Walking in Stanley Park (and memories of Cinque Terre)

Since Sunday dawned sunny and rain was expected Monday, we decided to spend the day walking, getting in shape for our upcoming trip. Ty, Brubin and I departed from downtown, and, after a filling breakfast patio-side at the Red Umbrella on Davie, headed for the trails in Stanley Park.

One thing Brubin loves is rolling in the grass; not just any grass, though, it has to be of a particular length and consistency – this lawn near the tennis courts satisfied his exacting criteria.

We walked down the paved path and through the tunnel towards the forest past the lagoon, stopping on a small wooden footbridge to admire the just about gone iris blooms.

From the Parks Board account of the Park’s history: “In 1886, Vancouver’s first City Council made a momentous decision by petitioning the Federal Government to lease 1,000 acres of a largely logged peninsula for park and recreation purposes. On September 27, 1888 Stanley Park was officially opened establishing the fledgling city’s first official “greenspace”. … Yearly visits to this, North America’s third largest urban core park, are estimated at eight million people. Originally home to Burrard, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations people, Stanley Park as you see it today was not one designer’s grand scheme but more an evolution of a pioneer city’s hopes and dreams; a place for its citizens to recreate themselves through active sport or passive repose.” Who knew that by walking these trails the three of us were recreating ourselves through active sport and passive repose …

There are 200 kilometers of trails and roads in the Park, including the 10 km round the Park seawall and the myriad trails through the forested heart of the Park, primarily second and third growth Douglas Fir, Red Cedar, Hemlock and Spruce trees.

During a terrible storm on Dec 15, 2006 115 km gale-force winds destroyed much of the forest; throughout our walk, we saw many downed trees with their enormous roots exposed; now these root systems provide homes for many species of wildlife, especially insects and birds.

Along with the living trees are enormous so-called “widow-makers”, gigantic dead trees the collapse of which pose a threat to human safety.

Some anonymous joker saw the potential in this fallen log, transforming it with a few rocks and branches into a park crocodile.

We were amazed to see all the tiny ferns that have been proliferating in the open space left after the destruction of the gigantic trees during the 2006 windstorm.

Some of these trees are absolutely enormous; here Ty and Brubin demonstrate the scale of one great Red Cedar.

The area around Prospect Point, and west to Third Beach, was the part of the park most heavily damaged, with about 40% of the trees ruined, including the gigantic Hollow Tree, now only a shell of its former grand self. It’s really amazing to see one or more new young trees growing out of the stumps of the dead.

Along with ferns, another species of plant looks to be flourishing in the open sunlight in the absence of tall trees in this area; we guessed that it’s an invasive species but don’t know its name.

Many species of animal live in this urban forest, including the pilliated woodpeckers, whose traces can be seen here.

From Prospect Point West Vancouver can be seen in the distance.

A memorial has been erected as a thank you to those individuals and companies who contributed millions to the Stanley Park restoration project.

The difference between the pre- and post-storm Prospect Point area is significant; where formerly the area was surrounded with a dense canopy of trees, now it’s open and more light-filled; here you can see Lion’s Gate Bridge and the North Shore. I was surprised to see a sign warning “rabies” with a picture of a racoon attached to the chain-link fence here.

After a pause at the Prospect Point cafe for ice-cream, we made our way down through the trails to Third Beach (and I kept a close eye out for any racoons headed our way) where we enjoyed the sunny beach, then to Ferguson Point, with a short snooze under a shady tree, back past Second Beach and through the beautiful still-blooming Grieg Rhododendron garden, into and through the West End back to our pad.

By the end of this five hour 15 km walk my feet were a bit tired but we all thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to more in the future.

See more pictures here.

More information about Stanley Park here.

Stanley Park maps here.

We love to take day-long walks and have done so often while overseas. One of the most interesting has been the five fishing villages of the Cinque Terre on the north-west coast of Italy, a walk that is now very popular and busy during the spring and summer months. While in Italy in May of 2006 Ty and I did this hike over a long weekend. Since the accommodations in the villages are usually booked up quite far in advance, I made a reservation at the La Spiaggia (Beach) Hotel in Monterosso, the most northerly and largest town, for our stay. It’s also the only town with a real, albeit rocky, beach.

After having taken the train from Florence, transferred at La Spezzia, after having run in great haste from one platform to another and just barely caught the crowded train to Monterosso before it pulled out, we arrived intact at the hotel where proprietor Andrea greeted us with a lovely glass of the local vintage which we enjoyed in the hotel’s tiny lobby while waiting for our room to be ready. (When Andrea found out that I taught at what was then Malaspina University-College, he regaled me with stories about the Malaspina family and their exploits and continues to send me Christmas cards to this day).

Our room, while very small, was serviceable and had a nice view of the beach and coastline on which we’d walk in the coming days.

From the CinqueTerre. org website here’s the description of Monterosso: “Monterosso al Mare is the most western town of the Cinque Terre. The village is protected by hills covered with vineyard and olive groves. Monterosso has beautiful beaches, steep rugged cliffs and crystalline waters. The Aurora tower, on the hill of San Cristoforo, divides the old medieval hamlet, from the new part of the village, developed along the Fegina beach. Old Monterosso is dominated by the ruins of the castle and characterized by typical tower-houses crossed by the “carruggi”, narrow medieval streets”.

We enjoyed wandering the narrow streets and sampling the cappuccinos in the town’s central piazza. Morning saw us up and out the door,

on the path and hiking up and then down again through beautiful terraced vineyards and olive groves to Vernazza, where we explored the harbour-side church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia and enjoyed some food and drink in the small square overlooking the harbour.

The next day we headed south on the train to Riomaggiore, the village furthest away, having decided to walk the rest of the route from that starting point.

Of course, before any actual walking can be done, many cups of cappuccino must be consumed, here on a terrace overlooking the sea.

All of these small towns are beautiful, with multi-coloured pastel houses hugging the hillsides and a profusion of vegetation.

From the terrace we could see the first part of the footpath below, the “Lovers Walk”, an easy paved stretch along the rocky hillside.

The tunnel’s walk is heavily graffiti’d with text and pictures in a babel of languages from visitors worldwide.

Along the tunnel’s extent we were serenaded by a couple of buskers, one of whom was excellent.

After stopping for a drink in Manarola’s seaside piazza, we clambered up the other side to the cemetery of the church of San Lorenzo, a quiet sanctuary.

The footpath to Corniglia is narrower and longer than the Lovers Walk,

ending with a hike up 377 steps to the hill-top village, where we sampled some of the vino for which the town is famous.

Between Corniglia and Vernazza the hike is a rugged up and down through terraced vineyards and gigantic aloe bushes and cacti.

After a day-long 15 km walk we enjoyed a dinner on one of Monterosso’s back streets and the lively Lemon Festival.

See more pictures here.

More info about the Cinque Terre here.

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