Published: September 5th 2006September 5th 2006
Motorhome News from North America 21.
20th - 31st August 2006 Newfoundland
Gros Morne National Park, Cornerbrook, and back to the mainland; Louisbourg and Cape Breton Highlands
‘The past lies as much in realm of the imagination as does the future.’ Paul Zuker
Another day, another week, another message bringing news of travellers in a far-off land. Ours is not intended to be so much a diary of events, but more an endeavour to capture our observations, our memories and our experiences of the past within the imagination, much as one would in a photograph. The future is the challenge in the hands of the planner, the dreamer - whichever way the stick floats or the wind might blow, the anticipation of another day, another tomorrow. You might have wondered why we should want to share all of this with you.
The decision to leap off the edge of the real world to travel these two continents, Europe and North America for three years was not taken lightly. It would mean leaving behind our loved-ones, the brick walls of home, the security of routine and forces of habit. So, this blog, as with many before and
some to follow, is our link, an opportunity for us to throw the painter ashore and touch the land we like to call home. It aims to maintain our contact with family and friends, all of whom we miss from time-to-time and remember often. It enables us to share our joys and sorrows, our travels and adventures, and invites you to pick up your bags and follow in the steps of John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, Laurie Lee - or the grey-haired-nomads should that be your wish. As an aside, it is also good discipline for anyone with aspirations of authorship to practice the art of pen on paper.
This is our fourth week on Newfoundland and some would say we have saved the best till last. For many, the island highlight is Gros Morne National Park, facing west across the watery Gulf of St Lawrence towards Quebec. Its great mountains are of Lake District proportions, in stark contrast to the shallow shorelines across the northern coast. Unlike the Lakes however, the hiking trails are limited by dense forest at lower levels and there are few dwellings, but it does rain a lot here too, on average once every two
Gros Morne National Park
Geology lesson with Fred at Green Point
days, and the barren hilltops are often swathed in heavy cloud. The Park was calling us from the hilltops, ‘come walk the trails and breathe the air in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, seek its outstanding geology, flora and fauna’.
The only way to discover the hidden secrets of Gros Morne is on foot. Bright morning sunshine prompted our first walk, two miles from the sun soaked sea to a magnificent inland lake at inaptly named Western Brook Pond. Rugged 2,000ft granite-mountains thrust vertically into the vast lake where boat trips take tourists (including us) along the 10 mile waterway. Once a great fjord, the fresh water lake is now separated from the sea by shallow marsh and bog. Characteristically, unpredictable mountain weather brought leaden clouds to the black peaks, turning to rain as our voyage progressed. It happens. In many ways, the dark skies and wind-lashed grey waters enhanced the drama of the scene; a prison cell of sombre black walls dripping with rushing waterfalls, a leaden cave devoid of sunlight save a shaft of yellow on the high hills, and a thrashing swell set to drown our gallant crew. Spectacular and unforgettable!
A long trail leads
to the top of quartzite Gros Morne Mountain, 2,800ft of steep climbing on a well-worn path through black spruce forest to the open tundra. Our walk started in cool overcast conditions and we went prepared for rain. An hour out, sheltered from any breeze by trees, we were beaten back in extreme temperatures and humidity as the sun reached its zenith. That’s mountain weather. As experienced hikers, we always carry the necessities for survival; water, rain-gear, snacks, map and compass etc, but there comes a point at which one has to decide between pleasure and stupidity. None-the-less, let’s try to be positive, the exercise was rewarding. Who’s complaining - we’re on holiday, aren’t we?
And then there’s Green Point just up the road, a delight for every budding geologist, particularly in the company of Fred, ex-primary schoolteacher and park guide set loose to do what he’s good at without the puppet strings of bureaucracy and politics. Fred, his straggly beard and unkempt hair bunched in a knot, his bright eyes sparkling with the excitement of a naughty schoolboy, held us spellbound with his quick-fire humour and keen knowledge of this world-class geological site. Geology is one of those fascinating
subjects I know little about, but thirst for more now I’m a grown up. How much do you know? Well, there’s enough geology here to fill a library. There’s a 30 million year record of sedimentary accumulation from the depths of the Lapetus Ocean, lifted from the sea floor and overturned at right angles - oldest to the right and youngest, (with graptolites, early life forms portrayed in fine pencil lines) to the left. The layers are laid out along the shore as a long line of history books, 50 metres of sedimentary layers, each metre representing 60,000 years! Believe me, I’m no geologist, but take my word for it, the world is not likely to come to an end for the next week or two. We were spellbound, captivated by the sheer wonder of the place. There was more to come.
A short way across Bonne Bay, on the south side of the Park, the Tablelands raise their flat tops into the clouds high above broad U-shaped glacial valleys. We were tying our boots in the car park when Kevin, one of a team of roving Park Guides arrived. He looked around in the hope of finding someone
to talk to. “Fancy a guided walk?” he asked. “Not-arf,” we cried in unison - in our best English accent. Kevin helped us out with a fascinating geology lesson on the half hour up-hill walk. Without his help we might well have missed the significance of the landscape. On one side, the barren golden brown of soft peridotite, eroded by glaciers and sculpted by wind, frost and rain - and on the other in contrast, harder rock, gabbro, grey, flora-covered and forested. Amongst the rocks and scrubby undergrowth we discovered serpentine rock and a wonderful array of rare flora, carnivorous purple pitcher plants, butterworts and claret sundews sparkling in the sun.
Now, the bad news. Nay - the very bad news. With much regret my short but challenging fishing career is over. It was never going to be a great success story, but it has been cut short by circumstances. By circumstances, I really mean catastrophes - with my new rod and tackle. I cast a lure for mackerel from the pier on my first outing and then discovered the new reel had jammed. It took twenty minutes to rewind the line by hand, and I retired in some
embarrassment past others, more expert, on the dock. Disaster struck again even before reaching the water on my next excursion. Having assembled the fibreglass rod outside, I brought it inside the motorhome to attach the line, sinker and hook, before heading for the river. On the step, I closed the door behind me - trapping the rod-tip in the door and breaking off the top three inches! No problem, it would still work, but forget any thoughts of fly-fishing! A third try in the fjord at Lomond (it is rather like a loch) was looking better. A few good casts off the pier gave me an air of confidence, a true professional at work, casting and reeling, casting and reeling. Then, a splash, in deep water some yards ahead - a leaping fish perhaps, that two-pounder I’d dreamed of, thrashing on the line, reel spinning, rod tip arched like a rainbow over the water. It was not to be. The splash was the handle of my smart new reel, there below me, unscrewed and unattached - in six feet of clear sparkling water. I guess the constant shaking on Newfoundland roads had worked it loose. ‘Such is life’ as they
say in France.
A monument to Captain James Cook RN stands high above Cornerbrook, Newfoundland’s second largest town, surrounded by graffiti-smothered rocks and a chain-link fence in drastic need of a repaint - and an aerial view of the steaming clouds rising from the local pulp factory. Capt Cook apparently came here to chart the island in 1763 before trying his luck in the Pacific. Not that it was particularly good luck as it happened! The Cornerbrook Tourist Information office was most helpful, guiding us on the speediest route out of town to prettier places like Lark Harbour and Blow Me Down. It didn’t - and we live to tell the tale.
Newfoundland has many moods and most we have seen. It’s ever-changing economy continues to stretch the placid nature of its people, its weather swings with every hour of every day, and clusters of wooden houses hang precariously to life around its shores as the rape of rich cod fisheries takes its toll.
We shall remember the east for the birds and offshore islands, the delightfully faded streets of St John’s and for the music and characters of the Folk Festival.
We shall remember the
northerly coast for its friendly people and its attractive fishing villages, bravely facing the future with energetic faith in tourism.
We shall remember Gros Morne for its spectacular mountains and powerful skies. There are clouds along the westerly coast to captivate the finest of landscape artists, a jigger’s soup of light and shade. Put down your easel just there by the rocks and brush a pastel blue wash on the canvas. Add a touch of bottle-top cream on low clouds racing by on the wind, capture the energy of bright cumulus crowding the sky in the evening sun, the white of Monday’s new-washed sheets and slate grey for the clouds hanging over the mountain. Harness the dark power of Thor at his anvil - and highlight the shaft of sunshine there on the mountain to the east. Here, too you can reflect the light of island skies on watery horizons, sparklingly fresh, dazzling the morning seascapes from our campground by the sea, the eye-scorching white of a welder’s torch as sun hits water where sky meets the sea.
And we shall remember special moments on this land of yesteryear. A spark of archaeology has captured our interest. Live
folk music, the joy of the fiddle, the tap, tap, tapping of feet and clap, clap, clapping of hands reminding us once again of our love of islands, their people and their peace - born of remoteness from the true world beyond.
Afraid to linger lest long miles of tree-lined roads and coastal scenery should start to bore, we upped-sticks one bright morning and headed for the ferry, for no other reason than it was time to go. It’s 100miles across the water to that other island, six hours to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia.
Out to the east of Cape Breton lies the town of Louisbourg, our first port of call. On the same latitude as Brittany, Louisbourg was once an important French fishing community, heavily fortified at the harbour entrance to protect their fishing interests. The French were deported back to their homeland following their second defeat here at the hands of the British, seeking to reinforce their territories along the west coast in the struggle for control of North America. The fortress was finally sacked on the orders of British Prime Minister, William Pitt. In more recent years the town suffered a further
setback when local coal mines stretching out seven miles beneath the Ocean, all but closed in the 1960’s. Government funds supported the rebuilding of a large part of the French fortress in an effort to provide employment and encourage long-term tourism, a truly enterprising project of enormous proportions, retraining miners with the skills necessary to faithfully restore a large part of the fortress. Coal mining came to a complete end in 2001, adding to the ranks of unemployed and distressed cod fishermen. The restored fortress is now a well-matured and successful attraction providing continuing employment for maintenance tradesmen, guides and costumed interpreters and an enlightening experience for history loving travellers like us!
Way to the north The Cabot Trail winds its way around Cape Breton Highlands, pointing north easterly into the Atlantic Ocean with a National Park at its extremity. We had wonderful walks along the east coast of the peninsula, looking out over silver seas and heavenly skies, beyond pink granite rocks and exotic strawberry-pink sand beaches beyond belief. To the north lay broad valleys and gorges forged from ancient faults, tree-covered hills of birch, white spruce, black crowberry and juniper and footpaths soft underfoot on beds of
peat and spruce needles, spread with a matting of golden fir cones. The western tip found us hiking the Skyline Trail, high above the precipitous winding road in stiff winds, steep sided mountains sweeping down to the sea where a school of pilot whales circled, frenziedly fishing just off-shore.
Every few miles, at any time of the day, there’s another lady in lycra and headphones power walking or jogging along beside the road - usually miles from nowhere, going somewhere. Washing machines, dishwashers, frozen meals and microwave ovens, poor soil in the vegi-patch and off the peg sweaters from Sears Catalogue have clearly given them all too much time to spare, and anyway, it’s probably forty miles to the nearest gym. In reality, the old crafts of the Maritimes are still very much alive in these parts, quilting, hooked rugs, pottery and woodwork. A lonely young lady sat at the desk in the campground office as we left early one morning. She was using three needles and some startlingly colourful wool in equally startling patterns. Memories of mother sparked me to remark, “Are you knitting a pair of socks?” She stopped and looked up. “I’ve not tried this before,
The real Nova Scotia
Which tartan, madam?
but yes, it is one sock!” There is yet some modest hope that television has not totally destroyed society here.
The westerly coast of the peninsula is in the hands of the Acadians, their stella maris flags, the red, white and blue tricolour of France with the prominent star, waving proudly on the wind, their freshly painted timbered houses on acres of tidy gardens and newly mown grass. Some Acadians, who refused to swear allegiance to Britain, were allowed to resettle here after 1755.
There’s no such problem with the Scots along the Ceilidh Trail further south. Here in great numbers, the Fergusons, McKinnons and McLeods, live contentedly in tiny hamlets fondly named, Glencoe, Inverness and Glengarry - and the menu in the local coffee shop proclaimed, ‘Croc na Smuain,’ Gaelic for something or other, alongside the #2 breakfast. Well, this is Nova Scotia after all. We didn’t order the croc na smuain or the oatmeal for breakfast - and we were there on the wrong night for the Ceilidh. Beside the road, a big male moose stood in shallow water lunching on sweet lilies, seemingly unconcerned by the line of inquisitive drivers causing mayhem on the highway. Our
moose count now totals 16, including two males - plus one very dead one, hit by a car. Road signs constantly warn of the danger of moose on the roads, particularly at dawn and dusk.
Winnie is due in Halifax tomorrow for the toilet to be fixed. With luck and a good following wind the spares will be there. We’ll cover the miles on the highway, it’s quicker and with fuel suddenly down from $1.24 to $1.01 (46p per litre) miles suddenly become less important. Whilst there, we’ll call in to see Don and Anne to return their books, collect our mail and enjoy their company for a brief moment or two. From Halifax we will travel a few miles south along the coast to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg, those picture-book villages by the sea on everyone’s Nova Scotia holiday hit list. See if you can find them on the map. The plan is to sit around for a few days, poodling around, reading a bit, catching up on this and that, watching sunsets and pretending to be Michelin restaurant examiners in some of the local eateries.
This is Labour Day weekend, but hopefully most of the tourists
will be long gone, preparing for back to school next week. Tomorrow is also a very special day for the grey-haired-nomads. Our three year motorhoming trip started in Europe two years ago on the 1st September 2004, as we crossed the Channel to Calais. There will be celebrations aplenty! Just one year to go, so we can't hang around. We've got an awful lot of North America to see yet!
David and Janice. The grey-haired-nomads