Sorry to leave you in suspense everyone – we hit a four day internet black hole – so back to the plot. We have to board our train at 7.30am. The sat-nav tells us we are 13 minutes away from the station. We therefore, of course, leave the site at 6.40am. It turns out that this wasn’t such a silly idea as roadworks, detours and a one-way system have us going round in several circles, as every road the sat-nav directs us down is closed. This was made more difficult by the fact that it was not yet daylight. We finally extricate ourselves and arrive only 23 minutes ahead of time, that’s almost late by my standards. My fears that the station might somehow be in a different time zone and we would have missed the train were unfounded.
We are to travel 114 miles north up the Agawa Canyon on the Algoma Central Railway. The only disappointment is that this is diesel and not steam driven. The station is in Sault Saint Marie, which is a large industrial town that is weirdly in two countries as part of it is in Michigan and part in Ontario. Its fortunes were built up initially round the hydro-electric power generated by the sault, which we have learnt means waterfall. It seems this town is pronounced Soo Saint Marie though, affectionately known as ‘The Soo’. Fortunately, we have not embarrassed ourselves by pronouncing it Salt Saint Marie in public.
We are sat opposite a very pleasant couple from Michigan and commentary is provided by ‘Cathy and Mike’, whose recorded voices are activated by GPS. They are about as patronising as the Founders’ Museum woman. They tell us that the population of The Soo is 75,000 and that the station boasts one of only two indoor railway turntables. The area across which we are travelling is part of the mineral rich Canadian Shield and is made up of granite with only a very thin subsoil and certainly some of the trees seem to be clinging to virtually nothing. We also learn that 20% of the world’s fresh water is in the Great Lakes and today we get a glimpse of our third, Lake Superior.
Two problems arose from the trains running up the canyon. The original trains were steam and the sparks from the engines caused fires. Now any fires are primarily fought by ‘water bombers’, planes that scoop up water from the lakes and of course diesel does not cause sparks. The second train related problem was with moose. The trains’ hooters scared away most wildlife but were attractive to rutting moose who would stand on the track and confront trains, which presumably they viewed as rivals. Several different hooters were experimented with to find one that moose ignored. In our experience, on various campsites, train hooters are over-rated. We pass through beautiful scenery and the trees are spectacular but travelling in a train going at speeds of up to 45mph and being behind a window means that photographs are very disappointing. I spot a beavers’ lodge but no beaver. We travel along the 472 metre long Montreal River trestle – that’s a viaduct by the way but we are learning to speak Canadian.
On arrival at Agawa Canyon Park we await de-training – that means getting off the train; even the Canadians haven’t heard that one. We have ninety minutes to complete trails of our choice in the park. By this time we are in beautiful sunshine, so that bodes well, We elect to begin with the ‘very strenuous’ climb to the lookout. We have repeatedly been warned about how difficult this is and that it involves 330 steps. Notwithstanding, we stride out with vigour, along with a number of fellow passengers. We estimate that there were well over a thousand people on the train. As we climb the steps people gradually drop out or pause on the passing points. I did have a couple of short stops, purely to admire the view of course. Just as I think we must be nearly there we pass a marker that tells us we have got to step 200; I would rather not have known. Breath is becoming a little harder to come by but I am determined to make it to the top, no clue why, I hate heights even more than I hate tunnels. The views from the top are worth it and someone has thoughtfully left an oxygen tank and mask at the summit. There were no accompanying instructions as to its use and I managed without. Some of our fellow climbers look more in need of defibrillators. Sadly the sun is now our enemy as it is in precisely the wrong direction, making all photographs look like silhouettes.
We accomplish two more trails, to see Black Beaver Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, within our allotted time and return to our train (re-train?). We believe we have solved the no food problem for the second part of our trip. Someone has heard Chris’ accent and has offered us very tasty cranberry cookies because her late husband came from England. Now I just have to stand Chris on a street corner somewhere and get him to talk very loudly (no difficulty there) and the food will come flocking in. All in all a lovely trip.