Take a boisterously coloured fine fall day, no wind, brilliant blue skies with warm temps, then add a few laid back two-wheeled types in the mix and point some well engineered bikes in the direction of a place called Prince Edward County. After you’ve straightened out well over a hundred clicks of roadbed ranging from spot perfect pavement to gravel, filled your eyes with bizarre fall scenery, century homes, perfectly manicured vineyards and chatting with artisans of all genres, you can put the bikes to bed with great admiration and cap off the perfect day with a stinky cheese platter. Oh, throw in some excellent wines from your pick of fabulous local vineyards and follow it with some scrumptious eats and great live outdoor jazz – all under some crazy red and purple fall skies. I don’t know about you, but in my books, that ranks up there with the finest kind of day trip.
Prince Edward County is really nothing more than a big island that’s geologically splooshed on the western shores of Lake Ontario. Not only does it have miles of twisties; it has an incredibly rich history. Some of the earliest maps of North America detail the ‘County’, and shipping history just oozes out of the bays and backwaters from the days when sailing ships were the queen of modern transport. Many locally built ships carried everything from Judges and bad guys that never reached a Court, to timber and stones fetched off of the lake bottom to build some of the grander buildings of Old York. Today it is one of the richest historical dive sites in the Great Lakes with hundreds of accessible wrecks, which makes you scratch your head about early shipbuilding technology. One of the oldest roads in North America, and by that I mean oldest on both sides of the Mason Dixon, is found at Port Kente which is directly related to the earliest known fur and lumber trade routes that formed this incredible country. To this day, United Empire Loyalists still passionately fly the Union Jack and I’m sure some of them probably still won’t admit (in public) to anything remotely political happening to Canada in 1967, which is probably why we still have an old wrinkled English lady on our currency. Go figure.
During the prohibition years, the County was busier than a Timmies drive through (yes, that’s through, not thru…). More booze made it across the lake to Upper New York State from secluded County back waters than from just about any other route, although Halifax may have the edge in sheer volume. However, if you were to throw the sneaky guys from Presquille into the mix, Ontario would probably rank number one in the ‘Get the Yank Drunk’ contest. There were some pretty colourful characters that had faster boats and trickier Captains than the Mounties did in those days. They hailed from places in the County still known as Smugglers Cove, Black River and Half Moon Point.
Ah, all good things must come to an end. Darn. After prohibition, the County went into several decades of slumber, allowing some incredibly sneaky sea captains time to reform, investing their ‘booze bucks’ into an honest trade and for farmers to plant fabulous orchards, mixed crops and develop state-of-the-art dairy operations, all good solid farming and mercantile operations…that stopped precisely at three for tea. Hey, old habits die hard mate. Aside from the Regent Theatre in Picton, the County was not a cultural Mecca, although I’m certain more than one fiddle was victoriously sawn in two while barn floorboards were being lacerated with boot leather. During these quiet years, I’m sure the place became more British. I once heard a rumour that you needed a passport to get across the old swing bridge between Belleville and the County; I was never able to confirm this although I have a good buddy of Ukrainian heritage that swears by it. Caused him no end of grief, too.
In the early 90’s, some real smart geologist clued into the fact that pretty well all of Prince Edward County had the exact same dirt as you would find in the grape growing area of Niagara, courtesy of a very big and slow moving glacier. The minute news of this got out, the rush was on. Vintners from Europe and North America immediately looked at what the temperate winter of mid Lake Ontario could do for top-notch grape production, immediately crunched numbers on some pretty cheap acreage and almost overnight vineyards started up. Now, just over ten years later the place has been transformed from a sleepy hollow to something you need to see to believe. Old buildings have either been restored or are undergoing restoration to their original grand Victorian beginnings. Glass, brass and concrete showcase vineyards that produce some award winning VQA wines, artisans flourish and property prices have gone four points past plain dumb.
THE DAY TRIP:
We just happened to pick a weekend that had a lull in our own activities (no races, no rides, bored stiff) and given the fact that we’re somewhat local to the County, we decided to do the kind of exploration in our own backyard that only motorcyclists can do, mainly because it’s way too hard and much too boring to pull a u-ee in a cage every hundred metres. Let’s put it this way, my trip computer told me that we had covered 167 kilometres at an average speed of 42 KPH. Hmm, must have stopped a few gazillion times. We got our bearings from two cheery lasses at the Waring House Restaurant (must see, eat and drink), found at the intersection of the Loyalist Parkway (told you it was British) and County Road 1.
This particular weekend was host to the Prince Edward County Studio and Gallery tour, sheesh, and to think that we spent so much time ogling art that we didn’t have time to experience the wineries… Oy, what a shame (although we did get to one, Carmela – kudos – on a nice bike, friendly place, great wine and really stinky cheese). Other County wineries include; Waupoos, Huff, Sandbanks, Black Prince, Carmela, Closson Chase, Long Dog, Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run, The Grange and Chadsey’s Cairns… Mojo will be back! Honest!
Thirty-nine featured artists opened their galleries showing all how they ‘throw clay’, fashion glass, sculpt and paint beyond belief. People chatted wherever we stopped, giving me the feeling that we had entered some kind of time warp that removed us from uptight Ontario. Little lofts squirrelled away in back gardens held treasures that were simply incredible. Hint: I would suggest that unless you want to waddle home wearing nothin’ but a barrel, you should leave all your credit cards behind, because I personally spent way over my budget just looking at all the great stuff.
Most of the artists in the County refreshingly master the understated, must be a Brit trait. Take Caroline Shuttle of Elements Glass Studio in Bloomfield for instance, who shrugs her shoulders at some of her awesome works as she casually tells us that she studied at Corning, home of the world famous Steuben Glass Works and “ho-hum” here and there…right. Or, how about Frank de la Roche of La-Te-Da Studio; who, from his multidimensional home and studio, sculpts timeless works with titles that would make the dourest person laugh out loud. “Unabashed and Unbuckled”. I’ll leave that one to your imagination, hint, girls, you’d love it.
Laid back galleries welcome you like Janine Kinch whose oil, mixed media and mono-prints make you go whoa, cool. Down the road near the water lies Moon Spirit Pottery right next to the turn-off to Lake of the Mountain (another must see, eat, drink and ponder elevations), here Angela Wagner throws clay on a wheel and comes up with stuff that would make any table the place to be, or how about Peta Hall in Bloomfield who was finishing off a tea pot that looked like it climbed out of a Dr. Seuss book. This woman is exceptional as she explains different expansion rates on clay that would leave a professional engineer blowing fuses on a calculator.
Whilst we wandered, we noticed lots of cages prowling around, but from where I stood there were just as many motorcycles enjoying a day in the ‘County’ too. No matter where we stopped, the sound of a big V-twin wasn’t far off and folks dressed in leather mingled on par with Audi pilots from Oakville. That made me smile, ‘cause if the Audi folks only knew what we knew, ohhh, they’d be dressed in leather too. Life has so many injustices, eh?
“We started at nine, whaddya mean its five thirty…? Darn, yer right.”
When the next spring day leaps into view, or when you hit a personal lull, take the time to find out what’s in your own backyard, you never know what treasures abound until you say “slow down, look and take the time to stop”. Motorcycling doesn’t get any better than this. Well, except for the umbrella girls at Shanonville… Did I say that?
If you find something (somewhere) neat let me know, cause this is what two wheels are all about!