In these strange times of COVID-19 bubbles and limited travel, we need to find adventure close to home. With that in mind, my wife Claire and I embarked on a trek in search of fresh air, postcard vistas, home-baked treats and very large (carved) snakes. Our vehicle of choice was one of the most anticipated vehicles of the year (at least among the off-road and wannabe off-road crowd) – the 2020 Land Rover Defender 110.
Our journey would have us wending our way along some of my favourite scenic roads in Ontario, in the Halton region just north of Burlington. We’d go hiking in two of the seven Halton Region Conservation Parks, and conclude our day at Springridge Farm, where we would pick up some local apples and a few of their famous tarts.
Our Defender 110 P400 SE ($76,000 base price) was a tad over-qualified for the job, having been equipped for press fleet duties with just about every boonie-bashing option imaginable.
But dang, it looked the part in Pangea Green ($900), and sporting the Explorer Pack ($6,000) that bestows such suburban necessities as extra body cladding, an exterior side-mounted gear carrier (for un-muddied Hunter boots), lightweight roof rack (for that mega Holt-Renfrew shopping spree), matte-black 110 hood decal, spare wheel cover, and the all-important engine intake snorkel. This black plastic accoutrement runs up the driver’s side A-pillar and is there for those times when one is fording deep water. You know, those times. However, being just inches away from the driver’s head, in these environs the snorkel mainly serves to make said driver (moi) look like a posing Oakvillian dork. I’ll show those pretenders in their Mercedes G-Wagons.
The first nice stretch of tarmac we find is Sideroad No 2, running west off of Appleby Line, a few kilometres north of the QEW. This tree-lined lane crosses a babbling brook and then emerges onto a lovely open stretch that connects to Walkers Line. The cliffs of Mt. Nemo dominate the view. We turned right on Walkers and then made a left on Britannia, which took us to Guelph Line. Heading a few kilometres north from there had us motoring through the appropriately-named Lowville (fab bistro on the right) and up to Crawford Lake Conservation Park.
Currently, Conservation Halton requires visitors to book a time in advance (easy to do online) with entrance fees being $6.50 for adults, and $5.00 for kids and seniors (under 4 gets in free). Or, if you plan on multiple visits, a one-year individual pass costs $62 (seniors $50.50, family $135).
A cool feature of Crawford Lake is the reconstructed 15th-century Iroquoian village. The three longhouses, with numerous artifacts and displays, give a fascinating glimpse of what life was like for First Nations peoples 600 years ago.
The heart of the park is Crawford Lake, which visitors can circle via a raised boardwalk, built to protect the delicate marshland. This small body of water, a meromictic lake, is unique in that its depth exceeds that of its surface area, meaning little oxygen reaches the lowest lowest levels. Here, deep in the sediment, researchers found ancient corn pollen, tied to the nearby First Nations settlement. No, there are no deep lake monsters that we are aware of, but along the Hide and Seek Trail that leads to the lake, you’ll see larger-than-life wooden carvings of local species at risk that look as though they might have just slithered up from the depths.
A hiking trail connects Crawford Lake to nearby Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, but since Halton park visits are currently limited to two hours, that trail is closed. Taking the easy route, Claire and I jumped back in the Defender and meandered over to the Rattlesnake Point entrance that sits atop a very steep and winding section of Appleby Line that runs north off Derry Road. This appropriately snake-like stretch of road once hosted the Rattle Snake Hill Climb, a major event for sports car enthusiasts beginning in 1950, with Porsches being dominant from 1960-64. Below is multi-winner Horst Kroll in his Porsche 356 Speedster hanging it out on the then-all-gravel road (thank you to F. David Stone for the photo).
Our ascent was considerably less eventful, as we enjoyed this toughest of Land Rover’s surprisingly refined comportment and torquey turbocharged/supercharged 395-hp straight-six. Once in the park, we trekked a section of the Bruce Trail that offers fantastic vistas from the edge of a rocky escarpment.
After a day of hiking one can get a bit peckish, so our next stop was nearby Springridge Farm to see what treats awaited us. Owned by the Hughes family since 1960, Springridge gradually grew from a pick-your-own-cherries operation in the 1970s into a very popular local destination offering fresh local produce, children’s activities, knick-knacks, cookbooks, preserves, and devilishly scrumptious baked goods that draw on recipes from original owner Jane Hughes. In 2017, John, Laura, Amy and Tom Hughes were officially recognized as a “Canada 150 Farm Family”, receiving a certificate for their commitment to advancing agriculture in Halton Region.
With the Defender suitably loaded with tarts, apples and dill pickles (Claire will not buy pickles anywhere else) we pointed the Landie’s khaki snout south and headed back to the ‘burbs. Not surprisingly, the Defender turned heads everywhere we went, actually attracting a small crowd in the Rattlesnake Point parking lot.
We had a fantastic day of enjoying the local sights and supporting local industry, although for me it was a somewhat perilous adventure. Not because of the Rattle Snake Hill Climb or peering over those rocky precipices, but purely for the reason that Claire has been in love with the original not-for-sale-here Land Rover Defender for years (too much British murder mystery TV) and I feared the availability this fresh world-market edition with its Range Rover level of refinement would cause all kinds of problems. Yes, she really wants her own Defender, but thankfully she’ll do without the snorkel.