Warkworth: An Ontario Hidden Gem Road Trip
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path road trip, pop by Warkworth, Ont. for a visit, a snack and a chat. Photo: ferrantraite/Getty Images
When we bought a crumbling 1888 farmhouse on 100 acres as an escape from the din of Toronto about 10 years ago, little did we know we were entering a deep relationship with a new community. The town of Warkworth is tiny, but layered. Businesses along Main Street — which you can walk in about three minutes — are a combination of new and old, eccentric and quotidian, artsy and odd. Some are run by locals, many of whom descended from the pioneers who started the many family farms in the area. The town is located in the rolling landscape of the Trent Hills municipality of Northumberland County, about a two-hour drive from Toronto, or three hours from Ottawa.
We like to call it the “better” county, situated as it is above the well-known hipster refuge of Prince Edward County. Take my word for it: our county is prettier. Need proof? Check out CBC TV’s recent episode of Still Standing, which takes place entirely on Main Street. Better yet, pop by for a visit, a snack, and a chat. Here are a few great spots to check out.
Warkworth Farm Supply Co-op
You don’t have to be a farmer to pop in, chat about sheep and seeds, buy some local cheese and rubber boots, and maybe put in an order for some chicken hatchlings. The bird seed here is the cheapest around, too. This family run co-op — one of three in the county — is the defacto town hall: the bulletin board tells you all you need to know about what’s going on in the area and you’ll always get some good planting or animal husbandry tips while standing in line. Also, if they don’t have what you need, they’ll happily tell you where to go. To get it, that is. They know everybody.
9 Mill St., Warkworth, Ont., 705-924-9498, campbellfordfarmsupply.com
Our Lucky Stars
Ex-Toronto journalist Elizabeth (Lizzy) Aikenhead fled the Big Smoke 10 years ago after an accidental detour through Warkworth inspired a full-on life change. Her café is ground zero for house-roasted coffee, sandwiches and soups made with local farm ingredients, and the best white chocolate raspberry scone you’ve ever had.
16 Main St., Warkworth, Ont., 705-924-1212, @ourluckstarscafe, ourluckystars.ca
The Village Pantry
Come for the ice cream — from Central Smith Dairy in nearby Peterborough — and stay for the remarkably well-curated selection of kitchen wares, pantry items, foodie gifts, artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. Who knew you could find the finest Spanish tinned seafood in a tiny farm town, and at better prices than Toronto? Holland-born Raquilda van Zoeren has an eye and palate for quality. She’s the force behind many great community initiatives, including the farmers market that occupies the “mews” in front of her store every Saturday (as of Victoria Day weekend).
27 Main St., Warkworth, Ont., 613-921-2604, @thevillagepantrywarkworth, thevillagepantry.ca
Douglas Morlock Blacksmith
As Douglas Morlock likes to say, you don’t go into blacksmithing to get rich. But if you want to learn the coolest trade this side of mixology — and wear a similar apron while doing it — sign up for one of his classes and get set to party like it’s 1699. Just know this: “These aren’t experiences,” he says. You don’t drink wine and gossip while wielding an ingot of molten iron. But you do learn the basics of metal work that will set you on your way to crafting knives, goblets, coat hooks, axes … or something whimsical for the garden. While custom work makes up most of his trade, there are a few pieces for sale at the shop, so do stop by. Note: Classes sell out fast; check out the website for details.
82 Main St., Warkworth, Ont., 226-979-1553, @douglas_morlock_blacksmith, morelockblacksmith.com
Urban Harvest Seeds
Long a fixture at astute farmers markets in Peterborough and Toronto, Urban Harvest has been serving the adamantly organic gardener for 25 years. This season, they open a new HQ, storefront and garden on Main Street in Warkworth. This is the place for seedlings, garden supplies and soil amendments too — and the advice is free.
30 Main St., Warkworth, Ont., 416-523-2236, @uharvest, uharvest.ca
Sper Food & Farm
Any ingredients not grown on Douglas Hope’s farm are sourced from other nearby farms, then lovingly prepared into a dizzying array of dishes, many inspired by his travels around the world as a young lad — his dad was in the army — and from his work on cruise ships where, it seems, he learned to cook just about everything. A small dining room opens weekends only, so book ahead — or order takeout. Eight-course table d’hotel menus change often, with the seasons; and once a month, Hope goes deep on regional cuisines of, for example, the Mediterranean, select parts of India, the Arab states or East Asia.
20 Main St., Warkworth, Ont., 705-559-0038, @sperfoodfarm [no website, but Facebook]
Not far from Warkworth is Tamarack, the accidental farm founded by Nancy and Richard Self in 2014. “Accidental,” because they intended to buy an investment property, and instead doubled-down on several hundred acres of fallow land slated to be a gravel pit. Now they raise heritage flora and fauna in the most intensely environment-friendly manner possible — this farm is one of only 45 worldwide participating in a pilot program to achieve a new “certified regenerative” status. Ontario’s top chefs send their staff here to learn where real food comes from; look for their name on menus at top Ontario restaurants such as Canoe, The Drake Devonshire, Flame and Smith, Pompette, Dreyfus, and The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette winery. A guest house is available for visitors to book, if you are serious about learning about what they do here. But there’s no website. You’ll have to get in touch via email.