Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ye Olde London Town

Date of hike:  Sun. Feb. 5, 2012                 

Weather:  +1C, cloudy and overcast, slight W wind (at start); +3C (at end)

Duration of hike:  3 hours 17 minutes (including 15 min stop for lunch)

Section:  9—from Victoria St. parking lot at Gibbons Park and
                8—continuing from the entrance to Greenway Park to parking lot at Springbank Gardens Community Centre on Wonderland Road

Distance:  13.4 km            Cumulative distance:  119.5 km

Being February, one might think we would be making our way along snow covered paths.  But spring-like weather conditions have prevailed this winter, so all that was needed were some sturdy hiking shoes.  With good footing and paved bike paths for most of the way, we were able to maintain a quick pace on this trek. 

That also emphasizes the fact that this section of the trail makes it easier for individuals who may have mobility challenges, to get out and enjoy the outdoors.

When we first moved to London 30 years ago, many of these bike paths did not exist.  Over the years, the city planners have developed quite an extensive bike path system that follows designated routes through the city streets as well as these scenic trails along the waterways.

London was settled in 1793, when Governor John Graves Simcoe chose the forks of the Thames as the capital of Ontario.  The vantage point of the branches of the Thames offered military security in those early days. 
The Forks of the Thames River--looking straight ahead, the
north branch--to the bottom right is the south branch--to the
left, is the main branch that flows southwest to eventually
 empty into Lake St. Clair.
Consequently much of London’s history lies along the banks of the Thames, as it flows through London.  Though Toronto ultimately became the provincial capital, history buffs can find many interesting sites to see, spanning a broad range of time.

For example, you can see Eldon House, London’s oldest residence, and the original Middlesex County court house  from the trail, as they are perched on the bluff above the river at the Forks.  The court house was built in 1827 and is believed to be modelled after Malahide Castle near Dublin Ireland. 

Across the river from Eldon House is Labatt Memorial Park, believed to be the oldest and still used baseball park in the world.  Built in 1877, it was recently voted as Canada’s Favourite Ball Park.

The most devastating effects of the flood of 1937 were felt in the heart of the city.  Consequently, these dykes were built along the river’s edge to protect residences from any further possible damage in the future. 
This marker under the Queens Avenue bridge, indicates
the crest of the river during the flood of 1937.
Blackfriars Bridge is London’s oldest bridge; built in 1875 and reinforced many times, it still handles vehicular traffic over it. 
Blackfriars Bridge--looking west--you can also see the dykes
that are built on the west shore line.
The King Street Bridge had previously accommodated vehicles but now serves as a pedestrian foot bridge, providing a valuable link for foot and cycle traffic of all kinds. 

This modern foot bridge was built as a permanent structure to allow the river to be crossed in Gibbons Park.

The trail passes behind the London Children’s Museum, a popular destination for families with young children.  It’s housed in an old majestic elementary school, of days gone by. 

At the railway underpass, near the entrance to the Terry Fox Parkway/Greenway Park, a memorial plaque pays tribute to local artist Greg Curnoe.  An avid cyclist as well, he was tragically killed when hit by a truck while out riding. 

The Thames Valley Trail follows the Terry Fox Parkway, which serves as London’s site for the annual fundraising run, in honour of one of Canada’s greatest heroes.

The Victoria Day Boat Disaster of 1881 is a sad note in London’s history.  Every time I have walked, cycled, or ran past this historic plaque, I can’t help but imagine the horrific scene and loss of life that transpired on that dark day.

Further downriver, the trail passes beneath the Guy Lombardo bridge.  One of London’s most famous citizens, when he wasn’t abroad conducting his orchestra, he often performed at the band shell that once stood at the river’s edge in this area.
At the turn around point at the Springbank
Gardens Community Centre.
In addition to the significant historical sites, this part of the trail still offered a glimpse of nature, even on this bleak mid-winter day. 

One fly fisherman was taking advantage of the mild temperatures to practice his casting. 
We spotted a hawk, looking for a tasty morsel or two, perched high above us. 

I’ve always admired the symmetry of these trees, located along the Terry Fox Parkway.

Located just south of the trail, about mid-way along the Terry Fox Parkway, one can see the ponds of the Coves of the Thames River; an interesting geographical formation of
the river known as an “oxbow”.

Canada Geese and ducks abound along the river’s edge.  This gaggle was found trimming the grass in Gibbons Park…please don’t feed the wildlife…no matter how they may protest!

As the trail has made its way through the city, it has offered something different for the hiker. 
At the Forks...children's splash pad in foreground, London
Regional Art Museum and skyline in background.
The London city skyline, with its main
thoroughfare bridges leading into the
downtown core.
There is extensive evidence of some very busy beavers along
much of this section of the trail--right in the heart of the city!
From a complete rural and wilderness setting to an urban blend with nature on the side; we’re reminded that one existed before the other, but must find a way to co-habitate in a harmonious way.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Right in Our Own Back Yard!

Date of hike:  Thurs. Jan. 5, 2012 
Weather:  -2C, partly cloudy; slight W wind (at start)--+1C (at completion)

Duration of hike:  3 hours 56 minutes (including 15 min stop for lunch)

11—Main Trail (from parking lot at east end of Windermere Rd. to Adelaide St.) and
10—continuing from Adelaide St. to Gibbons Park (Victoria St. parking lot)

 Distance:  13.6 km            Cumulative distance:  106.1 km

 Another holiday hike, but this time Gillian’s boyfriend joined us, along with Matthew, and Gillian too of course!  Tory was spending the second week of the holidays with us, from his home near Winnipeg.  So it was great to be able to show him some of the trail.

We picked up from where we left off last time--in the parking lot at the east end of Windermere Road--but now headed west along the river and the trail.  This marked our first official “snow” hike. 

There was enough snow to need boots, but not enough to break in our new snowshoes.  The trail had already seen quite a bit of traffic, by the looks of how well tramped down it was. 
The only challenge was making small detours, here and there, to go around some areas that were still flooded after the rain we had had the previous week. 
This low-lying area was still quite flooded--luckily it was just
adjacent to the trail and we didn't have to worry about
getting around it.

We had to go slightly off of the trail and
around this section though.

The water had receded beneath the ice on this flooded
section--we took a chance and slowly made our way
over it.

You could say that much of this section of the trail is in our own backyard….literally!  We made our way along the trail that parallels the bike paths by the soccer fields....then climbed the hill to come out behind St. Peter’s Seminary, followed by King’s College. 
St. Peter's Seminary
Heading down the hill behind
King's College (don't let the scowl on
the teen age boy's face fool you!).
Next up, was Ross Park, followed by the trails on the opposite side of the river to the University of Western Ontario (or I guess I should say “Western University”), until finally we found ourselves in the Victoria Street parking lot of Gibbons Park.  That’s where we stopped for our lunch, making this our turn around point.
Heading west along the trail through Ross Park.

Canada Geese taking a time out in a calm alcove, visible
from Ross Park.

Heading under the Richmond St. bridge--the sign does not lie!

UWO and University Hospital is just on the other side
of the river--but you'd never know that from this photo.

The official turn around point--where we'll
start the next time.
We have run on parts of this section of the trail so many times, it would be pointless to try and come up with a number.  Being able to access the trail, from practically “right in our own backyard”, has meant that the trail has always been a “go-to” first choice for many a running route.  We have encountered plenty of hikers making their way and following the trail marks over the years, while we were running them.  I think this is a popular section to explore since it is right in heart of London and so easy to get to.

That being said, it doesn’t make it any less of an outdoor adventure to trek along this section.  It always amazes me that, in spite of being in the middle of a large city, there are pockets of wilderness and everything that goes with it. 
Medway Creek--a tributary of the Thames River--emptying
into the mainstream.
There are some points that I could swear that I was hiking along a river in northern Ontario, far and away from any urban civilization.  Not only did we see evidence of the busy work of a few beavers, but an owl even flew over us at one point. We must have startled it from its daytime slumber. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough to get its photo--I think I was too awestruck!
Imagine the frustration felt by the beavers
responsible for this one!

The Thames Valley Trail Association will
soon need to replace this tree marker!
But we’ve now come into the city and the next few hikes will take us along the Thames as it winds through London and then westward.  We’ve also passed the 100km mark and are approaching the half way mark of our goal.  So far, so good!
Even Mother Nature had hung some glass ornaments for
the Christmas holidays!
Gillian and Tory peering through a thin sheet of ice.
High on the bluff just behind St. Peter's Seminary.
Gillian found a "comfortable" spot to sit and rest.

Love the camouflage gear on this one tree--happy trails!