By Deb Sholdice
For years, local tourism marketers have been touting “staycations” as the hot vacation destination but now that a global pandemic has hit, the idea has gained a lot more traction. With hordes of Ontarians seeking new adventures, maybe some of your favourite haunts are crowded or maybe you are just looking for some new scenery. The road less traveled has always been my favourite way to travel, so I’d like to invite you on a backroads tour around Huron County with a few stops along the way that may be new to you.
SIP STOP — One of my favourite stops is Maelstrom Winery at 78925 Sanctuary Line, between Seaforth and Clinton just off of Huron Road (Highway 8). The Landsborough family were pioneers in the burgeoning wine and beer industry in the area and started the first winery in Huron County. Armed with only a passion for wine and a difficult piece of land on their family farm, they took an idea many thought far-fetched and ran with it. Maelstrom is now a major player and a destination winery with a beautiful retail store and event space that overlooks eight acres of vineyards. The newest addition to their business is an outdoor dining area specializing in paninis and charcuteries (as well as tastings of their selection of red and white wines and ciders). Patio dining doesn’t get much better than this, and I’m looking forward to the times that they can once again host local musicians and comedy tours in this beautiful space.
PHOTO OP STOP — I often drive aimlessly around the backroads of Ontario looking for interesting scenery. Just outside of Clinton one afternoon, I happened upon a field that made me do a double take. Harm-N-E Longhorns (37835 Telephone Road) has a herd of the prettiest longhorn cattle you’ll find in the area. Besides being very photogenic, these cattle are billed as “nature’s leanest beef” and as well as doing farmgate sales Harm-N-E offers its beef at several local farmers markets (Bayfield, Blyth and Grand Bend) and Longhorn Burgers are a featured item at Steve & Mary’s On The Square, a restaurant in nearby Goderich.
BEER STOP — What better advertising to draw in customers than a field of hops and some Highland cattle? Those are two things that you just don’t see that often, but are critical to the process of making beer at River Road Brewing & Hops. The ingredients that go into its beer are grown on the farm and the spent grain is fed to that herd of Highland cattle grazing in the pasture out front, making it a sustainable brewing operation. The large patio area is right in the centre of the farm, making it an excellent stop to sit and relax and enjoy a beverage. The beer is available in either cans or freshly poured growlers to take home.
FARMGATE STOP — For many people, more time at home recently led to a passion for making bread. And for those who are looking for organic, locally-grown, stone-ground flours, we have a great source right here in Huron County.
Kelsey and Lucas Seeberger are the creative minds behind Farm Little, which you can find at 37694 Mill Road just east of Bayfield. They share a love of growing and producing good food, so when they found they were growing more than they needed for themselves they decided to open a farm shop.
They sell homegrown seasonal fruits and vegetables as they become available as well as stone-ground flours that they grind right there on the farm.
Kelsey has the green thumb and also serves as the chief baker. She’s always happy to chat with customers about tips for better bread making. She even pops a few flowers into the shop now and then.
Lucas grew up milling grains and is excited to carry on the family tradition with vintage equipment he sets up and maintains himself.
They have a selection of whole wheat, pastry, rye and spelt that come from local farms, and red fife that is grown in northern Ontario. All their flours are organic and they don’t use any harmful sprays or fertilizers.
NATURE STOP — Just west of Goshen Road on Pavilion Line lies a hidden gem of a trail. It’s not long or difficult but it is very scenic, making it a perfect trail for a family hike. The property is a 95-acre recent addition to the conservation areas of the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority, but great strides have already been made in developing the windbreaks, grassed waterways and new tree plantings.
There is a large parking lot just off the road giving easy access to the grassy lane that leads up to the trail. Once you hit the hedgerow trail, you have two options. A right turn takes you down a shaded alley to a loop trail through a maple and beech tree forest. This trail is a delightful amble through a young forest. The path tends to be wet in spring or after a rain, so be sure to wear proper footwear.
When you return to the hedgerow, continue straight rather than returning to the parking lot and the grassy lane between the windbreaks will eventually lead you to another fork in the road. Either direction will take you along a small brook brimming with life. Look closely and you will see tiny minnows, frogs and crayfish in their mud burrows.
About 70 acres of the property remains cropped farmland, so please respect the fields and stick to the trails. Motorized vehicles are prohibited.
SHOPPING STOP — While the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc on the stress level of Artizan Alley’s owner Shanon Waht, there have also been some wonderful opportunities that have kept him going through the long weeks of closures.
The Zurich store is a year-round craft market with the best the area has to offer. In fact, vendors have been clamouring to get a space in the store, especially with traditional craft shows and sales being shuttered due to the pandemic. You will now find over 50 local vendors who create handmade and unique items.
We were impressed with the wide variety of talents and skills that he has been able to find in the area - everything from traditional knitted items, driftwood art and wooden signs to interesting vintage and salvaged items. His own specialty is custom furniture and woodworking and upcycled projects that he can create for you with your input into colour and design.
The thing that has kept him going is the community that has built up around the indoor market. The co-operative of vendors has sustained him by offering support and checking in with him and each other throughout this long haul. The customers flocked to buy at Christmas and remained loyal to the business model. He credits his dog Sawdust with keeping him going and being his best “employee”.
Like many businesses, online sales through auctions nurtured Artizan Alley through the worst of it, but now Waht is finding that the public is keen to get back to in-person shopping and the store will be great “retail therapy” when it’s allowed to open. With so many independent vendors creating one-of-a-kind items, the store is constantly changing. Stop in to see what’s new and say hi to Sawdust at 18 Goshen St N, Zurich.
ROADSIDE FOOD STOP - Huron County has long supported the drive-in restaurant, or hamburger stand concept. In fact, two restaurants that popped up in the 1950s are still going strong today.
In an era when franchises with drive-throughs are much more prevalent than drive-ins, these independent operators are still thriving by serving quality food and providing fast, friendly service.
In fact, while food trucks are the hottest trend and we rave about our local chefs creating tasty menus with local ingredients, these entrepreneurs are quietly feeding the masses on steamy summer evenings when no one wants to turn on a stove at home.
Huron County is home to six drive-in restaurants that are each decades old. We love them all for the unique menus and local flair, but today’s stop is the Farmer’s Dell, just south of Brucefield on Highway 4, which first opened in 1956. Current owner, Jeff Oesch, had the dream of owning it for over 20 years, and when the chance came up again a couple of years ago, he jumped at it.
He describes his menu as a “bit different” than the standard burger joint. His menu tries to keep local ingredients prominent. “We have to make this fun and give people a real reason to travel to Brucefield,” he says. You will find a different special on the menu every weekend, such as Irish nachos and deep-fried cheesecake. Customers make the trek to Brucefield just for the London Ice Cream Company’s hard ice cream that Farmer’s Dell serves, but don’t forget to try the Angry Farmer Wrap while you are there (shaved ribeye, fried onions, chipotle mayonnaise and jalapeno peppers). Or, if you’re up for it, you might order the barnyard burger (six-ounce patty, four-ounce breaded chicken burger, bacon, fried egg and onion rings on a bun).
These are just a few suggestions for a day trip around central Huron County. Make sure that you skip the highways and enjoy the drive between stops. You never know what you’ll find around the next bend or beyond that rise in the road! ◊