Le Circuit de l’Abbaye – Eastern Township Walk

“Take the Pékan, she said, it’s an intermediate trail, just a few ups and downs, she said. ‘But my bag’…I said pointing to my unusually heavy pack BEFORE I added the water for my overnight. You could always take the road or the bike path, she said, the disappointment radiating off her like a low grade hum. I swear it was.
But it was a short day, and I was a bit concerned about finishing too early…what the hell was I going to do alone in a cabin that sleeps 20.  And I guess I was flattered that one of those young and fit ranger-types thought I would have no problem doing 4,5 k with my stuff…No matter that the route I was following, le Circuit de l’Abbayé, took the bike path, even if few of the other walkers were as loaded down as I was.

The Circuit de l’Abbaye is a 155  km walk through 8 eastern township municipalities, using as its focal point, l’abbaye Saint-Benoit-du-lac on the shores of Lac Memphramagog. Their very complete  website proposes the full 10 day circuit and two 5 day options. Very sensible, but not quite what I had planned. For me, the first day would be around 15 km starting  in the Town of Magog, at the north end of the lake. I could get there by bus, and it is a short km off the prescribed route. I managed to reserve my three nights accommodation the afternoon before getting on the bus. I had planned a weekend off for months, but with the number of calls I was getting for work, that wasn’t going to happen if I stayed in town. I knew a little about the area, having taken a 4 day bike trip through there earlier that year.

The youth hostel in Magog is one of the good ones; calm, clean, excellent (kitchen) facilities so I had a great night before heading off in the morning. Finding the route was easy, and I was tickled when the first sign/blason appeared.  Of course I was following the route; what better plan than to stick to a pre-curated selection of roadways and paths for someone who was just a teeny tiny bit last minute in their preparations.
Well that was (mostly) the plan until I arrived at “Le Cerisier” visitors center in Parc National du Mont Orford and the aforementioned conversation took place. I was already far more loaded than usual for a walk, a whole sleeping bag, and a days worth (ok three days worth) of food; more than my only other similar walk along the Gr78. / Route des bas pyrénées in May 2018 (review to follow).
But the suggested hike was lovely. Through an undulating pine wood, with its needle strewn hush, lovely views across the Cerisier Pond, and a final few km along an abandoned road. There was also an additional 600 m midway to take in the view point, where I ate my lunch, called my friend Phil (the original tripper) for his birthday, and rested my hip(s).
The hips, ya, small problem; my hips hurt. Don’t remember when it  started on day one but it was a definite thing as I started walking up those “few steps” along the trail. It was quite painful as I approached my Refuge where I stopped for the night. I only mention it because it did affect the rest of my trip and explains why I cut it short, but let’s change the subject, back to the Refuge.
These are multi-use huts in the park, with tables, heating, and a 20 person sleeping capacity. They are used during the day as rest-stop for hiker’s, bikers and, in the winter, cross-country skiers and snow-shoers. But people who rent them have exclusive access between 4:00 pm and 9:00 am the next day. And that was me, by myself, after my first day of walking.

Although I was a tad nervous on my way in, alone, in the park, no locks etc., it was one of the highlights. Arriving at 3:30-ish, I chatted with some of the day users; a way to connect with other like-minded people. As they thinned out, I sat outside and read (finished) my book, so that the suggestion of one of the earlier visitors, to figure out how to get some wood for a fire, gave me something to do that evening and night. I had sufficient light had I wanted to read, but the challenge and beauty of the fire was a remembered pleasure – I always made fires when I camped with my kids, even when they couldn’t stay awake for them.

The next day was a longer walk, 27 km, but I was getting even more relaxed with the proposed route. I could cut out a few km, if I didn’t detour into the village – I definitely had enough food for the day and was expecting supper at my BnB. Towards the end, I found another short-cut, maybe only a km, but that reduced my time on the least pleasant road of the walk, Route 112. I was revisiting a portion of the bike trip I took in July; much of the walking that day was along one of the very popular ‘route vert’, the Québec-wide bike trail system. The over-long section in the woods (not so crazy about woods), was broken up by familiar sites.  It was also a treat to move at walking speed along the long ascent and descent of the eastern-most section of la Diligence or Stagecoach road.

The last section of the day was a small road which, after skirting some lovely farm fields, followed the outline of Lac Libby for about 4 km. One could possibly reduce their time by continuing along the highway, but this quiet sidebar, was a relief and a pleasure. My Air BnB, the Hummingbird Retreat was a lovely private home, with an incredibly, comfortable room, bathroom en-suite, and a most gracious and generous host. He not only made me supper and breakfast but drove me to catch my bus home the next day.

About that last day, I had planned to walk, although I would be taking myself further from a bus stop if I continued along the route. I had looked at alternatives, taking off through the region, towards villages where I knew people, and could maybe grab a lift home, or get another bus. In the end, my achy hips pushed me to skip the walking altogether, and grab the morning bus back to Montreal. But that’s ok. It’s just a bus ride away!! And since there will be no Scotland trip for me this spring, ☹ I can easily return and do a couple of days here and there.

I will admit to loving the walking during the fall. Even in the last weekend of September, some of the leaves had started to change. The association which organises the circuit was not active then, because of the overlap with hunting season (see orange hat – the ‘don’t shoot me’ wardrobe). I think it is a missed opportunity. People were still very active on the hiking and biking trails in the park, so why not elsewhere?  There is, in fact, a proposed detour around areas which are used for hunting.

The official season starts on May 1st, and you can already register as a walker with the association. If I can help you with any additional information, or with route planning, contact me through the comments section below, or by email; frances@selfpropelledtravel.com.

Bonne route!

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