If I say the word ‘cave’ with no further context, what comes to mind?
Words and photos by Zak Erb
If you’ve spent time exploring the Niagara Escarpment in Grey and Bruce counties, perhaps you’re picturing one of the many networks of fascinating caves that call our counties home. There’s certainly no shortage of them around these parts, and each presents its own allure. Each offers something different to both a casual and seasoned caver, and since beach days are behind us, there’s no better time than now to get out and explore these incredible geologic features.
Bruce’s Caves are found off Grey Road 1, just outside of the beautiful, if minute, hamlet of Oxenden. It is said that Robert Bruce, the hermit namesake, and former resident of these caves, once charged a small fee to visit his caves. Now the small fee ($6 for parking) is collected by the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority and can be paid using your cell phone—Robert never had it so good. The caves, easily accessed via a short hike on a well worn trail, are one of the most spectacular examples of shore caves (formed by relentless pounding of waves) found on the Escarpment. The first cave features an arresting hourglass column as well as a back entrance for the adventurous. Continue along the base of the escarpment to find an impressively deep and dark second cavern.
If Bruce’s Caves have not satisfied your caving itch you’re in luck. Grieg’s Caves, a 30 minute drive north into Bruce County, are more than capable of scratching that itch. These caves are privately owned and open until Thanksgiving. When the caves were first opened to the public in the 1960s there was an admission fee of $1 per car, now, almost 60 years later, the fee sits at just $10 (cash only) for an adult. I challenge you to find a better way to spend $10 in 2018. There are 10 caves to explore and they are glorious. These too are shore caves formed some 8,000 years ago by infinite waves striking the rock face. The history of these caves is humbling. Find yourself standing underneath thousands of tonnes of limestone, then, imagine an incomprehensibly massive glacier slowly receding over millennia, leaving its meltwater behind to patiently chisel out the massive cavern which surrounds you.
Rich history and stunning caves are not the sole purview of the Bruce Peninsula, and no location in Grey County speaks more to this fact than the Scenic Caves. Having existed as a tourist attraction since the 1930s, Scenic Caves are easily the most developed of our caving locations. Access to the caves (and other amenities, including the incredible suspension bridge) runs $25 for an adult and is worth every penny.
Scenic Caves boasts an impressive selection of crevices and caves, all accessed by a short, if steep, uphill climb. Before European settling, this area was home to Tionontati, or Petun natives, and their history lies heavy upon the land. Of particular note is Ekarenniondi, “the rock that stands out”, a sacred landmark. Explore the crevices, pay respect to their indigenous history, and be sure to take in the stunning view of Collingwood from the suspension bridge.
Metcalfe Rock is the final entry on our list of caving destinations, and before going any further I’ve a couple of things to mention; each of the previous locations requires stable, closed toe footwear and steady legs, as cave rocks are often very slick and can be unstable. Caving at Metcalfe demands further preparation. Two reliable flashlights, warm clothing, and a buddy are the bare minimum. Remember that despite conditions on the surface, temperatures in the caves can support ice year round.
Consider touring with a guide, such as those at Free Spirit Tours your first time out. Once you’ve addressed safety concerns you’re all set to have an unbelievable time at Metcalfe. Access the caves via the short Metcalfe Crevice side trail, which lies a short way from the parking area off 10th line. Prepare yourself for dirty clothes and get exploring. This network of crevices gives access to truly spectacular, often claustrophobic caves formed over millennia by the expansion of freezing water.
Damp, dark, and altogether majestic, these caves will wow you. However, there’s much more to this area than just caving, so if squeezing through damp, chilly rocks isn’t quite your thing, come on out all the same. You won’t regret it. I recently forced my dad bod through these caving locations and I simply can’t recommend them enough. Take a crack at “Fat Man’s Misery” at Scenic Caves, enjoy the stunning colours of fall from Metcalfe Rock, ask the patient gatekeeper at Grieg’s Caves for that sweet 1962 pricing, and see if you can guess where Robert Bruce laid down his sleeping mat at Bruce’s Caves. Look for me in the caves, I’ll be the dummy stubbornly angling a big tripod through the crack. I’ll have dirt on my hands, gear on my back, and a huge smile on my face.|E|