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Published: September 6th 2011
Why Grand Manan?
I will never forget our first trip to Grand Manan
. When we boarded the ferry
in Blacks Harbour
it was drizzly, foggy and cold; it was the same for most of the one-and-a-half-hour ferry trip to the island. We had planned to stay for two days, and decided that if the weather did not improve, we would spend the night, and then be on our way. As I wrote in my journal, "It was foggy for most of the way, but we did get to see some dolphins en route. When we approached Grand Manan, the island appeared to be shrouded in fog, but actually, on the island, it was clear and sunny...;" somewhat reminiscent of the Tempest, as we approached Grand Manan, we passed through a wall of fog and there, like Prospero's island, emerged Grand Manan in the sunlight. It was love at first sight. That was eighteen years and three trips ago. At this point the only thing we wonder about is why we have only visited Grand Manan four times in eighteen years.
Our first visit was in 1993. We enjoyed it so much that we rearranged the rest of our vacation so that we could
M/V Grand Manan
M/V Grand Manan approaching Grand Manan Island
stay for an extra day. After that, we did not return for another seven years, 2000. Once there, we could not understand why we waited so long to return. Then, inexplicably, we did not return again until 2010; sometimes life and other travel just get in the way. We have now visited two years in a row and hope to make this an annual event. As we've spent time on the island we have met others who have made visiting Grand Manan an annual event, or who, after just one visit, have gotten the bug and decided to return again next year. So, what is it that makes Grand Manan special? I will go into more detail about what there is to see and do, but what we like is that Grand Manan is that it is not at all touristy, it is a "real place." It is an island where people live and work; we tourists are there and contribute to the summer economy, but we are not the central focus of the island.
Staying on Grand Manan
For the last two years we have rented one of the two Cottages in the Cove
from Peter and Marilyn Cronk. The website
tells most of the story. Both cottages are lovely, have full kitchens, and now offer WiFi. In addition Peter and Marilyn are organic farmers and one of the perks of renting from them is free access to the produce for use in your meals. These cottages are highly recommended, just don't make a reservation for the week we want to be there.
For our first two visits we stayed at Laura Buckley's Inn at Whale Cove Cottages
. Laura has rooms in the main house and several cottages. She is also a fine chef and serves dinner seven days a week from June to October. As we have not stayed here for ten years, I can't personally provide any commentary, but those we met who have stayed there seem to like it and return year after year.
There are other accommodations listed on the Grand Manan website,
but I don't have any first hand knowledge about them.
Eating on Grand Manan
This is one area where we are a bit short of knowledge, as we generally bring our own food and self-cater. Here are a few places we do know. First is the North Head Bakery
. The bakery produces absolutely delicious breads, cookies and pastries. You must
Cottages in the Cove
visit the bakery when on Grand Manan. The only negative about the bakery is that it is closed on Sunday (the day we normally arrive and leave) and on Monday, meaning we typically need to wait two days to be able to enjoy their products. We have also purchased steamed lobsters from Fundy House, located on Route 776 (the main drag) just a bit northeast of Seal Cove. On one of our rainy days we had lunch at the Compass Rose
. The food and service were both good, and the dining room has a nice view of the water. Also, as I said earlier, Inn at Whale Cove Cottages
serves dinner. We haven't eaten there in years, but reports are that the food is still quite good. After a busy day, we have always found it to be very relaxing to have afternoon tea at the Harrington Cove Tea Room, just north of Seal Cove, where you can sit on the porch, or outside, and enjoy tea and delicious scones, while looking out over the water.
What to do on Grand Manan
While visiting Grand Manan we usually plan an outdoor vacation. This year we had two rainy days. We spent several very pleasant
hours on one of the rainy days wandering around the Grand Manan Museum.
The museum is like Dr. Who's TARDIS
, larger on the inside than the outside. The museum provides insights into the island's history, geology, industries, and gives an overall view of life on the island, and the island's culture. We had never been to the museum before, and were glad to have had the time to visit. The museum also offers various types of evening programs, just check the sign out front as you drive by, or check cable channel 10
for information on this as well as on other happenings on the island.
For the last two years, we have taken trips to other islands in the Grand Manan archipelago with the Grand Manan Historical Society
. One nice aspect of these trips is that few of the participants are tourists, most are local residents, some of whom are visiting these islands for the first time and some of whom know the islands well and are more than happy to tell you about the history, sometimes from a personal perspective.
Last year (2010) we visited nearby Wood Island which has been largely deserted since shortly after the school closed. The island still does
have a few residents, a small, lovely church, and is small enough that we were able to walk around the entire circumference of the island; a goal we now try to achieve whenever we visit the smaller islands in the archipelago.
This year, we visited Kent Island
which is a owned by Bowdoin College as a scientific station. We arrived at the island early on a misty morning to see gulls perched in trees. Have you ever seen gulls sitting in trees? Well, until Kent Island, I never did. It was an amazing and unusual sight for me. We walked along the rocky beach, and then inland exploring the island. One of our fellow visitors was from the family that had once owned the island, so he was able to explain some of the history and point out sights that we would have missed on our own. A student from Bowdoin, who is doing research on Storm-Petrels, was good enough to explain her research and show us the birds, including some recently hatched chicks. As we were leaving in the early afternoon, the fog lifted and the island took on a totally different look.
On the trip back to
Grand Manan we took a detour to see the lighthouse on Gannet Rock
. The Lighthouse is now automated, so some of the unneeded structures, such as the light keeper's house, are falling into ruin. As we approached the lighthouse, emerging from the mist, and sitting by itself in the Bay of Fundy
, it was somewhat reminiscent of approaching the Statue of Liberty by boat. We slowly motored around Gannet Rock admiring the stark beauty of the rock and of the lighthouse. Meanwhile, scores of seals sat in the water and stared at us as if saying, "What are you doing here?"
Based on our experience, these trips seem to be scheduled for the second week of August. Another good source for information on the Historical Society Trips, as well as other Grand Manan happenings, are the bulletin boards at the SaveEasy supermarket and at the North Head Bakery
Hiking on the Grand Manan and the other islands can be fun, challenging and frustrating. The numerous trails
are described in Heritage Trails and Footpaths on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada
, which you can pick up at the museum and other locations.
Let's start with frustrating. Many of the trails have not been blazed
for years, and some trees with the blazes, especially it seems at decision points, have fallen down; so you always have to give yourself some extra time to find the trail once you have wandered off. Last year, during our circumnavigation of Whitehead Island we thought we had totally lost the trail, and were very surprised to actually stumble upon some of the landmarks mentioned in the guide; so, give yourself some extra time and be patient.
There are several challenging aspects to these hikes. Many of the hikes that appear to be flat have you walking over stony beaches or trails covered with many shallow roots. It is surprising how taxing it can be to walk on these uneven surfaces. Also, if you find yourself on a dirt road, you will invariably find sections that are flooded out. Either wear good boots, get your feet wet, or find a way to bushwhack around the water. Some of the hikes do have some fairly steep sections and many lead to wonderful overlooks, just be smart and careful as you approach the edge.
In 2010 we took the free ferry from Grand Manan to Whitehead Island and spent a
pleasant day circumnavigating the island on foot. As with Grand Manan, Whitehead Island is a place where people live and work, and is not at all touristy. We arrived early in the morning while the island was shrouded in mist. As we walked, the mist slowly lifted, only to start to fall again when we returned to Grand Manan in the afternoon Despite the fact that we were not always sure that we were following "the trail," we very much enjoyed Whitehead Island. We walked down the road from the harbor to Gull Cove, seeing homes on one side of the road, and the water on the other. Walking along the road we enjoyed the flora and fauna, and saw some fishermen spreading out their nets to dry. A bit inland from Gull Cove, we headed into the wooded section, which, even though we kept wondering where we were, was very pleasant and which eventually lead us to a beautiful beach where we enjoyed our lunch. After lunch we followed the beach to the lighthouse. This was one of the few beaches we have walked on in the archipelago that was more sand than rocks. From the lighthouse, it was
easy walk back to the ferry dock.
This year we visited Ross Island. Grand Manan and Ross Island are connected by a natural causeway which you can cross at low tide by foot or vehicle. For us, the highlight of visiting Ross Island was to see the, now decommissioned, lighthouse, which even though it is deteriorating, still retains it beauty and dignity. Ross Island is one of those places where the walking is much more difficult than it appears. All the roads were flooded in numerous spots meaning we had to generally bushwhack around them. From the lighthouse, you must walk along a somewhat treacherous and rocky beach; it is harder and more tiring than you would imagine. As we walked, we kept looking for the trail that would take us inland. We had just about given up hope when we noted a red blaze on a fallen tree. As the the trail has not been blazed since the min-90s, we kept having to scout about to find the right way to go. In the end, we were glad to have checked another island off our list, but we did not enjoy Ross Island as much as the other
As seen from the The Whistle - Grand Manan Island
islands we have visited around Grand Manan.
Another popular activity on Grand Manan is whale watching. You can go whale watching on one of several boats, but one of the things I really enjoy about Grand Manan is that you can frequently see the whales from shore. We have seen minke and finback whales while hiking, or while just sitting by The Whistle and peering out into the water.
This is Why Grand Manan
This just covered some of the highlights of our visits. There is much more to do, see, and learn about Grand Manan. We have found Grand Manan to be one of the most pleasant, relaxing, and enjoyable places we have visited. There is plenty to do, if you wish, or you can just sit back and enjoy the view.
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