Last night made up for our fortnight with virtually no rain and we had the full two weeks’ worth in one night. As a potential site owner has put in an appearance, we do manage to paddle out to pay for our site before joining the 20 ouest in heavy rain and very poor visibility. This is just what is needed for the outskirts of Montreal, which took us back on the busier roads that I love so much (not). Then all my birthdays come at once – a tunnel – what could be better? Today saw us pass back into Ontario and also took our travels past the 4000km mark (another 2500km to go under our own steam). We find River Cedar Campground relatively easily, despite the sat-nav drawing another blank. This site on the north bank of the St Lawrence takes over 300 vans; we are one of about six on site. Do Canadians all hibernate at the beginning of September?
It is, I’ll admit, pretty jolly bracing weather now and more what I was expecting temperature wise. This is unfortunate as internet access here involves skulking outside in a howling gale. In fact even that is spectacularly unsuccessful and after ten minutes only three emails have appeared. At this point I give up and we walk round the site to look at the St. Lawrence and the resident bees’ nest. There are plenty of geese and other wildfowl in the distance and we see and hear some frogs.
The mornings now have a distinct autumnal chill and it is still very windy but the sunshine has returned. This is just as well as this morning we plan to be outside. We head off to Upper Canada Village, which is, by design, just up the road. It is also, with typical Canadian tourist board foresight, officially shut for the season. My pre-planning has revealed that, although this pioneer living history village is minus its historical interpreters, we can have a ninety minute guided tour of some of the building for the exceptionally reasonable sum of about £5 each. It would have been more for me had all this stressful travelling not made me look like I qualified for a senior’s ticket; the cashier didn’t ask and I didn’t argue – or indeed realise until later.
Whilst waiting for the village to open we got our feet very wet in the long grass looking at the site of the battle of Crysler’s Farm, owned by the Crysler and Fetter families. This was fought in November 1813, bizarrely during the war of 1812. Combined British, Canadian and Native American troops of 800 defeated 4000 Americans, ending the American attempt to take land towards Montreal. We also see the pioneer memorial. In the late 1950s the St. Lawrence seaway project to improve navigability, involved flooding an area along the northern banks of the lake. Mid-nineteenth century memorial stones from cemeteries in the area earmarked for flooding were removed and set in walls on the Upper Canada Village site to form the pioneer memorial. A number of the older buildings were also preserved and moved, often in one piece, to form Upper Canada Village. Loyalists had been settled in the area from the 1780s but most of the village represents the mid-nineteenth century.
The reason that tours are being offered today is because the village is gearing up for a month of evening opening, known as the Pumpkin Inferno. The whole village is bedecked with thousands of intricately carved pumpkins, which will be illuminated this evening – a pity we can’t stay. We are duly impressed by all the carving, our awe does abate a little when we realise that the pumpkins are actually polystyrene but they are very lifelike and look spectacular. Our group of about twenty are shown round several of the preserved buildings including Cook’s tavern, the school house and the Lutheran pastor’s home. Two blacksmiths are working, although not in costume. It was good to learn that they were making a grill for the millrace, something that was actually of practical use to the settlement. We spot a red squirrel collecting walnuts and stashing them under the eaves of one of the buildings; it even stays still long enough for me to photograph. I invest in a small wooden top and dice; always good to make holiday souvenirs tax deductible.
We set off after lunch for a straightforward drive, with 215 of the 217 miles on the 401 west. We spot what has to be the prize winning by-line for a town sign ‘Great Napanee – great for many things.’ We also see the 1000 island bridge to the US, which we avoid. We assume that this is the home of the salad dressing of the same name but no helpful sign indicates this. Since we re-entered Ontario there have been services that we recognise as services. These allegedly have free wi-fi. This is more wi-fi of the so slow as to be totally useless variety and after making Chris fill up with petrol at half speed, I give up and hope for better luck on site.
This time the difficulty arises when we arrive on site, a site which, yes, the sat-nav can recognise and we can find straight away! I have paid for a specific premium pitch, pitch 71, with views over Lake Ontario. There on pitch 71 are two tents, two people and two dogs. The site office is closed so we need to use our initiative. The interlopers agree that it is their mistake but Chris offers to look for another vacant pitch. I am a little less keen, as I particularly want a lake view. We find an acceptable alternative pitch but are reluctant to set up in case this is reserved for someone who has not yet arrived. Unlike our last few sites, this one is not deserted. Fortunately I spot a chap on a ride-on mower and explain our predicament. After a short pause our pitchcrashers have paid for the similar neighbouring pitch (28). We happily agree that we will swap 71 for 28 to save them moving their tents and we have made friends for life. They tell us there is a skunk living nearby but I expect it went into hiding as we arrived.
We can watch the sunset over Lake Ontario, which is yards from our van, as it illuminates the distant skyscrapers on the American side of the lake and wonder how many Braunds and other Devonians have sailed past this bit of shore. We can hear the waves lapping, oh, and the trains hooting loudly but nothing is perfect. It is also another internet black hole. By this time my family will think I am lost forever.