One of the things that we regularly try and do, mostly as a family but sometimes just me and the hubby is go out and have a walk somewhere at the weekend. This can be as strenuous as our Lake Calabogie trip or it can just be an hour out and about on a trail that’s not too far from home. Luckily, in Ottawa’s Greenbelt, there are some good trails to enjoy.
One Sunday, my husband and I decided to check out some of the trails off Moodie Drive in Ottawa and one, in particular, had caught our eye – Lime Kiln Trail.
I think when the signs to trails have the Government of Canada logo on them, you know that it will be something a little different, something that needs that extra bit of attention given to it and this was certainly the case in Alberta, where there was an abundance of natural wonders to marvel at (I will be revisiting some of my experiences in western Canada in my travel blog so keep a look out). I hadn’t seen that many signs around Ottawa with this endorsement other than in the city centre itself so I had high expectations of this walk as giving us something a little special.
Walking at this time of year is always a treat: the humidity that marks Ottawa’s summers and sometimes makes them sticky, uncomfortable periods has abated and the coolness of these Autumn days is conducive to getting out and exercising without becoming a sweaty mess; the colours are enticing and the lowering sun as it approaches the winter equinox filters through the thinning canopy, making shafts of pale light which land on the thick rainbow crunchiness of the leaves before you; things are starting to return to the earth and there is a richness in the air as the cold and wet forces nature to recede. Like Keats, Autumn brings out the best in me.
Having parked we set off on the trail. It was busy, many people having the same idea and you can’t blame them for that. Maintaining a social distance of 2 metres, as the sign at the opening to the trail advised was pretty tricky. This was, in main part, due to the fact that a lot of people were stopping to feed the birds.
Feeding the chickadees
It would appear that a regular pastime of your average Ottawan in our neck of the woods is to go out at the weekend with a small bag of bird seed and a lot of patience, comfortable boots and a steady hand and transform oneself into a human bird feeder. Our path was full of these obstacles, statues of various sizes from small child to elderly woman, all standing stock still with an arm extended, waiting for chickadees (that’s tits to you Brits) to land in their outstretched hand. Some were successful, some less so. Their success may have been hindered by two enthusiastic walkers who just wanted to get past them, this not always being possible due to:
- Social distancing measures
- A relatively narrow path
- More than one human bird feeder
- Big family groups
- Very boggy ground that needed to be avoided to keep shoes dry
- Our lack of patience
In one particular instance, I followed a small boy who had headed away from his parents to find his own quiet spot to feed the chickadees and stopped in the one dry spot on a particularly sodden bit of the path, squelchy and untraversible without some athletic jumping. I am not known for athleticism of any kind so I had to skirt him with as much distance as could be allowed by the terrain, which was not a lot. I held my breath until I passed, hoping for the best.
After we had passed the chickadee or tit handlers, as I like to call them, there was an extended narrow boardwalk, which was bordered by tall reeds on either side. More negotiating of the path with fellow walkers was needed and soon we were back in the woods.
Ahead of us were a couple of old dears who were admiring the foliage or what was left of it along with the little bird houses which dangle from random trees, having been purchased at a dollar store, lovingly coloured some lurid shade to make them completely obvious to everyone walking by, some even with jewels and glitter. A nice idea but I’m not sure if any birds practically sought them out as a home.
We continued to walk, crossed another boardwalk and eventually came to a wooded enclosure with grey stone ruins – the lime kiln itself.
I love ruins. Having grown up in a country where the landscape is literally littered with castles in various states from piles of rubble to formidable fortresses, I never tire of them. I have great childhood memories of climbing up and down the stairs in castle towers; turning a corner in a cold stone walled corridor and finding an archway, leading out on to battlements; sometimes these passages lead to caves or underground tunnels – it’s all very fulfilling.
I mean, the lime kiln is not a castle; I don’t mean to mislead. But it was almost magical coming across these limestone ruins, dilapidated but still echoing their real purpose, sheltered by trees, the floor covered with leaves. It was quite a find.
Sunday afternoon is not a good time to go and explore ruins if you want the air of mystery and history to remain intact. Parents exhorting their unruly children “not to jump off the high wall into Daddy’s arms; you need to turn around and go back to Mummy” tends to shatter this.
So we briefly glanced at them and continued on, finding ourselves on the road less travelled, the path opening up and becoming wider with less people. There was a modern quarry to one side of us, presumably where they extracted limestone past and present and to our right, the woods disappeared to be replaced by open ground, the trees having been burnt in a bush fire some years previously.
We had already worked out that we could do a loop so we followed the path, examining the intermittent signposts that had been placed so that you could assess if you were completely lost or just mildly disoriented. This went well…for a time. And then, the terrain changed and it all became a bit rugged. There were a lot of boulders which is not that unusual for Ontario but there was a distinct lack of a manicured trail which really should have told us that we were probably a little off track. We doggedly continued, hoping that we would find another sign to provide us with reassurance that we were going towards the car park. It was a nice day; we were out in nature; it was too early to panic.
And then, we found a marker, only to discover that we were further away from the car than we had estimated. We had thought we were almost there. Examining it with the same interest were the two old dears that we had encountered earlier, looking as flummoxed as we were, saying things like “I can’t see where we parked on this map. Where did we park?” and “I’m not sure which direction so shall we go down here? We’ve already been that way.” We gave them our opinion which was to turn around like us, Mike having gauged from the map and where he thought the car was, that that would be the best way to proceed. They promptly ignored us and my last view of them in their brightly coloured athletic wear was them walking boldly off into more dense woodland, muttering “I think we have got a long walk ahead of us”. I have been watching Canadian news reports ever since to make sure that two old ladies have not been reported missing in the woods.
We made the right decision. The path became more populated and the woods became more sparse again, the patch of burnt earth ahead of us. Never before have I been so pleased to see humans standing very still with outstretched hands.
Our trail took us past the kiln again and I was able to take the shots featured earlier in this blog, minus small disobedient children. However, due to our longer walk, we were anxious to return home and gorge ourselves on the lunch that we had forgone in our haste to get out into nature and so, did not give it our full attention, merely seeing it now as confirmation that we were indeed on the right track.
We didn’t do it justice and I think it is only fair that at some point, before the snow, I should return to the kiln and sit awhile, taking in the ambiance of the deserted work place, imagining what it must have been like in its heyday and listening to the sounds of the woods.