Woohoo! The day has come! After staring way back in mid-April, I have (pretty much, almost completely) finished walking all 125 km of the Grand Concourse walking trails in and around St. John’s!
While the majority of the trail-walking did get done over the spring and summer there’ve been a pesky few uncompleted trails, or parts of trails, that I’ve been seeking out and finishing through September. The plan was to bring the whole thing to a grand conclusion this Thanksgiving long weekend with a final hike on the North Head Trail from Signal Hill to the Outer Battery. This trail, which is #1 on my Grand Concourse map, was closed back in the spring when I started and even after I learned it was open again I put off doing it. Although there are plenty of St. John’s walkers and runners who love this trail and do it on a regular basis, it is not a favourite of mine, mainly because of these signs:
Great little graphic image there of the stickman plunging off the cliff to his death. (That’s probably Rod Stickman — he is always doing stupid things). There are many steep staircases and some very narrow sections of trail along the ocean cliffs (including the famous one where there’s no room for a handrail, just a piece of chain bolted into the rock for you to cling to) and while it’s actually quite safe as long as you stick to the trails, it’s just not my favourite walking experience. So I felt that leaving it to the last would give a nice triumphant ending to my summer of walking. Jason, Max and I got up while the kids were still asleep and headed out to walk up Signal Hill Road, down the North Head Trail, and then out Harbourside Walk (East) through the Battery to where we’d parked the car.
My feeling of triumph was slightly dimmed on the way when we passed a short trail called Signal Hill to Battery (0.6 km). On the map, this looked like a trail I’d already covered on a previous walk, but today, when I saw where it actually started and ended, I realized I had not, in fact, done that trail. Even though it’s only 0.6 k I feel like the project is not quite complete so obviously at some point I am going to have to go back and do that. Other than that, I have walked almost all of every one of the 35 trails and seven road links that constitute the Grand Concourse. I also did two newer short trails that were part of the Grand Concourse but not on my map (added since the trail was printed) so I guess that kind of makes up for the one trail I missed and the few times I missed part of a trail (sometimes due to incomplete signage when I wasn’t entirely sure I was on a trail). In total, I walked over 250 km from mid-April till today — twice the length of the Grand Concourse — counting trails that I did more than once and longer walks that included parts of GC trails.
It was a great experience and more than anything made me fall even more in love with St. John’s than I already am, by revealing hidden corners and parts of the city I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been pursuing this project. I love how the urban street-walks took me past little hidden monuments and memorials that I never knew about, and how the wooded trails give the feeling of being out in the country even though they may be just a few metres from a busy main road. Walking these trails also made me doubt the common belief that we live in an increasingly sedentary society as there is almost no time of day and no kind of weather when you won’t see other walkers, runners and dog-walkers out enjoying these trails. (My tip for the best and least-crowded trail? The Virginia River Walk, a long winding trail through the East End of St. John’s that isn’t nearly as heavily trafficked as most of the better-known trails, and is quite beautiful in spots).
I love how the trails, even as they would through urban landscapes, made me more aware of the physical geography of the city underneath the man-made roads and buildings. Many of the trails link the city’s major bodies of water — Quidi Vidi Lake, Kent’s Pond, Kenny’s Pond, Long Pond, Mundy Pond — and follow the paths of rivers between these ponds. There are trails along the above-mentioned Virginia River, along the Waterford River, and perhaps the best-known, the Rennies River Trail, as well as some that follow the path of buried rivers like Kelly’s Brook. Walking these trails made me think about the landscape of St. John’s as it must have been before people, about the network of ponds, rivers and valleys threading through the rolling hills.
My only caveat about the Grand Concourse trail, which I’ve complained about before, is that there are many places where signs are few and far between and the lack of signs can be confusing — not so confusing that you’d actually get lost and not know where you were, but confusing enough to make it hard to follow a particular trail from beginning to end. This is especially true in Mount Pearl where the Grand Concourse trails meander along with other walking trails and it’s not always easy to know which one you’re on. More and clearer signage would be good, but my Tilly hat is totally off to the people who have built and continue to maintain these trails. We in St. John’s are so lucky to live in a place where we have a wonderful network of walking trails accessible everywhere.
Throughout the spring and summer and fall, I rarely walked alone. Many thanks to those who walked with me and made it more enjoyable: my kids and on some occasions their friends who joined us, my friends Jennifer, Tina and Christine who all came with me on various walks, and my most faithful human walking companion, Jason. Jason and I have been going for walks together since we first started dating and whenever I see an old white-haired couple shuffling along a trail I hope that will be us someday. Finally, my number-one walking companion and the creature most happy that I took on this challenge: thanks, Max.