Ride of the Reeking Rose

Story by Ron Keys// Photos by Ron Keys
January 1 2012

After two years of trying to coax some friends to visit the Annual Lions Garlic Festival in Perth, the trip finally becomes a reality. As we leave Newcastle, Ontario, on Hwy 2 going east, the giant orange orb that peeps over the eastern horizon promises another glorious summer day. Just before Newtonville, our little group – Tom and Tracey, Shaun and Lisa, and Tina and I – slowly climbs the narrow blacktop of Stapleton Road to take in a panoramic view of the countryside. The vista is spectacular, yet sadly gilded with brown haze as Toronto’s smog smudges the western horizon. Row upon row of tall corn and tidy strip-farm crops of wheat and oats lead my gaze to distant farm houses, stately, nestled in groves of trees in the emerald backdrop of the Ganaraska Forest.

Determined to avoid any four-lane highways on this trip, we follow Ganaraska Road eastward to Rice Lake, where Cavan Road unravels before us – a beautiful, albeit short, alternative road that winds past pristine farms glistening in the morning dew – it’s these pastoral moments that transform motorcycling into a passion. Making our way east to Hwy 30, we turn north and ride through Meyersburg and into Campbellford for a welcome break.

Riding over the arched Campbellford bridge, we follow the Trent River out of town. Meeting up with Springbrook Road, we head due east to Hwy 62. Crookston Road presents us with some entertaining sweeping corners and an engaging ride to Tweed.

Rolling eastward along Marlbank Road, we ride by an abundance of small lakes, rivers, streams and swamps, all cradling a minuteportion of Canada’s abundant supply of fresh water. Recently resurfaced, this meandering byway is much smoother and more fun to ride than in years past. Built in the days when road builders followed the lay of the land, there are no rock cuts or filled-in valleys. We follow the glacial drift and rocky topography provided by nature, which makes this road challenging and so appealing. Avoiding all major arteries, we quietly slip through the tiny hamlet of Marlbank and make our way through Enterprise, Bellrock and Verona. In the town of Godfrey, just a few minutes north of Verona on Hwy 38, we meet Westport Road, another scenic whirligig.

Eventually, Wolfe Lake appears before us like a master’s canvas, and we stop to take in the breathtaking beauty. We scrape our pegs as we lean hard along Wolfe Lake’s shore road, being careful to avoid the gravel deposited on the corners by tourist trailers – the penalty for miscalculation being a dip, bike and all, into Wolfe Lake.

We make our way to Westport, where we turn north on County Road 10 and continue to Perth. Located on the beautiful Tay River with splendid parks and old stone buildings, Perth has been declared the “Prettiest Town in Ontario” by TVOntario. Historic Code’s Mill, home of the Fiddler’s Green Bar and Grill, welcomes us, and as I walk across its robust, wide-plank flooring, I muse, “if only this floor could talk.” Surrounded by the aged ambience of stone and wood, this is a welcome respite from our six-hour ride.

The Garlic Festival is underway at the Perth Fairgrounds and boasts an impressive array of attractions. Booths are set up all around the horse-race track, with everything from soy garlic spreads to garlic jams and preserves, and even garlic fudge and garlic chocolate, which, surprisingly, is quite delicious. Scapes – the long, leafless flowering stems of the garlic plant – are used to add a milder flavouring to some of the edibles. We watch the art of garlic braiding, cooking demonstrations, face painting and wine tasting. Our friend Dan at the Bergeron Estates Winery booth gives us a taste of their Cole Point Cider. Delicious. Walking through a conglomeration of exhibits, an old man with a leathery, tanned face sitting at a booth makes eye contact with me. Garlic buds decorate his hat, and his big toothless smile make it hard not to say hello. Unsolicited, he happily relates his life story to me. Originally from Poland, he became a machinist after moving to Canada, and he worked on the doomed Avro Arrow project. He took a major career change and became a garlic farmer after the government kyboshed the project.

Food, beer, wine, cider, clowns, music and everything garlic makes up the Perth Garlic Festival. It’s a celebration of the “reeking rose” and one of the few places where it is Chic to Reek. Voted the fifth-best garlic festival in the world by Reuters News Agency, this little town can be proud of its accomplishment. Of course, Perth is also famous for being the site of the last fatal duel in Canada. On June 13, 1833, Robert Lyon was killed by a former friend, John Wilson – both men were seeking the affection of one Elizabeth Hughes. Perth seems to have an abundance of beautiful stone buildings, built a century or more ago by Scottish stonemasons.

The storefront windows are filled with posters of upcoming events, telling us that there is always something to do in Perth. As this community is named after Perth upon Tay in Scotland, I wonder if the Scottish town compares to its Canadian counterpart. Sunday arrives overcast, but the clouds shield us from the hot sun. Lanark County Road 511 takes us north to Balderson, home of Balderson Cheese. In 1893, a 22,000-pound block of cheese, known as The Mammoth Cheese, was produced here. It was so large that it had to be shipped by train to the Chicago World’s Fair. I can’t resist and buy a couple of bags of fresh, squeaky curds before hitting the road again. Fallbrook Road takes us to County Road 7 and then west on MacDonald’s Corners Road, where I spot an unusual sight for this area, a black bear crossing the road. On Highland Road, we arrive at Wheeler’s Pancake House and Sugar Camp. Their Maple Heritage Museum is filled with antique tools once used to make maple syrup. Hand-carved rocking chairs adorn the museum’s veranda, to the left of which stands the massive log building that houses the restaurant plus more maple memorabilia. Inside the restaurant, a whiteboard notice warns customers of the recent sightings of two black bears in the area.

As we enjoy our Canadiana breakfast, the soft patina of the recycled cedar log walls and beautiful log roof trusses lend to the mellow mood. In addition to the maple syrup museum and restaurant, there is also an operating blacksmith shop, children’s playground, walking trails, chainsaw museum, and much more. Wheeler’s is more than just a pancake house; it’s a year-round experience for the entire family. We ride on to MacDonald’s Corners and west on County Road 12. We gently bank through lefts and rights, over hills, and through valleys until we enter the hamlet of Maberly at Hwy 7. We ride well within the speed limits on Bolingbroke Road, as we don’t want to miss any of the lakes and rivers or scenery along the way. We pass Little Silver Lake, Davern Lake and Farren Lake, and as we breach the crest of Foley Mountain, we take in the incredible view of Westport, nestled between Upper Rideau Lake and Westport Sand Lake. Gearing down, we slowly make our descent and cross the bridge that separates Westport Sand Lake and Westport Pond. On County Road 42 heading to Newboro, we cast furtive glances over our shoulders at the deep blue of Upper Rideau Lake. Curving like a snake’s back, County Road 9 takes us to Chaffey’s Locks, a channel joining Opinicon Lake to Indian Lake on the historic Rideau Canal.

We ride across the swing bridge at Chaffey’s Locks, always a visual treat, with necks craning to see all the unique watercraft awaiting passage through the lock. This is a treacherous road – tight, narrow, and twisty – so much so that Tracey becomes a bit nauseous. Making our way south through Sydenham to the Loughborough/Portland Road, we turn right to head north past Knowlton Lake, narrowly missing the Holleford Crater, the impact site of a giant meteorite some 100 million years ago, then onward to Hartington, about a half hour north of Kingston. Driven by a dinner reservation, we roll northbound on Hwy 38 to Verona, where we retrace our tracks to Hoard’s Station, just outside of Campbellford, and the highly recommended Chubby’s Restaurant. All-you-can-eat roast beef, ribs, mashed potatoes, gravy, salads and a table full of homemade desserts leave us achingly full. As we waddle back to our bikes, I wonder if a small crane might be needed to lift me aboard. Somehow I manage to mount up for the final leg of our weekend trip. Just before Cobourg, the promised storm clouds arrive, but we are soon at home, having completely escaped the weatherman’s prediction. I snicker to myself “too little too late.” It’s been a wonderful 600-kilometre ride, and I think that the smell of garlic is finally gone. But the adage remains in my memory – it is Chic to Reek.


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