Up on the Belwood Dam looking towards the town of Fergus. Down below on the Grand River there are always fly fisherman.
Riding in “God’s Country” the Wellington County Bike Trail Chronicles
Photos and story by Tom Beyer
Getting away from the smog and pollution, the noise and the sheer terror of riding in the city takes some getting used to. Not having to have the hyper awareness and agility to look out for pedestrians, trucks, vans, and cars, is a big change in riding technique. Not worrying about getting doored every time you leave your door is a revelation.
It’s cottage time again. On the banks of Belwood Lake.
Riding in the city is a mine field, albeit things are slowly changing, with separated bike lanes incrementally creeping across most North American cities. The kind of riding I’ve been doing lately is getting back to the riding I did as a kid – riding for the sheer joy of it. Riding where the only thing you’ve got to worry about crossing your path is a chipmunk, an errant squirrel, or if you’re really lucky a low flying bird or two.
I’ve been spending a lot of time recently is what some call God’s Country, namely south west of Toronto, north of Guelph. Here in Wellington County there are over 200 kilometres of dedicated bike trails. Wellington County is a vast area, covering an area of 2,570 square kilometres. Six Conservation Authorities fall within its’ borders. Unique natural features can be biked to on car free trails: towering limestone cliffs, caves and glacial potholes and miles and miles of uninterrupted beautifully well groomed trails where you can get your bike on.
Cycling along the bike path you’ll go through town and country, farm and forest, wilderness and water.
Recently I explored the Elora Cataract Trailway. The trail was originally the route of the Credit Valley Railway. First laid down in 1883 this is a fantastic 47 km trail running through some of the most pristine farmland Ontario has to offer. Skirting the towns of Elora, Fergus, Belwood (and Belwood Reservoir), Orton, Hillsburgh and Erin it’s a joy to ride.
Riding through the countryside.
Riding through Fergus and into the trail from one of the many entrances you leave all of your cares behind. It is you, your bike and the trail. These trails are so long and vast there is hardly ever too much bike or hiking traffic, so you can concentrate on the surrounding area and soak up the natural beauty that this area has to offer.
Belwood Lake is where you’ll find the Shand Dam. Built in 1942, the dam created this 12 km long reservoir. Water from the dam is used to generate hydroelectricity and to regulate the level of the Grand River.
Passing some farms and other small-town quirks.
As you cycle eastward from the lake what is surprising is that you hardly ever lose your internet connection. This area is not so rural that the modern convenience of your smart phone and social media don ‘t have to be left behind. Trails are also very well marked as these photos demonstrate:
Snowmobilers also use many of these trails in the winter, so the signage is used year round.
Note the signs at the photo below. From where this photo was taken, you can ride the 70 km trail all the way to Listowel, car free.
I’ll end this post with some lyrics from Peter Gabriel’s song Solsbury Hill:
I was feeling part of the scenery
I walked right out of the machinery
My heart going boom boom boom
"Hey" he said "Grab your things
I've come to take you home."
Tom Beyer is a former City Hall staffer and is a strong advocate for cycling and the arts. He can be followed on Twitter @TomBeyer7.
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