It was recently the hubby’s birthday and in a bid to make him feel that, even though the places we could visit were restricted somewhat by viral circumstances, there was plenty to explore on our doorstep, I bought him a book called 110 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario, the title of which, I think, is self-explanatory. This virus sure is hard on people used to extensive travel as part of their annual holidays. But, we are lucky as we can still get out and about and so, another walk was on the cards.
The first place to get an outing from the book was the Britannia Conservation Area and its near neighbour, Mud Lake. Situated on the Ottawa River and near to the village of Britannia, this is a two-part experience.
Britannia must have once been a quaint place, separate to the city but as with most urban sprawl, this has now become another suburb with some retention of red brick architectural features and a village “feel”. It may be that there was more to Britannia than what we saw driving through it and that if we had had a walk around it, we could have found its heart; as a Brit, I have to admit there was a certain attraction to doing this. But today, a walk in nature was on the cards and so, we sped through Britannia in an eye-blinking moment towards our destination.
It wasn’t obvious where this conservation area began once the village was behind us as there was no large car park or sign as such, merely a lot of cars parked on both sides of a road. There was a ridge on our left and a lake on our right and we were a little flummoxed as to where to park so we went to the end of the road where there seemed to be some sort of industrial style building (a water purification plant, the map told us later) ahead of us and to the left, a small pull-in, perfect to ditch the car.
As luck would have it, there was a trail taking us rather helpfully onto the ridge and we followed it, through the sparse trees and rock strewn path, noticing by the amount of walkers coming towards us that we were on the path to something although we weren’t sure what.
There were a few smaller trails branching off and we could distinctly hear the sound of rushing water – it was only sensible to investigate. Dirt gave way to boulders and with a short scramble down, we found ourselves right next to the Ottawa River and in the distance, the Deschênes Rapids. The water looked pretty rough and we stood there a while to marvel at it and look at the view up and down the river through the precariously leaning trees.
I have to say at this point that when I reviewed this walk in the book, I only looked at the pictures provided which were of a mink (which we didn’t see) and a generic picture of a lake. I didn’t read the description of what was there until we got home although my husband might have been a bit more clued up: I quite like the element of surprise in my nature walks unless I am hiking somewhere where there is the danger of uneven terrain or creatures that may consider you to be lunch or radically changing weather conditions. I felt fairly safe that a trail that was still technically within the environs of Ottawa was relatively free of consideration of these things.
The upshot of it is I had no idea there were rapids. They were thunderous and the white water frothing on a river which in other areas is smooth and calm was quite a revelation and we stood there, gazing at it until we could see that some other walkers wanted to share the same experience so it was only considerate to see what else there was on offer.
Clambering up the bouldered bank to the main path, we continued along it for a short while as it soon came to an end, which was fortuitous as we came across a big group of cub scouts and their leader all wanting to explore the same area as well as a man with a Great Pyrenees dog. I have absolutely nothing against exuberant groups of small children and I love big white fluffy dogs but when you encounter them on a path of limited scope in the days of social distancing, it really is quite a difficult situation to negotiate.
We decided to cross over the road and look at the lake, realising when the path ended at a chain link fence full of winter ready boats, that we had probably exhausted this side. After heading through a rather groovy looking pipe exit way, Mud Lake awaited us.
If you have read my previous blogs, you will know that I find the naming of Canadian landmarks a mystery and this one was no exception. Mud Lake. I mean, it does not conjure an image of magnificence, unless you’re a hot hippo trying to escape a scorching African sun in a watering hole with excessive evaporation. Then I would imagine it would be bloody marvellous.
You won’t be surprised to learn then that the name was misleading as this was a very nice lake, surrounded by trees, the usual chickadees (tits) flittering about, diving like mini torpedoes in front of you. It might be different in the summer perhaps but today it was shimmering and watery, just as a lake should be.
There also happened to be the boldest blue jays that I have encountered so far in Canada. I love blue jays. I never get tired of seeing them up close if possible as they really are a beautifully distinctive bird. You usually hear them before you see them as they have a very harsh squawk that totally contrasts with their attractive appearance.
It was really rather pleasant. Nature at its finest and, it would appear, squirrels at their finest.
I have NEVER seen so many squirrels in a nature spot at one time. I have to admit that it was quite unnerving. You would be strolling along, soaking up the atmosphere of the naked woods: the fallen logs that were nestled in the cushioned brownness of decaying leaves; the crunchiness of said leaves underfoot on the path; the severed stumps of trees now revitalised into a feeding station for wildlife; the weaker winter light permeating the sparse canopy just enough to keep it the right side of dark – it was just what you would want from a winter walk.
But occasionally, there would be a rustling and a squirrel would be in front of you or there would be a darting and a squirrel would have bolted millimetres from your shoe or there would be a squirming in the leaves and the faintest outline of what you hoped was the fluffy tail of a squirrel, foraging and not another less attractive rodent.
My athletic ability was tested to the max as I actually had to dodge squirrels.
They were there in their masses and they were in their full complement: red, grey, black, blackish grey, greyish red, etc. And not only were there lots of them, they were the most well-groomed squirrels I have ever encountered. I kid you not. Their fur was glossy and smooth; their tails were perfection in their poofiness, fluffy and fine, not a clump in sight. And their roundness! There were no scrawny squirrels here, not a one. They were all plumpish and I know that now is the time of year for squirrels to be at their fattest but this was something else!
Maybe there was a squirrel conference going on, I joked and they’ve all gathered here. I have to say that if squirrels ever do decide to get themselves organised and take over the world, we had better watch out as there is a lot of them about and not all of them visible. Some are the masters of camouflage and stealth. And if the squirrels do unite in a bid for global domination, I bet I know where the leaders originated as these squirrels must be like rodent royalty, the squirrel supremos. It was bizarre.
Perhaps the copious amounts of bird food had something to do with it as there was a lot of seeds deposited at various points on the path, it would seem leading to the optimum environment for squirrel colonisation.
Anyway, whatever their organisational capabilities, the squirrels left us alone today and we escaped with our lives, even being able to explore the edge of the lake a little where there was a small dock, jutting out, to stand on and take in the surrounds.
We had a pleasant encounter with a friendly duck who probably had the hidden motive of wanting to be fed in his eagerness to approach us, but despite this, it was still a reward to be in such close proximity to another one of nature’s feathered delights with his bright iridescent green plumage, glistening in the sun.
We didn’t make our way all around the lake that day as we had run out of time but I think that we may return especially as closer scrutiny of the map has revealed a “Glacial Erratic” which sounds highly intriguing and in need of investigation. I will, of course, keep you posted should we return… and the squirrels let us leave.