I didn’t mean to gloat as I drove down the highway, but some things can’t be helped. A sea of cars crept along, inch by inch making their way to their destination, faces pressed against the windows in agony. These poor souls were northbound. I may have been a bit giddy as I flew by them in the opposite direction, music up, windows down, filled with anticipatory joy for the weekend ahead. They can have the north; I’ll pick Norfolk County all day long.
I can’t quite figure out why I had never pondered that area of the province. I suppose if I was aiming in that general direction, I continued to hug that Lake Ontario curve ending up in Niagara Falls. I’ll confess, I’m easily distracted by flashing lights and bright colours, but the north side of Lake Erie was unfamiliar territory, which is what scooped me in the end – something new to discover. Norfolk County was quick to satisfy my curiosity, and my appetite.
Norfolk County has a rich history that celebrates tradition while embracing change. What was once an area teeming with tobacco farms, the agricultural community has evolved to respond to a changing market. Vineyards and berry fields, farmers markets and community supported agriculture abound, all just waiting for you peel away from those northbound lemmings and come for a weekend. Trust me, you’ll want to stay longer. And bring your stretchy pants.
Sweets: The Crepe House
Now, I know it’s summer and we don’t want to fully embarrass ourselves as we try to fit into last year’s bathing suits. And really, it’s not too difficult to find all sorts of fresh, healthy Norfolk grown fruits and veggies. A little basket of strawberries barely made it out of the parking lot of the market I popped into. But let’s not kid ourselves. Indulgence has a place too. We work hard. We have stressful, busy lives. It only makes sense to bask in the sheer joy that is crepes. We’ve earned it. Stop in at The Crepe House, a cute little café where the sunshiny style matches the fresh air breezing by on the patio. This is where you’ll need your stretchy pants. Spoil yourself.
Eats: The Dover Cheese Shop
If you’re not stuffed full from the crepes, take a waddle up the street to this little nook of bliss. I’m pretty sure I left splashes of drool on the floor as I gaped at the dozens and dozens of cheeses on display. Can’t decide between the soft cheese with bits of pear or the spicy blue? The very tolerant lady at the counter offers both wisdom and samples to help you decide. This shop proudly displays artisanal cheeses from local producers, offering a myriad of cheesy choices of exceptional quality. Bring a bib.
Norfolk County has food figured out. Local, farm fresh, picked today goodness. But don’t take my word for it – go find out for yourself. You’ll also need this fabulous cookbook to dazzle your inner chef.
Treats: The Circle Game
Wandering the streets of Port Dover offers you many opportunities to abuse your debit card. There are artisans, vintage shops, places to stock your kitchen a la Martha Stewart, pottery (oh the pottery!) craft brewers and calorie laden goodies. Check out this fabulous list on Norfolk Tourism (a site you should peruse anyhow). My favourite discovery was The Circle Game – and not just for the nod to Joni Mitchell, this place is cram packed with goodies from all over the world. Jewellery, funky carvings, prayer flags, beautiful clothes and more. I may have spent a little longer than I should have at the Tibetan singing bowls, but restraint has never been my strong point.
Feats: Long Point Eco-Adventures
Now, I’ve done some silly things. The sort of things that require all sorts of bravery (read: lunacy and recklessness) like swimming with crocs in Zambia or scaling cliffs in Ethiopia with no strings attached, or even swimming to the edge of Victoria Falls. So I was all sorts of cocky when it came to trying out this zip-lining thing I’ve heard so much about. “What’s the big deal?” I thought. “I’m tied in. I have a helmet on. There are all sorts of buckles attached to me. No biggie.”
Everyone took it very seriously – waivers were signed, we weren’t allowed to go until we passed mini zipline school, and they checked my helmet and buckles repeatedly. I swear I found rolls of bubble wrap meant to keep us extra protected if they doubted our ability. We approached the first line, after climbing what seemed like 47 flights of stairs, and I somehow ended up first in line, teetering on the launch pad. “Easy peasy,” I thought. Standing on the ledge of the balcony I was cool as a cucumber… until they said “3, 2, 1 go!” Every molecule in by body froze. “Hold on just a minute, crazy lady, we are NOT jumping off this step!” they screamed. My body simply refused to budge. The guide was really very tolerant of my spontaneous fit of hysteria. It took a number of “3, 2, 1 go’s!” and promises of chocolaty treats and ice cream, and maybe a ever so gentle shove from my travelling sidekick, and off I went.
It was simply wonderful. Gliding through the lush green canopy I was one with the birds. I’ve spent ample time gazing up to the treetops and this offered a whole new perspective – I was face to face with the trees. I loved every moment of it. I felt completely safe, and thoroughly impressed by our guides. Our entire group jumped over our little hurdles of fear and were squealing with glee after a few short zips.
As a reward for my bravery, I stopped by later in the evening to check out the observatory – the Norfolk skies at Longpoint are some of the darkest in the province and offers a jaw dropping selection of stars and planets. Saturn’s rings are out of this world!
My tent is my happy place, so when I was sniffing around for a place to stay in Norfolk County, a campground was at the top of my wish list. No doubt, Norfolk is chock full of quaint inns, cottages, and B&Bs, but I needed some tent time. As soon as I arrived at Hidden Valley Campground, I felt like I was part of a community. From the folks at the front desk who were keen to make sure we had everything we needed, to the forest full of birds who sang at me while I put up the tent, I had a feeling this was going to be good. And the campground delivered – normally I prefer a bit of solitude while I camp, but when I heard music nearby I was sucked right in. A band put on a great show while couples danced and children twirled around. Others held hands while lounging in their lawn chairs as the stars shone brightly. Rather than an outsider peering in on an unknown community, I felt welcomed and embraced, surrounded by warm smiles and cheer. The campground’s location is perfect for exploring the county, a short drive to Port Dover, Simcoe and Longpoint alike.
All in all, Norfolk County was a delightful discovery. Not just an escape from the northbound cottage-bound mayhem, but a place that’s brimming with character all its own –local wine, delicious foods, talented artisans and incredibly warm and genuine folks who are happy to have you drop by. Don’t keep them waiting.
I’m happy to gush about Norfolk County fully on my own accord, but I should mention that elements of this trip were sponsored through the kind hospitality of Norfolk County Tourism. The opinions, and desire for stretchy pants, are entirely mine.