by Gael Hannan –
Horth Hill is one of the jewels of the Saanich Peninsula. Other hikes may have more lookouts, or may be longer, harder or easier, but locals love their Horth, addicted to its quirky paths and stunning trees and rocks.
Hikers and dog-walkers can enter Horth from many side streets such as Hillgrove, Wilson and Hedgerow, but you may have to look closely for the unmarked entrances. From where I live on Wain Road, it’s a level 1.4 km hike along a forest path that starts at the east end of Clayton Avenue and ends at Horth Hill’s entrance on Tatlow Road. A round trip, including a 2km hike on the Hill itself, is almost 5km – a pleasant, scenic workout.
Named after the Horth family which settled here in the mid 1800s, this monadnock (an isolated, erosion-resistant hill rising above a plain) has an elevation of 136 metres. If you think that doesn’t sound too strenuous, I suggest taking the Sunset Bridle trail up the west side of the park for a good workout of your quads and hamstrings. Even more exhilarating is the steep twisting private gravel path going up the east side that takes panting hikers into the park. After this climb, the other trails are a walk in the park.
For less strenuous hikes – pick a trail, any trail. If you think that you’ve already “done Horth,” why not shake up your route a little? Walk in the opposite direction next time for a new perspective on the same trees and rocks. Many of the smaller trails aren’t marked on the map. Where do they go? They may seem to go up or down – but do they? Find out for yourself.
Hiking Horth is a quiet experience with only the sound of your own footfalls and breathing – and birds. With hearing loss, I can’t identify bird calls, so I asked a fellow who was passing me if he knew what that cawing bird was, hoping it was an eagle. He listened and said, before walking off, “chickens.” I haven’t trusted a bird sound since then.
Last winter Horth Hill became the epicentre for royalty-spotting; Megan and Harry had discovered the joy of Horth. I’ve never seen the parking lot so consistently full. Although I kept my eyes peeled for them, I’d decided that should I come face to face with M & H, I would stay cool, give a discreet nod and walk on. “Another awesome Canadian,” I imagined them saying.
These days, what you should be on the lookout for are the trails’ protruding roots and rocks that seem innocent but can trip you up by toe or heel. Poles are useful for navigating and for leaning upon if you need to catch the view – and your breath.
Photos by Gael Hannan