A popular holiday spot, the southern section of the Lake Huron shoreline is Ontario at its most delightful, with long sandy beaches and a steep bluff trailing along the lakeshore – all interrupted by the occasional river valley and a string of pretty country towns. The water is much less polluted than Lake Ontario, the sunsets are fabulously beautiful, and in The Pinery the region possesses one of the region’s most beautiful provincial parks. Of the towns, Bayfield and Goderich stand head and shoulders above the rest, charming little places with great hotels and B&Bs. The only fly in the ointment is the almost total lack of public transport.
Sloping along the edge of Lake Huron, beguiling BAYFIELD, about 90km north of London, is a good-looking village whose handsome timber villas nestle among well-tended gardens beneath a canopy of ancient trees. The local citizenry have kept modern development at arm’s length – there’s barely a neon sign in sight, never mind a concrete apartment block – and almost every old house has been beautifully maintained: look out for the scrolled woodwork, the fanlights and the graceful verandas. Historical plaques give the low-down on the older buildings that line Bayfield’s short Main Street, which started out in the 1830s as a supply centre for local farmers with a blacksmith’s, a tannery, a saw mill or two, a brickyard and a distillery. Short Hill Road, off the west end of Main Street, leads to pint-sized Pioneer Park, which perches on the bluff overlooking the lake and is a fine spot to take in the sunset. From the park, a flight of wooden steps leads down to the pebbly beach, from where it is a short stroll to the harbour and the marina. If you have the time, ramble up from the harbour along the banks of the Bayfield River where, in season, you can pick wild mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns.
GODERICH, at the mouth of the Maitland River 20km north of Bayfield, is a delightful country town, whose pleasant centre perches on a bluff behind and above its working harbour. It began life in 1825, when the British-owned Canada Company bought two and a half million acres of southern Ontario – the Huron Tract – from the government at the ridiculously low rate of twelve cents an acre, amid rumours of bribery and corruption. Eager to profit on their investment, the company pushed the Huron Road through from Stratford in the east to Goderich in the west, an extraordinary effort chronicled by a certain Mr Moffat – “The trees were so tall, the forest was eternally dark and with the constant rains it was endlessly damp... Since each man was responsible for cooking his own food after a hard day’s work, the men sometimes ate the fattest pork practically raw... To make up for such fare, a barrel of whisky with a cup attached always stood at the roadside.” Completed in 1828, the road attracted the settlers the company needed. Indeed, within thirty years the Huron Tract had two flourishing towns, Stratford and Goderich, and was producing large surpluses of grain for export, as it continues to do today. Perfect for an overnight stay, Goderich has several good B&Bs, two intriguing museums and several well-attended festivals throughout the year.