Guest Writer: Nelson Phillips
Nelson Philips is a Grey County-based writer, creative director, photographer, and publisher. He's one half of local culture company and magazine, Rrampt. You can find him exploring backroads with his family, swimming in Georgian Bay in the offseason, and drinking too many coffees at Highfive Cowork & Social in the Owen Sound River District.
When you’re from somewhere, sometimes you forget how fortunate you really are to call your particular corner of the world home. You get busy, you keep your head down, you sometimes get into a routine where your weeks zip by; it happens to all of us. Sometimes, however, you’re impacted by a solid week and a half of rain and when the sun blasts through the overcast sky, you just leave the house eager to explore a space that isn’t your living room.
Cue Grey Road 1. Located on the northwest border of the Township of Georgian Bluffs and stretching from Owen Sound to Wiarton along the shores of Georgian Bay, it’s a desperately beautiful corner of Grey County that is jam-packed with scenic vistas, beaches, islands, caves, windy roads, and ample opportunity to take in a hike in an autumn-infused chunk of mixed maple forest. California has the PCH, Grey County has Grey Road 1.
The day is an absolute beauty. We load up the family minivan (hey, they’re super practical and fuel efficient) and hit up the Owen Sound River District to fuel up. First up is Sugar Dust Baking where we stumble upon a case of epic looking homemade treats. We snag cinnamon buns, cupcakes, brownies, and a few more sweets for a post-hike boost of energy before heading to Heartwood Home.
Joanna pours me a stiff Americano and before the caffeine hits my bloodstream, we’re across the street at Birgit’s Bakery Café for some picnic supplies. We order some iconic sandwiches - I suggest Garry’s Favourite - and stuff them in our cooler for the road.
We cross the bridge on Eddie Sargent Parkway and pass the newly minted Giche Namewikwedong Reconciliation Garden Project at Kelso Beach, and head north into Balmy Beach. The waters of Owen Sound Bay are calm, and the maple bush is jazzed up in reds and oranges. First stop is a jaunt through Cobble Beach’s Enchanted Forest to look for tree-faces, woodland fairies, and to stretch our legs.
We continue north to the Kemble Women’s Institute Lookout overlooking the escarpment bluffs across the bay in the Municipality of Meaford. I consider this a really critical junction of the Grey Rd 1 experience because as you head east at the turn, you leave the highway and venture through some exquisite cottage country. Centennial Park at Cape Commodore is a great spot to spot and enjoy a rocky beach break, but we round the bend and head towards Big Bay for a homemade ice cream from its iconic General Store and the Stone-skipping Capital of Canada overlooking Hay, Griffith, and White Cloud Islands in Colpoy’s Bay. Don’t be fooled - the “mini” scoop is anything but. Do yourself a kindness and consider the Salted Caramel offering.
Now firmly headed west, we’ve got the sun illuminating the northern bluff of Colpoy’s Bay. We get out again at Cedar Hill Park - where we were married back in 2012 actually - and enjoy our lunch on the shore. Much to my delight, an impromptu car show of beautiful, gleaming 60’s and 70’s muscle cars descends on the park and we’re (I say we, but I mean me) treated to the chit-chat of friends enjoying the sunshine and the purring of carbureted V8’s.
Admittedly envious, I saddle up in the minivan and putt off to Bruce’s Caves to earn those delicious carbs. If you haven’t visited this place - stop what you’re doing and go. It’s a playground of massive natural limestone caves and crevices that do a great job of humbling all who enter. We crawl through narrow openings in the rock, scrape our knees, run through the bush, and stare up at the cave ceiling in awe. I’ve been here about 20 times, but I’m still enamoured by its grandeur; I suspect I’ll be back with my kids again in the not-so-distant future.
The car ride back toward Owen Sound is weirdly quiet, thanks to the steps we’ve put in and the food we’ve consumed. Parents know all too well - when the kids are quiet in the car, you’ve accomplished something special. For good measure we stop at arguably the best view of the trip at Skinner Bluff - not to be confused with the legendary side trail lookout of the same name - where you can see both the exposed limestone bluffs of Purple Valley and Neyaashiinigmiing poking out into the Bay with White Cloud Island in the foreground.
The thing about Grey County is you can drive its roads a million times and still find a way to look at the views differently. If I had a dollar for every time I muttered ‘whoa!’ from the driver seat of my car on Grey Road 1, I’d be a rich man - I’d at least have about $80 in my pocket. Just enough to fuel up and come back again another day.