Balloch Castle Country Park

In mid-July, we took the family to Scotland for almost 2 weeks. After spending a day in the city of Glasgow, we were all anxious to get away from the noise, the crowds, construction and closed streets. Prior to the trip, we had reviewed various hiking options, so on our second day in Scotland we split into 2 groups with one heading to hike Ben Lomond in Loch Lomond Park and the other went off to Conic Hill, also near Loch Lomond.

Since research indicated that Ben Lomond was a 5 to 7 hour hike which was way beyond my capabilities, I went with the Conic Hill group. Deciding not to rent a car, we knew we needed to get a train to Balloch and then a bus to our destination in Balmaha. Once in Balloch, we discovered that we had over an hour before the bus would arrive, but as we walked to the bus station we discovered Balloch Castle Country Park. What a delightful find.

Once we entered the park, we walked along a broad avenue, admiring the various vegetation along the way. We paused to study a small fairy house carved into the remains of a stump. Alongside, this house was another carving of a large acorn. We had to admire the intricate details, right down to the steps, the paneled door and the side window of this little house.

Aware that we had limited time, we decided to head towards the Walled Garden before heading back to the bus station. Along the way, we found a beautiful red and purple Fuchsia. Nearby was another interesting flower that I thought I identified later but my research pulled up a similar flower with a red stalk and this one was clearly green. (Oh well, perhaps additional research will bring up the correct name but not today.)

Soon, we arrived at the Walled Garden. Unfortunately time was short, so we only paused a brief moment before heading back towards the bus station. After 20 minutes or so, we arrived near the park information center in Balmaha. Since it was just about noon, we decided that perhaps we should have lunch at the nearby inn before beginning our journey up Conic Hill.


Summer on the Hosmer Brook Trail

Back in March, when we explored the Camden Snow Bowl’s Hosmer Brook trail on snowshoes, we knew we had to come back and survey the area during the warmer seasons. A perfect, sunny day near the end of June proved to be the right moment for this adventure.

Rounding the rental shack, we began our climb on one of the ski slopes heading up Ragged Mountain.  The area was now covered with daisies and cow vetch, and I even spotted a patch of Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed Grass along the side of the mowed path.

Occasionally, the trail looped off into the woods before quickly returning to the open slop. After meandering along these curves for a short time, we realized that the loops were actually meant for mountain bikes, so we stayed on the straight path until we reached a loop that did not return to the main trail.

Once in the woods we followed the brook for a short period of time. June had been extremely dry this year, so there was very little water running in Hosmer Brook. It had been dry enough that everyone was talking about it and hoping that the area would get a good soaking soon.

We kept climbing until we reached the Hosmer Brook Loop trail, where we decided to walk the circle in a counter-clockwise direction. Along this section of trail, I discovered an Indian Root Cucumber sill in bloom, probably the last one of the season. Further on we also found some flowering Wood Sorrel.

More than halfway around the loop, the trail intersected with another path that would eventually meet up with the George’s Highland Path. The last time we had reached this point, we realized that the uphill adventure on snowshoes had been a bit too strenuous and rather than attempt to reach the summit we would just complete the loop and call it a day. On this day in June, however, we decided to continue on to the George’s Highland Path.

This section of trail continued a steady incline up the mountain. We knew it was somewhat steep based on the number of stops we needed to make to catch our breath, and there were many. We had also come to that point in our lives when we realized that it was far better to slow down the pace and be able to reach our destination than to try to keep up with the younger set and have to bail. This slower pace enabled us to discover things we would not have enjoyed if we just raced to the top. In addition to the wildflowers, I spotted something rather large fly through the woods and land on a distant branch. I focused on that branch for just a few seconds before finding the owl. When I bent down slightly to get a better view through the nearby branches, it amused me to see the owl turn its head and hunch down a little to get a better look at me.

As we continued our upward journey, I began to wonder if I was going to make it to the top. My hip was beginning to bother me but we decided to take as many stops as we needed to try and reach our destination. After some time, we finally reached the ledge and the George’s Highland Path. We sat on the ledge for a bit, enjoying the antics of a pair of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails as we ate our snack. We decided that the summit was beyond our capabilities and headed back down towards the Hosmer trail and home. The summit would have to wait for another day.

Goose River Peace Corps Preserve

Several days after hiking Dodge Point, I decided to drag my husband down to Waldoboro to explore both the Goose River Peace Corps and the Mill Pond preserves. I had delayed too long in investigating these sanctuaries and hoped it wasn’t too late in the season to study the vegetation. It was coming up on the second weekend in June so perhaps there would still be some early wildflowers in bloom.

As we entered the Goose River preserve I noticed that, as in Dodge Point, the flowers were gone from the Eastern Star Flower, and the Canada Mayflower looked a bit shabby. The Wild Sarsaparilla had completely gone to seed as well. But what really surprised me were some of the late bloomers that were so short lived.

For weeks I had been confusing the Lady Slipper with another plant bearing a similar leaf. Each time I pointed out the “Lady Slipper” to my husband, he kept reminding me that a true Lady Slipper had 2 leaves while this one had 4. Hmm. What could it be? After consulting my resources and examining similar plants, I suspected that it might be a Clintonia, also known as a Yellow Blue-bead Lily but I would have to wait for it to bloom. Here it was, one to two weeks after I had seen the leaves, I discovered that many of these blossoms had already gone to seed, but I did find one that confirmed my suspicions; it was a Yellow Blue-bead Lily. Further on in our adventures, I also discovered that the Indian Cucumber Root had also lost its flowers.

I was a little disappointed that many of the spring plants were past their season, but there was still some very interesting things to study during our visit to these two lovely preserves. The forest itself was absolutely lovely, inviting one to just pause and absorb the beauty of nature. Well, pausing long enough to feed the mosquitoes. When my husband had enough of me stopping to admire the views or trying to get the perfect picture, he donned a head net to ward off the swarm.

Soon enough, the path meandered next to the Goose River. The scenery was absolutely stunning and this time we really did have to stop and soak in the beauty of it all. Our travels along the river continued until we reached a little spillway where I stopped to practice some photography techniques on capturing running water. I think they came out well.

Eventually the trail merged with a snowmobile road which looped back towards the entrance of the preserve. Once there we crossed the road to explore the Mills Pond preserve. The path here was a bit narrower than the one we had just left, with the ground vegetation creeping towards the trail. There was plenty of Bracken Fern here, as well as the occasional Lady Slipper. I noticed that the Bunchberry was in full bloom.

It wasn’t long before we reached Mill Pond, where we paused briefly to study the yellow Waterlilies. The trail formed a small loop at this end of the preserve, so our return trip continued along the marshy end of the pond. Very quickly, we reached the road once more, walking the short distance to the car. Our walk had taken less than an hour, covering both preserves, but there had been plenty of opportunities to immerse ourselves in the gifts that nature had to offer.


Dodge Point in Spring

During the first week of June, the weather was cloudy and threatening. Several days of dreary looking days left me in no mood to explore but my hiking partner persuaded me to get outdoors.  I tried to convince my friend that we should explore the Goose River Peace Corp and Mills Pond Preserves. The brochure proclaimed that there was an abundance of spring wildflowers to be found within these two preserves and I was anxious to soak in the beauty of the season before the flowers disappeared. My hiking buddy agreed but first she wanted to return an item to a store that was a bit further south. After thinking about the distance for a bit, I suggested that we hike Dodge Point Preserve instead since it was only 10 minutes from her destination. I would have to visit the Goose River preserve at another time in the very near future before I ran out of spring blossom time.

We had several trails to choose from, once we reached Dodge Point. After studying the map, we decided to begin on the Ravine trail which went down the center of the park towards the Shore Trail. From there we would loop back along the Old Farm Road.

We soon discovered that the Ravine Trail may have been a poor choice. It was pretty dark in this section of the woods and a bit wet. As a result, the flies and mosquitoes were abundant. In fact, it was probably the fastest we had ever moved during any of our adventures. As we rushed along, I noticed an abundance of cinnamon fern, looking rather regal with its tall amber stalk growing up through the middle of the plants. We paused briefly to admire Ice Pond but when the bugs got really annoying we moved on.

Things got better when the path intersected the Old Farm Road. Along this section of the preserve, I noticed that many of the spring flowers were already on their way out and wondered what I would find when I finally got to the Goose River Preserve. The Eastern Star flowers were almost gone, the Canada Mayflowers did not look so white and the Wild Sarsaparilla was beginning to lose its feathery petals. All was not lost, however, since there were new flowers taking their place. We discovered a Jack in the Pulpit hidden in the vegetation and everywhere we looked we found Lady Slippers.

We were only on the Old Farm Road a short time before we turned towards the Shore Trail. This new path would lead us to 3 different beaches along the waterfront; Brickyard Beach, Sand Beach and Pebble Beach. I was a bit puzzled why the area would be called Brickyard Beach until I arrived at the shore. There were red bricks everywhere! The bricks here were so dense that the sand beneath them was not visible. I spied a pile of the red things at the base of some nearby trees. Some visitors had arranged some of them to send a greeting to the adventurers that came after them. Later in the day, I did research this phenomenon and discovered that during the 18th and 19th centuries, brick-making was a common industry along the Damariscotta River. I also found reference to a book by Josh Hanna, called “Pemaquid Peninsula: A Midcoast History” that stated there were 22 brick factories along the river. These kilns on the Damariscotta River fired much of the brick that was used to build Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.

After we finished exploring the beaches, we made our way back towards the Old Farm Road to finish the loop back towards the car. Along the way we noticed hundreds of Lady Slippers. Every time we found one, we would spot several more, deeper in the woods. These discoveries continued until we reached the parking area. It was a beautiful end to an interesting walk.


Solo Hike to Bald Rock Accomplished

In June, I finally accomplished my goal of a solo hike to the summit of Bald Rock Mountain. Although the experienced hiker would not consider this a difficult climb, it has presented some challenges to me. For one thing, my previous solo hikes were always on trails that had been relatively flat. I felt that there were some risks to solo adventures up mountains. There was usually the possibility of roots or stones catching one off guard, which could have resulted in a rather nasty fall. On steeper angles, I have been uncertain of my foot placement during the descent, sometimes just giving up and resorting to the sit and slide method.  And although most descriptions of this trail have called this a “gradual ascent”, I have found myself wheezing on the sudden incline after the Frohock trailhead and again on the incline shortly after turning on to the Bald Rock trailhead just before reaching the stone steps.

On that particular day in June, I decided if I was going to turn my walk up the multi-use trail into a success story of a solo hike I needed to significantly reduce my walking speed. Too often I would start this hike at a pace I could not possibly maintain, leaving me seriously out of breath by the time I made it to the stairs. It was hard but I slowed down to what seemed to be a crawl; slow enough that I was able to make it from the Frohock trail to the mile marker without stopping or wheezing.

Our best time for reaching the Bald Rock Mountain trailhead has been about 25 minutes but with my slower pace I added 5 minutes to that time. The trailhead has been another stopping point for me but I continued on, slowing my pace a bit more in order to make it through the next section that has always given me breathing troubles. I successfully made it to the steps, chose to avoid my 3rd stopping place and marched up the stairs.

At the top of the steps, the trail turned left. I rested here for a minute to catch my breath and to take a few sips of water. As I looked through the trees, I spotted a lone Lady Slipper in a small clearing, the only such flower I had seen on this trail.

From here, the trail would level out a bit before the last section towards the summit. When I reached this last steep portion of the trail I stepped slowly and carefully. This would require even more care on the descent due to the erosion that had occurred over the years. I was almost there.

In a few more minutes, I turned right on to the trail that would take me to the ledge on top of Bald Rock Mountain. I had done it! Ultimately, the trip that usually took us about 50 minutes took me an hour but that didn’t matter. I had decided to reach the summit alone and I had accomplished that goal. Hurray for me! I sat for a few minutes looking out across the water, past the islands below me and the mountains of Acadia beyond that. Then I took one last look at the harbors of Camden, Rockport and Rockland before returning home.