Have you ever watched that television show Escape to the Country? Mum and I watch it together every time I go home. We both love it. The idea of living in the English countryside, in a cottage, on a country lane, with a view of rolling fields and hedgerows, and the village pub a short walk away appeals greatly to us.
I love the countryside pretty much everywhere. And while we live on the Rideau with a lovely view of the water, with ducks and the occasional otter, I’d love to live further out in the country. In a small village, on a river, with a general store, and a maybe a pub. Pubs are not as ubiquitous here as they are in England, so I’d even settle for a chip stand. My village would be surrounded by farms with old cedar-rail fences, and fields dotted with rock piles like the one below.
There’s just something about a rock pile in the middle of a pasture that makes me smile. Partly because when my stepfather cleared more land for pasture when I was young, we kids spent a long time “picking rocks,” as we called it. And partly because those old mossy rock piles are evidence of the work it took to make the land habitable.
In some places up the Ottawa Valley when Hubby and I are brook-trout fishing, we’ll park the car on a gravel road, and walk through scrub brush, up and down rocky hills, and across long abandoned farms to the stream. And often we’ll come across fallen-down cedar-rail fences, and rock piles overgrown with wild raspberry bushes. Sometimes Hubby and I muse, “Whatever made early settlers decide to stop here?” Probably because that’s where their land grant was, arbitrarily chosen for them on a map by some official of the crown, and unseen until they’d made their long and arduous journey. I can imagine it was NOT because they stopped, looked around, and said, “Here is our Eden.” For the Canadian countryside was, and in many places still is, not exactly bucolic.
Anyway, on Sunday, Hubby and I left our own little piece of Eden on the Rideau, and headed out for greener pastures. Well, not necessarily greener… but different. And different is what we’ve been craving. So with homemade lattés in our thermal cups and a picnic lunch in the cooler in the backseat, we made our escape to the country. For the day. Hubby had plotted a route for us through Lanark County.
Our first stop was Carleton Place, a town on the Mississippi River. No, not that one. This one is a tributary of the Ottawa River. Carleton Place is a stalwart little town, built by the lumber and textile industries which flourished here in the nineteenth century. Apparently it was named after a street in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s the old post office and inland revenue building below.
And this is Bridge Street in downtown Carleton Place on a sunny, sleepy Sunday morning. It’s a classic small town main street. The Dress Shop is a store I hope to explore when everything reopens, whenever that is. This is where my friend Krista shops.
This is the window of a storefront tax service on Bridge Street, below. Not sure why they thought the Statue of Liberty was an appropriate symbol for a Canadian taxation business. But never mind. They were closed, of course. But we saw a handy box of income tax forms, and notices with lists of instructions and deadlines arranged in their doorway. Getting your taxes done during a pandemic is complicated.
Hubby and I parked the car on the street and had a bit of a wander along the river. The park was open but no sitting on the benches allowed. That’s okay, we said. I snapped a shot of the river, the weir, and the Carleton Place town hall. That curved weir reminds me a little of the one near Pulteney Bridge in Bath, England. Albeit not nearly as ancient.
We didn’t wander far, or for long. We’re not really supposed to be doing the tourist thing during this time of self-isolation. Soon we hopped back into the car and wended our way to the town of Almonte, also in Lanark County, also on the Mississippi River. Where the old post office building, below, bears a marked resemblance to the one in Carleton Place.
I read a bit about Almonte this morning. According to my source, Almonte is the only place in Canada named after a Mexican general. Juan Almonte fought against the United States in the Mexican-U.S. border wars of the 1830’s. Apparently, the townspeople, descendants of United Empire Loyalists that fled from the U.S. during the American War of Independence, still remembered the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Canada, which was then still a British colony, and continued to view the U.S. with suspicion. And they so admired this Mexican general, who fought so bravely, that they named their town after him. Now that is an odd little bit of Canadian history that was news to me.
Hubby and I strolled for a few minutes in Almonte. Walking along the river path for a bit, looking down at the fast flowing Mississippi River. That’s the tiny Mississippi Mills Power Corp building, in the last frame of the video, above.
This is part of Mill Street in Almonte. The old post office building on the right. And a statue of famous Almonte resident, James Naismith, who invented basketball, sitting in front of that basketball net. On normal sunny spring days, Almonte is a wonderful place for a day trip from Ottawa. Lots of places to eat lunch or have tea, a couple of antique stores, and a great independent bookstore. What more could you ask for, eh?
I loved this old painted sign on the side of the building, above. Looks as if they’ve even freshened up the paint. When I was a teenager and had just passed my driver’s exam, I happily ran errands for my stepfather. Because, of course, it meant I had use of the car. I picked up bags of pig feed at the co-op, or bought him a plug of chewing tobacco at the store. The latter being slightly mortifying. I’d go all hot with embarrassment at the quizzical looks I received from the cashier at the store when I asked for a plug of chewing tobacco. Teenage girls not being big consumers of such. Ha.
After a few moment’s walk on Mill Street in Almonte, we moved on. Hubby wanted me to see tiny Appleton. Appleton is my kind of place: a river, a bridge, an old stone house or three, like the one below. A couple of log cottages. One yellow house with a screened porch, a lovely flower garden, and an elderly lady pushing a wheelbarrow along her front path. And a fetchingly pretty, unpaved lane that runs along the river bank, with a few old homes that face the water, and at the end a small dam across the river. No pub, though. But still, nearly perfect.
Don’t ask me where we went after that because I have no idea. I do not have a head for geography. Or direction. And I have been known to describe the drive from Ottawa to Fredericton, New Brunswick as heading out on the highway towards Montreal, along the Saint Lawrence River, until you get to Rivière-du-Loup where you turn right. So let’s just say on Sunday we drove down country road, after country road.
Some roads were more scenic than others. We drove beside lakes, and along creeks. Past some immaculate farms, with neatly painted houses and well-kept barns. And we drove down one road where every establishment seemed a bit sketchy, with a gaggle of ramshackle buildings, and a pile of old cars or abandoned home appliances in their yard. On one particular stretch even Hubby said he’d never seen the like. I swear if we’d rolled the car windows down we’d have heard dueling banjos.
This old farm, below, is a wonderful place, though. The house has been spruced up. And those log barns are the best. Log barns can be found all over rural Ontario, especially in the Ottawa Valley.
I’d never seen so much of Lanark County as I did on Sunday. And one thing I loved the most was the plethora of cedar-rail fences. They were everywhere.
This farm, below, had a lovely winding, weathered, cedar fence. All in excellent repair. And along the road we saw a section of brand new fence, the wood still fresh and newly cut. Hubby and I both remarked how wonderful it is that this bit of Ontario heritage is being kept alive.
Somewhere outside of somewhere else, on a forested road, we pulled the car over onto the verge, beside a sunny open spot, and ate our picnic lunch. The plan had been to perch on some sun-warmed rocks in the small field, but it was far too windy. But that was fine by us; we were having a great day.
After lunch we headed home. We took a couple of wrong turns because some of our route was new to Hubby, and we had no map. Well, except for the one in Hubby’s head which is usually more reliable. And I had no cell phone service for Google maps. We were travelling old school, my friends. But we’re used to that. We made so many wrong turns Hubby said, “This is just like Ireland. Without the leprechaun.” But that’s another story.
So that’s what we did on Sunday. We broke the rules and went for a long and rambling drive. Escaped to the country, for a day. And we sure felt the better for it, I must say.
I know we are very lucky to live where we do. We love our spot on the river.
But some days I still long to escape to the real country. To a place further out. An old rambling cottage. Not too big. On a country lane, looking out over a small river or stream. Like in little Appleton. “I could live here,” I sighed to Hubby.
How about you, my friends? What have you been doing these days to escape?