Following the shoreline of the Bruce Peninsula reveals many of Lake Huron’s forgotten sentinels
Leaving Owen Sound, Ontario, Gwen and I hugged the Georgian Bay shoreline riding north, with Lion’s Head in our sights. We were following the Ride Grey Bruce map, which is designed for motorcyclists and highlights some of the area’s best roads. Grey Road 1 from Owen Sound to Wiarton reveals part of the Niagara Escarpment extending high up on the left, and views of Georgian Bay on the right. Continuing through Wiarton to Bruce Road 9 takes us right into Lion’s Head. This scenic route adds thirty minutes compared to the main highways, but it’s well worth it.
Taylor-Made B&B in Lion’s Head was our home base for two nights while Gwen and I took a few days of R&R (riding and more riding) to take in the recommended lighthouse tour from the Ride Grey Bruce map.
Our hosts at Taylor-Made B&B, Barbara and Dave Wynd, offer a very bike-friendly experience and a large garage to shelter your ride, but more importantly, they both ride themselves and offer valued advice about the area we will be exploring.
The Lion’s Head lighthouse was our first stop, and a nostalgic reflection for me, as I used to live a stone’s throw away when I was about as tall as the bike I now rode. From there, we followed Dave and Barbara’s recommendation and pointed our liquid-cooled BMW R1200GS to a nondescript squiggle on the map called 40 Hills Road. The narrow road featured tight corners and lots of elevation changes, and while the big GS handled the gravel fine, I wouldn’t recommend the road for those who shy away from loose road surfaces.
At the top of the Bruce Peninsula in Tobermory, at Big Tub to be exact, we explored the second lighthouse on our tour, and then stopped at Big Tub Harbour Resort for a light lunch. We didn’t know it at the time, but the view over the harbour from our table showed exactly where we would be exploring in a couple of hours, on the Blue Heron Tours glass-bottom boat.
During our trip to Flower Pot Island to see the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, Blue Heron took us on a side trip to view two shipwrecks in Big Tub Harbour.
Tobermory and the surrounding islands are a prime location for lighthouses; from the area’s earliest days of Great Lakes travel, ships of all types had to navigate the maze of islands and reefs, resulting in a few dozen shipwrecks in this immediate area.
The rugged shoreline on the Georgian Bay side of the peninsula is part of the Niagara Escarpment, and the water is crystal clear, making it possible to see many metres below the surface. This was evident on the boat tour, but also at the Grotto, a unique cliff and shore area carved out by thousands of years of waves on the shoreline of the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Time was getting on in the day, but we wanted to catch one more lighthouse before heading back to Taylor-Made B&B. From Dyer’s Bay on the eastern shore, we headed north again on an eight-kilometre narrow, gravel road overgrown with encroaching bushes and trees. Built in 1896, the 24-metre tower of the Cabot Head lighthouse is attached to the lighthouse keeper’s house and provides a commanding view of the surrounding shoreline.
We arrived back in Lion’s Head after dark, and the town had already rolled up the sidewalks. Barbara and Dave graciously whipped up an amazing snack to tide us over until their extensive breakfast the next morning.
Once again, the knowledge of our hosts came through, as they directed us to meandering roads that follow the shore at Pike Bay for our ride to Southampton and the Chantry Island lighthouse. The easygoing 1200GS is a comfortable bike in every way – long or short distances, pavement or gravel – and some of the day’s road was gravel, but much easier going than 40 Hills Road the previous day.
Leaving the Southampton Harbour at the mouth of the Saugeen River, we passed by the Southampton lighthouse, and within fifteen minutes we were climbing the 106 steps of the Imperial-style Chantry Island lighthouse tower, where we enjoyed a 360-degree view of the whole island and distant views of the mainland shore. The beacon was first lit in 1859 to warn mariners that the waters around the island are the some of the most treacherous in the Great Lakes, as the captains of over 50 known shipwrecks found out. After the boat ride, we found a quaint restaurant called Armen’s and were very impressed by the food and the hospitality.
Of all the Bruce County lighthouses, Kincardine is the only one located in a downtown core. Built into the harbour’s hillside in 1874, the tower was erected on top of the lighthouse keeper’s house and stands 24.5 metres high. The 69 steps to the top are broken up with two floors in the tower, which now feature period artifacts. The skeletal remains of a local shipwreck can still be found on the Kincardine beach.
The water on the Lake Huron side of the peninsula is considerably different from the Georgian Bay side. While Georgian Bay water is cool and deep but extremely clear, the Lake Huron side is generally shallower, much warmer and sandy resulting in amazing beaches, which also leaves the water a little murky at times. Both shorelines are picturesque in their own distinct ways. By now, we had seen seven of Bruce County’s twelve lighthouses, but with limited time available, we headed inland to our accommodation at Grey Rose Suites in Hanover, a town that sits on the border of Grey and Bruce counties. Grey Rose Suites is far more posh than we are accustomed to, but with a dinner reservation looming, we didn’t have time to kick back and enjoy the amenities.
The most bizarre dinner we have ever experienced happened that night at Hoity Toity Cellars. Obviously, someone missed the memo that Gwen and I would be “dining in the vines.” The closed sign at the end of the long driveway was our first clue. After we knocked several times, the front door was eventually opened and the son of the owner, looking a little disheveled, did his best to remedy the situation; at around the same time, a black SUV pulled up to the house. Luckily for us, Nicole from Harley’s Pub and Perk in Mildmay did get the memo and delivered a magnificent dinner for us to enjoy on the front porch.
Various wines were sampled, and an impromptu winery tour rounded out the evening. The Ride Grey Bruce map also features a waterfalls tour of both counties, and we planned to stop by a few on our way home. The following morning, we woke to torrential rains and decided to call it a trip. We were ready to wind our way home on secondary roads, but we were so close to the historic Neustadt Springs Brewery that we stopped for a tour and a slight reprieve from the rain. The brewery was built in 1859, and at the time, utilized caverns that ran under the streets of the town – so the brewery owner could have a direct link to his home, but also so barrels of beer could be delivered to local pubs and taverns without having to load and unload wagons.
The brewery’s spring water still comes from a remaining cavern that exists under the building. So many of the lighthouse structures of the Great Lakes have been demolished over the years due to automation, but fortunately, some have been restored to their former glory. They serve as a poignant reminder of the importance of Great Lakes shipping. We must still see five lighthouses to complete the trip, and we have a host of waterfalls to visit in one of Southern Ontario’s prettiest areas to ride. We hope to complete the tour this summer. For ride ideas in this outstanding area, be sure to order the Ride Grey Bruce map at ridegreybruce.com.