It’s human nature, I think, to look for the edges and test the boundaries of something. Or maybe that’s just my nature.
I was thinking this the other day, walking the pier near the Lehave Bakery, testing the edges by walking out along the wharf. Walk to the edge, and follow it round.
That notion of following the edge has been in my head, because now that we’re here in Lunenburg I’ve been thinking about some of the walks I’d like to do within the province, adding them to my bucket list, and those walks are themed by the edges I’d follow.
Nova Scotia is predominately a coastal province. By that I mean that most of the population lives near the sea shore. The larger cities and towns are mostly on the coasts – Halifax, Yarmouth, Sydney, and not least Lunenburg. The population has always faced the sea and looked to it for their livelihood. It means there are lots of roads and now trails that follow those coasts, so that makes walking a coastline activity.
Thinking about that got me thinking about boundaries and edges and limits. There are limits of geography, like the coast lines, and I’ll follow those. There are limits of endurance and strength, and while I don’t think I need those in exceptional quantities, walking several hundred km around the coasts will certainly call for some gusting towards those limits, at least for me.
And then there are limits we set for ourselves, limits of ambition I’ll call them. What do we want to achieve? How far do we push ourselves? Where will we take ourselves? Those limits are different for everyone of course, and I think they are also different at different points in our lives. The limits I set myself in my teens and 20’s are not those of my 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Do I want to walk these walks now because I want to push back on the shrinking of those physical limits? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that now that I am retired and have a more or less grown child and fewer responsibilities, I feel like I can stretch my limits in ways that would have seemed imprudent or impractical when I was younger and paying mortgages and climbing corporate ladders.
The Olympics are on as I write this, and that is the spectacle of human limits writ large. What are competitive athletics if not tests of the limits of human strength and endurance and ambition? My walks are not my Olympics by any means, but deep down they come from the same source. Find the edge, and explore it.
An ever-changing list of walks I’ve done or would like to do.
John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall, the length of Great Britain
The Lahave River Loop, from Lunenburg to Riverport and up the Lehave River across the province to Middleton in the Annapolis Valley and then back to Lunenburg via Windsor and Chester.
The Cabot Trail around the northern end of Cape Breton island
The South Shore/Fundy Shore loop, following the shores around the southern end of Nova Scotia along the rail trails, from Lunenburg down to Yarmouth and then back up the Annapolis Valley to Wolfville
The Bruce Trail, Ontario
Dufferin Highland Section
Beaver Valley Section
Blue Mountain Section
Yonge Street (from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe)
The Sli Dhun na nGall – the trails of Donegal in Ireland, including:
The Blue Stack Way
Slí An Earagail
Slí Na Finne
Slí Na Rosann
The European Ramblers E8 trail, from Dublin to Kerry
The Malin Head to Mizen Head path from the northern tip of Ireland to the southwestern tip
Hadrian’s Wall path, England
The Thames Path in England, from source to the sea
Lord Simcoe’s Ride (Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fort York in Toronto)
The Toronto Cross (west to east and south to north across Toronto)
Toronto Waterfront Trail (Humber River to Rouge River)
The Confederation Trail in PEI
Waterfront to wine
East, from Toronto to Prince Edward County along the Waterfront Trail
West, from Toronto to Niagara along the Waterfront Trail
South, from Toronto to Pelee Island along the Waterfront Trail
The Great Trail in Southern Ontario (within 2 hours of Toronto)
100km so far including
Toronto Waterfront Trail
Toronto Pan-Am Trail
Toronto Pan-Am Connector
Niagara River Recreational Trail
Pickering Waterfront Trail
Durham County Recreational Trails
Laura Secord Legacy Trail
City of Hamiton Trails
Fort Erie to Hamilton connector trails
Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail
Brantford to Kitchener connector trails
Kitchener to Elora connector trails
Elora to Barrie connector trails
The Great Trail T-O-M walk – Toronto to Ottawa to Montreal
Montreal to Toronto via the Waterfront Trail
Camino de Santiago, specifically the Comino Portuguese from Porto in Lisbon to Campostella in Spain
Oakridge Moraine Trail around greater Toronto
Manhattan Shore Walk (circumference of the island of Manhattan)
The Newfoundland T’Railway Trail, from Channel Port Aux Basques to St. John’s
Fundy walk, from Moncton to Saint John along the Bay of Fundy
The Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand from the northern tip of the North Island to the southern tip of the South Island
The GR1 Tour de Paris
The Bradt Brothers Trail, tracing my ancestors from New Amsterdam (now New York) up the Hudson to Albany and then west across upstate NY, across to Fort Erie, and along the Talbot Trail to Leamington in Essex County, SW Ontario.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking a bit around town here in Lunenburg and the surrounding area. There are some nice little trails nearby, and the backstreets of town are also fun for contemplative wandering, getting to know the place better.
I also finally walked the trail to Mahone Bay (something I’ve been itching to do for months), and really enjoyed getting out for a proper 2-hour walk, something I haven’t done in ages. And afterwards in thinking about that walk, what made the strongest impression on me was the quiet soundscape – just crunching gravel underfoot, gently-stirred breezed-on leaves, and the chirps of birds and croaks of frogs. No leaf blowers, no airplanes, no lawnmowers, no chainsaws, and only a distant occasional whoosh of a car on a road.
I can’t remember when I’ve been able to take a quiet walk, a truly quiet walk. Toronto is always filled with sound, even in neighbourhoods I thought at the time were sleepy. The Toronto trails are nice but often near roads – for instance the Lower Don Valley Trail is mere meters from the Don Valley Parkway with its 6 lanes of constant traffic. You really cannot hear yourself think, but you get so used to it that you come to hear that cacophony as normal.
And then you move to a place like Lunenburg and you realize what a quiet walk actually should sound like. It’s gotten me looking forward to some further explorations, something to plan for in the still evening silence.
I’m going to like it round here, right up till I start moaning in winter about how it’s too damn quiet.
This week we finally had a day when we could go for a stroll on the beach, and just chill. It’s been a hectic past few months – April was driving out to Halifax and quarantining and moving our son out of university residence and into his new apartment and visiting Lunenburg to see in person the new house we’d purchased via video link, and May was driving back to Toronto and getting our 1st COVID shots and getting organized to move and sweating the sale of our place there, and June was packing and driving and quarantining and unpacking in Lunenburg, and the first few weeks of July have been getting the car re-registered to Nova Scotia and getting our drivers’ licences and health cards and sorting things out in the house and cleaning and putting things away and driving to Bridgewater 847 times to pick up this and that and going to Halifax to get some furniture and putting that furniture together and organizing our books and getting to know some people in town and getting our 2nd COVID shots and then finally, this week, just looking outside and saying let’s go to the beach.
And it was wonderful. It was Hirtle Beach of course, our favourite and probably the chief reason we’re here at all. Slipping off sandals and splashing through chilly North Atlantic water, gazing at familiar sights and listening to the breeze and gurgle of waves, watching families braving the waters and young couples huddled on the sand. We’ve walked this beach a dozen times or more, and yet today was like our first walk.
In the parking lot near the beach, I turned to Ann and said hey look, Ontario plates on that car – that used to be us.
We’ve had a few moments over the past few weeks when we’ve said to ourselves, we’re here. Our first meal in our new house. Our first night out in Lunenburg. But now that we’ve had our first stroll on the beach, and now we really know that we’re here.
I don’t know why only college kids get Spring Break. Everyone loves the change in seasons, and welcomes warmer weather, so why don’t we all give ourselves a pause to refresh?
For us, this year’s Spring Break is a bigger break than past years. We’ve always loved being near water, especially salt-water, and we’ve always loved visiting Canada’s east coast, especially the south shore of Nova Scotia. That love, combined with retirement combined with COVID-19 combined with our son’s choice of a Nova Scotia university, have all come together into a big decision.
We’re selling up in Toronto and moving to Lunenburg.
So this year’s Spring Break will be spent driving out to Halifax at the beginning of April and spending a month out there. Partly it’s to help our son move out of residence and into an apartment at school end, partly to visit Lunenburg and get ourselves acclimated, and partly to see in person the house that we bought via FaceTime.
It’s a big step, and we’re kind of nervous, yet at the same time we’re really looking forward to it. Our actual move from Toronto won’t be until around mid-June, depending on the closing date for our place here, but in the meantime there’s been a million things that have kept us busy in getting ready, and now we’re counting down the hours till we head east for what is essentially our last visit – next time the drive from Toronto will mean heading home.
So, come this time next week, I’ll be stuck in a quarantine time-loop again walking round and round the garden, and then the week after that as well, and that’s all boring to talk about, so I’m putting Walkablog on hold for a couple of weeks until we’re able to get out and about.
Till then, enjoy the weather and stop to smell the flowers.
Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.
What?: I like to think of myself as relatively old-school when it comes to technology, where a good walk needs little more than comfortable shoes and clothing, and a decent bit of weather. But when I really think about it, my walking routine does in fact make use of several items of technology, so here are some tips on what I use. That’s the key thing, as well – it’s what I use. There are thousands of apps out there, and many different kinds of technology that might be used, however I cannot speak to anything other than what I actually use myself. Like with shoes, go with what’s comfortable for you.
Tips: Where, when, how and why
A phone. These days, everything starts with a smart phone, and I am hardly alone in carrying it around pretty much all of the time. You have one and you use it all the time as well, I’m sure, so I can’t tell you what kind of phone to buy or how to use it. Think of your phone as your technical Swiss Army knife – it’s more than a phone, amongst other things it’s also:
A Stop Watch
An Exercise Tracker
A Weather Station
A Music Player
Get one you like and is comfortable for you, and for heavens sake keep the bloody thing in your pocket unless you need it – it seems like every time I’m out for a way, I have to dodge around someone who’s nose is buried in their phone as they walk, oblivious to all around them.
Map apps. Pretty much every phone comes with a default map application. Since I mostly walk around Toronto, I tend not to use maps much when I’m out walking (though I’ve often looked things up if I’m trying to find a particular street or something). In Toronto, I use maps more from a planning perspective – if I want to explore a trail or neighbourhood or whatever, then I’ll use the map to do that first so that I have a basic sense of time and distance. That will let me know flesh out the rest of my plan, along with the weather forecast, regarding food, clothing, water, etc. Of course, if I’m away from home in a new place, the map is invaluable.
Of course, I do like an old school paper map too …
Trail apps. I have used a couple of different trail apps. One is called Gaia GPS, and the other is the Bruce Trail app. In both cases, finding and sticking to a trail can be tricky, and these apps combined with the GPS receiver in my phone help me stay on on track. In the case of GaiaGPS, I can also route-plan a freeform route or I can record my route as I go. GaiaGPS also lets me download various map overlays from different countries, so for example, if I am in Ireland I can see local maps for that country. Another app I’ve looked at but haven’t bought yet is the Ordnance Survey app from the UK Ordnance Survey agency. If you’ve every used their paper maps, you’ll know the very high standard they offer, and the app puts this in your pocket. If only every country had something similar!
Satellite Navigation. I have to confess I have only explored the use of these, I haven’t actually bought one, but if/when I do a long off-road walk I think I’ll buy one. These tools use GPS but they are dedicated to one purpose – navigation when you are off the beaten track. They also have an emergency function, so that if you get into trouble and you’re out of cell phone range, you can call for help.
Exercise trackers. I use an exercise tracker every day – in fact I rarely take mind off and use it to track my sleep as well as my steps, heart rate, active minutes, etc. For me this tool is about motivation. I’ve developed the habit of getting a certain # of steps per hour, per day, and per week, and the exercise tracker nudges me to keep that up. Using it that way, and actually doing the walks, first helped me shed something like 30 pounds and since then has helped me to keep it off. It’s not about the actual score, it’s the trend. I feel like I’ve let myself down if I don’t get my minutes and steps every day.
Cameras. Pretty much every smart phone these days has a camera, and this blog has encouraged me to use it when I’m out walking. It helps me to stay engaged in the world around me as I look for interesting things, and it also helps me to remember things – I can take a picture of a street sign, a commemorative plaque, a shop name, or whatever, something that I seem to need to do more often as I get older.
Music. Every smartphone offers the ability to play music, and lots of people also continue to use portable music players, like an iPod. Along with that, there are dozens of different kinds of ear phones and ear buds. I am partial to the Apple family of products – the Apple ear buds have a very comfortable shape that works well for me. The only advice I would give is that it can be handy to use wired ear buds rather than wireless because they don’t drain your phone battery as much. That said, newer phones are coming without an earphone connection any more, so you have no choice but to use wireless. Use what’s comfortable and remember to keep the sound volume down so that you can hear what’s going on around you, especially in high traffic areas.
Emergency tools. A phone can of course be a lifeline – the ability to dial 911 is super important, and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s partly for that reason that you should make sure your phone is charged before you go out. More than that, there are various waypoint and cairn apps you can install that let you define a place or destination and then track when you get there, so that a friend or loved one can see where you are and that you are sticking to plan. Beyond your phone, there are also back-country emergency beacon tools, that use a satellite connection rather than a cell network so they work pretty much anywhere. If you are hiking off the beaten path, they are a great investment in peace of mind.
Other ideas. As I said, there are lots of different types of technologies out there, and you can go nuts and try many or you can keep it simple. Things I’ve used while walking include other simple tools, like:
Flashlight or headlamp – if I know I’ll be walking towards the end of the day, or if I’m overnight trekking then a headlamp is a great safety device
Portable / solar charger for all your other electronics – this is the reason I like to keep it simple, because I hate to lug weight but sometimes you need to keep your other bits and bobs charged
tablet, e.g. an iPad – not all the time, because it adds weight, but if I know I’ll be out for a long walk I might take one so I can read the news or a book when I take a break
a laptop – similar, it’s heavy to carry but sometimes I’m combining a walk with work
Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a technologist, nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.
A recent walk happened on the first spring-like day of the year. As I strolled in a golf shirt enjoying the warmth, I thought about the change in seasons, and coming into Mount Pleasant Cemetery, those thoughts continued to evolve.
There is an old notion of the universe being a kind of clockwork, and that the world moves in cycles and revolutions like the gears within a clock. Turning, turning, and always moving. The cycles of the seasons; the annual migrations of birds and butterflies; the rotation of the earth and the steady track of the sun across the sky; the tumbling of tin cans rattled by the wind down the road; even the click-clack of trains on tracks.
Walking through the cemetery also brings more emotional cycles to mind; the happy shouts of kids at play next to the graves where tears were once shed, or last year’s dry leaves skittering in the wind before coming to rest as mulch to feed next year’s growth. Growth, blossom, decay, and rebirth.
Walking my usual route through the cemetery, itself a cycle of dips and rises and paths and roads, and passed by riders on their own (bi)cycles, I continued to revolve and evolve in my mind this notion of cycles. My walks fall into patterns, I go through periods when I wander this neighbourhood and then that one, and move on to longer walks and then back to shorter ones. I oscillate between the long and the short, the familiar and the novel.
But COVID has me stuck in a reduced cycle, like a car forced to stay in 2nd or 3rd gear. I’m itching to break out into 5th and 6th, to stretch out my short walks to a really long multi-day walk, but I’m stuck in this spin cycle of patient and plodding and close-to-home. And all the while, the virus and its human host are observing their own cycles of evolution and adaptation while in parallel the science evolves and adapts in a struggle to keep up.
The clockwork universe is probably a simplistic metaphor. There are elements of that metaphor that ring true, but I find that it’s more than just clockwork, or perhaps more accurately, that’s its more than just one clock. Imagine clocks within clocks, within yet more clocks, with overlapping parts that influence each other. Our world is complicated. But each cycle is simple in itself. Winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter.
And neighbourhood to neighbourhood, street to street, step to step, walk by walk. The cycle continues.
As is usual, spring has come round again. No surprise there, of course, but welcome none the less. Now it’s time for the firsts of the season:
First baseball spring training game
First time sitting in the sun on the balcony wearing sun glasses and NO WINTER COAT!
First person out for a walk wearing shorts
First trill of a cardinal
First rumble of a Harley
And of course, the opposite is now a countdown:
Last time wearing winter coats or boots or hats or mitts or gloves
Last time using the winter tires on the car
Last time stepping in slush and salt
Last time slipping on ice
Last time hearing the scrunch of skates on ice
It’s always the same each year, and yet you look forward to it anyway, and this year even more so since this spring is a 1-year anniversary of COVID-19 lockdowns. We’re all desperate to sit outside at restaurants and order a glass of something, to be able to walk into a store without a mask, to simply wander unconcerned.
Patience. It’s coming, though it might be months yet before we’re fully out the other side.
In baseball, a walk is earned by a batter through patience and discipline. The batter has to simply not do what they want to do, which is swing the bat, but instead watch each pitch carefully and make a decision – swing or not swing. If you can focus and do that, not swing at pitches outside the strike zone, you can earn a walk, get on base, and put yourself in a position to score a run. A batter can’t go up to the plate every time trying to hit home runs – sometimes the best strategy is to wear down the pitcher by being patient, and taking a walk.
That’s where we are with COVID-19. Time to take your walk.
Hey Toronto, remember to practice Physical Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic! Also be aware that some of the amenities, parks, or services listed below may have limited availability. Please check the links included below for up to date information on what’s open and what’s not.
And now on to the regular post …..
Samual Johnson once said, “when a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. With a nod to Dr. Johnson, I’d say that also applies to Yonge Street in Toronto.
Many cities have a well-known street – Broadway in New York, Oxford Street in London, George Street in Sydney – but Yonge is a different from those thoroughfares in that, in a sense, there isn’t one “Yonge Street”. While it may be a single road, because it’s such a long street it takes on many moods, so that multiple stretches of Yonge form distinct little neighbourhoods, referred to usually by the cross streets – Yonge & Dundas, Yonge & Bloor, Summerhill, Yonge & St. Clair, Yonge & Eg, and so on as it goes north. Walking any 3-4 km stretch of Yonge between Steeles and the Lake will take you through at least a couple of these neighbourhoods, each with its own atmosphere and vibe. That, and Toronto’s famous mix of cultures from round the world, means that walking Yonge is like a mini tour of the United Nations dipped in maple syrup. I love it.
Length: Yonge is a little more than 20 km from the lake to Steeles, so allow about 5 hours if you want to walk the whole thing. That said, an hour’s stretch at picked at random is lots of fun and lets you explore the surrounding neighbourhoods too.
Surface: It’s a public road so concrete, concrete, concrete, and in winter add large dollops of salt. Wear comfy shoes.
Public Transit: Subway Line 1 runs most of the length of Yonge, from King up to Finch, and bus route 97 covers most of Yonge as well so it’s very easy to pick start and stopping points based on one of the subway or bus stops.
If it were me, I’d pick a stretch partly based on the weather and partly on the kind of food I like to eat. Starting down at the Lake on a sunny late spring day can be fantastic, and so can exploring mid-town or uptown. Downtown, mid-town, and uptown there are too many restaurants and shops to count, and there are parks like Ramsden or Alexander Muir Gardens or York Mills along the way too.
One way to decide is to simply pick a subway stop at random and then tell yourself you’re going to walk at least 3 subway stops either north or south along Yonge – keeping in mind that north of St. Clair, the stops are quite a bit farther apart than they are downtown.
However you do it, try walking not just Yonge but also the surrounding streets that parallel it. Often a block east or west of Yonge takes you into residential streets and that’s a great way to explore too, and also get away a bit from the traffic and hustle.
A favourite stretch of Yonge for me is in mid-town, between Bloor and north past Eglinton. This stretch goes past Ramsden Park (a mid-town jewel) as well as Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and it’s lovely to detour into those treed oases for cooling greenness on a hot summer day.
Sights on Yonge are as much or more about the people than about the buildings or shops. People watching on Yonge is a year-round sport, and endless fun. Part of that is being people-watched yourself – the way you walk down Yonge, what you wear and what you carry, will provide gossip for others just as much as you can gossip about them. In summer, that includes sitting at one of the sidewalk cafes and patios and people-watching the street scene, sipping a cold glass of something while the passers-by judge you by the food you’re eating. Oh the joys.
Of course, there is history along Yonge as well, if you want to explore. Yonge-Dundas Square, which has become a celebration point when something big happens, like the Raptors NBA Championship win in 2019. Or little bits of history like the plaque that marks the Montgomery Tavern at Yonge and Montgomery, where William Lyon Mackenzie set off with a group of like-minded followers in 1837 during the so-called Upper Canada Rebellion to protest against the government of the day. And landmarks like the clock tower of the old CN rail station at Summerhill that’s now become an iconic location of the LCBO.
Of course, for many people Yonge is really about the shopping. For most of it’s length, it’s lined by shops of all descriptions – antiques, clothing, shoes, foods, guitars, bikes, tea, electronics, and so much more. We lived for many years just off Yonge in mid-town and did all of our daily shopping within a 2-block stretch of Yonge that included a fishmonger, a greengrocer, a cheese shop & deli, a bakery, and a butcher, all great little shops where we knew the shopkeepers and they greeted us by name. Sure, Yonge has its share of the big chain stores, but why would you bother when you find some little neighbourhood gem for a unique experience? Between the shops and the many unique little restaurants and bars, you can shop local and follow your 100-km diet. Who needs more?
Food & Refreshment:
It’s Yonge, so expect at least a coffee shop if not an actual restaurant or takeaway every few hundred meters pretty much the whole length of the street. You’ll find virtually every type of cuisine the city offers, and every type of establishment from bars to bistros. There are also countless food shops, butchers, cheese shops, fishmongers, grocery stores, and greengrocers, so you can do all your shopping along Yonge – bring a knapsack and some shopping bags.
Keep in mind that Yonge is an urban streetscape for most of its length, so a hot summer’s day can feel even hotter, just a cold winter’s blast of wind can freeze to the bone. The many shops and refreshments along the way will give you breaks from the weather.
Finally, while there are no public toilets or water fountains available on Yonge Street itself, there are many options available. Downtown, there are washrooms & water fountains in the malls off Yonge at the Eaton Centre, College Park, and Yonge-Bloor. At mid-town, there are washrooms in the mall on the north-east corner at Yonge & St. Clair, and on the north-west corner at Yonge & Eglinton. Uptown, there are malls on the north-east corner at Yonge & Sheppard and the south-west corner at Yonge & Steeles. Of course, there are tons of coffee shops along the way so you can always pop into one of those.
Make a game of it – how many coffee shops can you find along Yonge? How many couples walking dogs will you spot? How many BMWs per block?
You can also use Yonge as a corridor between wider neighbourhoods that are well worth exploring, like Yorkville, Rosedale, Deer Park, or Lawrence Park. In that case, pick a couple of neighbourhoods that are separated by a few km of Yonge, and use the street to walk between them.
There’s much debate about what counts as “downtown”, “mid-town”, and “uptown”. If you want to break down Yonge by those labels, then I’d say downtown is Yonge from Bloor south to the Lake; midtown is Yonge between Bloor and Eg; and uptown is north of Eglinton. Of course, ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 different definitions so try exploring what your friends suggest is downtown or midtown or whatever.
Yonge is ever-changing and flows with the seasons, so exploring any part of it will be very different in December versus June.
It snowed earlier today, and yesterday, and two days before that, and it’s -15 C with the wind chill. So naturally I’m thinking of walking on a beach.
Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to do that in many places. Some have my favourite walks have been on beaches – Sandbanks Provincial Park or Point Pelee National Park in Ontario; Hirtles Beach in Nova Scotia; Portnoo Strand in Ireland; Manley Beach in Australia; and dozens of other unnamed quiet little beaches in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Mexico, the USA, and elsewhere in Canada.
There’s something hypnotic about the sounds of water, the ruffle of wind in your ears, the splash on your legs and the crunchy grit between your toes. You get lost in the walk, on a beach. The heat through the soles of your feet shock-cooled in the water. The gulls you chase and the crabs you watch and the shells you search for. The perfectly shaped piece of driftwood. How did that shoe wash up here? Is that a seal? Do I have to go back?
I can’t help it – thinking about a beach helps make bearable walking in snow and slush. And soon, oh please soon, I’ll be walking on a beach again.