a peek inside the fishbowl

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!

07 Jul, 2021

The jab update and pandemic purchases

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Here we are, July 7. I remember when I was first sent home from the office in March 2020. I packed a bag and as I closed the door behind me I thought to myself: how long can this thing last, anyway? Two years ago today, the youngest daughter and I were far far far away, on a monumental trip to Thailand. One year ago today, I was working from my home office. I still am, actually. Since then we’ve been muddling through the best we can. I’m happy to report that although this thing is not over I feel hopeful that things are finally heading in the right direction. Good things are happening!

Both Mark and I have had both our second vaccinations. Each daughter has had one, with their second doses coming up this month.

In other good news: we have had RESTAURANT MEALS ON PATIOS. The first one was to celebrate Father’s Day. We made a reservation at Woodenheads** in Kingston, a place we’d been to many times.

** I should point out that the Covid protocols were A+ here, by the way, but I’m haunted a bit by the fact you had to ask a server to use the washroom because I don’t really even know why. I think it’s because they only have one or two washrooms and they are singles? Maybe in a confined area? Thankfully, my bladder was exceptionally strong that evening, but I did worry. (This is weird of me, I know, but it’s like I was transported back to first grade or something. Or French class. “Excusez moi Madame mais est-ce que je peux aller aux toillettes s’il vous plaît ?”)

It’s very likely that you have an image of the four of us raising our glasses and toasting the fact that we were all together, in a restaurant, on a patio, after months of takeout on lockdown. Smiles as wide as our faces! Laughter ringing through the restaurant! Good cheer and good food! Bravo! We made it!

While we were certainly happy to be enjoying quality pizza as we always do, we actually forgot to make any formal acknowledgement or declarations. We ordered drinks, chatted, ate our dinner, and then walked down the street for gelato as if nothing happened. I thought our first visit would be a celebration. Instead, it was just a… nice dinner as a family. Isn’t that strange? It wasn’t until much later that I was like, hey, that was the first time in a long time! I didn’t even take a photo. (!!)

Mark and I went to another patio here in the Ottawa area recently. Unfortunately, although we did raise a glass, I had had my vaccination the day before and was feeling woozy. It was also hot, and I was drinking diet Pepsi because I was feeling so crappy. All that to say, I will use this opportunity to myself that the post-pandemic patio experience should be enjoyed for what it is, and not built up in our minds too much. Seriously. All year I’ve been thinking PATIO. PATIO. PATIOoooooo. It was my mantra. It was one of the things I missed the most about being on lockdown. I missed the patio experience, but also just simply having the option to hit a patio, know what I mean?

In other news, I went on a wee spending spree in relation to our back deck. I went to Home Depot and bought a new plant and a planter. It was fun driving home! (And by “fun” I mean “not fun at all.”)

Driving home with a plant is not fun

… and here it is, in situ:

New plant for the back deck

I also bought a $50 outdoor candle at Homesense. Please refrain from judgement. I really wasn’t myself that day.

An expensive candle

I admit it’s a terribly expensive candle, but it is hefty, and in a nice pot which can be reused. It has three wicks and shines so brightly I fully expect it to damage my vision. It’s a citronella candle, and it smells like coconuts, which I love. The sad part of this story, other than the fact my wallet is $50 lighter, is that Mark hates the smell of it and I may never get to light it in his presence. Sigh.


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Thanks for sharing your camping adventures. It looks so beautiful and peaceful.
  • a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive Camping 2021: Two great trails at Achray Campground - a peek inside the fishbowl: […] 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 Fa
  • MaryAnn: Bravo and good for you to get out. It is very weird and fun going to places. I get and like your observation that we should just treat going out like
  • andrea tomkins: That's a great idea! I do that too sometimes, but it takes awhile to come back to room temperature so I have to factor in a few hours for that... :)
  • Elizabeth Peters: I make it a day ahead and refrigerate. This way I can pull it out after work and let it come to room temperature.
  • Elizabeth Peters: This has been my go to recipe since I discovered it back in 2013! Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy, I'll add seasoning to the dough!
  • Wanda: Thank you for sharing your inner dialogue. I must admit that I have become nervous about social interaction. It is an awful realization because I alwa

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.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

On the nightstand

All hail the mighty Twitter