By Chris Dalton
Most Valley dwellers have heard of it, and many have walked, run, or biked a section of the beautiful Harvest Moon Trail. This 110 kilometre section of the historic Dominion Atlantic Railway (DAR) winds its way along slow tidal rivers, lush orchards and farms, and quiet backyards of sleepy small towns. From Grand-Pré to Annapolis Royal, the trail boasts a unique perspective on usually hidden beauty.
As a resident of Wolfville, I often use the sections of trail close to home. Friends have biked most of the trail in years past, before it was fully completed. After hearing their reports I wanted to ride the full route in a day to see how long it would take, while assessing the conditions for future rides with others. Another inspiration for my journey was family connection. My great-great-uncle was the first stationmaster at the Wolfville train station, my great-grandfather was a rail bridge engineer for the DAR, and my grandfather was a summer tour guide at the park Grand-Pré (built by the railway) in the 1950s. I know they and their families spent much time on the train, the railway being a primary mode of transportation in Nova Scotia at that time. Biking this path gives me a window into what my ancestors saw and experienced in the past.
I set out at six o’clock on a late June morning on a tired yet reliable hybrid bike, scored by my wife Kate at a yard sale for fifty dollars, and tuned up by my friend John. I was immediately rewarded for my early start with cool morning air, a stunning sunrise, and calm winds. Mist was hanging over freshly mowed hayfields, and bird life was awake with enthusiastic song. Deer grazed beside the Cornwallis River, and pheasants squawked in the tall grasses – all seeming unaware of my passing.
To me, the most memorable part of the ride is how the trail passes through farm fields, and within metres of people’s backyards. You hear the farmers talking, see townsfolk tending gardens, and smell laundry hanging out to dry. It was also peaceful to bike along both the Cornwallis and Annapolis Rivers for a large portion of the ride. I hope to return to one of them for a canoe or kayak before the summer is over.
The Middleton train station made for a good spot to break for lunch. It was a treat to be immersed in the Valley’s countryside, rather than just passing by it at highway speed and in muted air-conditioned comfort. It was all very reminiscent of The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler.
I arrived in Annapolis Royal at half past noon, slightly pained but feeling that it was worth the effort. The ride gave me a broader view and greater appreciation of where I’m from. Time at home is something we’ve all recently had a lot of. The Harvest Moon Trail reminds us that our backyard extends beyond the fence, and to look a little further.