I’m a little ashamed to say it, but even though I grew up in the Prescott and Russell area in Eastern Ontario, and even though I came back to live here eight years ago now, I still had never used the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail. I knew it existed, but I’d never walked there, never rode a bike there, never snowshoeed, nothing.
It must be said that I have always seen the recreational trail more as a long bike path crossing the region and that linear trails of this type are not my favorite when it comes to hiking.
So, what finally prompted me, after all these years, to finally decide to walk the trail? There are two reasons. The first is that my boyfriend and I were planning this year to hike a long-distance trail in Europe. We have long dreamed of the Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Corfu Trail in Greece.
But hey, the world situation being what it is now, we decided we need a backup plan. So we swapped the olive groves of Greece for the corn fields of Eastern Ontario …
The second reason is that the future of the recreational trail is a bit uncertain right now. A few weeks ago, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell voted to end the agreement between them and Via Rail, owner of this former railway path. It appears that the costs of maintaining and repairing the trail are too high for the municipalities.
It’s hard to say for now if and when the trail will close, but it makes me a little sad to think that the days of this trail might be numbered … So my boyfriend and I decided to walked all the trail, from one end to the other, before it disappears.
A little bit of history
The Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail was built on an old railroad that previously linked Montreal to Ottawa and went through the Prescott and Russell region from east to west. Operations on the Canadian Pacific Railway ceased in the 1980s and in the early 2000s the recreational trail was officially opened.
The Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail is officially 72 kilometres long and has five pavilions. We walked the 66 kilometres between Hammond Pavilion (the westernmost one) and Saint-Eugène Pavilion (at the eastern end). We divided our long walk into sections of about ten kilometres, which we describe to you below.
Hammond Pavilion to County Road 2 – 11 km
First steps on the trail, heading east. I was immediately amazed that the trail is lined with trees in this area. I really thought we were going to walk in the middle of corn fields for 70 kilometres. Instead, we found ourselves crossing pretty wooded areas. Of course, the trail is in a straight line, but the first five kilometres between Hammond and Bourget went surprisingly fast.
At Bourget, the trail, hitherto covered with gravel, becomes wider and is asphalted. “It feels like we’re arriving to the city!” said my boyfriend very enthusiastically. I imagine that after five kilometres along fields and forests, Bourget can suddenly seem very urban.
In Bourget, we passed by the old train station, the only one along the trail whose building still exists today.
After Bourget, the trees became a little sparser and the woodlands gave way to agricultural fields. Ahead of us, the straight-line path seemed to stretch out as far as the eye could see and there were few or no trees to provide shade. I have a little trouble explaining how such a monotonous landscape could at the same time be so beautiful.
After crossing Cobbs Lake Creek on an old railroad bridge, we finally reached the parking lot on County Road 2 where we stopped our hike for the day.
County Road 2 to Plantagenet Pavilion – 12 km
The following kilometres were similar: fields, wooded areas, straight path. The scenery was pretty, but not very exciting. I think my boyfriend started to have second thoughts about this project.
Halfway through the way we passed the site of the old Pendleton station. Of the station, nothing remains in the forest today, except a sign indicating its presence.
About four kilometres before arriving at Plantagenet, we had a little moment of excitement: we saw cows. Okay, I know, that might sound pretty trivial, but I’m glad we saw them. Can we really say that we have walked through the Prescott-Russell region if we haven’t seen at least one cow?
Plantagenet Pavilion to Peat Moss Road – 11 km
I was looking forward to this portion of the trail as I knew we were going to cross the South Nation River, an important river in Prescott-Russell. Small disappointment when we got there, however … The sides of the old railway bridge are so high, that it is in fact almost impossible to see the river from the path.
This portion of the trail was still pleasant. Maybe because fall was starting to show its colors and the weather was perfect. Perhaps because we had the impression that the landscape varied (forest, woods, fields, ponds, and the Laurentian mountains on the horizon). Maybe also because at this point, we were starting to get more used to the trail.
When we started to see the big fields of peat and their piles of black soil, I knew we were near Alfred. It is also possible to see the village in the distance.
Peat Moss Road to Vankleek Hill Pavilion – 17 km
We had a lot of kilometres to walk between Alfred and Vankleek Hill, so it took a bit more motivation than the other times.
Especially since I was a little disappointed when we passed by the Caledonia Springs site. As I am interested in the history of the region, I have read a lot about the history of this ancient spa town. You could find there hotels, a post office, a bottling plant, a train station … Caledonia Springs was a popular place that was bustling with activity at the end of the 19th century and even if I knew that the spa town does not exist any longer, I was hoping to be able to see some traces of its past along the trail.
Finally, nothing. Aside from an interpretation sign on the history of the place, and benches to sit on and try to imagine what the surroundings looked like in the days of Caledonia Springs.
Still, I won’t complain to much. This very long stretch of the trail was stunning, especially with the fall colours.
Vankleek Hill Pavilion to Saint-Eugène Pavilion – 15 km
Last portion of the trail, under a somewhat gloomy autumn sky. From Vankleek Hill, the trail remains in a wooded area for a while and even crosses a railway line, which is still in use. The fall colours were on the wane, but the trail remained surprisingly pretty. To think I ignored it all these years because I thought it would be boring and unimpressive!
Eight kilometres from Vankleek Hill, the trail passes under Highway 417. From there, it seemed to me that the trail, which ran straight across fields, was visible as far as the eye could see. On the horizon, the silhouette of a small mountain (maybe Mont Rigaud?).
Before arriving in Saint-Eugène, there were several farms and several cows, which seemed to me the perfect conclusion to this long walk through the region. Then we could see the village church across the fields, the path became asphalt again (as it does every time we approached a village) and we finally reached the pavilion, our destination. We did it!
I don’t know what the future of this long recreational trail will be, but one thing is certain: over the past few weeks, it has given me a reminder of how beautiful my region is!