5 Things About This Place: Norfolk County

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 Tobacco
While Norfolk farms have dialed back their tobacco production, I can’t help but find the crops rather pretty.

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.

Norfolk_Crepes
Bad travel blogger: couldn’t wait to snap the photo before diving in… sorry about that.

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.

Norfolk_Cheese
Where to even start? I’ll take one of each please.

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.

Norfolk_CircleGame
Ooooh all the pretty colours! I had to be dragged out of here.

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.

Norfolk_ZipLine
The woman next to me was terrified – I was so impressed by her courage.

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!

Sheets: Hidden Valley Campground in Normandale

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.

Norfolk_Campground
It’s far more ‘cozy community’ than RV Park. They even have shuffleboard.

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.

5 Responses

  1. Cindy Vanderstar - Cashmere & Cobwebs
    | Reply

    Next time you visit we’d be happy to see you over in Port Rowan & Long Point – the west coast of Norfolk County. Cute shops line downtown Port Rowan’s streets, our Friday twilight farmer’s market sits right on the harbour & our 40km of white sand just waits for your toes.

    • Michelle Holmes
      | Reply

      Thanks Cindy! I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface – I’ll definitely be back. Especially for dipping my toes in that sand!

      • Cindy Vanderstar - Cashmere & Cobwebs
        | Reply

        Thanks – I own Cashmere & Cobwebs ladies shop with local items such as Lake Erie beach glass jewelry, Dirty Girl soap made locally in Waterford, natural mosquito spray made from local lavender & unique one-of-a-kind art pieces made from local salvaged metal & wood (including tobacco kiln materials.) Stop by anytime! We look forward to meeting you & bragging up our area. :)

  2. Ted Willey
    | Reply

    Hi Michelle. I really enjoyed the post! I look forward to your return so we can show you more wonderful and unique experiences in Norfolk County! Thanks again for the great post and awesome pictures! And don’t forget to bring your stretchy pants.

  3. […] to the central appeal of Toronto.  An easy jaunt to so many playgrounds – whether you want to go zip-lining and star gazing in Norfolk County, get soaked in the spray of Niagara Falls, or make the journey up to the almighty Lake Superior […]

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