No matter which side of the recent name controversy you are on, regarding Victoria Day weekend, it’s still one of the best holidays. I say the best, because it’s summer’s kick-off long weekend. It’s a time to get out and enjoy whatever it is that you like to do in warm weather. For gardeners this was the weekend to do some serious planting. It was the first weekend of the season for campers, with many parks opening, including our own Elora Gorge Park. This was the weekend that we all really love when the weather is warm and dry.

The shallow waters of the Irvine River are an inviting place to play, all summer long.

The shallow waters of the Irvine River are an inviting place to play, all summer long.

One extremely enjoyable activity for the holiday, and for any warm summer day, is spending a leisurely afternoon in the part of the Elora Gorge with the Irvine River flowing through. With easy access for most, by climbing down the stairs in Victoria Park, this is a very popular spot. The water is shallow and cool – perfect for wading and chasing minnows. There are trails along both sides of the river, depending on whether or not you’d like to get your feet wet. The caves are cool on a hot day, provided you don’t mind a bit of a climb. Can anyone resist the photo-op of the cave with the window?

The steep, mucky climb is worth it just for a look out the hole that forms a window in the wall of the one cave in Elora's Irvine Gorge.

The steep, mucky climb is worth it just for a look out the hole that forms a window in the wall of the one cave in Elora’s Irvine Gorge.

Flat rocks for climbing line the edge of the gorge.

Flat rocks for climbing line the edge of the gorge.

While Victoria Park, above the gorge, was busy with picnickers enjoying the use of the tables, there were also many people camped out for lunch on some of the large rocks that dot the river. The weather was absolutely perfect for most activities in the gorge, all weekend.

This isn’t the part of the gorge for kayaking and tubing. The Grand River is deeper and has better flow for such activities. The Irvine Gorge is for those who want a slower pace – unless you are one of the folks who signs on for rappelling down the cliff or zip-lining across. This is the gorge where you can search for fossils and identify plant species. Just how many different kinds of moss are down there? Time slows down and begs you to stretch out on a large rock and just soak up nature. This is the part of the gorge where everything seems serene. One can completely unwind here.

Everyone wants to puddle in the shallow water of the Irvine River in Elora.

Everyone wants to puddle in the shallow water of the Irvine River in Elora.

The Irvine Gorge is one of my favourite places, because it has always called me to play. I went down with friends when growing up, just as my parents did. Now my son goes down with his friends. You can spend an entire afternoon playing in the water and lazing in the sun. Or, you can take an ambitious hike upstream, then back again. You never know what you will see. Be sure to look up, occasionally. You may see a bald eagle gliding overhead. Take care in early spring if you choose to hike upstream. The geese are nesting and are very protective of their offspring.

Search the rocks in the Irvine Gorge for fossils.

Search the rocks in the Irvine Gorge for fossils.

I have always enjoyed looking for fossils. As an ancient sea bed, the gorge is loaded in marine fossils. Walking with my head down is the only way to go. I’m always looking to see something new. It’s an activity that I never tire of. Having a phone with a camera on it makes the
search even better. I can take photos at any time. It’s easy to understand how some of the fossils could have been made. Just look at the muck at the edge of the water. How similar was it so very long ago?

The trees seem to cling to life on the walls of the Irvine Gorge in Elora, Ontario

The trees seem to cling to life on the walls of the Irvine Gorge in Elora, Ontario

It’s also fascinating to look at the trees that cling to the walls and plants that grow out of the cracks in the stone. So many seem to grow of nothing. When you see the uprooted trees and their sparse root systems, it’s difficult to imagine how anything could grow in such an environment, but it does.

Gorgeous ferns growing out of the rocks in the Elora Gorge.

Gorgeous ferns growing out of the rocks in the Elora Gorge.

We all need to take time to slow down, on occasion. Even if it is just for an afternoon. The Irvine Gorge is one of the many fabulous spots in Elora to relax and unwind. Of course, this is a natural environment that should be enjoyed with care. It’s a steep climb down into the gorge and a steep climb back up, again. Safety should always be considered.

A tree root has lost its soil and has been bleached by the sun.

A tree root has lost its soil and has been bleached by the sun.

The water has tempted a visitor to leave footwear behind.

The water has tempted a visitor to leave footwear behind.

Hiking trail that leads from the stairs in Irvine Gorge.

Hiking trail that leads from the stairs in Irvine Gorge.

The Grand River has deeper water for Kayaking.

The Grand River has deeper water for Kayaking.