The days of a rather sticky summer were coming to an end and so, with this in mind, my husband decided that some more exploring of our immediate environment was needed before the snow landed and the kids returned to school. So, it was off to Sandbanks, near Picton, Ontario for us to sample the delights of the shores of Lake Ontario.
I’m not sure what to expect with Canadian lake beaches as they vary so much. Having come from the coast of Wales where the beaches are golden expanses of the finest sand with rugged cliffs which overhang watery caves and rocks that demand to be climbed, my preconceived idea of a beach was pretty high. Add to that two and half years living near the coast of Western Australia, bordering the Indian Ocean where the beaches are white, endless and have the accompanying weather to ensure you can access them and Canada really did have stiff competition.
Lake Ontario and Sandbanks Provincial Park did not disappoint.
About three hours drive from Ottawa, it would appear that Sandbanks is a popular place to visit in Ontario by the many and I can see why. After having queued to pay and get in, I was concerned that we may struggle to park and having no real idea of the best beaches, we plumped for Dunes Beach as it sounded the most appealing.
I mean who doesn’t love dunes? There’s something calming about the almost alien landscape, the mounds of sand with their tufts of sparsely growing vegetation. Traversing them is not always easy as you get more of a workout than you do on the Stairmaster at the gym (not that I would know) but the descent? Much more fun and my kids love to run down them at breakneck pace, laughing noisily as their own momentum propels them forward.
To be honest, the other beaches that we could see on the map were named Lakeshore Beach which seemed a bit of an obvious title – not much mystery there – and then there was Outlet Beach. I don’t know who was in charge of naming the beaches at Sandbanks but I hope whoever chose Outlet as a name was fired shortly after for lack of imagination and also for misrepresentation. I don’t know about you but Outlet for me conjures up images of pipes discharging water of a dubious nature, littered with unknown “deposits”. I can’t say that I was eager to sample its delights.
When we arrived at the car park for Dunes Beach, we were gratified and dismayed to notice that many other people had had the same idea but we managed to park the car and after a visit to the bathroom, made our way through the pathway in the trees bordering the shore to the beach.
The beach was exactly what it said it would be: dunes bordering a beach which led down to a lake. The actual beach itself was quite narrow, the dunes dominating but there was room for us to pitch a chair, the kids had a place to swim and the warmth of the early September sun was the perfect accompaniment. There was also a place to get some edible fodder and drinks and some shade with a playground in the trees if you needed it.
I chose to have a walk along the length of the beach which wasn’t always easy due to the narrowness and the amount of people. Big family groups, pitched up on the narrow strip where it was more flat, were difficult to avoid with the steep slopes of sand behind them and the water stretching infront of them. This meant that sometimes I had to get my feet wet, which was no hardship. The water was shallow and warm but there is quite a sharp drop off in the water at this beach where it becomes deep rather suddenly so I didn’t venture too far away from the shore to avoid unwanted dunkings.
As I continued on my walk, I rounded a small headland and the sounds of the many started to fade. The bass and fast tempo of the modern musical classics that some people require to “enhance” their (and that of everyone around them’s) beach going experience receded along with the high pitched squeals of children having fun and the landscape, instead of being dotted with the coloured towels and beach shelters of the masses became less populated and more naturally cluttered with driftwood and dead trees that had toppled to the water’s edge, now having become obstacles to clamber over. A small boat was moored, allowing the waves caused by the passing jetskiers to make it bob gently up and down. It was a tranquil scene.
I stopped and savoured the quiet for a short while before returning to my family. Ice-cream had been mentioned and it was now just a case of tracking it down. Picton seemed our best bet and so we headed there, masks at the ready to find an eatery where we could sample some well-earned frozen goodness.
And Picton did not disappoint. Well, it did initially when we went to try and get gelato at one place and the queue was enormous, as people were buying coffee – why? – and I think that the baristas were waiting for a shipment of beans from somewhere exotic to grind as it was taking so long. Our need for a cone was immediate and so we headed out onto the street and noticed another sizeable queue outside an establishment called ‘Slickers‘. Did our desire for ice-cream outweigh our desire not to queue?
Of course it did, and I am pleased to say that it was worth the wait. I opted for something called “Campfire Cream” and I am not lying when I tell you that it was just like slightly scorched marshmallows over a campfire in ice-cream form. In fact, I was so taken aback by its flavour that I announced it loudly to the whole of Picton Main Street, such was my astonishment. It was delicious but also a great sensory experience. It really was like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or from Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen/laboratory.
All that was left to do now was get in the car and head to Belleville where we were staying, a short drive away. So far, Sandbanks had given us what we wanted: a day of leisure by the water in the sun. But the next day was to be even better.