By Katharine and Eric Fletcher
Whether it’s a day trip to Fulton's Pancake House, or a weekend’s stay at Almonte’s Burnside B&B, you’ll find lots to do in this wonderful county... just a half hour from Ottawa.
The Belgian horses pulled our happy group of eight visitors through a forest blanketed in snow. Their bells jingled as they willingly hauled us through the drifts.
Above us, a brilliant blue sky made cheerfulness the order of the day and everywhere in the woods, sunlight filtered through the woods surrounding Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush.
It was perfect!
As you might imagine, the country air and thoughts of a steaming hot pile of pancakes is a rather delightful prospect. The Fultons are experts: the pancake house was built in 1969 and it doesn’t appear to be in any danger of closing.
The food -- home made beans, a couple of pancakes, and two simply delectable sausages -- is served promptly and proves delicious. “There are hardly any calories in the syrup,” teases Lorraine Downey, daughter of Shirley Fulton-Deugo, who operate the business as a family venture. A generous dollop of maple syrup marries the flavours perfectly and, with a hot cup of coffee, who could want for more?
The family has been around since the 1840s, when Irish settler John Fulton first harvested the sap flowing through the sugar maple trees on his 400 acre property.
Our Belgian horse chums would have been put to far more work back then. Those were the days that sap buckets were laboriously hooked on the end of spigots tapped into the trees. As the sap dripped out, each bucket needed daily checking.
What a lot of work. Yes, it’s no wonder that “romantic” image is “old-fashioned.”
For today’s Fulton family collect sap using 65 kilometers of plastic tubing from their sugarbush of 6,000 trees. That’s a lot of trees if you’re doing it with buckets, brute strength (your own) and horses.
Part of the fun of going to Fulton’s is learning about not just the history, but the science of “sugaring off” as the collection of sap and production of maple syrup is called.
Trees must be fortysomething before they can be tapped. Okay, so how can you tell the age of a tree without cutting it down and counting the rings? Trees with a 25 cm diameter are roughly forty years old, that’s how.
To produce a good run of sap, the weather must cooperate. Cold nights of -2 to -7 °C and warm days of +2 to +8°C give the best quantity, which can be up to 40 litres of sap -- per tree.
In fact, it takes approximately this amount of sap -- 40 litres -- to make one litre of maple syrup. So that’s why in the “good old days” it was exhausting, hard work.
All this knowledge simply makes us enjoy the product of the Fulton’s labours more. There are lots of goodies to purchase including some pretty maple-inspired pottery.
But Fulton’s is by no means your only treat in Lanark county, about a half hour west of Ottawa. Why not do a loop and stay overnight in Almonte, the Ottawa Valley town named after a Mexican general in the 1860s?
We stayed at the extraordinary Burnside Bed & Breakfast, a Georgian limestone mansion that is, well, immense. Proprietor Howard Campbell grinned and said, “Well, it was only just big enough for our family. Marilyn and I have seven children and when they were young, we also had a German nanny here.”
The home, built in 1840, is a B&B that must be experienced. The dining room, immediately to the right of the main doorway and hall, was the original kitchen and the old fireplace still exists. Ask Marilyn to show you the bake oven hiding behind the butternut paneling beside the fireplace.
The breakfast was wonderful: a frothy mix of cranberry and orange juice followed by a serving of pineapple crunch, pesto-and-corn filled roulades, baguettes with heart-shaped pressed butter, piping hot coffee and even a wedge of tart for dessert.
After a meal such as that, you are set for the day. Perhaps a day of reading, lingering in a cozy chair beside the living room fireplace would be appealing.
Otherwise, if the weather is pleasant, go for a drive. The B&B overlooks the Mississippi River, so you’ll need to cross it and return to Almonte where many delightful shops await. Don’t miss such Almonte classics as the Victoria Woolen Mill built in the 1850s, the 1890 Post Office building, and other heritage landmarks. There is an active artistic community in Almonte: look up as you walk, for several murals are painted on the old walls of the village. While in town, pick up a free copy of “the Humm” a newspaper that details the “Arts, Entertainment and Ideas along the Mississippi River.” Then you’ll be sure not to miss a thing!
Return to Ottawa via Pakenham, where you cross the river again, this time on the only five-span stone bridge in North America. Just recently it has been wired so that it is lit up at night. Quite a spectacle, this wee bit of Scotland in our capital’s backyard shouldn’t be missed.
Only thirty minutes west of Ottawa, Fulton’s can be your only destination or the start to a capital adventure during “sugaring off time.”
If you go
Plan your route according to what your day or weekend activity will be, but if you are heading to Fulton's, simply drive west on Highway 417 from Ottawa. Take the Carleton Place turnoff on highway 7 and, when you arrive at that village turn north on highway 15/29 toward Almonte. If you are stopping at Almonte for the night, head to your B&B (see suggestions below). If proceeding to Fulton’s, simply proceed north on highway 15/29 and turn left (west) onto the Cedar Hill Road. Signs to Fulton’s mark this turnoff clearly and well in advance, and simply follow these signs to your maple syrup adventure. Pakenham is still further north: return to highway 15/29 and turn left. Soon the pretty country road wends finds itself in that village. Return to Ottawa by heading north to Arnprior and then turn right, east, on Highway 17; else be adventurous and turn right on the sideroad 20 to Antrim, then turn right on Highway 17 to Ottawa.
Don’t want to drive? Contact Rocks and Trees, a company that drives individuals or groups up to in comfortable vans on tours of our National Capital Region. For information, contact them at P.O. Box 13, Pakenham, Ontario, K0A 2X0; Tel: 613-624-5752; Fax: 613-624-5750; E-mail: email@example.com; Internet: www.rocksandtrees.com
Lanark County is in Ontario East. Get a great roadmap of this region by calling 1-800-567-3278.
Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush, #291, 6th Concession, RR #1, Pakenham, ON K0A 2X0; Tel: 613-256-3867; Fax: 613-256-2624; Toll-free: 1-888-538-5866; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Internet: www.fultonsfarm.com
Old Burnside B&B, Margaret & Howard Campbell, 218 Strathburn (formerly Hamilton) Street, Almonte Ontario, K0A 1A0; Tel: 613-256-2066; Fax: 613-256-2023; E-mail: email@example.com
Blue Heron B&B, John and Pat Willard, hosts, 98 Martin St. South, Box 33, Almonte, ON K0A 1A0; Tel: 613-256-3747; Fax: 613-256-3717; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Internet: www.bbcanada.com/3311.html Note: we did not stay in this 1850s log home, but friends did & recommended it highly.
Mill of Kintail: RR #1, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0; Tel: 613-256-3610; Fax: 613-256-5087; E-mail: email@example.com; Internet: www.trytel.com/~kintail (open for skiing or snowshoeing only, in March, beside the stream. A great spot to get some fresh air and exercise.)