Walks Past – Munich December 2013

2013 started out as a very good year. I turned 50 as did several other close friends, and we had a joyous laughter-filled and wine-fuelled collective birthday party in the spring. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary that year as well, in Paris, strolling hand in hand. And we had a couple of lovely little summer city breaks, to Montreal and to Chicago, where we explored and soaked up the sun.

And then the year went to shit, to be blunt. First my wife Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer late that summer, and just as she was recovering from a partial mastectomy, our dear friend Paul passed away suddenly in the autumn.

By late autumn, we were exhausted emotionally and physically, and desperately in need of a break. Since I had a business trip scheduled to Munich in early December, we decided to go as a family. And so, noses alive with the scents of Glühwein, we set out to explore the city.

I had been to Munich several times previously on business, and knew my way around somewhat. For my son and my wife, it was all new and all worth exploring. I had business meetings during the day, so they would go out exploring and quickly fell in love with the city, a feeling I shared. Munich is a great place to visit, any time of the year.

Then in the evenings we would go out together and wander through the glorious Marienplatz, alive with winter market stalls, humming with people, ringing with music, and redolent with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg from the spiced cakes, cookies, and drinks on offer.

After my meetings wrapped up, I had a couple of free days which we spent toodling about the city, visiting the markets, nosing into shops, and trying out our limited German – danke, bitte. One outing took us to the BMW Museum, where we had fun playing what if ….

Since my son was taking a few days away from school, his teachers had given him an assignment to look for historical features of buildings, especially gargoyles, so on another day we spent several hours wandering around with our noses in the air, looking up at churches to see who could spot the most freakish and frightening examples.

And of course, all that wandering about left us ready for warming cups of hot chocolate, which the many cafes were happy to oblige.

It was a magical few days, a relief in many ways, and a reminder that there are times when you have to simply seize the opportunities that arise along life’s journey. The events of the previous few months had taught us that carpe diem is the best way of dealing with the unexpected.

Over these past few weeks, as we lurch from lockdown to lockdown and huddle inside, waiting for spring and for a COVID-19 vaccine to open the world back up, I’ve been thinking about that trip once again. It helped us heal as a family then, and recalling it now is a reminder that despite the shocks and roadblocks that the world will put in our way, there are always little things that can brighten your mood.

Stay healthy, hug your family, smile at your neighbours, and enjoy the sun when it shines. Happy Holidays!

Hand-made card from my friend Fiona who has used her COVID cloistering to become a very good painter

A Simple Quest

The duration of winter in a place like Canada is measured by the length of time your snow-clearing service runs – mid-November to mid-April, in our case in Toronto. And it was a dreary, early winter’s day with leaden skies and squelching mulch, puddles amongst the remnants of dirty snow, misty rain and gusty chills. A nasty day for quest.

Not long back, my in-laws had moved into a senior living apartment. While it’s a lovely spot, cozy and warm with big chairs in which to sit and enjoy a cup of tea, the latest COVID-19 lockdown had prevented them from getting out to stock up on biscuits. And so, a simple request – could we pick up some HobNobs for them?

If you aren’t familiar with HobNobs, then I can only suggest that you find some and try them – they’re a delicious oatmeal cookie aka biscuit from the UK, and back when we lived there I developed a taste for them too. Since my in-laws are originally from Ireland, these are a taste of home for them to have with tea.

I had been searching for them for several days. Over grocery runs to various stores, we kept coming up empty. I could remember buying these in years past but not where I’d bought them, and this time, perhaps because it was close to the Christmas holidays, they weren’t available in our usual shops.

What about further afield, the deli in our old neighbourhood? – hadn’t we gotten them there in years past? I was sure of it, so one day I walked over to pick up the HobNobs, but again, no luck – the shop had stopped selling the plain variety and only had the chocolate-covered ones, which while delicious, were not what my in-laws wanted.

Ok, this was getting annoying. How can such a delectable treat not be in the shops? Leaving the deli, I walked to different a couple of other shops along the way home. No luck again. Hmm. A couple of hours out for a walk and still no HobNobs.

This was getting personal. The next day was dreary, wet, and cold, but I was determined to find them – a simple request had become a quest of honour. First up, was a grocery store in a few km away in a different part of town where they carried a small section of international foods including those from the British Isles. Branston Pickle, Heinz Salad Cream, Chocolate-covered digestives, yes, but still no HobNobs. The next closest possible source was another few km up Yonge Street, and after waiting in a COVID-19 queue to get in, I realized that this store too had an appauling dearth of HobNobs.

By now, I had worked up a head of steam despite the weather. Turning west, I splashed through puddles for several km across to what was now shop #6 on my quest, this one an independent store that carried many European products. I barged in, bug-eyed above my COVID mask and headed straight to the biscuit isle. A momentary panic, not seeing them, and then looking down – success! The familiar label caught my eye and I promptly scooped up 3 packages. At the cash, the clerk asked if I’d found everything I needed – Hah! everything I needed indeed.

HobNobs now tucked safely into my knapsack, I walked the several km home, stopping along the way to pick up a bottle of Irish whisky – something to fortify and restore myself was in order, I thought. At least they had that in the first place I tried.

And so now I sit, drying out and sipping a toddy, staring out at the rain that’s continued all day. It’s a grey and dismal day, with one little glow from the corner where the golden flash of Hobnobs is like a log on a fire.

Slainte.

Tips – Hydration

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?: Here are some ideas for staying hydrated and comfortable when you’re out for a walk, whether it’s round the block or an all-day hike. Please note that this applies to areas where clean water is available – for back-country water tips, I suggest consulting a good source like Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

  • Water, just plain old tap water, is best. First and foremost, healthy hydration starts here and for me, that’s usually all I need.
  • Collect water bottles. I have a small collection of reusable bottles, ranging from 500 ml to 1 litre in volume, and in a variety of formats and materials. Some are insulated stainless steel, and others are either soft squeezable plastic or hard polycarbonate. That way, I can choose the one(s) that will match conditions, and I can take multiple bottles if I’m going out on a hot day where I know I’ll need more than a litre of fluids.
  • Be green, reuse and recycle. I avoid buying bottle water whenever possible, preferring to simply carry a refillable water bottle and topping up wherever I am. There’s usually a water fountain someplace, and if you ask nicely coffee shops or fast food places will fill your bottle for you, especially if you pay some rent by buying a bagel or a snack.
  • Be careful with caffeine. I usually avoid it during a walk because it’s a diuretic, which means it will increase fluid loss since you’ll want to pee. Also, because caffeine is an ingredient in some energy drinks, it’s another reason to avoid those. I do like my morning coffee, so if I know I’m going to be doing a big walk that day I’ll limit my caffeine intake before I go out to avoid the need for a quick early pit stop.
  • An insulated thermos bottle can be handy. On a hot day, filling it with cold water helps a lot to avoid heat exhaustion. On a cold day, filling it with hot drinks can be the warming boost you need. Just be careful with caffeine and remember that this kind of bottle is heavier than a plastic one.
  • Water adds weight. There’s no way around it, you need to stay hydrated, but remember that 1 millilitre of water weights 1 gram, so that full 1 litre bottle is going to weigh more than 1kg once you count the bottle itself. On long hikes, I carry two of these if I’m not near a water source, so by the time I add some snacks, sunblock, blister pack, rain gear, and a change of shirt/socks to my pack, I’m usually carrying more than 4 kg, at least half of which is water.
  • Plan your water stops. The further afield you are, the more you need to be aware of where you can refill water bottles. In Toronto, there are water fountains in most parks, but they are turned off between late October and early May. Check the web ahead of your walk so you know where you can fill up.
  • Look for unexpected water refills. For example in Toronto, many of the cemeteries have water taps used for groundskeeping and these are often accessible for refills, plus they are often available for more of the year than water fountains in the public parks. Outside the city, you may meet a friendly person out watering a lawn who would be happy to fill your water bottle in return for a smile and a thank you. Be respectful, and ask if you are not sure if you can use a refill source like this, and make sure you turn off the tap as well.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Sugar can give you an energy boost, short term, but it wears off quickly and too much sugar can actually make you thirstier. Many energy drinks contain a lot of sugars along with salts. A little of that goes a long way. If you are going for a long hike on a hot day, a small (500 ml or less) water bottle filled with an energy drink is sufficient as long as you also have at least the same amount or more of plain water.
  • Add some flavour with fruit. I often put a slice or 2 of fresh lemon or lime into my water bottle on a hot day. It gives it some flavour while avoiding sugars.
  • Make flavoured ice cubes. On a hot day, a cold drink can be super satisfying. One way to do that is to take a small slice of lemon or lime, or a few raspberries, and put them into each cell of an ice cube tray and then fill it with water. A couple of those frozen flavour bombs in your water bottle will chill it and give you a lift at the same time.
  • Green tea is a great compromise. Hot or cold, green tea is both pleasantly refreshing and a bit less caffeinated than regular black tea or coffee. A thermos of that along with a bottle of plain water is a great way to either warm up or cool down while still packing water for straight hydration.
  • Frozen water bottles can chill your snacks. On a hot day, you may need to keep a sandwich cold so save weight by freezing a partially full water bottle (make sure it’s no more than 3/4s full) and using that as an ice pack. That way you’ll have a nice cold drink ready along with your snack.
  • You need water any time of the year. Even if it’s -30 out, you’ll still need to stay hydrated. An insulated water bottle is great because it will keep your water from freezing in your pack. I find I drink less when it’s cold, but I still need some water.
  • Remember, what goes in has to come out. I tend to hydrate lightly before I go out, so that I don’t need a pee stop just after I get going. The more you drink as you walk, the more you’ll need to plan your bio breaks. However, you also shouldn’t skimp on water either to avoid pit stops – too little fluid intake makes you sluggish at best, and can lead to dehydration or heat stroke at worst. If you aren’t in need of a pee every 2-3 hours, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
  • My hydration rules of thumb for hot weather walks, i.e. above 25 C
    • 1 hour or less – a 500 ml insulated water bottle filled with cold tap water.
    • more than an hour – a 500 ml insulated water bottle with cold tap water plus back-up water, about 500 ml of water for every 2 hours I’ll be out, e.g. 4 hour hike means carrying at least 1 litre of back up water, and more if I know I’m going to be far from refill sources
  • My hydration rules of thumb for cool weather walks, i.e. below 5 C
    • 1 hour or less – I’ll have a drink before I leave home and then skip taking water with me as I won’t perspire much
    • more than an hour – an insulated 500 ml water bottle filled with plain room temp tap water. For 3-4 hour hikes or longer, I’ll add either a 500 ml or a 1-litre back up bottle. When I am taking a snack I’ll sometimes add a 500 ml insulated thermos filled with hot green tea.

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Tips – Clothing

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 I would share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What? When I first started going out for long walks/short hikes, I would just wear the regular clothes I already owned – cotton T-shirts, jeans, running shoes, etc. I quickly learned that those weren’t the best choices, especially if the weather tended to extremes of hot or cold, so over the years I’ve acquired a walking wardrobe that helps me prepare for most conditions.

When? These tips apply to any season, bearing in mind that the clothing choices you make can vary a lot by temp and weather conditions.

Tips: Where, when, how, and why

  • As Shrek said to Donkey, ogres are like onions because they have layers. Your clothing choices should be like that too. Being able to add or subtract a layer on the fly while you are walking can make a big difference in comfort.
  • Layers with zippers are handy – for example, a zippered fleece sweater under a rain jacket can be enough warmth for a 5-10 C day, and if you get too warm you can just open it up without having to take it off
  • Breathability is key. Look for things like zippers under the arms on rain jackets, or armpit air holes, or breathable water-resistant materials like GoreTex. There’s nothing worse than working up a sweat and feeling that moisture trapped against your body because your clothes won’t let it evaporate.
  • Avoid cotton, it traps moisture as you perspire and that can lead to chafing and blisters. Damp or wet cotton also wicks heat away from your body, which is bad news when it’s cold – you don’t want to work up a sweat while wearing a cotton T-shirt and find you’re chilled when you sit for a rest break.
  • Look for natural fibres like wool and silk. These breathe well, they wick moisture away from your body, and keep you warm even when wet. I like Merino wool because it’s light and soft. Try to use these as your base layers next to your skin.
  • Synthetic fibres like fleece work well too, like the moisture-wicking materials used in exercise gear that also often have some elasticity to allow you to move and stretch easily. Just remember that these materials shed plastic micro-fibres every time you wash them which eventually work their way into water systems creating long-term environmental problems. So yes, they work, but natural materials are best.
  • Try then buy. I like to buy one example of something – socks or underwear or whatever – and wear it a few times on different walks in different conditions. If that works well, then I buy more of the same thing.
  • Remember your pack. It’s important to try on clothes, especially outer layers, with your backpack. You don’t want to find out there are pinch points or chafing areas after you’ve bought the clothing item. Take the pack with you to the clothing store if you can and try on both together. This also lets you fiddle with zippers on jackets and fleecies to see how well that will work while wearing a pack with a waist belt and sternum strap.
  • Especially in summer, it’s amazing how many sets of clothes you can get through over a few days. I usually come in dripping so everything goes straight into the wash, and unless we’re doing laundry constantly I find I need at least 3-4 pairs of underwear, socks, etc. in order to go out everyday.
  • You get what you pay for, in clothes as in anything else. Good stuff will cost more but it will last longer, so over time it’s usually better value.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather be comfortable than stylish. I look like a middle-aged guy in hiking gear when I’m out, because I am a middle-aged guy in hiking gear. So what.
  • Start with your feet. Your shoes or boots will make or break your comfort on a walk, and blisters can stop you in your tracks, so to me it’s more important to spend money on footwear and skimp on the other clothing layers if needed. You can always take off a layer of clothing if you get hot or add a layer if needed, but you can’t take off your footwear and keep hiking. I look for wearability and comfort first of all, and style is way down my list of priorities.
  • For a moderate 10 km hike, my clothing choices will be something like this
    • Spring
      • Base layer – workout underwear, top and bottom – moisture wicking synthetics
      • Upper body Insulating layer(s) (the colder the temps, the more layers) – long sleeve work out T-shirt, and/or light merino wool jumper, and/or light zippered fleece jacket
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking pants with lots of cargo pockets. If the temps are above 15 C, then walking shorts, also in synthetic material with cargo pockets
      • Outer layer – water resistant rain jacket, non-insulated if it’s above about 5 C, or a light down jacket if it’s below that. Also light running gloves, if it’s forecast to be below about 5 C.
      • Socks – compression fit, light merino wool
      • Footwear – hiking boots or running shoes depending on weather and terrain
      • Head gear – water resistant baseball style hat, with a backup light toque if it’s under 5 C
      • Optional – if there’s rain in the forecast, I’ll wear or at least carry in the pack a pair of light rain pants
    • Summer
      • Base layer – same as spring. I’ll carry a spare T-shirt if it’s over about 30 C so I have something dry to change into if needed. If it’s especially sunny, I’ll use a SPF 40-50 rated exercise T-shirt
      • Upper body insulating layer – none, unless it’s forecast to drop below about 15 C
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking shorts
      • Outer layer – light rain jacket in the backpack unless there’s about a 0% chance of rain in the forecast
      • Socks – compression fit, synthetic materials. I might carry a spare pair if I’m going to be out for 3-4 hours or more so I have change to dry ready
      • Footwear – running shoes
      • Head gear – baseball-style running hat or a broad-brimmed sun hat, depending on forecast.
    • Autumn
      • Overall, same as spring. Layers adjusted depending on forecast temps, keeping in mind that it gets darker earlier so the temperature drops can hit you earlier than in spring
    • Winter
      • Base layer – usually the same as other seasons, but if it’s below about -10 C and particularly if there’s a significant wind-chill, then add merino wool long johns.
      • Upper body and lower body layers similar to autumn, adding a layer of winter rain pants if it’s wet or below about -15 C
      • Outer layer – down-insulated winter parka + light running gloves with down-filled over mittens if it’s below – 5C
      • Footwear – hiking boots, with gaiters if it’s really snowy/slushy
        • Bonus tip – non-slip crampons for street walking work well over your boots, to give you grip on ice
      • Head gear – toque usually, or else a rain-resistant baseball style cap that fits under the hood of the parka

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Grey Skies and Nursery Rhymes

This is the way we wash our hands,

Wash our hands

Wash our hands

This is the way we wash our hands

On a cold and frosty morning.

Traditional rhyme

I was walking recently and as often happens, idle thoughts strayed to old rhymes. COVID-19 case numbers are climbing again in Ontario, and Toronto has allowed itself to slide back down the curve from Orange alert to Red, and now to a near-full lockdown as we had last spring.

So I guess it wasn’t surprising that my subconscious mind recalled a childhood nursery rhyme that seemed appropriate to our current state of affairs. When my conscious mind realized that I was reciting this to myself as I walked, I reworded it to something appropriate to our situation today.

This is the way we wear our masks,

Wear our masks,

Wear our masks,

This is the way we wear our masks,

On a cold and COVID morning

Traditional rhyme adapted to our times copyright Robert Bradt 2020

And while I was thinking that, I was also reflecting upon the fact that the weather gods have come back from holidays and brought with them more traditional November skies and temps. Cold, rainy gusts and gloomy rambles seem appropriate.

Of course, another way to look at COVID is to remember a different nursery rhyme:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,

Half a pound of treacle.

That’s the way the money goes,

Pop! goes the weasel!

Traditional, as found in Wikipedia

Each time we think we have pushed COVID back into its box, we relax our behaviours and let our physical distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing standards slip, and then Pop! goes the weasel indeed.

Never a thought for somebody else,

Never a thought for others,

That’s the way the case count grows

Pop! go the numbers!

copyright Robert Bradt 2020

Stay safe everyone. Remember the 3 W’s: Wear a mask, Watch your distance, and Wash your hands.

Visit the City of Toronto website to learn how you can help control the spread of COVID-19.

96d5-TOR_20111_TSA_I_Miss_My_Life-optimized.jpg (1080×1553)
From the new City of Toronto Safe 6ix campaign

Walking by numbers

Recently, we’ve been in a stretch of above normal, spring-like November weather. It’s a bit incongruous to be out in shorts and a t-shirt under balmy blue skies and warm temps, while shuffling through piles of autumn leaves.

That said, it’s meant for glorious days that beg for a walk, and I’ve obliged as much as I can. Out recently, I decided to walk from our place in mid-town Toronto to meet my wife in Leslieville. It’s an easy walk, mostly downhill through the heart of the city, and as I was out, I got to thinking about it in terms of numbers.

There are numbers about the walk itself – about10km, about 1:45 minutes, 20 C, etc. And then there are numbers about things along the way, like how many parks I passed by or cut through – 7 of them, if you count Riverdale East and Riverdale West as two parks. Or the bridges that I crossed over or under – 5 as I recall, including the delightful Glen Road pedestrian bridge over the Rosedale Valley.

And what about the number of languages I overheard as I walked – there were at least 6 I think, not counting English – French, Arabic, Hindi, Italian, Spanish, and what I think was Cantonese and Russian. Plus, at least 6 accents to the English voices I overheard – mid-Canadian, north-east American, Caribbean, English, Irish, and South African.

I also passed by 3 cemeteries at Mount Pleasant, St. Michaels, and St. James, and marvelled at the gorgeous colour in each.

I stopped counting upscale cars very quickly, as in passing through Rosedale every drive seemed to have multiple examples. I did count 1 completely over-the-top car, however – a Rolls-Royce middle-finger-to-the-world SUV that was more tank than anything else, that rolled majestically through Cabbagetown down the middle of the road piloted by a blond middle-aged woman who may as well have had “Karen” stamped on her forehead.

I also stopped counting the number of people I saw who were also out for a stroll – dozens of fellow walkers, all in Lululemon it seemed, and ranging from new parents with infants to retired couples in their 80’s. Will they still be out in January when it’s -20?

Countless as well were the number of scents and aromas that I could distinguish as I passed – cannaboid funk in many places, 5-spice cookery along Broadview in old east Chinatown, frying onions from a dozen pubs, and everywhere autumn leaves, along with stale urine in the Glen road underpass, and the dreary pall of diesel exhaust.

All along the way, there was only one real constant, and that was the clear blue above as it danced through the golden leaves.

And there was only one ridiculously cute great-nephew whom I met at the end of my walk – Miles, named after mine and my nephew’s favourite musician. Kinda blue, just like the sky.

Steppin’ on the bright side

Monday this past week it snowed, here in Toronto. We had recently returned from Nova Scotia and we drove through several hours of wet snow on the way home, and then a few days after we got back we had snow here too. It was barely Halloween ….

So it was dreary, and yet it was also heartwarming. There is something lovely about fresh snow on a tree in the autumn, a duality to it – you dread the cold and the early winter arrival while at the same time you also can’t help but be charmed by the beauty of it.

Which got me thinking, as I walked about this week. From snow on Monday, the temps climbed in Toronto until by Friday it was a November heat wave, short sleeve shirt weather with blue skies and positively spring-like temps.

The news these past few weeks has been depressing and overwhelming- a resurgence of COVID-19, the overwrought drama of the US election, economic challenges, and much else. And yet there was a brighter side too. The sun came out, the air was warm, and the birds were singing.

A walk is a chance to escape, to think, to realize that all is not doom-and-gloom. There is a silver lining, somewhere. Find it and hold it, and remember to smile. Over the past 3 weeks, my nephew and his wife and my niece and her husband have welcomed two gorgeous healthy babies into the world. Walking the neighbourhood this past week, that news cheered me more than the sunshine. Bienvenue Miles and Beatrice.

COVID-19 Walks redux

OK, time to remind ourselves.

  1. Wear a mask
  2. Maintain physical distancing
  3. Wash your hands

Recently I was in Halifax, and down around the harbour there are various reminder signs that get the point across with some humour.

The rising case counts over the past few weeks are a clear sign that we need to be reminded once again as we move into the autumn.

Since no one wants to go stir crazy, I’ve collected together a number of posts about places to go for a walk in Toronto so that you can get some exercise while walking responsibly.

Get out, get some fresh air, and remember to

South Shore Walks

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had a chance to revisit some old haunts in Nova Scotia such as Mahone Bay and Lunenburg. That’s reminded me of walks past in different places along the South Shore. Since I’m writing this on a rainy autumn day, it’s as good a time as any describe some of our favourite places for a walk.

Mahone Bay

We first visited Mahone Bay nearly 30 years ago. Back then, it wasn’t quite as touristy as it is now. There were a few nice little B&Bs, and a few shops. The draw was the view, both of the harbour and the bay, and also of the iconic row of 3 churches that sit side by side along the shore at the top of the inlet.

Since then, we’ve visited the town many times, and twice have stayed in vacation properties there. Those visits have given us lots of opportunities to wander about the town, taking in more than just the waterfront. On one of those visits, we were out for a stroll after dinner along the quiet back streets of the town, and nearly jumped out of our skins when we came upon a deer which was contentedly munching flowers in someone’s garden.

It’s that kind of town. If you visit on a sunny summer Sunday in mid-afternoon, you’ll think the place is busy all the time and crowded with tourists. But wait a bit past dinner time, or visit mid-week, and you’ll find that once the city tourists are gone, the little town’s charms are all the more evident and available as you poke about the shops and restaurants. A leisurely 30 minutes will pretty much cover the town, and it will be a relaxing way to get to know the place.

Lunenburg

Lunenburg is most famous as the home of the Bluenose, the iconic schooner that graces a Canadian dime. Today, the Bluenose II is often in port, and you can tour the boat and even book a sailing cruise on her.

More than that, however, is the year-round town – the shops and services that the surrounding area depend on outside the tourist season. Because of that, we’ve visited many times. We love to wander up and down the steep streets that rise behind the harbour. You can spend an hour or so doing that and getting in a workout, and there’s also a lovely little walking trail that circles the town. That walking trail, by the way, also offers a way to walk Mahone Bay (about 10km), if you’re up for a longer hike.

Hirtles Beach and the Gaff Point Trail

Another favourite that we discovered more than 10 years ago is the Gaff Point Trail. It’s a short drive out of Lunenburg, south east towards Kingsburg. The Trail starts at the parking lot for Hirtles Beach, another favourite spot for splashing in the waves, and follows the Beach towards Gaff Point itself.

There, it loops around the tip of the point through forest and along the rocky shore, and provides fabulous views up and down the shore along with many spots where you can sit and just watch the waves and seabirds. We usually take a picnic when we go, and spend some time chilling. It’s about a 7.5km walk there and back so give yourself at least 2 hours, and if the weather is nice it’s great to kick off your shoes and splash along the water’s edge as you finish the hike. A pro tip is to do the walk at low tide so you can walk on the firm sand rather than along the rocky berm at the top of the beach.

Peggy’s Cove

Over our various trips to Nova Scotia, we had always skipped Peggy’s Cove. My parent’s had dragged me there as a reluctant 8 year old back in the early 70’s, and ever since I had written it off as overly-touristed and out of date. That changed on our most recent trip. It was just my wife and I, and without our own child (now 18!) in tow, and at an off-season time of the year, it seemed like a good time to visit and see what the fuss was about.

I have to confess I didn’t know what to expect, but choosing a sunny October day was wise, because it’s lovely to sit on the rocks near the famous lighthouse and listen to the sea and bask in the sun. The little town itself is quaint, if conscious of its touristy charms, and even though you’ve probably taken a million selfies it’s still fun to grab one here.

Chester

Over the years, we’ve been to Chester a few times and I have to admit that I could never quite warm to it. It’s a bit of an anomaly for the South Shore – it’s a touristy place but also a place with a lot of wealth. The annual Chester Regatta is a famous tradition, and it’s attracted sailors for generations. Many of them have the money needed to go with large yachts, so many of the homes in Chester reflect that. It feels a little like Cape Cod in the summer.

This year, visiting on a misty damp October day, it felt quite different. There’s a bit of a melancholy air to a resort town out of season. Many of the houses are closed up for the winter, and the town’s year-round residents can get together in peace. Walking up and down its quiet streets, we realized that it’s actually a lovely little place. The trick, it would seem, is to come off-season.

There are some little parks and shops downtown, and the harbour area is atmospheric as well. We brought a picnic and ate it in the wet, and that made it that much more savoury, staring over the water and listening to the gulls. I have to take back what I said about Chester in the past – it’s not the snooty place I thought it was.