When I first heard of the 70 km Avon Trail hike honouring Queen Elizabeth in her 70th year on the throne, I was intrigued.  Seventy years. Seventy kilometres. Could I physically do it, in my 70th year?

Hiking for 70 km along the Avon Trail in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee year is what I set out to do.  Not all in one long hike but broken into manageable chunks of distance over three consecutive days: 24 km followed by 22 km, and 24 more. And not by myself, mind you, alone on the trail. This was a group effort, a big group. Twenty-five hikers with links to the Bruce Trail and Avon Trail signed on to participate.

Bruce Graham formulated the hike idea and planned out the three-day route. The Platinum Jubilee badge was the carrot for each hiker’s participation.  Bruce arranged bus transportation to the starting point and from the end point of each day’s hike.  An $85 participation fee from each of the hikers in the group funded the costs.

The three hikes took place over the September Labour Day Weekend. Our first challenge to overcome was the loss of our hike leader (Bruce) to covid. Unable to hike with us, Bruce called upon Tracy, another Avon Trail certified hike leader, who stepped into the breach. Tracy displayed calmness in the face of all obstacles and superb leadership performance.

Day 1: Theme – The first 24 years of the Queen’s reign. We, hikers, met at the Stratford Allman Arena. After a 30-minute bus ride to the western terminus of the Avon Trail in St. Marys, we embarked on the day’s 24 km hike. Walking along the Thames River, we passed the Trestle Bridge and the original train station (now the Broken Rail Brewery), heading east. Weather conditions were dry and humid as we walked along roads and through rolling farmland.

A welcome lunch break at the McCulley’s Farm parking area lifted our spirits. Volunteers were waiting with popsicles and other refreshments at the Casper Cafe van to be enjoyed with the lunch packed and carried by each hiker. The Cafe staffed with volunteers and replenished refreshments met us at lunch all three days.

After lunch, we were led along the trail into the wooded Wildwood Conservation Area. We saw a sulphur spring along with good views of Wildwood Lake. The heat began to take its toll on some hikers.  At 4 pm, the bus carried us, weary hikers, back to Allman Arena from line 31 (km 24.2).  

at Bamburg Bridge

Day 2: Theme – The Queen’s reign from 1977 to 1998. The heat let up. Rather than a beating sun, we were greeted by cloud-covered skies at our bus drop-off point at km 88 near Berlett’s Corners. The endpoint for today’s hike was km 66 (slightly north of Amulree), a total hike distance of 22 km. We broke into two hiking groups so those hikers who enjoyed a fast-hiking pace could set off first. I fell in with the 2nd group led by Tracy at a moderate pace.  Rain was a possibility. We crossed the Bamberg Creek via the bridge, heading westwards through charming woodlots. We had high views of the Nith River and broad vistas over farms. Lunch with the Casper Cafe occurred on Carmel-Koch Road at trail parking location km 75.5. Breaking into two groups worked well for lunch at the Cafe.  Spirits were high and no rain fell. The two groups hiked near a crabapple orchard (Apple Flats, Wellsley) and along fields of wheat and corn. We also passed close by a small cemetery (Lisbon Cemetary). The bus was waiting for us at 4 pm as we exited the woodlot at km 66.1, ending the day’s hiking segment, back to the Allman Arena by bus and then home for a rest.

On the bus with crowns on Day 3

Day 3: Theme – The Queen’s reign from 1999 to 2022. With 46 km behind us and wearing our “celebration crowns” (provided courtesy of a generous hiker) on the 20-minute bus ride to km 64.2, slightly south of Amulree, we set out along open fields westward on our final day.

We followed forested trails, leaving the Grand River watershed (Silvercreek at Road 107 flows east and northeast to the Nith River). We headed into a woodlot south of Line 40 at km 61, following the trail as it meanders southwest past the Stone Chimney located slightly north of the course at km 60 (approximately). The chimney is all that remains of the “Tuxis Boys” Cabin, a church-run boys club circa 1943.   After passing through the Wetlands Flora and Cedar Bush Walkway at km 58, we joined the Avon River flowing westward in the Avon River watershed into downtown Stratford.

We walked around Lake Victoria and continued west of the Allman Arena into Dolan Park, following the Avon Trail Side Trail. (We needed to add some distance to ensure we hiked 70 km) We left the Stratford Cemetary and returned to our start point at the Allman Arena.

Greetings from the Queen

Although Bruce could not join us on the hike (due to the Covid protocol he was following), we happy hikers gathered in the driveway at Bruce’s home, where the Casper Cafe was parked. Refreshments were passed out along with cake to celebrate the hike’s completion. The Queen greeted us from the balcony, with a “Well done, hikers”, and best wishes on future hikes.

Avon Trail hikers. You still have a chance to own a coveted QPJ hike badge. You must purchase a log sheet for $10 and complete your own 70 km in hikes before Dec 31. If interested, reach out to newsletter@avontrail.ca

Many thanks to the photographers in the group for the photos.

Tom Kimber News Editor