The entrance to the First Builders hike along the Grand River at the Cambridge RARE Charitable Research Reserve is on Blair Rd. The place is easy to spot with a gorgeous old barn – the RARE Slit Barn marks the beginning of a spectacular walking journey. If approaching from Cambridge – it is after the Springbank Farm (a must visit in its own right), and on the right side of the road. If approaching from Kitchener, you pass Blair Village and Langdon Hall before you arrive at this barn. It’s on the left. Stop at the house – you will find trail maps, and they are necessary. I only had my smartphone, but I do recommend bringing a proper camera to the site. It’s worth the weight of carrying it.
The trail is easy to spot: it is currently gated by an installation created as a part of CAFKA. IMITATE forces the even short walker (I am 5’1″) to duck beneath the woven wood as one enters the trailhead. Once past the gate, you will be immediately flooded with the scent of wild bergamot, wild tarragon, flowers and grasses. Despite the sounds of the nearby road, the effect is profound and instant. This is a meadow. Full or birds, bees, insects and wildlife, RARE transports us instantly out of the hustle of cars and into an ancient landscape.
The first gem on the hike is an Osprey Tower. Long before we entered into range to see the bird, we heard her. The image isn’t great, but she stayed stationed there calling to her mate throughout the several minutes it took to traverse the meadow
Did you realise that this used to be Tundra? Of course we knew our landscape was carved by glaciers, but here’s a real reminder.
The next site describes the floodplain. The signage is clear, and nicely descriptive.
The trail becomes dense and the plants are well grown into the space. It would not be foolish to prepare for ticks whilst walking here.
There are huge stands of Joe Pye Weed, and several other butterfly and bee beneficial plants. We did also spot some Giant Hogweed, so unless you know your plants well, stay on the trail.
An oddity… what is this? Between two gardeners (one who is also a horticulturalist) we could not identify this plant tangling over the Joe Pye Weed. Any ideas?
The views of the Grand River are spectacular. Bring binoculars and a camera. In a few minutes we spotted several species of birds.
Just before leaving the banks of the Grand, have a stretch and a rest. The trail moves into the woods, and along bluffs. Wear good footwear – lots of rocks and roots. Mosquito repellant would go a long way to increasing enjoyment of the walk as well.
The next sign describes the shifting climate. The Tundra gave way to the Boreal.
The undergrowth give way in a cedar grove that stretches. The trees cling to the bluffs and the area is scented deeply with cedar and wild geranium.
This is a darker place in the woods. One could imagine a good spot for a Tim Burton gothic horror.
Ah! Settlement. Early human arrival. The landscape breathes new life.
Another special place. This tree stood in the centre of a circle in a grove of maples. No undergrowth. Tarry here a while. A beautiful spot to have a snack and take in some water.
Rocks, roots, and cliffs. It is easy to forget that this is in Cambridge. The earth jetties out in limestone cliff formations, and moss settles on everything. Whilst wandering here, be very careful of poison ivy encroaching. It’s not on the trail, but under no circumstances should the trail be left, especially if you are unsure on how to identify this plant. The three-leaf plants you can see here? Not poison ivy.
Deciduous forest and cliffs. This is a northern reach of the Carolinian forest on a landscape that looks more like the Bruce Trail. A very unique spot.