11 May 2017
“How about a little walk on the trail up the road?” Commando said. “The one with the big stone inukshuk.”
“The Hahne Farm Trail,” obviously I didn’t need asking twice.
We’d been sitting on our balcony watching the Canada geese and goslings on the lake below, drinking coffee and resting from our morning adventure in Huntsville. I was pretty sure Commando had only asked because he knew I was secretly disappointed by the lack of trail walking we’d done so far rather than any real desire to go walking on his part. Still, it was a short trail, around the same distance as a parkrun, and less than a mile from our chalet. If it proved too much for Commando’s leg we could easily turn back.
We started out on the small trail near the motel. In 2015, with time on my hands while Commando was out running, I’d stumbled upon it by accident and it was the first place I’d walked. I remembered it as short but quite lovely, with interesting fungi, flowers, lots of glacial erratics and even a dragonfly. Memory told me we might be able to get out onto Pinedale Road near one of the entrances to the Hahne Farm Trail. Unfortunately memory was wrong, or maybe things looking so different in spring confused me.
There was a lot of water where I’d expected to find the trail. It might have been from melting snow and there might have been a trail under it but obviously we couldn’t walk it. After a bit of going in circles we found a wide, gravelly path. It may have been the one I walked before but without the covering of fallen leaves, it didn’t look the same. In the absence of anything else trail like we took it. There were large green erratics. They looked vaguely familiar.
Soon the trail narrowed, becoming a grassy, hard to follow pathway through the trees. In the autumn of 2015 this had been a carpet of bright fallen leaves. Without them it didn’t look quite as pretty or inviting. Even the erratics didn’t look as brightly coloured. Pretty soon I began to wonder if we were even on the right trail. There were none of the large flat rocks I remembered.
“Maybe we should cut our losses and head back towards Pinedale Lane?” I suggested. ” If we take this trail to the right I think it comes out just up the road from the motel.”
This much I was right about and, along the way, we stumbled upon an interesting looking fungus growing up through the dead dried leaves. The cap was all I could see. It was an irregular shape, dark brown, wrinkled and convoluted like a brain. A bit of Googling tells me it may have been Gyromitra esculenta. Nearby we found some clumps of pretty little white flowers with yellow centres I haven’t been able to identify. We also found the road.
Before long we were at the layby on Bethune Drive looking up at one of the trail entrances. Getting up into the trail was more rock climbing than trail walking, especially for someone with little legs. I knew the uneven natural stairway of smooth granite rocks was the hardest part of the whole walk though and we both made it to the top without incident. On the granite ridge we stopped to catch our breath and look back at the road and the layby below.
Then we set off along the trail. The path was strewn with pine needles and the roots of the trees that somehow mange to cling to whatever shallow soil they find on the granite. Within a few yards we’d come to the inukshuk. The wonderful stone man, more than twice my height, stands on the high ridge looking out over the town of Gravenhurst as if protecting it.
We stopped for a while to admire him, then turned to admire the view he overlooks. Huge slabs of pinkish granite, cracked and lichen covered, drop down sharply to the road below. In every nook and cranny of the rock face trees and shrubs have somehow taken hold. A branch close to the edge was encased in an ailen structure I was sure held caterpillars of some kind, or maybe a nest of spiders. With a pounding heart I got as close to the edge as I dared and took a photo but I couldn’t get close enough to see what was inside. Below the road, the cars and the buildings on the south end of the town seemed like Toy Town models.
The trail here follows the ridge. In places the rock is covered by fallen leaves and needles and the top of the ridge is covered with pines, giving the illusion of a soft woodland trail, but the granite is never far below. Gigantic erratics the size of trucks are everywhere as if a giant has been playing with blocks and left them scattered. Their colours are mostly grey or green and they are marked with striations going in all directions. This place was formed by upheaval and violence.
The trail runs very close to the edge of the ridge in places but, for those like me who don’t care too much for heights, they can easily be avoided by weaving through the trees. Commando, of course, chose the scary option with the better views. In this instance it might have been better if he was the one taking the photographs.
Back on the safer trail we carried on, stopping occasionally to peek thought the trees on the sheer, rocky drop to the wetland now below us. One tree had a trunk speckled with holes. Whether these were the work of woodpeckers or something else I couldn’t tell but I went for a closer look. There was nothing to be seen inside so, none the wiser, we carried on.
Whether there was ever a real farm here I don’t know. The name Hahne is fairly common in Ontario, thanks to settlers from Germany, but I haven’t been able to find anything about a Hahne family in Gravenhurst. If there was a farm it’s hard to believe it could have been successful in such a rocky place with barely any soil. A fallen tree we came upon illustrated the problem perfectly. It had been clinging to a jagged shelf of rock as best it could, its roots finding what grip they could. When it fell it took what little earth there was with it, revealing how tenacious its hold had been. The fact it survived to grow so big at all seemed like a miracle.
In recent years much of the land here has been divided up for the housing of Pine Ridge and the trail itself has been modified to accommodate this. The Freinds of Hahne Farm Trail, formed by a group of local residents, work together to keep the trail open and clear. Some of the trails are old, no longer in use, and straying from the main trail can, in some cases, lead you into back gardens. We stuck to the pathway along the ridge, stopping occassionaly to look over the edge at the little area of mashland bordered by the sliproad to Highway 11. Further on I knew the trail went deeper into the mixture of hardwood and softwood trees. There was a stream, if I remembered rightly, with a small bridge.
At the very moment I was telling Commando how much I was looking forward to the woodland we saw a woman with a dog coming towards us in the distance. We guessed she was one of the local people who use this as a dog walking route and, as the trail was narrow, we stood aside to let her pass. When she said good afternoon we knew at once her accent owed more to the south of England than Ontario and stopped to chat for a while.
“The trail is closed a little way ahead,” she told us before she went on her way. “I think they’re doing some kind of repair work. You might be able to get around it.”
So, with one last look over the ridge, we headed into the trees.
At first it was much as I remembered it. The trail of pine needle strewn rocks with mounds of moss growing in little pockets of soil wound through the trees. In places we had to clamber over mounds of granite and I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photograph of some of the more unusual moss, like a miniature forest of Christmas trees growing amongst the dead leaves.
Then we came to some orange plastic fencing blocking our way. A sign said simply ‘Danger. Due to construction trail closed.’ We looked forlornly along the path ahead. There was no work as far as we could see. For a while we stood trying to decide whether to try to find a way around and risk getting lost or to turn back.
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