a peek inside the fishbowl

04 Aug, 2021

Camping 2021: Two good things we did

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

Floating on the lake

One year when the girls were young teens we brought two inflatable. mattress-shaped pool floats on our camping trip and the girls used them to bob out into the middle of the lake together. They are both strong swimmers so I wasn’t *too* worried about them. It turned out to be a lovely thing, which was talked about a lot in  subsequent years, so this year I bought two new ones for our trip. I purchased them way back in the spring because I didn’t want to fall victim to the supply and demand issues brought about by Covid.

It’s always a risk, trying to recreate special moments, isn’t it? They become special moments in the first place because they occur at a cross section of space and time that, by definition, is impossible to repeat. What’s more, you run the risk of diminishing the original memory in some way. You can never step in the same river twice, after all.

It’s hard to tell by the photo but I chose cloud & rainbow-themed floats because they made me smile. There are large pieces of loose glitter inside too, which reflected the sunlight in a pretty way.

I would also like to add that they took forever to inflate because someone neglected to bring the special attachment for the batter-powered pump, but that is neither here nor there. ;)

Rainbow inflatable mattress

The girls enjoyed their outing on to the lake. We could hear them chatting and laughing all the way to our camp site. I took a turn one afternoon as well. How could I not? My floaty afternoon has now become the family joke because I nodded off AND DRIFTED AWAY. It’s just too funny. I woke up to shouts of “MUM? MUM?! MUM!!” I wasn’t THAT far, still in sight of our site, which is on the water, but a little bit further and I would have washed ashore on a private beach or ended up in the reeds.

I will say, it felt wonderful to be warmed by the sun and cradled by the lake. It’s no surprise I fell asleep, really.

Speaking of floating, Mark rented two kayaks from a local outfitter and had them delivered to the campground. (I don’t know why there are only canoes available for rent at Achray, and not kayaks, but we prefer kayaking.) Mark managed to snag the last two from this particular business. The kayaks arrived dirty and in rough shape (and we had trouble finding them!), but they served their purpose. The girls took them out a couple of times. Mark and I paddled to “gull island” across the lake from our site, where we spotted gulls and cormorants. (We proved two things: that the island was farther than we’d thought, and a lot smaller.)

One night I took it out alone, just to drift and watch the sunset. (No risk of falling asleep here though!) It was quiet, so quiet. I could only hear the splash of water and occasional thunk as my paddle hit the side of the kayak. I took a million picture and tried to store them up in my mind.

Twilight kayak

A couple of my all-time favourite hiking trails are at Achray. In a previous post I briefly mentioned High Falls. You can canoe in to High Falls, but we chose to pack a lunch and hike. The trail is called “High Falls Cheater Trail” and I don’t think it’s on the official park maps.

High Falls is truly an amazing destination, a must-see if you are in the area.

Imagine, if you will, an oasis in the Canadian wilderness. It is glorious.

The trail to High Falls is about 4.5k. Some of it is flat, some of it isn’t. I’d describe it as a moderately challenging trail.

Hike to High Falls, Achray

Oh, and Mark and the youngest heard a mama bear and her cubs along the way. THAT was exciting, and about as close as I wanted to get to a bear.

It is a pretty trail but the payoff is that oasis I mentioned. It’s part lagoon, where you can jump off a small “cliff” into the water, and part waterslide. (YES. More on that part in a bit.)

We chose the best day to go. It was sunny and bright. Honestly, picture perfect. You could realistically hang out here all day.

High Falls, near Achray

View of High Falls

View of High Falls

Look at me, being all blissful-like! I am an excellent floater, by the way:

High Falls

High Falls is a big place. We got there just before lunch and there were only a few other people there. It got busier in the afternoon but there was still plenty of space for people to spread out.

As I mentioned, on the other side of that scenic lagoon is a natural rock “water slide.” We did not partake in a slide this year as the water levels were really high. If you do go, I recommend wearing a PFD as it will keep your head above water. (We watched a girl shoot down the slide and do a complete somersault – with feet in the air – when she got to the bottom. NIGHTMARE.)

Here’s an older pic from 2015. See the people sliding down the rock? And yes, it kinda hurts your bum a bit. You’re sliding down a giant rock after all.

View of "waterslide" at High Falls

My other fave trail near Achray is Barron Canyon Trail. It’s the best kind of trail in my books:

1) It’s short. In terms of distance it’s only 1.5k.
2) It’s a loop, so there is no doubling back and seeing stuff you’ve already seen.
3) There is a variety of things to see along the way.
4) There are flat parts, and steep parts.
5) There is a wonderful view at the end. You wind up at the very top of a clifftop that looks way down into a canyon. It is a stunning view unlike any other, hence there is …
6) … a very real element of DANGER, since there’s no fence at the top. Once false move and you are a goner. So cool!

Exciting stuff, eh?

We’ve been here a couple times before, as you can see by our “then, then, and now” photo series. (I think you should be able to click on the photos to enlarge.)

Barron Canyon Trail

Mark and S. peek over the edge

Mark and S

While we were at the top of the cliff at one point I happened to look down to see an eagle or hawk of some kind, hitching a ride on a breeze and floating along the canyon. No one else saw it, just me. It was so fleeting that I didn’t even have time to snap a photo but I will always hold that picture in my mind.

View from the top of Barron Canyon

28 Jul, 2021

Camping 2021 sidebar: what we ate

By andrea tomkins in travel talk

I was just hanging up the last of my laundry and found myself thinking about how long we’ve been camping. We’ve gone almost every summer since the girls were toddlers. After so many years, we have nailed it down.

In terms of clothing, I pack things that I don’t mind getting ripped, dirty, burned, or splattered with cooking grease or pine sap. When packing for Algonquin, which can get cold, even in summer, I make sure to pack a few items that will keep me warm. (In fact, we got down to single digits one evening and I was very grateful for my lightweight/packable puffer.)

This year I forgot to pack a ball cap. And I brought one too many pairs of pants and two extra tees, but I did ok for the most part.

I wanted to copy and paste our camping menu here, for the record. (Not listed: all the fruit and chips and granola bars we ate!) What helped is that our yurt comes with a gas BBQ – with bonus side burner! – so cooking was extra easy this year

Arrival day
Dinner – Pork kebabs (Farm Boy) on Greek pita (with lettuce, sliced cuke, red onion, grape tomato, tahini dressing),
Dessert – Marshmallows/Rice Krispy Squares

Day two
Breakfast – Bacon and eggs, orange juice/coffee
Lunch – Chicken Caesar wraps (made with precooked chicken, tortillas, bagged Caesar salad mix)
Dinner – Ploughman’s dinner: cheese fondue (link to recipe below) with toasted baguette, cold cuts, sliced apple
Dessert – Jiffy pop, Marshmallows/Rice Krispy Squares

Day three
Breakfast – pancakes and syrup, orange juice/coffee
Lunch – ham and cheese, veggies and dip, chips
Dinner – sausages, corn on the cob, raw veggies
Dessert – Banana boats

Day four
Breakfast – Yogurt/cereal/milk/orange juice/coffee
Lunch – Grilled cheese, pickles, bean salad
Snacks – Fruit
Dinner – Hamburgers/Beyond burgs, fried potatoes, carrot sticks
Dessert – S’mores

Day five
Breakfast – Yogurt/cereal/milk/orange juice/coffee
Lunch – Sandwiches with whatever is left
Snacks – Fruit/cookies
Dinner – Hot dogs/veggies and dip
Dessert – Roasted marshmallows

Morning before check out
– Cereal/milk/orange juice/coffee

Every year we eat more or less the same food but this year I tried something new, this cheese “fondue” dish, which, can I say, was amazing. I will definitely be making it again.

Perhaps it’s the rainy weather but I am scattered and restless today. My morning looked a bit like this: I read a few pages of  a book, put it down, walked around the house, picked away at a few things, forgot what I was doing, watered a plant, cleaned a toilet, looked something up on the internet, answered an email, bought tickets to some local art & museum exhibitions… etc. Ugh. WHERE IS THE TRANQUILITY I HAVE BEEN BANKING???

First of all, let’s talk about how lucky we were to snag the only yurt, at Achray, in Algonquin Park, during a pandemic year. It was a minor miracle. There it is, nestled down there by the water.

The yurt

We’ve been to Achray before, both tenting and in the yurt but boy, was I glad we booked the yurt this year. Having a yurt means no tent set up and take down. The yurt is more stable than a tent, so no worrying about the weather, which was top of mind considering we drove through torrential rain on the way there. The rainfall was so severe that we pulled over to the side of the highway to wait out the worst of it.

You’d think that this kind of deluge wouldn’t be a very auspicious beginning to a camping trip, but it actually was. This year we got a bit of everything, from single digit temperatures in the evening to scorching hot moments on the trail, from pouring rain to a lake that was as still as a mirror. It was a veritable grab bag of weather and honestly, it just made for a more interesting trip.

Check-in at the yurt was at 4 p.m., a bit later than the tenting check-in for some reason. I’m not sure if this is typical or if it’s just because of Covid. I was just grateful that we didn’t have to set up a tent on a soggy campsite! The inside of the yurt was on the damp side. That torrential downpour had obviously reached here too. The rain covering on the front window had come loose and the floor and two of the mattresses were wet. (The rain must have been coming down sideways for that to happen! Wild.) This was no biggie, since the mattresses are covered in a sheet that is easily wiped down.

The yurt site at Achray

Before we left for our camping trip I looked up reviews of Achray campground online and found some one and two-star reviews which were along the lines of: “Nothing to do, no internet, too many squirrels, dirt roads, too quiet.” Essentially, all the reason we love it.

Achray is the place of my dreams. Honestly. During sad or stressful times this is the kind of happy place to which I mentally  transport myself.

The yurt is right on the water, amid a mix of tall pines and deciduous canopy. Birds chirping, loons calling, leaves rustling, fire crackling – plus almost zero cell service – this is where true relaxation happens.

Things I love about Achray:

  • It is very quiet. It’s radio-free. There are very few boats on the lake and the ones that are allowed are low HP. Plus, the type of campers who come here don’t care if there aren’t any hot showers, cell service, and laundry facilities.
  • When I originally wrote this thought out  (old-school, in a notebook), lapping water and the breeze in the trees were the only sounds I could discern. And these were interrupted by the sound of a family member quietly turning a page in her book.

Camping with young adults is very different from camping with kids. Nowadays we are much less worried about them burning themselves on a roasting stick or accidentally clobbering the other sibling with an oar (both of which are things that have happened in our family). Of course, we still worry, but not very much. They pretty much take care of themselves.

Instead of building sandcastles at the beach we all relax in the sun, occasionally wading in the water to cool down. They entertain themselves and don’t need an eagle eye on them at all times. They help out when asked. Instead of juice boxes we enjoy beer, cider, and canned cocktails (okay, we still drink juice but you know what I mean).

Some things, however, remain the same: hiking and nature sightings and games of Uno by lamplight and chats around the fire.

Achray Campground

This year the girls gleefully pointed out that THEY are now the ones who now help us parents across the typical sticky situations often encountered on hiking trails such as slippery, muddy, flooded areas that are best avoided. “Follow me, mumma,” said the youngest as she and I navigated along some slippery rocks at High Falls. “Just step where I step.”

I will say this, it was very nice to have a steady hand to hold onto when I needed one.

More to come! I’m slowly compiling my photos on Flickr, so stay tuned for that too. :)

26 Jul, 2021


By andrea tomkins in travel talk

Twilight kayak

We’ve just returned from a camping trip to Algonquin Provincial Park. I was so tired last night I could barely finish my dinner. Today, we are slowly unpacking and putting away our gear, sorting photos, doing laundry, and slathering Benadryl on our bug bites. I will say this for now, it was one of the best camping trips we’ve had and will be tough to top. More to come!


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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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