HURON COUNTY – It’s easy to image carloads of tourists and cottagers rolling along the picturesque Hwy. 86 – the dividing line between Huron and Bruce counties – in search of adventure during the summer months. They stop to poke around the markets, garden centres and studios that surround Wingham in a big arc, and they eat picnic lunches or enjoy coffee breaks at pretty parks set in small villages.
This time of year, the swarms of summer visitors are gone, but many of those places remain open to be discovered in this week before Christmas.
Bush Art, 86457 Norman Line, Wingham
The roadway sign at the corner of Norman Line and Hwy. 86, just west of Wingham entices folks down a dirt road and up a farm laneway. It would seem unlikely that on this dreary day the place would welcome travellers, but there’s the neon “open” sign lit up with red light bulbs. I enter a room filled with wooden angels with crosses of copper wire hanging from their necks, walking sticks with patterns burned into their smooth surfaces, a massive tree burl with every curve highly polished, and other items crafted from materials found on the farm’s acreage. As is Huron County custom in the rural area, I know that the owner will eventually discover my car in his laneway and come out to greet me. True enough, within a few minutes, retired-farmer-turned-artisan Brian Wellsted joins me, inviting me to wander further into the old barn, where used row upon row of books neatly line his handmade bookshelves, organized in categories just like you would expect to find at Chapters or Coles. He leaves me alone with the hum of the heaters and the rhythmic tap of rain against the old window panes, while I explore the mystery section, picking out two reasonably priced hard covers, and then sifting through the Canadiana, gardening, travel and sections.
I leave with my two books and wooden angel just as what appears to be a mother-daughter combo enter for their turn to explore.
Pioneer Conservation Area, 13 Clyde St., Bluevale
Today the ball diamond is empty, the playground equipment quiet. There’s no one under the picnic shelter. It’s peaceful. A great place to read my new book, enjoy a cup of coffee and recall the last time I was here – as a reporter, observing a mock disaster built around a scenario of a bus accident. There were student actors hanging in tree branches, caught under the bus, trapped inside, thrown clear across the field and impaled by branches. They waited while emergency workers co-ordinated efforts to get medical help to them and extract them, in a rehearsal of their skills. But on this day there’s no one in the park and on the footpath to the Maitland River even though it’s quite pretty.
Old 86 Farmers’ Market, 44229 Hwy. 86
The fry truck is all closed up now that the sun has waned, but there’s still plenty to see at this massive farmers’ market of locally produced frozen, boxed and preserved food, and everything from gardening tools to home décor to underwear.
I wander through a front room filled with wonderful preserves by Glenn Hill, turkey products by Hayter’s and new giftware, picking out a jar of marmalade for a Christmas morning treat.
Then I head back into the vast room, at the least the size of an arena floor, and sift through toys, gift wrapping, golfing shoes, work clothes, wall signs, books and all sorts of items that would make great gifts or stocking stuffers. In the end, I pick out two pairs of gloves with little no-slip nubs of plastic on the palms, perfect for the gym.
With my haul of treasures in the back of the car, I head back down the highway, this time in search of lunch.