Escape to the Country

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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.

Farm field with cedar rail fence, in Lanark County, Ontario.
My kind of field.

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.

Old post office building in Carleton Place, Ontario.
The old Carleton Place post office building.

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.

Bridge Street in Carleton Place, Ontario.
Bridge Street in Carleton Place.

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.

Liberty tax service window in Carleton Place, Ontario.
I guess Lady Liberty will do your taxes.

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.

Weir on the Mississippi River and town hall in Carleton Place, Ontario.
The Mississippi River and the town hall in Carleton Place, Ontario.

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.

Old post office building in Almonte, Ontario.
Old post office building in Almonte, Ontario.

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.

Mill Street in Almonte, Ontario.

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?

 Painted sign for chewing tobacco on the wall of a building in Almonte, Ontario.

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.

Beautiful stone house, stone wall, and blooming daffodils,  in Appleton, Ontario.
Lovely old stone house in Appleton, Ontario.

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.

Beautiful old farm with log barns and a cedar rail fence in Lanark Country, Ontario.

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.

Cedar rail fences in rural Lanark County, Ontario.
I loved this view of the fence winding up and over the hill.

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.

Unpaved lane in Appleton, Ontario.
That lane in tiny Appleton.

How about you, my friends? What have you been doing these days to escape?

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39 thoughts on “Escape to the Country”

  1. Wendy in York

    What a great read Sue . I read it out to Max & he enjoyed it too . Exactly what we need just now . Felt as if we were there with you , bowling along . I’m envious though as our lockdown is very restricting . We are not allowed out for drives , the police are patrolling & handing out fines . Our beautiful countryside is out there , at it’s spring best & wonderfully quiet but is a no go area . I understand & accept the situation of course but still feel some sadness . Meanwhile how lovely your Canada is , with lots of Scottish influences to be seen . The countryside does have a similarity to Scotland in places & that wonderful waterfall reminded me of one in a place called Killin . Those hardy Scots folk must have felt quite at home when they arrived there . How are we escaping ? Well we were due to head up to Scotland on Saturday for three weeks but instead there’s some painting & decorating going on ☹️ Today’s blog was a nice escape for me though .

    1. Thanks so much Wendy. WE were “bowling along” and then retracing our steps and bowling along in a different direction. Ha. I am sorry that you can’t get out to the beautiful open places in Yorkshire. We so loved our time there. Lots of Scots people in Canada, and the rocky, hilly countryside must have made them feel at home. That’s if they were highlanders.

      1. Wendy in York

        I haven’t watched that D but I’ve just checked it out & it looks very interesting . I do enjoy history – many thanks
        W

  2. What a lovely day you had! 😊 Thanks for sharing. 😊As Wendy commented, I really felt as though I’d tagged along with you … and had such fun! I loved seeing the old barns, fences and hearing more about local history. I see the comparison with the elliptical weir in Bath and enjoyed your reflections of time on the farm with Loyd.
    I can imagine you, in your teens, so keen to drive the truck. I’ve been like that recently. Honestly, just a short drive to post a letter or card or to leave shopping on a doorstep has me so excited 😂 Noticing everything around me in much more detail and driving slowly to extend the experience. ( if no ones behind me. 😊 )
    How are we escaping ? Mainly local walks and day dreaming 😊 . Trying hard to look forward to short drives and walks a little further from home which may be doable in the next month or so … rather than think about our planned trip to the US East Coast in June … I was so looking forward to Vermont and Maine 😞… and a return visit to Niagara on the Lake … Lots to be grateful for, but hard to be Pollyanna all of the time 😊
    Rosie xxx

    1. You must be sad to have missed that trip. I love Maine. You should read Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout; it’s set in Maine. Mainers are very similar to New Brunswickers. I’m sure many of us were related back in the day.

  3. Anita Jenkins

    Well, okay then. I just want to go to a Starbucks in downtown Edmonton. Country? Been there, done that.

  4. Hmmm, trying to think what might suit for such a day trip here — there are a few spots that I always wish I had more time just to stop the car and wander with my camera or even sit and do some “plein air” sketching, but we’ve got a ten-hour driving day to “somewhere else” so I make a note to come back later and it doesn’t happen. So much of what’s usually enjoyable about a day trip such as you describe (lovely descriptions, especially since I’ve got some memories of being in some of that landscape) is stopping for lunch, I will admit, but I suppose the right picnic fixings might compensate 😉 . . . .

    1. Almonte is a lovely spot to go for lunch, eating while looking out at the rushing river. Some of the old mills have been converted to restaurants. But a picnic has always been what we do when Hubby and I tour together. I still remember the day we travelled up the valley, fished, and then picnicked sitting on the rock foundation of an abandoned barn in the sunshine. He laughs that when we “eat out” it really is out…side. Ha.

  5. Your lovely descriptive journey had me remembering my early years (ages 8-11) when a small, picturesque English village was my home. Of course, given my age…wasn’t going to the pub/inn (there was one), but the village had a couple of tea shops, a small country store, and a beautiful village green surrounding a nice sized pond. A one lane bridge over the pond connected one side of the village to the other. Once over, to the right one went up and around a steep hill passed the Norman church or if you chose to go left, not very far, a lovely old windmill. Thatched cottages were not uncommon. And of course, there was the requisite large manor house overlooking the green, too. Idyllic days for a child. Wandering with friends down to the brook below our street to catch tadpoles, to the pond to feed/watch the (not friendly) swans and ducks or go to the store to buy a small bag of sweets. While currently I’ve not left my home since March 13th, your post today allowed me to ride along some lovely Ottawa countryside and also take a memory stroll through my childhood village. Thanks!

  6. I too LOVE Escape to the Country! But do any of those people EVER buy a place?!?! It always seems to end with “Nigel and Betty still haven’t sold their semi-detached in Bogton-sur-Motorway”. I think the majority of IG accounts I follow are folks who live in idyllic villages, or shepherdesses on moors, etc.

    I felt like I was in the backseat on a drive with friends through the Canadian countryside in this post. Canada is just different enough to seem slightly exotic to me (dying to do a winter trip to Quebec City). It’s interesting to read about the rockpiles you see in fields from when they were cleared. Here in Kentucky, they were made into stone fences for the fields, and I’ve repaired my share of those. The split rail fences are lovely, but I wonder how they’d keep sheep and calves in? Unfortunately, we have our share of those roads with plenty of houses with sofas and washing machines on the porch, and derelict vehicles in the yard too. I’ve never understood why being poor means you also have to throw trash in your own yard. But maybe that’s an example of my privilege talking….
    I’ve read that beauty salons are supposed to open here May 25th I’d better call for an appointment NOW!

    1. Ha. Mum and I were saying that the last time we watched together. Maybe because the buyers are asking more and more harder to fill requests. They want to have a perfect house, start a new business, grow a garden, have land, and still be able to walk to the pub.
      P.S. Winter in Quebec City is wonderful.

  7. Margaret Grant

    Your description of the Canadian country side near where I live has me longing to venture out on a mini local roadtrip. 7 weeks of staying home are starting to wear thin! I, too, love the countryside and your writing describes it so well! Thank you for this post, Sue.

    Margaret in Ottawa

  8. I too have been wanting to take a drive out to the country. Here in Southern California we’re supposed to stay home. I’ve been wanting to take a drive up Highway 2 in the hills by where I live. It’s crowded on the weekends but but I think it would be less crowded during the week. It would be nice to take a picnic dinner even if we we ate by the side of the road or even in the car.

  9. Lovely outing, thanks for bringing us along. I have been to Almonte, but didn’t know the history. We were at the Scottish Festival and my husband played bagpipes in a friend’s band. Good memories. I live in the city in a condo, and hadn’t driven my car lately. Car battery died, and required a boost with instructions I must drive it or idle outdoors for 30 mins. It felt really strange to drive without a specific destination around nearby neighbourhoods. Then 10 mins more idling in the church parking lot and did not feel good polluting the air and it is against our bylaws. This week’s excitement was filling up the gas tank at the lowest price ever and getting a car wash. I didn’t realize how much I have I missed my car radio. I consider myself lucky to live in a walkable neighbourhood.

  10. Thank you for the nostalgia. I know we have driven down all of those roads. I remember going to the Almonte Tea Room on Sunday’s. Then there is the Packenham Bridge. Everything in Merrickville is perfect, the pubs and the antique stores. So very beautiful it is in my memory, and then I remember mosquitoes, and winters ;-D
    Ali

  11. Beautiful pictures! It’s well into the 80’s here and the weather is glorious which it will be for about a month and then get extremely hot for the rest of our Texas summer. Our state is slowly beginning to open up. We went to eat at a real live restaurant ( a charming local Mexican place) and the hair salons open 5/8! I am looking forward to some hair rehabilitation soon!

  12. What a wonderful day! A breath of fresh air and freedom indeed!
    A beautiful post and such a lovely scenery!
    Dottoressa

  13. Although I have discovered my own idyllic country home here in Nova Scotia now, I so enjoyed your trip through my old neighbourhood. My husband and I purchased our first home together along the Indian River, back of the Mill of Kintail, a little river that feeds into the Mississippi. Our son first learned the pleasures of reading in the Almonte library and loved his outdoor adventures wherever our wanderings took us. So I enjoyed a virtual walk down memory lane with you. We are doing similar little journeys here, with a packed lunch and masks in the car. It is a joy to see the land awakening in spring, oblivious to the anxiety that an unseen germ is causing us. So necessary to find joy where we can in these days. Thank you for taking your trip.

  14. Thank you for taking us on your drive with you! I enjoyed every moment of it vicariously! Your photos are amazing. I love the old stone and brick and those cedar-rail fences are wonderful. Hubby and I love a country drive too, but here in the west we have a shorter history. There are old abandoned homesteads scattered across the prairie, but most of the structures were built of wood and don’t have the permanence of stone and brick. We love to seek them out though and poke around wondering about the people who once called them home.

  15. Really enjoyed travelling along with you there on your ‘escape to the country’ (No, no-one ever actually buys a house in that programme 😀). We went on a short drive yesterday to some nearby woods – on the English / Welsh border. Saw lots of bluebells and May blossom – lifted our spirits, which had definitely been flagging. A book recommendation? The Salt Path / Raynor Winn.

    1. The last time I was home Mum and I actually saw one program where a couple did buy a house … we were so pleased. Finally!
      P.S. I will look for that book. Thanks.

  16. I would have loved your country drive and you described it so beautifully! I love to wander, and the scenery is so different from my tropical home. But I am a city girl, and what I want to do is go to a nice restaurant with my friends, and I don’t know when that is going to happen. As I say that, I remind myself that my situation is so much better than many others. Mustn’t grumble, as our British friends would say.

    1. Being out in the non-manicured countryside is so healing for me, I think. Reminds me of roaming the fields at home when we first moved to the farm. Luckily Hubby and I both enjoy getting away from urban areas. At least for a while. 🙂

  17. Margaret Tollan

    Lovely photos of an interesting day out in beautiful countryside.
    I live near Glasgow and visit frequently. Your mention of Carleton Place with an extra ‘e’ sent me down a rabbit hole investigating a street I know well and pass on my drive home from the city. The Carlton Place in Glasgow (without the ‘e’) which is a long street of once beautiful Georgian Terraces adjacent to the River Clyde in the centre of the city, some now not in a great state of repair unfortunately, is still dominated by the imposing facade of Laurieston House. Its interior contains some of the finest decorative plasterwork in Glasgow and a spiral staircase lit by an oval cupola supported by Corinthian columns. Carlton Place was the showpiece river frontage of John Laurie’s development of a high-class residential area, built in the early 1800’s which he named Laurieston, to the south of the River Clyde. Laurieston House was the main feature of Carleton Place and was once the home of John Laurie and his brother David.

    It set me wondering what the connection was and if the name Laurie or Laurieston is also mentioned anywhere in the Canadian Carleton Place? Also where did the extra ‘e’ come from?

    1. Gosh, I have no idea where the extra “e” came from, Margaret. We have a lot of “Carleton” names in Canada. A county in New Brunswick, and a street in the city in New Brunswick where I grew up, as well as the county in Ontario where I now live. That’s all I could find in the history of Carleton PLace was the mention of the Glasgow street.

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