Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, for RDF - Rain Drizzle and Fog - Atlantic Canada 3

Author: Sue
Date: 8th July 2024

Getting to St John’s

So here I am, finally in Newfoundland. I've flown in from St Pierre and Miquelon. I pick up my rental car with little bother. It’s huge. That’s good news and bad. I’m not used to driving large cars and will have to be careful judging my distances. But it has an enormous boot (sorry, trunk), and I can spread my case out in it, just ferrying my overnight needs in my backpack. That will save my back. Once I’ve manoeuvred the case in there, anyway.

The roads are fairly quiet, thankfully, as navigation is a little fraught. The rental company have removed all navigational aids and ability to pair my phone with the screen. So it’s wobbling below me. I’ve already been beeped at once.

St John’s

St. John's is the most easterly city in Canada (and indeed mainland North America), the capital and largest city of Newfoundland and Labrador, home to about 40% of the province's population. St John’s is Town to everyone in Newfoundland. If you live elsewhere, you’re a Bayman (You’re still a Bayman if you were born outside the city – ‘Once a Bayman, always a Bayman’, I’m told,). If you come from St John’s you’re a Townie. And, I’m warming to it instantly. This place has character.

Rows of timber ‘jellybean houses’ fill the slopes running down to the commercial streets by the harbourfront, Sadly, I've discovered the joyful colours are nothing to do with sailors finding their way home when drunk or even people navigating in the fog. This was a 1970s innovation and not all of the houses are particularly old. But it’s a good one.

Lodged above the slope and running down it are various churches and chapels, the cathedral (two towers) and various museums and galleries and municipal buildings. But the heart of the city lies by the waterfront. Water Street (guides do Walk on Water tours) is the oldest street in North America, settled in the 1600s. And, unlike the other Atlantic cites I have visited this feels lively. Victorian buildings in greys, violets and maroons, rectangular stone facades. And every other place a pub (most of them Irish) or restaurant (or both), extending onto the street with canopied seating areas. This is said to be the most Irish place outside Ireland and this could, indeed, almost be Dublin, To one end, the turreted justice courts.

Just above Water Street, two blocks from my hotel, is St George’s, night club central, crammed with pubs and a little stage.


Newfoundland and Labrador - Facts and Factoids

  • Newfoundland (pronounced Newfoundland) and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada, the fourth Atlantic province (the other three are the Maritime provinces. )
  • The province comprises the island of Newfoundland and the continental region of Labrador, although the much smaller island of Newfoundland (and its smaller neighbouring islands -7,000 in all)) is home to around 94 per cent of the province's population , which is roughly 550,000 (more people live in my home city of Brighton). This is why, until 2001, the province was simply named Newfoundland.
  • The French overseas collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon lies about 12 miles west of the Burin Peninsula.
  • 97.0% of residents speak English as their native language, making Newfoundland and Labrador Canada's most linguistically homogeneous province. Much of the population is descended from Irish settlers. Newfoundland is known as ‘the most Irish place outside Ireland.’
  • Newfoundland has its own anthem, its own dictionary and its own encyclopaedia.
  • The name "New founde lande" was bestowed by King Henry VII, when he was talking about the land explored by Sebastian and John Cabot. In Portuguese, it is Terra Nova. The name of Labrador, derives from the Portuguese navigator João Fernandes Lavrador.
  • Newfoundland is sometimes called ‘The Rock’. But then, so are Jamaica and Gibraltar!
  • Rum is called screech here and there are various initiation ceremonies, in which you have to declaim a vow and drink a rum cocktail. These are called screech ins.
  • Newfoundland is very refreshing. Possibly the warmest, most genuine people I have ever met. Front doors are left unlocked and everyone smiles. The licence plates used to say, 'Canada's Happy Province'.

The Murray Premises Hotel

My hotel is as old and as venerated as the rest of the town. The location couldn’t be better, right on the harbourfront, and just below Water Street. It’s quirky, rather than quaint, and oddly bills itself as ‘Boutique’. The associated shops and restaurants appear to be closed, or undecided as to whether they are closed. The lift is only distinguishable from a cupboard because it has buttons beside the door. I’m on the second floor and when I summon it, it invariably goes up to the third floor, before descending.

I have exposed brick and a wealth of nineteenth century timber, in my room, which might look attractive, but the wood squeaks like crazy when someone enters the room above. And for some reason, the person in that room didn’t spend much time sleeping last night. So, neither did I. I also have an electric ’Glow but no heat’ log fireplace and a jacuzzi bath; that’s actually in full working order and so I can have waves indoors or out.

Eating in St John’s

Plenty of eating places doesn’t guarantee quality. The hotel has a booklet full of recommended eating places. I can only assume the pubs paid to be included. Some of the food is mediocre at best. It’s a sin to overcook fish - especially scallops and mussels. Everywhere serves up fish and chips - as if Newfoundland invented the dish. And here it comes in a variety of guises. Often fried in breadcrumbs (panko) or with scrunchions (tiny lumps of pork fat) in the batter, I’ve even seen it offered with a salt and vinegar crisp coating.

RDF - Rain, Drizzle, Fog

Newfoundland is noted for its RDF (rain, drizzle, fog) and it’s doing all three today. And my back is hurting, from lack of sleep, so I’m opting for a boat ride. There’s a strong suggestion that whales, icebergs and puffins will be included. None of them feature. The icebergs are slow in coming south this year, the captain says. The whales haven’t really arrived yet. And it rains the whole time.

But it’s interesting to chug down the deep channel which makes up St John’s Harbour, admiring the city, the basilica dominating, and out through The Narrows (61 metres at its narrowest point). St John’s is one of the closest points to continental Europe. in North America. This is why, above, on Signal Hill, is the Cabot Tower, commemorating Cabot’s first North American landing, (further north) in Newfoundland. In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless transmission here - hence Signal Hill. And Alcock and Brown chose St John's Airport to take off, for the first transatlantic flight.

Beneath is Quidi Vidi, the old slightly crumbling jellybean fishing port. On the south side, is Fort Amherst, but there is nothing left of it except a plaque. There is a lighthouse…....The coastline here is spectacular, with high folded striped volcanic rocks, crags and caves. Bald eagles, guillemots, terns and sundry other seabirds inhabit the many crevices.

We sail south to Cape Spear, which is Canada’s most easterly mainland point It also has the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador. Then, we head out to sea, nodding on the swell for five minutes, before turning back. Men clad in oilskins are lifting dripping lobster traps out of the sea. Queues of gulls wait patiently beside the small boats, bobbing up and down. The cages are baited with herring, which the fishermen catch in special herring nets.

There’s a commentary, alternated with bouncy Irish jigs, We can’t hear much of it outside, but the crew are exceptionally friendly and several of us huddle behind the captain, after being ushered into the wheelhouse, through the door that says, ‘Crew Only’. He sets the steering to autopilot, puts his feet up and hands out sweets.

Avalon

Back on the road, with my Toyota Camry. I stop at Walmart’s to buy a phone dashboard stand. There are about 20 on offer, so I select the cheapest. Back in the car, I remove it from its packaging and can’t for the life of me work out how to attach it to the dashboard vents. I decide it’s my own fault for being cheap and am about to abandon the project, when I notice another small part that has fallen on the floor. Ah, that does the job. I pop the phone in, connect it all up and voila. The Google map appears on my car navigation screen. So I didn’t need the stand at all.

Now, I’m heading north east, back on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH), from St John’s and into the top part of Newfoundland’s southeasterly Avalon Peninsula. It’s named after the microcontinent Avalonia, which I assume is named after Arthurian legend. It’s all idyllic enough.

Brigus

First, a diversion to Brigus (Brickhouse), a delightful historic fishing village on Conception Bay, with a stream, a lagoon and a small beach, with a picnic area. There’s also a little tunnel, blown to give easy access through the rocky shore, to the ships. It was home to many iconic sea farers and the Park Service have opened up Captain Bartlett’s white clapboard house, giving information about some of their exploits. Bartlett was an ‘Arctic Hero’ who sailed with the American explorer Isaac Israel Hayes and also with Admiral Robert Peary.

Avalon to Bonavista

Next, a side expedition into the first finger of the Avalon peninsula. First, Cuper's Cove (modern day Cupids), the first English settlement in North America, established in 1610 by John Guy, on behalf of the Bristol's Society of Merchant Venturers. Halfway up the coast of the peninsula, through Bay Roberts, Spaniards Bay and Harbour Grace. This is another very old settlement, but it’s more famous for its airfield. Many aviation pioneers, among them Amelia Earhart and Thor Solberg made their crossings from here, again due to its proximity to continental Europe. Out in the bay, there’s the tilting wreck of SS Kyle, a steam ship that ran aground here, in 1967.

Lakes and forest and across to the far side and the villages of Hearts Content, Hearts Delight and then the town of Dildo. I’ve no idea if the names are connected, but there are great views up the coast from here.

Back on the TCH, across the long three mile wide stretch of land, the Isthmus of Avalon, which connects Avalon to the rest of the island of Newfoundland. The highway travels through the Terra Nova Park. More forest. more ponds, and at least some pull offs to admire them from. Then. I’m picking up the Discovery Trail north, onto the Bonavista Peninsula.

Trinity

The seascapes here are stunning, with incredible rock formations. And Trinity is an exceptionally cute and historic town. The harbour at Trinity was first used by fishing ships around the sixteenth century. The Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real named the place ‘Trinity’ as he arrived on Trinity Sunday, 1501. Though it’s not the only Trinity in Newfoundland.

Fishermen from the Channel Islands and Dorset followed and eventually a permanent settlement was established. The first court of justice in North America was held here in 1615. Merchants arrived to service the needs of the fishermen - and to organise them. A fort followed, to defend these assets, which the French attacked several times. Trinity also gained fame as the place where John Clinch, a boyhood friend and medical colleague of Edward Jenner introduced the smallpox vaccine to the New World, in 1798. Trinity declined as St John’s grew. Today, it’s very much an enjoyable tourist destination, with a population of just 76, in 2021. It was used as a filming location for the 2001 film The Shipping News.

Bonavista

Then, in search of my favourite birds, puffins. I’ve read that there are two colonies, both at the top of the peninsula. One is at the village of Elliston, where they celebrate their claim to fame by arranging puffin chairs outside all the shops. It's billed as a short, relatively easy cliff walk. They’ve omitted to mention the narrow bridge path which links the two parts of this mini peninsula. The scenery is once again spectacular. The puffins are less cooperative. There are not exactly enough to make a good circus and they are staying firmly on their island, a chasm away from the eager crowd, waving their cameras at them. Someone explains that a couple of eagles swooped down and scared them into retreat, just before I got there. They’re not quite close enough to get clear shots. My Scottish puffin pictures are much better.

Finally, at Bonavista itself. It seems to be obligatory to visit the lighthouse, so I venture up to the tip of the land, in search of more puffins. There are none at all. Just four chubby faced fox cubs, lounging under the rocks, totally unafraid.

There’s also John Cabot’s statue, in the car park next door to the lighthouse. This commemorates the actual spot where he made his first North American landing,. A café on the cliffside seems a good place to eat a fish and chip supper; to the accompaniment of Irish sea shanties, of course. Bonavista is unusual for fishing villages, in that it’s built on a plain, rather than round a steep cove, so it has expanded and spread along the coast stretching from the harbour, which is very much the focus of town. The most historic buildings cluster around it - pubs , small businesses.

A Brief and Fascinating History of Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Human habitation in Newfoundland and Labrador can be traced back about 9,000 years. Maritime Archaic peoples were gradually displaced by people of the sea oriented Dorset Culture, in the form of the Beothuk people, who thrived from about 2000 BC to 800 AD. The Inuit started arriving from Labrador around 1 AD, with dogs and larger weapons. Further south were the Mi’kmaq.
  • But by the time European contact with Newfoundland began, in the early sixteenth century, the Beothuk were the only indigenous group living permanently on the island. These people largely attempted to avoid contact, but the settlers fishing operations, land encroachment and bringing of disease drove them further west. They were extinct by 1829.
  • The Viking Icelandic Sagas refer to Leif Erikson landing in three places to the west, in 1001, in Helluland (possibly Baffin Island), Markland (possibly Labrador) and Vinland (possibly Newfoundland). Archaeological evidence of a Norse settlement was found in L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, which was subsequently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in 1978.
  • John Cabot, a Genoese sailing under the English flag, was the first to explore the area, commemorated by a statue at Cape Bonavista, his first landing place. He reported an abundance of cod fish, setting the scene for fishing here, over the next 500 years. By 1620, 300 fishing boats worked the Grand Banks, employing some 10,000 sailors. Portuguese explorers (such as Lavrador), were also in the area, which was claimed by Portugal initially. But Sir Humphrey Gilbert, provided with letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I, landed in St. John's in August 1583, and formally took possession of the Newfoundland.
  • A triangular trade with New England, the West Indies, and Europe gave Newfoundland an important economic role. Salted cod fed the slaves, who produced the rum, which was sent north, and which the fishermen called screech.
  • The French also made settlements and there were the usual attacks and retaliation, depending on the homeland political situation. English attacks on Placentia provoked retaliation by New France explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, who during King William's War in the 1690s, destroyed nearly every English settlement on the island.
  • There were waves of immigration from southwest England (the Devonians are responsible for all the lakes being referred to as ponds) and then from Ireland (increasing the Catholic population – many had fled here, from persecution at home).
  • There were also waves of rebellion (the Liberals) against an increasingly Anglican government (the Tories) here. There were ambitions for Newfoundland to become an independent country, as London devolved increasing amounts of responsibility.
  • There was pressure to join the Canadian confederation, from the 1880s, as cod fishery fell into severe decline and there was large-scale emigration. In 1892, St. John's burned to the ground, leaving 12,000 homeless. In 1894, the two commercial banks in Newfoundland collapsed. Newfoundland increasingly had to submit to Canadian policies and control.
  • But it retained independence from Canada. In 1927, it was ruled that the area known as modern-day Labrador was to be considered part of the Dominion of Newfoundland. The Second World War brought the reintroduction of colonial government and forced subscription. Volunteer Canadian forces defended its air bases.
  • A postwar consumerism boom fuelled the desire for a stronger economy. And the Canadian and British were afraid that Newfoundland might be tempted to join the USA instead. Despite resistance from a National Convention, which advised against the move, a close run referendum gave the go ahead to unite with Canada, a move supported by the United Kingdom. Newfoundland finally became part of the Confederation of Canada, in 1949.

The Eastport Peninsula

Back down the Bonavista peninsula, picking up the other side of the Discovery Trail loop. Firs, sea, and pretty coves repeat. The roads are exceptionally quiet. Hardly any other traffic, until I hit the TCH again. Through the Terra Nova National Park. This was Newfoundland's first national park, mainly concerned with protecting the black spruce forest. but this is Canada and it also provides access to lakes, the sea and boating, There's sand in the region, on the Eastport peninsula. I take a diversion to admire the sweep of beach.

Moose Alert

A little further on the TCH, and this time it’s the Road to the Shore. Still no traffic and no toilets either. I stop to investigate the bushes and a baby moose totters onto the road, shambling along for some time, uncertain . I’m delighted to see it. Wildlife is in short supply, though I’ve been warned countless times, starting with the immigration officer at St John’s, not to drive at night, because of the moose. Instead, I’m meeting the wrong kind of wildlife. swarms of black flies of various sizes. I’m fairly well covered, but they’re tenacious and manage to penetrate my top a couple of times, as well as homing in on any exposed areas.

Its impossible to describe the immensity of the forest in Atlantic Canada. Walls of trees loom in front of me, as I swoop up and down hillsides. It’s not as bleak as expected from the Shipping News, beautiful, as the light green shimmer of the silver birch contrasts with the dark stiffness of the firs (mainly balsam with a little spruce thrown in). It's time to sing my Girl Guide camp fire song:

Land of the silver birch,
Home of the beaver,
Where still the mighty moose,
Wander at will.

The trees decrease in height as I climb, becoming runts in wilder, boulder strewn terrain, and disappearing totally for a while, before I descend. A gentler version of Scotland. At times reminiscent of Connemara, my favourite part of Ireland. Lakes, sorry ponds, and more forest, until I reach the north coast of yet another peninsula. Here the ponds are strewn with boulders, each one sitting separately, as if deliberately placed. They’re also dotting the coves, when I meet the sea and hug the coast to Lumsden.

Lumsden

At Lumsden, there’s an enormous strip of white beach, the best I’ve seen so far, this trip. Although it’s sunny it's much too chilly to sit out. A gang of men are preparing the car park, fitting pay booths and entrance barriers. Tables and chairs are scattered expectantly. No deckchairs here. The Atlantic Canadians use more solid outdoor chairs, made of gaily painted wood. I expect canvas would too easily blow away. But, to paraphrase Game of Thrones, Summer is Coming. Maybe?

Twillingate

Now I’m on the Road to the Isles (that title’s been pinched from Scotland) and the road follows causeways, linking numerous islands whilst dozens of islets dot the sea to each side. Finally, to Twillingate. Another lighthouse (Longpoint) and a larger harbour, spread along both sides of the strait that separates the two Twillingate islands. It’s very much a working area, linked by yet another causeway. Line fishing cod boats, both retired and working fill the moorings. As cod stocks dwindled, because of overfishing, (at one point in the 1990s down to one percent of historical stocks) lobster and crab fishing increased. The best snow crab areas (it has a very delicate flavour) are 100 miles out to sea.

Sprawling along the outskirts, both north and south are the houses. My B and B, the Captain’s Legacy (historic building) has one of the best views, across the channel. To the north, one church, to the south 17. Most of the pubs are in the north. Make of that what you will.

This north east coast of Newfoundland was originally French and the original name of the settlement was Toulinquet, after two islands off the coast of Brest, in France, which the coast was believed to resemble. Twillingate is the English corruption of that word. Twillingate is on Iceberg Alley, and today dubs itself the Iceberg Capital of the World (tourism is taking over from fishing as the main source of income.) Not this year. There are no icebergs at all. The bergs take one to four or more years to drift down from Greenland (where I saw them spawning), but they are either all stuck further north, or melted. It’s very disappointing as I have a boat tour booked especially to see them. And, to add insult to injury, it’s drizzling too.

I still go on my tour. And, as it’s an open rigid Zodiac, we are all issued with warm and waterproof gear. My over trousers are so large that the crotch lands between my knees and I waddle like a penguin. But we can zip about with ease, in our comfortable flat bottomed boat, zooming through the gaps between rocks. These are called tickles - as the water ‘tickles’ the hull of the craft.

Other than the vessel, this is very much a repeat of my St John’s boat experience. We potter round the harbour. The coastal scenery is magnificent - with plenty of rock formations. We spot bald eagles and guillemots, an osprey's nest and the odd gannet. There are no whales and the very friendly crew don’t really make any pretence of looking for them.

Lighthouses of Newfoundland

Like Nova Scotia, this is very much lighthouse country. The wild coastal geology and weather demands it. And there are lighthouses in gardens and at the entrances to towns too. But not quite as many as in Acadia.

Food and Entertainment in Newfoundland

Seafood is very much the thing here, in Newfoundland. Chowder of course, though more cod than clams. Another lobster dinner at Sansone’s Lobster Pool - they keep them fresh in tanks and boil them, in big metal crocks, in an outhouse. The potato salad looks more like ice cream scoops. Pureed potato with a few vegetables in it. But it’s tasty. Partridge berry cake is included. The berries are local, like cranberries, but bluer. Wikipedia says they are tasteless, rarely eaten by humans, but I find them pleasantly sour (withs something sweet). I also have them served up elsewhere with pork tenderloin. It's a delicious combination.

Dinner at a theatre in Twillingate – here I’ve chosen cod and mash, with Newfoundland entertainment to follow. The sketches aren’t really my cup of tea. They mostly centre on stories about how stupid people from Newfoundland are, very much along the lines of the old Irish jokes that used to circulate in England. I suppose it’s healthy that they can poke fun at themselves.

The music is better, with local folk songs written on traditional Irish lines, played on a variety of musical instruments. There’s ugly stick percussion, with a puppet head, jangly rattles and a boot on the bottom. Demonstration of mummers plays and shed parties are interesting. With the demise of the cod, the storage sheds on the wharfs are more often used for socializing than fishing gear. Most engaging is the performers’ evident love for their home land and loyalty to its traditions.

Gros Morne National Park

Back down the Road to the Isles and onto the TCH west. Forest, ponds, forest, ponds and nowhere to pull off unless you risk an exit road and heaven knows how far way the signposted towns are; there are too many trees to tell…

Beyond Deer Lake and it’s the Viking Trail now, and into the Great Northern Peninsula. This is the GNP. There’s an acronym for most things here. The road winds through Gros Morne National Park.It’s a gamechanger. Stunning scenery, dramatically gloomy mountains (well that is its name), even some tiny patches of snow. And look outs on the twisting roads, to stop and enjoy it all.

Gros Morne is in the Long Range Mountains, in their turn, the most northern section of the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve booked for a boat tour on the Western Brook Pond, up the western coast of the park. Western Brook was a fjord, which was cut off from the sea and eventually became freshwater. So now its officially not a fjord, which must be saltwater and created by glaciation. And of course, it’s raining. Three boat tours, three rainy days. Though overall, I’ve been remarkably lucky with the weather and have seen more sun than RDF.

The lake is only accessible by a three kilometre hiking trail, over coastal bogs and low limestone ridges lined with little spruce trees. Or you can pay 10 CAD to ride in a golf cart. (The rain decided me, on the way back.) The pond is reckoned to be the highlight of the park and is a UNESCO site because of its geology - billion year old cliffs. It's a veritable geography lesson with its hanging valleys and improper fjord.

Numerous waterfalls cascade from the plateau above. Erosion has carved a man's face into the rock. well, I think the elements did it...The charmingly named Pissing Mare Falls (350 metres) is one of the tallest in eastern North America. Luckily, the rain holds off for most of the trip. There’s a little drizzle, a lot of cloud and plenty of spray, provided by the westerly winds. I’d like to see a fjord in sunshine, one day, but the dark skies add to the atmosphere. And, in the bow of the ship, I’m thoroughly entertained by Cynthia and Adrien (who aspires to being called Aloysius instead) from Nova Scotia. The voyage is over very quickly, even though I’m frozen when I disembark.

Arches and Turnips

North through the park. Just outside the boundary, is Arches Provincial Park, one of those lovely surprises – a whole series of arches standing in the sea.

The road hugs the coast for most of the way to the Labrador ferry at St Barbe, the mountains retreating. Overnight by Parsons Pond, at the Turnip Inn. It’s remote here, just fishing villages strung along the route. The only eatery in the area serves bakery or fries and fish or chicken. But Sheri at the inn more than compensates. The B and B is quirky – she’s clearly artistic - with a moose’s head dominating the sitting room. And I’m treated to a gourmet breakfast. Apple ‘poutine’ straws and a tasty frittata, with savoury jams and chutneys.

Labrador - The Big Land

The ninety minute crossing from St Barbe to Blanc Sablon crosses the Strait of Belle Isle. I spend most of the voyage chatting to Monique and Don, from Ontario. The sea is like a millpond, but very chilly and three kindly icebergs (maybe it was just one to start with) have just sailed into the bay to greet us. Huzzah - finally. Monique was desperate to see one - it’s her first.

And here’s another complete change of scene. I can see why Labrador is called The Big Land. Even the welcome sign is enormous. The visitor information centre is in a church in Anse au Claire, the first village you come to. The shoreline drive road here is a roller coaster, swooping up and down dramatic hills, almost mountains and towering craggy cliffs standing proudly above the sea.

Up top, the land is either home to minuscule spruces, or is bare, with sprinklings of pale green lichen on the rocks and scatterings of erratic boulders. More erratics in the sea and at the gushing river mouths. There are quintessential Canadian scenes around the rivers, with blue icy water gushing between taller spruces, lower down. It’s stunning (I feel I've used that word more than once in this post, for a reason) and still not at all bleak. There are more black flies though, when I stop to photograph the river. The wind is blowing them away, by the sea. I’m still hurting from the five nasty bites I collected last time (they go for your ears) so I’m wafting them away vigorously. Some still sneak into the vehicle. I’m afraid that leads to carnage.

Cottage Hospitals

I’m staying, in Forteau, at Grenfell Louie A. Hall B and B, which was once a cottage hospital. I’m in the Men’s Ward. There’s even a blackboard, with my name chalked on it, hanging on my door, as if I’m a patient. It’s a fascinating place, quaint green and white buildings, with history etched in every corner. Stacks of books and manuscripts, old portraits and furniture. Even old wash basins and jugs.

Wilfrid Grenfell was a missionary of sorts, a doctor, sent by The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, in 1892, to improve the plight of the coastal inhabitants and fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador. He built cottage hospitals along the coast in Labrador, but is mainly remembered around the St Anthony area of north Newfoundland, where he lived. There are plenty of buildings named after him there. And he led a fairly adventurous life. At one point, sledding to a medical emergency, he was caught on an ice pan, which drifted on the water and he had to kill his dogs to make a fur coat, to keep him sufficiently warm.

But back to my old hospital. The current buildings, Louie A. Hall, mainly dating from 1946, are named after the lady who funded the rebuilding. The first cottage hospital here has an interesting story. It was named Denison – after a soldier who sought refuge here. He fought for the Union, in the Civil War, but was unfortunate enough to end up on a boat with a crew of Confederate sympathizers. On discovering his former allegiance, they abandoned him on the Labrador coast. He was so impressed by the kindness and hospitality of the locals, who cared for him, that he donated money for the hospital, forty years later.

Exploring Labrador

At Pointe Amour, across the bay, the tallest lighthouse in Atlantic Canada beckons. And there are sweeping cinnamon sand bays below the cliffs, which is presumably why one of the fishing settlements along here is called Red Bay. It is famous for the remains of a sixteenth century Basque whaling station - one of the very earliest. There are excavations on Saddle Island, in the harbour, but the wind has got up and they’ve just halted the boat trips. The park rangers in the historical centre are fun and helpful and there are displays of life on board the whaling ships and at the station and cabinets of tools and utensils.

North of Red Bay the road heads upwards again and then across a large plateau. Barren, with plenty of those glistening sapphire ponds. ‘Go south, it’s much more interesting,’ the Rangers said. It’s now gusting strongly and I’m beginning to worry that my ferry tomorrow will be cancelled. It’s been flagged as a possibility, on the government 511 website. I’m waiting anxiously. The last ferry from St Barbe hasn’t left today yet. They’re waiting on the wind calming.

I’ve eaten in Jungle Jim’s, in L’Anse Au Clair, both evenings. It’s the only restaurant within about 50 miles that’s open for dinner. It’s an unlikely theme for Canada, especially here, and it’s a typical chain restaurant: burgers, fries and fish and chips and tour buses parked up outside. But beggars can’t be choosers.

Quebec

Blanc Sablon, where the ferry departs, is actually in Quebec, so I clip the corner of that province travelling to and fro to Forteau. All the signage is in French, even though the inhabitants still mainly speak in broad Labradorean accents. And, confusingly, the whole of this province is on Quebec time. One and half hours behind Newfoundland. And coastal Labrador keeps Newfoundland time. It’s important to keep abreast of these things when you have a ferry to catch, from Quebec. More sweeping bays and sand dunes, though the sand isn’t as white as the name would suggest. Just paler than the red bays further north. Some good sightings of the three ice bergs from the beach here. I’m chasing them along the coast.

A guy called Barry signals to me that I can park in his drive, as some of the locals are trying to get past me where I’ve stopped. He offers me baked apples and takes me to meet his wife, who’s wearing a wide brimmed hat in their greenhouse. They both have broad accents, almost west country like. He seems to have forgotten the baked apple, but he directs me to a puffin view point further along the coast. I find the look out, but the puffins are again elusive.

L’Anse Aux Meadows

The wind drops a little and the ferry back to Newfoundland departs on schedule, bumpy but nothing a couple of travel sickness pills can’t cope with. Across the top of the GNP, a string of wild coves, to L’Anse Aux Meadows, on the very tip of Newfoundland. I stop for lunch at St Lunaire-Griquet, a pretty fishing village on the east coast, where I’m staying the night. Turning out of the car park I’m tooted at loudly. Then I realise I’m on the wrong side of the road. Caffeine is called for.

L’Anse aux Meadows is the only authenticated Viking settlement in North America. It’s been declared that this is where Leif Eriksson landed, based on the Viking sagas of Vinland. And its had UNESCO recognition. Though archologists are not entirely convinced. There’s definitely some Norse remains and a burial site. Today, there’s a reconstructed Viking settlement, three halls and five other buildings, complete with Viking workmen. No women in evidence. Perhaps that’s why the settlement only lasted for 10-20 years.

Down by the bay there’s a statue of Eriksson, gazing out towards Greenland. There are also signs of habitation, such as firepits, showing that indigenous peoples were here many thousands of years ago. It’s an important site and an incentive for the local people to promote Viking Shoppes, cabins and restaurants. There are far more Viking commercial outlets than Norse remains. And the road up to nearby St Anthony through the GNP is called the Viking Trail, of course.

Gunners Cove

My Bed and Breakfast is on Gunners Cove, just up the road from the blue clapboard house where Annie Proulx lived when she wrote Shipping News. The book was extraordinarily successful, but the Newfoundlanders were not keen. They felt it an inaccurate reflection of their culture and language. After that, Annie tired of the quiet life and moved back to the States, later producing Brokeback Mountain, as a novella. The house is now rented out as vacation home, along with another in the area that she restored - Quoyle’s Point.

There’s another first at my accommodation here. I’m asked to select the tip when I check in. How am I supposed to tip for service I haven’t had yet? So I tap no tip. Perhaps that’s why I’m allocated a room with just a partial view of the bay from my window. But the owner has her comeuppance. My shower leaks from the ceiling and she has to change my room. Now I have an unobstructed view, well if I stand up. The window is high, like a prison cell. And the ventilator in the bathroom rattles loudly.

Griquet

A third time lucky ocean boat trip from nearby Griquet. In the sense that there are plenty of ice bergs here, though you can see them pretty well from the shore. It’s nice to get up close. But no proper whales. The boat driver/guide says they are slow to arrive from the Caribbean for their summer holidays this year. Just a pilot whale wheeling in the bay. But serendipitously, Monique and Don have arrived at the same Bed and Breakfast. They tell me they have been whale watching from Cape Onion, 40 minutes away. Three of them, clearly visible from the shore. I think I must just be gullible.

Whale Hunting

Now, I’m at the northern most point of Newfoundland it’s time to make my way back to St John’s. It’s a 425 mile journey to Grand Falls Windsor, but as I said, I’m gullible, and I don’t like missing out on things. So I tack on an extra 40 miles to go and hunt whales at Cape Onion, first. Needless to say there are none there and I’ve delayed myself unnecessarily.

My drive today almost tallies 500 miles. I’m not quite a Proclaimer. And I’m not walking, I’m still grappling with the Toyota Camry. The steering is awful and it veers across the road every time there’s an inverse camber or a truck goes past or it’s windy. And it’s windy a lot. Which takes the temperature down even when it’s sunny outside. But today the temperature has soared to 31 degrees and even though the wind has increased it’s still really humid. Needless to say the a.c. in the car doesn’t cool either.

Grand Falls-Windsor

A last night in Newfoundland. I’m sad to leave, in very many ways, but a little tired of the Covid legacy. Much of the accommodation nowadays doesn’t bother with a welcome. They leave the keys and room number and you let yourself in. It’s all very anonymous and impersonal. I feel like I did on the numerous days I walked home from school to find no-one at home.

I’m at the Carriage House Inn, at Grand Falls-Windsor, here in the heart of Newfoundland. (Though there are so many inlets and peninsulas that nowhere is very far from the sea.) There’s some confusion over the room name. The directions in my letter say Brunette. The plaque on the door says Burnette. The rooms seem to be named after the historic carriage horses (the carriage is outside).

Just time to go and see the eponymous Grand Falls before I drive back to St John’s, in more clammy heat. The falls have been turned into a dam, so are not very picturesque, although the rushing Exploits River (sign up for river rafting) is impressive, above and below. There’s a salmonid interpretive ( I don’t know why such an off-putting word is called for - it’s common in Canada) centre by the side of the dam and a series of concrete fish ladders. The centre isn’t open yet, so I go looking for leaping salmon. I’m told they’re early this year. And there are lines of eager anglers hoisting their rods, on the banks of the Exploits.

Nothing leaping, sadly, but there are some poor salmon, trying to crawl up the ladder, against the flow of the downhill stream. Most of them are getting washed back down again. It’s a very fierce current. I hope they do better next time.

A plane back to Montreal and then home.

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