Travel Long Haul: There ain't nothing like a dam
... as Adrian Chiles found out in Canada's Algonquin Park. Beavers, bears, wolves - it has all the animals, woods and lakes you could hope to see
Saturday 19 September 1998
Killarney Lodge is where we had chosen to stay: a cluster of log cabins around a restaurant on a tiny peninsula poking into the Lake of Two Rivers. "No sir, there are no radios or televisions or telephones in the cabins," the lady at the desk had boasted over the phone when we booked. "Just peace and quiet here."
Yet when we came to meet in her little office adjoining the dining room ("dishes to satisfy the most discerning palate and the heartiest appetite") I was seething with anger. "Why," I wanted to shout, banging my fist on the table "did no one mention that this entire utopia is situated not 300 yards from the main road?" But of course I didn't. I just sat down and muttered darkly.
Still, you do get a canoe for two and, after a bellyful of "fine country cooking" I fell into the Lake of Two Rivers trying to get into our craft. Quite wet and very disappointed, we drifted off to sleep unencumbered by the sound of radios, televisions or telephones but fair deafened by frankly terrifying assorted calls of the wild and the odd passing pantechnicon.
Exactly 24 hours later we had decided that we had, in fact, found a kind of paradise. The road is decidedly less busy than any A-road in Britain, and it alone takes you through the heart of the park. Along this so-called Parkway Corridor, impeccably marked trails of varying length give you the chance to strike out into the woods and hills and lakes. You might get nibbled by a bear, but you will not get lost if you stick to the tracks.
We started with a 2km loosener: the Lookout Trail. Short and steep and with a marvellous view to the horizon of hundreds of square miles of wilderness, or the nearest I've ever come to it, anyway. Then we set out on the Beaver Pond Trail. This is another 2km trot, this time around a kind of beavers' civil engineering exhibition. Fascinating.
And then we saw a moose. About 200 yards away, absolutely enormous, and with proper great antlers to die for.
Now, to see a bear. This called for a longer expedition: the Collenium Ridges Trail. About 10km and "very demanding" we were informed, "allow at least six hours". It took us three. We were in a rush because, when it came down to it, nothing seemed less appealing than actually coming across a bear. There is the black bear and the grizzly: one is worth trying to play dead with; the other isn't - apparently. One type can climb trees; the other probably can't, but it can reach four metres on its hind legs anyway.
Relieved and exhausted we returned to Killarney Lodge as the sun was slowly taking its leave of an immaculately clear sky. The lake was like glass. Perfect. So, off we paddled across the Lake of Two Rivers and up one of the those self-same two rivers. Mist rose from the water, loons called, a heron stabbed away amidst the reeds, a beaver (blimey! look at the size of it!) swam ahead of us. And then my co-paddler hissed: "Sssh. Something's about to cross that footbridge." And a wolf trotted by.
Go to Algonquin. Make sure you don't stay right next to the road. Use the thousands (really, thousands) of miles of canoe routes and hiking trails. Mind the moose. Gape at the wolves. And if a bear comes for you, tell him to try the grub at Killarney Lodge instead.
The best approach to Algonquin is by flying to Toronto. When not on strike, Air Canada (0990 247226) flies at least twice daily from Heathrow and daily from Glasgow and Manchester. A code-share combination between British Airways (0345 222111) and Canadian Airlines (0345 616767) covers the same route about four times a day. Plenty of connecting flights are also available. Unfortunately for travellers from Birmingham, BA is to abandon its daily flight to Toronto when the new winter schedules begin. There are still plenty of charters available through agents such as Bluebird Express (0990 320000).
More information from the Visit Canada Centre, 62-65 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DY (0891 715000, a premium-rate number)
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