how do you know if you’re ready to do a 700km walk without actually doing it? Do you train for a marathon by running a marathon?
In my case, I knew beforehand that a) I wanted to cover around 30km a day, and b) that I would be carrying clothes, rain gear, food, water, etc. each day that would add up to something like 6-8 kg. So I did a few training walks of 10-20 km around town and nearby areas, and then after a few such walks where I’d carried nothing, I started to add a full pack with between 10-15 kg of kettle bell weights in it. By the time I started the walk, I’d done a couple of 25 km hikes carrying more weight than I was planning for on the actual trip, so I reckoned I was good to go.
What that didn’t prepare me for, however, was the repetitive stress of walking every day. It’s one thing to work out, it’s another to do it over and over again. Your body is, literally, made for walking, so you will adjust and get used to it, but you’ll find that it takes some time. The first few days of walking, I had a fair amount of muscle and joint stiffness on top of tender feet due to blisters. By about day 7 or 8, however, I’d walked myself into decent shape and was generally fine each evening. But then, by day 25 or so, I was starting to feel new aches and pains, and I put those down to just long term wear and tear.
One thing I’d do differently in future would be to plan for a couple of rest days. I think taking a rest day every 10-15 days would be prudent, and as I get older will probably be essential. As it was, I walked every day and just used a couple of 3-hour/15 km days as a way to rest a bit, so that’s another way to do it – mix up your daily distances to give yourself some short days once in a while.
Everyone is different, of course, and while you definitely don’t need to be a high-performance athlete to do the Walk, you are likely to find that you do need to push yourself on this if you plan to do it in one continuous journey as I did. Some of that will be mental and some physical. As long as you let your body dictate your pace, and are honest with yourself, you’ll be fine. I did this at age 59, and wearing a spare 5 kg around my belly, and not only survived but enjoyed it.
One of the reasons I decided to do the Island Walk was because my bucket list of walks includes a number of long-distance, multi-week journeys – things like the Camino de Santiago, for instance. I wanted to use the walk to learn what works for me. In that sense, it was a great test, and more than anything I learned what might be the most valuable thing I could have learned – simply that I can do it. There were times when I felt like bailing out, and I didn’t. Just knowing that I am able to push through that mental wall is important.
But more than that, If there is one key takeaway for me, it’s that this kind of journey is like a knife that pares away your preconceptions and strips you down to essentials. You walk, you eat, you sleep, you walk some more. Repeat. It’s an energizing feeling, that sense that you don’t need to worry about anything else. Just walk.
Please note that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited hours depending on time of day and the seasons. Check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not during your walk.
The Bay to Bay Trail is a favourite walking/cycling route between Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, part of the longer Rum Runners Trail that goes between Halifax and Bridgewater. You can walk it in either direction, of course, and if you are feeling ambitious you can walk from one town to the other, have lunch, and walk back again for a wonderful walking day. Since I live in Lunenburg, I’ll often just hitch a ride whenever my wife is going to Mahone Bay and then walk home.
Length: About 10 km, from Start to Finish between the towns, and it’s easy to add or remove a km or two depending on diversions.
Surface: Firm gravel trail, minimal grades and slopes.
Public Transit: none
I’ve started the route in Lunenburg. The Bay to Bay Trail is part of the Rum Runners Trail network, and officially it starts on the edge of town off of Maple Street. I assume you are beginning your walk in the heart of Lunenburg, so in that case the start is at the entrance to the Back Bay Trail, off of Dufferin Street and adjacent to the Knot Pub. Basically, you are at the old Lunenburg Railway Station which is now the Second Story Women’s Centre.
Facing the old railway station, you’ll see a gravel path to the left – that’s the Trail, so simply follow that. You’ll pass a vehicle gate, and you’re on your way. Your only navigation choice is about 200 m from the start – to get to the Bay to Bay Trail, take the left hand fork when you come to it and bear north west for about 500m along the Bay to Bay Connector Trail.
The Bay to Bay Connector Trail runs behind and below the houses along Dufferin Street and then Maple Street (aka Highway 3) and ends at a set of stairs.
Climb these and follow the path to the road – this is the top of Maple Street. Cross using the cross walk and turn right. You’ll see the pink marker for the Rum Runner Trail network and a large map that shows the overall Rum Runner Trail along the South Shore.
The entrance to the Bay to Bay Trail portion is in front of you, on the left side of the road, leading down into the old railway cutting. Follow that, and you are on your way. It’s 10km from this point to what I’ve marked as the end of the Trail, at the top of Mahone Bay’s Main Street where it curves west.
As you walk along the Trail, there are several sights that you’ll pass. About 200m along the Bay to Bay Trail, on your left near some electrical transmission lines, there is an osprey nest on a platform that the electric utility has put up to keep the birds from building nests on the electrical poles themselves. If you’re walking the Trail between mid-spring and mid-summer, you’ll often see and hear the osprey parents and sometimes their chicks.
Further along the trail, after about 2 km, you’ll pass Martin’s Brook. Here, a local artist named Gillian Maradyn-Jowsey has installed several sculptures that look like wood piles, called the Riverbank Habitat. There’s a bench on the bridge over the brook, so it’s a peaceful spot for a rest.
As you continue along the Trail, you’ll come to the beaver pond and marsh area. This open space is alive with birds in all seasons, and the trail crosses it on a slightly raised embankment. There’s a bench right in the middle, and that’s conveniently located right around half way between Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. I often stop here for a short rest – it’s lovely to listen to the breeze through the reeds along with the trickle of water. This space is about as far as the Trail gets from the local roads, so often there’s no traffic noise, just the natural soundscape.
Once you’re past the beaver pond and marsh area, the Trail is lined with forest on either side. The trees are mixed deciduous and conifers and there are little bursts of colour from wild flowers, lichens, moss, and leaves – this part is especially lovely in the autumn.
Keep going a couple of km through this section, and you’ll come to the road crossing at Fauxburg Rd, which signals the entrance to Mahone Bay itself.
The Trail continues past this road, so keep going. Since you’re now in town, you’ll pass a couple of other roads, as well as the Park Cemetery. Near the end of the Trail, you’ll cross over Ernst Brook, where there is another bench overlooking the water. I often stop and have a lunch here, if I am walking from Lunenburg to Mahone Bay and back again.
Just past Ernst Brook, the Bay to Bay Trail ends at the little triangle park at the base of Longhill Road and Main Street. There is a small car park here, and some bike racks. You can choose to end your walk here, and turn right to follow Main Street down to the shops and restaurants near the shore of Mahone Bay.
Parts of this walk are pretty exposed, so keep an eye on the weather and dress appropriately – the summer sun can be stronger than you think, and the winter winds can chill right through to your bones. The walking surfaces are usually fine, just be careful of ice in winter. There can be some muddy stretches just after a heavy rain, but other than that, for the most part you can walk this route in running shoes or light trail shoes most of the year.
I love this walk for a number of reasons. It’s a good length for me as an exercise walk – it takes me roughly 2 hours. It’s easy to tack on a few km or more by continuing around Mahone Bay along a stretch of the Dynamite Trail behind the town. You can also shorten it a bit by exiting the Trail as you enter Mahone Bay, at Fauxburg Road or Hawthorn Road, and following those streets down to the town. Finally, the Trail changes its character as the seasons progress. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter all bring their own variations of colour, flowers, birds, and skies.
There is wildlife to see all along the Trail. I’ve seen deer many times, including within Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. Squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, ducks, geese, frogs, turtles, and snakes all live along the walk, and one of these days I’ll see the beavers at the beaver poind.
Food & Refreshment:
There are many options for refreshment at both the start and end of the Trail in either town. I like to reward myself by stopping at the end of the walk, which for me is often in Mahone Bay. Of course, you can also picnic along the Trail on one of the benches at Martin’s Brook, the beaver pond, or Ernst Brook. Sometimes I’ll take a flask of tea with me in winter and on a sunny day, it’s quite pleasant to sit despite the chill.
There are public washrooms located near the start of the Trail in Lunenburg, along Bluenose Drive, at the west end of the harbour. There is also a public washroom in Mahone Bay down by the water, near the 3 churches. There are no washrooms along the Trail itself however, so if you’re caught short between the towns there are many stretches of trees along the trail where you can make a discreet al fresco pit stop – remember to leave no trace if you do that, i.e. hike out your wipes and dig a cat hole if needed.
There are no garbage bins along the Trail so please remember to take all your garbage and waste with you – you’ll find bins at the start and end of the Trail in both Lunenburg and Mahone Bay.
Finally, there are no water sources along the Trail itself, so bring water with you. There are water fountains located near the public washrooms in the towns, so you can fill up at either end.
While I’ve described the route from Lunenburg to Mahone Bay, you can, of course, choose to walk it the other way.
As well, it’s easy to tack on walks round either Mahone Bay or Lunenburg, if you want to explore either town and make a day of it. For example, sometimes I’ll start by walking east around what I call the Lunenburg Loop and join the Bay to Bay Trail at the fork from the Back Harbour Trail – doing that makes it a 15-16 km walk.
Or, at the other end, I’ll do a loop around Mahone Bay by starting there at the corner of Main Street and Edgewater Street and following Edgewater north past the 3 churches, up Clearland Road to where Dynamite Trail crosses, and then following that Trail west around the back of the town to where it crosses Longhill Road, so I can rejoin the Bay to Bay Trail.
If I am feeling extra energetic, I will sometimes start in Mahone Bay, walk along Highway 3 (Edgewater Street) east and north out of town around the edge of the bay, to Oakland Road. Then I follow Oakland Road east along the north shore of the bay for a couple km, to Sleepy Hollow Road. Going north up that road lets me connect to the Dynamite Trail, where I turn west and follow the Dynamite Trail past Oakland Lake, under Hwy 3, and over the bridge at the Mushamush River,
and on around the back of the town to Longhill Road, which I follow southeast to connect to the Bay to Bay Trail.
Doing that loop makes it closer to a 20km walk, and it’s especially nice in autumn with all the colours on full display.
Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking about doing a Big Walk. My bucket list has a number of them – the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain, the Bruce Trail in Ontario, and many more – and I keep reading about ideas for others as well. I had plans to take on at least one of these in each of 2020 and 2021, but the COVID-19 epidemic meant that those dreams stayed just that – dreams.
So come spring 2022, after 2 years of listening to me wish and sigh, my wife finally put the boot in and said it was time to either do one of these walks or else stop talking about it.
OK, agreed, but which walk to do? Knowing that 2022 would probably still have some COVID-19 travel disruptions, I decided to try something that was relatively close to home. Plus, knowing that this was going to be my first multi-week walk, it made sense to choose something that while challenging was also achievable in terms of length and terrain. That line of thought led me to the Island Walk.
This is a relatively new addition to the world of long walks. It was first tried out in 2019 by a couple of experienced walkers from Prince Edward Island who had done the Camino de Santiago in Spain and who wanted to find a similar length walk that would showcase their home province. They came up with a route that combines walking on red-dirt back roads
to take you more or less around the coast of Prince Edward Island. It’s about 700 km in total, and is divided into a suggested 32 daily stages which range between 12 -26 km in length. In the end, I chose to do it a bit faster than that pace, finishing in 27 days.
The first question asked by most of the people I spoke to both on the walk as well as friends and family before and after is, why? Why do it?
The lazy answer to that is to say “because it’s there”, and that was part of it. Could I complete a long walk like that? And beyond that, I had a few other things in mind:
Exploring PEI – this was the only Maritime province I’d yet to visit, and seeing it on foot seemed like a great way to explore Canada’s smallest province
Physical challenge – despite trying to average 75 minutes of activity per day for the past 5 years, I’ve still managed to add a few pounds, and a good long walk was one way to shed a few of those
Trying out ideas – if I am going to do other long-distance multi-week walks, I’d like to figure out what works for me in terms of pace, gear, nutrition, etc. Doing so close to home was a bonus.
Thinking time – a walk is always a chance for me to clear my mind, but the mental challenge of maintaining focus while remaining observant while walking 5-6 hours a day is a new one
Put up or shut up – there comes a point where you either decide to do something or you put it aside.
So having done, what did I think? Did I like it? Was it worth it? Did it meet my expectations or preconceptions?
A couple of weeks have gone by since I finished it, and I’m still digesting it. There were things I liked – the structure of a long walk, the routine of getting up, getting ready, getting out, and getting it done, day after day. There was the rhythm of it, getting locked into a sort of Zen calmness and clarity, when the steady pace emptied my mind and I simply walked.
I liked some of the scenery. PEI is a low-key kind of place – no rugged mountains or crashing seas, but calm seas, long beaches,
green fields, wild flowers, fishing ports, and friendly people.
I liked the challenge, the push you need to start each day even when your feet hurt and the drive you need to see it through. I liked the solitude (I met exactly 6 other walkers and 4 cyclists on the route over 27 days) and I liked chatting to people that I met along the way.
I didn’t like the bugs – the mosquitoes were voracious.
I didn’t like the monotony of some stretches of the Confederation Trail, running flat and straight and on and on. I didn’t like having to to hitch rides most days to and from the route because there were few accommodation options adjacent to the route. And I didn’t like road walking, long stretches with no place to sit and rest, and hard asphalt that made my heels and ankles ache.
But those are quibbles. No journey contains only the highlights, there are always low lights and often no lights, and to expect otherwise is to be rudely awakened; but I wasn’t so much awakened to those things as resigned to them as being part of the journey that simply taught different lessons.
I guess the biggest takeaway for me is that a journey like this isn’t supposed to have one purpose, one impression, one lesson. Some time ago, a line I read in a blog post about the Camino de Santiago stuck in my head – “everyone walks their own Camino”. That message resonated again and again each day of my journey. No two people are going to do a walk like this, even if they are walking together, and do it for the same reasons while forming the same memories.
If I could distill anything out of this, I think it would be a few little mantras. Cherish the journey, respect the journey, and learn from it. Accept it on its own terms. Don’t overthink it. Your journey is its own lesson. Everybody walks their own Camino.
For the the last day, I’d deliberately walked extra distance on the preceding few days to ensure I’d have a short day at the end, partly in case of rain and partly because I didn’t want to finish the walk with a long sloggy day. And as I came into Charlottetown I was struggling to digest the journey, what it had meant, what I felt, how I thought of it. Ann wanted to meet me at Joe Ghiz Park where the route starts and ends, and a couple of friends, Michael and Carol, had come up from Lunenburg to surprise me and celebrate crossing the finish line. I was about a kilometre from the park, and way ahead of schedule, so I doddled a bit on the Hillsborough Bridge to look at the city skyline,
and then I texted Ann to say that I wanted to get there by myself so that I could try to process it. And so that’s what I did – walked the last bit trying to be normal, got to the park, took a selfie,
took off my pack, and when Ann walked in and gave me a hug, I started to cry. That was how I processed it – with tears, of relief and thanks. I thought I was walking by myself, and at that moment I realized that I was really walking with her.
Green on red – PEI’s colour palette in June is layers of green upon red earth, with little yellow and purple and pink and white flowered highlights.
Blue maritime skies. Grey rain-filled lowering clouds, and soft misty mornings. Green tunnels of trees and shrubs and bushes and ferns.
Blue-green seas. Black crows. Red mud. And more green on red, red on green, again and again.
The rural character of the province sinks deep into your brain, until you expect no other colours. Green on red. Sunshine and trails. Memories.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing more about this walk. Stay tuned.
Now that we’re settled out here in Nova Scotia, I thought I would collect together descriptions of my favourite walks here in the Maritimes to make them easier to find. I’ll keep adding to the list as and when the mood strikes.
Please note that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited hours depending on time of day and the seasons. Check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not during your walk.
The Lunenburg Loop is a great way to explore the area around the town, gulp down that fresh Atlantic air, and get some great views of the harbour.
Length: About 7.5 km, depending on diversions.
Surface: Paved sidewalks and firm gravel trail
Public Transit: none
I’ve started the route by the waterfront, at the bottom of the stairs/ramp down from Duke Street where it joins Bluenose Drive. The harbour is in front of you and the red-coloured Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is on your right.
To start, turn towards the museum and walk west on Bluenose Drive, towards the west end of the harbour. After about 100m you’ll pass a public washroom – good place for a pit stop!
At the corner of Bluenose Drive and Montague, turn left and follow the gravel path to enter the little park – this is the Harbour Walk path. Follow this west past the end of the harbour, and up the wee lane to join Falkland Street. Cross Falkland here at the cross walk, and then turn right. Walk along Falkland past the Bluenose Lodge inn, heading for the cross walk at Dufferin Street. You’ll see the Knot Pub right in front of you on the other side of the street. After crossing Dufferin, turn left (unless the pub beckons) and walk about 20 m, then bear right into the car park of the old railway station. The Back Harbour trail starts here – it follows the route of the old rail line that once carried fish and freight to and from Halifax.
Proceed northwest along the Trail till you come to a fork in the path – bear right to stay on the Back Harbour Trail (left takes you onto the connector to the Rum Runner trail to walk to Mahone Bay, a lovely 10km walk in itself).
Follow the Back Harbour trail through the woods and then some open spaces.
After about 1km you’ll come to the cross walk over Starr Street. Pick up the trail on the other side, and continue along, taking in the views of the back harbour and its fishing boats and leisure craft. After about 1.5 km, you’ll come to Sawpit Road – use the cross walk and pick up the path again on the other side. Follow the trail through the light woods and shrubs, past frog ponds and fields, until you come to the road crossing over Blue Rocks Road. The trail continues, on a diagonal line on the other side of the road – rejoin the Trail and follow it for another 200-300 m or so till it ends at Battery Point Road.
Turn right down Battery Point Road for a wee bit. At the intersection of Hospital Road, you can turn right, climb the hill for about 30 m, and take the left dirt lane by the post boxes. This dirt lane is the old Shore Road. Follow it up the hill, squeezing past the gate at the top (don’t worry, you’re fine). Follow the old Shore Road, up the hill and then bearing to the right, as you climb up along the ridge behind the fish factory. You’ll emerge at a little clearing with a new path in front of you that continues gently up the hill following the old route of the Shore Road.
Alternatively, instead of turning up Hospital Road off of Battery Point Road, you can keep going down Battery Point road towards the fish plant. The road ends at the car park for the fish factory – turn right and cut across the car park towards the harbour and the old warehouses and docks. At the end of the car park there’s a dirt road climbing up towards the right – at the top you’ll the see the little clearing and a path on your left – follow this to join the old Shore Road towards town. Going this way across the car park can be a bit better in winter if there’s ice around.
The old Shore Road path offers lovely views south and west of the harbour on your left and there are some great lookout points. There is also a wonderful spot with a bench where you can have a rest.
After a few hundred meters, the footpath ends at a traffic barrier and here you rejoin the current paved stretch of the Shore Road. Follow it west and down hill to the intersection with Pelham Street. Bear left and follow Pelham west for several hundred meters, to Shipyard Hill Road. Turn left and go downhill to join Montague Street, bearing right (west) here. Follow Montague for several hundred meters to the corner where it’s joined by Bluenose Drive. Turn left and follow the road down a slight hill and then right (west) along Bluenose Drive, to finish where you started by the Fishery Museum.
Parts of this walk are pretty exposed, so keep an eye on the weather and dress appropriately – the summer sun can be stronger than you think, and the winter winds off the harbour can freeze your eyeballs. The walking surfaces are usually fine, just be careful of ice in winter. There can be some muddy stretches just after a heavy rain, but other than that, for the most part you can walk this route in running shoes or light trail shoes most of the year.
I love this walk because of the varied sights – the history of the town on display in the views of the harbour front, the historic buildings like the Bluenose Academy (today, housing the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance as well as the town library), the working life of the town seen in the fishing boats,
and the wildlife that lives along the trail. I’ve seen deer many times,
along with ospreys, herons, finches, ducks, geese, frogs, salamanders, snakes, turtles, mice, foxes, racoons, squirrels, and chipmunks. Stretches of the trail take you through a gorgeous tunnel formed by the arched branches of birch trees, and beside little ponds. The harbour views along Shore Road are some of the best you’ll get. And the houses tucked along Falkland, Pelham, and the Shore Road are a big part of Lunenburg’s Unesco Heritage designation.
One of the attractions of this route, for me, is that the sights change with the seasons. The spring brings chirping frogs and toads, crocuses and wildflowers, budding trees and greening grass. Summer is cool shade and warm breezes. Autumn is an explosion of colour. And winter is snow clinging to branches and ice in the harbour, tinged with the scent of wood smoke.
Food & Refreshment:
There are many options for refreshment at the start and end of the trail, near the harbourfront, ranging from ice cream to light snacks for full dinners. I live here – they’re all good! That said, I would be remiss in not mentioning our neighbours, John and Samera, who own J3 Pizza on Montague Street. And of course, the restaurant group that includes the South Shore Fish Shack, Half Shell Oyster Bar, the Salt Shaker Deli, the Beach Pea Kitchen and Bar, and the Bar Salvador (all along Montague Street), are favourites in part because our house used to be a restaurant where Martin and Sylvie started out.
And there’s more! Beyond all those yummy options, you might also want to pop into Foodland on Montague to grab picnic supplies and snacks. There’s also the Subway sandwich shop on Montague, and the Burger King on Falkland. And don’t forget about the Knot Pub, which does great food plus local beverages. On the other side of the harbour from the Fishery Museum, off Tannery Road, there’s the Lightship Brewery Pub along with the Barn coffee spot. Plus, just outside of the old town on the Bridgewater road, there’s Alex’s Chill and Grill for burgers and fish and chips, the Independent grocery store, the local Nova Scotia Liquor Commission store, and the local Tim Hortons. Spoiled for choice, we are.
There are public washrooms located along Bluenose Drive, at the west end near the start of the Harbour Walk trail, and at the east end by the Zwicker wharf. In summer, there is usually a portaloo located near the Back Harbour Trail where it crosses Starr Street.
There are park benches and picnic tables at several spots along the Back Harbour Trail, so why not bring some refreshments and enjoy the views while you have a rest. Please remember to take all your garbage and waste with you – you’ll find bins at several spots around town and by the trail access points where you can dispose of it.
Finally, there are water fountains located near the public washrooms. Take some water, because there are no fountains along the Back Harbour Trail itself.
This route can easily be extended or shortened, as desired.
To extend it,
at the start of the walk, as you cross Falkland Street before turning towards the Knot pub, keep going straight up Broad Street. This will take you through what’s known as New Town, up the hill towards the Hospital. It makes a nice comparison to the houses you’ll see later along the route in the Old Town. If you continue all the way up Broad to High Street at the front of the hospital, turn right and follow High Street to Dufferin. Turn right on Dufferin and continue down the hill following the street, and you’ll come to the start of the Back Harbour Trail by the Knot Pub. This will add about 2 km to the walk.
To shorten it, you can jump off the Back Harbour Trail at several points – after about 1km where the trail crosses Kissing Bridge Road – turn right here onto Starr Street and follow that south back to Lincoln Street; or at Hopson Street (follow that south up and over the hill and back down, to rejoin Pelham); or at Sawpit Road (follow that south up and over the hill and back down to rejoin Pelham)
Also, if you follow the full route as described, then you’ll notice that beside Battery Point Road, there is a small trail leading off to the east – this is the entrance to the Salt Marsh lookout.
Follow this trail for about 100m and you’ll come to a shaded platform that offers great views out over the salt marshes and the many birds that make it their home. It’s a peaceful, cool spot for a picnic too. To rejoin the route, follow the trail back to Battery Point Road.
At Sawpit Road, where the trail crosses, you can turn left and follow the road north down the hill. Cross the highway here (no cross walk so use caution) and follow the road down the hill to walk down to Sawpit Wharf. There’s a bench on the end of the wharf which makes a great rest spot where you can look out over the back harbour. To rejoin the route, simply follow Sawpit Road back up the hill to the Trail crossing.
Another option is at Starr Street, where the Back Harbour Trail crosses it – you can exit the trail here and bear right to go up Kissing Bridge Road. You’ll be walking uphill with the Hilltop Cemetery on your right. About halfway up the hill, you can follow a lane into the cemetery and wander through it up towards the Academy – a lovely way to view the building. To rejoin the route, follow the cemetery paths back to Kissing Bridge Road, down the high to where the Trail crosses it.
How much?: $27 CAD plus tax. (Note – got mine on sale)
Where, when, how do I use it?: Sometimes when you’re walking, you just want a dry spot to sit for a bit when you take a break. You can plunk down anywhere if you’re tired enough, but if it’s raining or damp, you’re going to get wet. And, not to be delicate about it, a frozen rock numb-bum is not a pleasant thing.
This handy seat cushion helps with both of these problems. It’s water resistant so you have a dry place to sit, and it gives you a layer of insulation and padding to keep you off a cold, hard surface.
The design is quite simple – 2-3 puffs will inflate it, and the twist valve seals well. Then just unscrew the valve and roll it up to expel the air. It’s light and compact enough to toss into your pack and just leave it there.
I’ve used this several times on day hikes and it really makes a difference. My old bones don’t like sitting on rocks anymore, and it’s great even in more civilized settings like when you’re on a picnic table, park bench, or wooden deck chair.
[Update – June 2022 – I took my seat pad with me on my 27-day PEI Island Walk. It proved to be handy several times, especially on road sections of the walk where there were no benches to sit on for a rest. Instead, I’d look for a roadside rock or some church steps, and once the paved drive of an abandoned house – in those cases, using the seat cushion helped to provide a comfortable, dry spot for a rest. And the weight and size of the cushion weren’t noticeable alongside the other things I was carrying.]
I bought two since they were on sale, so my wife has one as well. She likes it too!
Would I buy it again?: Sure. With age comes the wisdom to know when to splurge!
Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.
Here’s an update on my list of books about walks and walking. Enjoy some armchair trekking!
There have been many books written about walking – the techniques of walking, the destinations, the journey, the effort, the spirituality, and so on, and there will likely be many more to come. This is a by no means exhaustive list of those books in English which I have read and which have inspired me. I’ll update this list from time to time as I come across new ones. Let me know which books about walking have inspired you.
Author: Emily Taylor Smith Title: Around the Province in 88 Days ISBN: 978-1-98828-668-6
A journal of the author’s walk around the coast of Nova Scotia in 2010. Written from the perspective of distance and published in 2019, it’s at least as much about growth, self-discovery, and perseverance as it is about the walk. And having moved to Nova Scotia, it was also a welcome introduction to the landscape and wonders of our new home, and the power of kindness to inspire.
Author: Emily Taylor Smith Title: No Thanks, I Want to Walk ISBN: 978-1-98972-533-7
A companion journal to the author’s previous work, this recounts her 2016 journey around the coast of New Brunswick and along the Gaspé Peninsula to Quebec City. As with her previous book, the self-discovery and insights are inspiring. The kindness of strangers is on full display throughout.
Author: Apsley Cherry-Gerrard Title: The Worst Journey in the World ISBN: 978-078670-437-8
An account of the Robert Scott expedition to Antarctica in 1910-13. The journey he refers to is one undertaken with 2 other companions to collect the eggs of emperor penguins in the depths of an Antarctic winter, an epic weeks-long hike which nearly killed them. The courage, strength, and deep bonds of companionship that were formed on that journey and then shattered when his companions died with Scott on the way back from the pole in 1912, are heartbreaking.
Author: Bill Bryson Title: A Walk in the Woods ISBN: 0385-408161
Comic, instructive, insightful, and far better than the film made of the book. Read it and draw inspiration from a middle-aged guy who found the determination to walk a big chunk of the Appalachian Trail.
Author: Nick Hunt Title: Walking the Woods and the Water ISBN: 978-1-85788-643-6
The subtitle is “In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn”. Wonderfully well-written, charming, and inspirational.
Author: Nick Hunt Title: Where the Wild Winds Are ISBN:978-1-85788-656-6
A follow-up to his previous book, walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor. In this new book, he walks about Europe tracing the paths of famous winds – the Foehn, the Mistral, and more.
Authors: Lonely Planet Title: Epic Hikes of the World ISBN: 978-1-78701-417-6
A candy store of a book, with more than a hundred walks worthy of your bucket list. Dip into it on a rainy winter’s evening and make your plans.
Author: Barry Stone Title: The 50 Greatest Walks of the World ISBN: 978-178578-063-9
A subjective listing, of course, and somewhat overly interested in walks in Europe, but nevertheless it covers not just the biggies – the Camino de Santiago, the Appalachian Trail, etc. – but also many lesser known, shorter walks that are bucket-listable and achievable by the average walker.
Author: Levison Wood Title: Walking the Nile ISBN: 978-0-8021-2633-7
An account of a walk the length of the Nile river. The journey is fascinating, the people he meets are more so, and the landscape is bucket-list stuff.
Author: Rory Stewart Title: The Places In Between ISBN: 978-0-14-305330-9
A lyrical book, inspiring and engaging, about the author’s walk across Afghanistan in early 2002, just after the fall of the Taliban.
Author: Will Ferguson Title: Beyond Belfast ISBN: 978-0-14-317062-4
Funny and informative, the author walks 800+ km along the Ulster Way in Northern Ireland.
Author: David Downie Title: Paris to the Pyrenees ISBN: 978-1-60598-556-5
Part travelogue, part history, part internal meditation, the author and his wife set out to retrace the medeval pilgrimage route through France along the way of St. James, to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.
Author: John A. Cherrington Title: Walking to Camelot ISBN: 978-1-927958-62-9
Two Canadians walk the McMillan Way, from Boston to Chesil Beach through the heart of rural England, drinking in history and savouring the journey.
Author: J.R.R. Tolkein Title:The Hobbit
One of my favourite books, re-read many times, and far better than the overwrought movie version. The story is about much more than a walk, and yet Bilbo Baggins’ sub-title, There and Back Again perfectly describes my walks.
Where, when, how do I use it?: I bought these in April 2021 to replace my Zamberlan hiking boots. So far this pair has approximately 150-200 hours of walking on them, over a combination of rough trails, gravel paths, and paved roads.
I wear them whenever I am going on a longish walk, say 2 hours or more, and I also have been wearing them around town this winter when the snow is deepish. I am planning a 700-km camino walk with a 10-12 kg pack later this year so I’ve put them away for now as I’d like to get that out of the way on this pair. If that works, I’ll probably retire them with more than 1000 km on them – though if they are still holding up it would be great to keep going to see what it takes to wear them out completely.
[Update – June 2022 – I did wear the boots doing the PEI Island Walk, and put about 720 km on them. They held up well on a mix of gravel trail, dirt roads, and paved roads. I had two heavy rain days on that trip, and they did well in that too with respect to drying out quickly afterwards. A bit of dubbin to recondition the leather, and I think they will do me another few hundred km]
When I bought them, I was looking at a new pair of Zamberlans. What sold me on these was the fit and the relative low weight. They come with a good insole already but I took that out because I wear custom orthotics and these work great that way. The fit is true to size. I find them pretty supportive – I’ve stepped awkwardly on stones and sticks a number of times but haven’t turned an ankle yet.
They are warm, I’ll grant you, when it’s hot. There’s no getting around that when you have leather uppers with water resistant liners. That said, they keep my feet pretty dry when stepping into ankle high puddles. Even an accidental quick step into a knee-deep puddle wasn’t that bad – they lace up pretty tight so I didn’t pick up a full boot of water and walking for another hour with a damp boot didn’t result in blisters.
I usually wear Merino wool-based compression hiking socks and I’ve never had blister issues with these boots. That said, if you walk long enough you’ll get blisters no matter what you’re wearing, and I’ve not yet worn them all day every day for 3+ weeks like I will later this summer, so we’ll see. So far, so good.
[Update – June 2022 – I did get blisters on my first couple of days on my PEI walk, wearing merino wool socks. I put that down to simple lack of conditioning, and overly tight lacing. Once I figured out the right degree of lace tightening (surprisingly loose compared to what I was used to) and my feet toughened up, I was fine. The fit of the boots stayed pretty true, despite wear and tear on the soles and give in the uppers as the leather softened.]
I like the leather uppers, because they’re easy to care for with a bit of dubbin, The inside lining still looks like new. The soles and treads are holding up even on asphalt roads. The lacing system is great – you can get them snug without feeling they’re overly tight. Overall the quality seems pretty high – no sprung seams or stitches so far. [Update – June 2022 – over all, they’re in pretty good shape considering there’s at least 1500 km on them].
Would I buy it again?: Yes, I think so. Good boots. Happy feet = walking sweet.
Disclaimer: This is not a “review”. I don’t go around sampling things, instead this is a summary of my own experience with a product I have used a lot. All opinions contained in this post are my own. I offer no warranties or assurances for your experiences with the same product. I bought the gear with my own money and have not received any form of compensation from the manufacturer. Take my feedback as given – caveat emptor.
The other day, I was looking at the stats for this blog and checked to see what my most popular posts were. The answer was kind of interesting – of the top 20 posts on this blog, 19 of them are about different walks around Toronto. Collectively, those have generated more than 12,000 views.
That’s cool to think I’ve helped thousands of people enjoy walking around Toronto. Go TO!
The humbling part is that the majority of my posts have been about some particular scene or thought that’s occurred to me while walking. Those posts have been, how shall I put this, somewhat less widely viewed. Most of those have a handful of views (thanks Mom!) at best.
So this blog is helpful to people when I write about things that people want to look for – duh! – like gear reviews and walking routes and suggestions for places to try. Since we’ve moved out to the east coast, I’ve stayed away from those kinds of posts, because as a newcomer I didn’t want to claim any in-depth knowledge as yet.
Still, I do want to be helpful, so going forward I’ll try to include more like that featuring walks around the South Shore and Halifax, and other places in the Maritimes, and maybe some more back in TO whenever we are back to visit family.