My summer travel plans had been ruined – or so I thought.
Last year, I had the pleasure to experience what an outsider would describe as ‘Real Canada’ – a trip I had been unsuccessfully attempting to creating since my arrival in 2007. I’d cottaged at Temagami and camped at Killbear and could not deny that I had enjoyed myself, but I had not found myself. I later discovered what I sensed was lacking in the sheer, vast beauty of Ontario’s Algonquin National Park. The adventures I shared with M that week can be defined at a later date, but it’s safe to say that I had arranged my next visit long before returning from the first. I’d been patiently waiting 11 months before the complications arrived.
To cut a long story short, I was unable to book off the needed time from work. Furthermore (and most frustratingly so), the situation was out of my control, left in the hands of others. I was left feeling cheated. Was I working to live, or living to work? My travel bug was restless – I had to go somewhere and fast, for the sake of my sanity. Where I ended up was a place I had visited briefly twice before, a place so quaint and charming that it’s impossible for it not to melt even the coldest of urban stoics.
Welcome to Prince Edward County, South East Ontario.
The decision was based largely around the fact that M’s parents live in Picton and our annual summer visit had thus far been neglected; but the thought of the snaking roads and green fields tugged at my heart, reminding me of somewhere far away in distance but forever close in spirit – my home home, rural England.
Picton emerged in the mid 19th century, progressing into what is now the largest community in Prince Edward County. Many of the original Victorian houses still exist today in some form or another, offering visitors a grand and elegant architectural sight with that warm, old town feel. Well, Canadian old that is. Being from England, 150 year old houses where hardly something of an eye opener during my growing years. Regardless, it did feel good to be around architecture that is older than my grandparents again. Hmm … now that’s something I’d never think that I’d miss – old buildings. Some have since undergone various levels of restoration, one being the picturesque heart of Picton’s Main Street, The Regents Theatre. On its ‘opening’ night (and I used that term loosely; the films offical launch was some weeks prior) M and I went to watch The Dark Knight Rises. Glossy preshow trailers were replaced with sponsorship ads and historical shorts on PEC, keeping the focus local – here, everyone looks out for each other. On that particular evening, the locals themselves appeared to be a variety of adolescent farm boys.
However close knit the community may seem, tourists are always welcomed, most noticeably by the large number of B and B signs displayed upon lush, blooming gardens. M’s parents have stayed faithful to their house’s tradition by recently reopening it as a B and B, one that the previous owners had begun.What’s different about theirs is the distinct Italian flavour brought about by the family heritage – and I’m not just talking about the food! Undoubtedly, the cooking is excellent but the two beautifully decorated guestrooms (one in a Venetian style, the other Tuscan) is what truly adds to the element of cultural depth in an already rich, British-Canadian experience.
Whilst enjoying the comforts of local hospitality, don’t neglect your proximity to a plethora of Prince Edward County’s attractions. Sandbanks beach is a popular destination for families whereas older travelers prefer to sample some of Ontario’s finest in the vineyards. Enjoying both but being neither, M and I took refuge in navigating the area via bicycle and geocaching along the way. Orchards, fields, lakes and farms blurred together to create a montage indicative of rural Canadian life. Of course, there is no forgetting the mosquitoes.
With my childhood rooted in Herefordshire, I find it hard not to promote cider as the world’s best beverage; this is where Prince Edward County does me proud.The County Cider Company, situated a scenic afternoons bike ride east from Picton, is the only North American company to get a mention in the U.K 2011 cider challenge, winning a silver. The sampling alone makes for a worthwhile trip but the quirky merchandise (I claimed my rightful title as ‘cider girl’ via t-shirt) and stone oven baked pizzas served on the orchard/lake view patio make the journey distinctly memorable.
That being said, cider has its competition as the world’s best beverage and naturally, that is tea (cough cough, bias, cough), Miss Lily’s cafe, named in honour of its late feline resident, satisfies even the thirstiest of tea lovers.
The cafe serves as a resting place for those browsing the shelves at the neighbouring Books and Company store, searching for that unique find. With its creeking wooden floors, upperlevel gallery and unusual selection of books and bookstands – you’ll need a timeout to do it all justice! And who could ask for more than an on hand jelly bean cupcake and London fog? Not me.
So sure, maybe I didn’t get to
burn roast endless s’mores over an open fire, weaving ghost stories with no apparent end, but that time will come again. As for now, I have created a connection with a town, one as loyal as any friend and as giving as the orchards it nurtures. I’ll see ya real soon, Picton ol’ pal.