A Trip to Ferryland

The day dawned foggy and damp but we were convinced it would improve, so the Pie and I piled Rusty, Mags, and Gren into our rented car and drove an hour and a half south of St. John’s to the town of Ferryland (population: ~529).  This was the third time the Pie and I had made it to Ferryland, but the first time that we were really able to appreciate it.  On previous occasions, we had arrived in town after an afternoon of iceberg hunting and were too tired to take the time to walk around this historical settlement.  This year is a bad one for icebergs, however, so we were rested and refreshed and raring to go.

I’ll give you a little background on Ferryland.

Originally an acclaimed fishing location for migratory French and Portuguese fishermen at the end of the sixteenth century, the area, known as “Farilham” by the Portuguese and “Forillon” by the French, was granted to the London and Bristol Company in the early 1610s.  “Ferryland” is the Anglicization of those names.

In 1620, the land was granted to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (there are nearby settlements called Calvert and Baltimore, respectively, and yes, this is the same Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, MD).  In 1623 Calvert appointed a dude named Edward Wynne to establish a colony there, which grew into one of the first successful European establishments in North America.  In 1623 as well, King James I granted Calvert a charter creating the Province of Avalon.  This gave Calvert carte blanche to control all administrative and territorial matters in the area, and he chose Ferryland as its principal settlement.

Like many settlements in Newfoundland, the rich fishing grounds around Ferryland were much sought after, and Ferryland suffered a raid from the Dutch in the 1670s, before being decimated by New France in 1696.  It was soon reoccupied, and has remained so to this day, predominantly by Irish and English descendants.  There is an active archeological dig site, which shows you how Lord and Lady Baltimore lived nearly four hundred years ago. 

There is lots to see in Ferryland.  Unfortunately, when we went this time all of the exhibits were closed due to a water problem.  Still, the historic Ferryland Museum has an immense collection of artifacts recovered from the dig site, and is a historical artifact itself, dating back to 1916.

The principal attraction in Ferryland, however, is the Ferryland Head Lighthouse. 

A two-kilometre walking trail stretches across The Downs and along a narrow strip of land sandwiched between two green coves. 

A stunted forest opens onto a rocky promontory, atop which sits the lighthouse itself, a sturdy red tower with a squat white house attached.

If you go into the lighthouse, you’ll meet the Lighthouse Ladies, who, for $25 a person, will provide you with a scrumptious picnic lunch.  

They’ll give you a signal flag and a picnic blanket and send you outside to find a good spot in the cushy undergrowth to have your lunch. 

Once you’re settled, they’ll bring you your lunch in a basket: hearty sandwiches on thick oatmeal bread, rich pasta salad, melt-in-your-mouth desserts, and fresh, tart lemonade, served in Mason jars.  Just some more shots of this amazing al fresco meal:

After your post-lunch nap (the ground really is nice and soft here, believe it or not), you can explore the area around the lighthouse.

This is Rusty and Mags getting their first taste of the North Atlantic.

Some radioactively green algae:

A rusty thingamajig:

An awesome example of geological strata:Then you have the long trek back to civilization.  But so worth it.

Check it out for yourself!

Lighthouse Picnics

Ferryland Municipal Website

Ferryland Wikipedia Page

Colony of Avalon Archaeological Site

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Ferryland Page

Bell Island Take Two

What’s weird about this post is that it’s about Newfoundland, and by the time it’s posted I won’t be in Newfoundland any more.  So that’s weird.

When the in-laws were in town, the Pie and I decided to take them to Bell Island.  It was a day that promised rain, but we figured, what the hell, and we went anyway.

Boy are we glad we did.  There was so much to see that we hadn’t seen before on our trip with Cait and iPM, and it made for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.  You can see the full set of photos here, but I’ll give you the highlights.

During our crossing we got to watch some minke whales frolicking between two small boats.  I didn’t take pictures because they were too far away for a good shot, and it’s hard to predict when their tails are going to come up.  The whole time we were watching the whales some old guy next to me kept pointing them out to me every time one came up for air, nudging me and saying, “Did you see that?  Did you see it?  That’s a whale.”  Like I didn’t know what I was looking at.  Eventually I moved around and hid behind my father-in-law, who was clinging like death to one of the poles away from the railing.  And my mother-in-law wouldn’t let me hang over the railing, either.  I know where the Pie gets his fear of the ocean from.  Too bad I made him live on an island in one of the harshest oceans in the world.But at least I got them all to smile.  Sort of.  To be fair, it was raining in their faces so that’s why they’re all squinting.After a short interlude, Bell Island emerged from the fog.Our first stop was the Bell Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1939.  This afternoon the lighthouse keeper was actually there, and he let us go up the ladder!It being one of the shorter lighthouses I’ve seen, the view from up there was a slightly more rain-spattered one than the view on the ground, but the Pie took this nice one of the lamp itself for me.

The lighthouse keeper was kind enough to explain to me something that had been puzzling me for some time.  I’d seen brown paper bags, filled with air or paper to fluff them out, hanging over the thresholds of various businesses when they left their doors open.  There was a similar one at the lighthouse, and the lighthouse keeper told me that it’s called a “Newfie Screendoor.”  The paper bag mimics the size and shape of a wasps’ nest, and therefore discourages other wasps, as well as bees and flies, from coming into the building.  He said it’s about 80% effective, which is about what you’ll get from a real screen door.  Pretty clever!

Then of course I went and draped myself over the edge of the cliff to take pictures of the rock formations (I was actually about two metres back from the edge but not according to my family).  The entire in-law family was not impressed.Mrs. Nice, a photographer herself, could understand my desire for the perfect shot, but she still wouldn’t come any closer than ten metres from the edge.They were all only content once I was satisfied and stooped to taking pictures of wildflowers that were on safer territory.Then we hit up Lance Cove Beach, which was where, last time, Cait and her shiny red boots saved me from an exuberant mallard.The gentlemen skipped rocks while the ladies took pictures of rocks.And boats.And wharves.We found some fossils.And a butterfly.And a SHIPWRECK!Not bad for a day at the beach.

Then we headed off to see one of the abandoned iron ore mines.  The reason rocks are red in Newfoundland is because they’re rusty with iron.The rust tends to get into other things as well.Anyway, at the end of a long rusty trail there was a weird, rusty shed.And behind the shed (and down a slippery, precipitous climb) there was a rock.That tiny yellow sign is actually about a metre by a metre and it reads KEEP OFF: FALLING ROCKS.

The sun took an opportunity to disappear for a while behind the clouds as we slipped and slithered our way to the beach.  It took about ten minutes to get down there.  When the terrain looks like this, however, you can’t really blame us for exercising caution.  Mrs. Nice remained at the top and waited for our impending deaths, but Papa John gamely followed us down.Why attempt such a harrowing climb, you ask?  Well, because of this.That, my friends, is an abandoned mineshaft.  HOW COOL IS THAT?

Still, once we were down there, the looming cliffs and their attendant minor landslides put a little bit of a damper on our high spirits.  There’s no sense of scale in this shot.  But the closest piece of fallen stone is about the size of my leg.  You can see from the above shot how far down it really is.And here’s the mineshaft.We’re not stupid: we didn’t go in.  The whole thing was raised about 2.5m off the ground and the way up was slippery and showed signs of recent landslides.  Plus who knows how stable those supports are?

Here’s a picture of me looking uneasy in front of it.  Or at least as close as we felt comfortable to getting to it.Then we began the climb back up.

Not that way.  There was a better path we hadn’t seen before.

Then we ended our tour watching the plants dance in the breeze.  It was worth the climb!

Tourist at Home: Cape Spear

The sun was still shining when we got back from Bell Island so we decided to head south and check out Cape Spear.

This is the site of the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland (only the second one built on the Rock), and this wee point of land is actually the eastern-most geographical point in North America.  We like to go to extremes here, obviously.

This is benchmark No. 1 on the Geodetic Survey. How cool is that?

You can literally stand on the edge of the world here, and the view is incredible.The Pie doesn’t like me standing so close to the edge of the world, however, so he turned his back on the whole thing and checked out the old lighthouse.The old lighthouse has been restored to its 1839 appearance, and they’ve got it set up inside just like someone would have it if they lived there.  Rumour has it that when they were doing the restoration, contractors discovered that the rooms were plastered six inches deep in wallpaper.  Not having much else to do so far from civilization, lighthouse-keepers’ wives would simply redecorate.  Often.

The light itself wasn’t a brand spanking new addition when the lighthouse was constructed between 1832 and 1836.  It had been shipped from Scotland, second-hand, and had been in use since 1815.

This is verbatim from Parks Canada:

“Curved reflectors concentrated and intensified the light rays from seven Argand burners, named for their Swiss inventor. Lamps and reflectors were arranged on a metal frame, which rotated slowly to produce a 17-second flash of white light, followed by 43 seconds of darkness. The movement of the light was controlled by a clockwork mechanism.

As technology progressed, the light underwent many changes. The last of the lights that resided in the old Cape Spear lighthouse was a glass dioptric system, installed in 1912. First lit by oil, acetylene was adopted in 1916, and electricity in 1930. In 1955, the dioptric system was moved to a new light tower, not far from the original lighthouse.”

Seems complicated.There are all sorts of winding trails in and around the lighthouses.  Some of the trails lead through bunkers left as a reminder of the Second World War.  They were constructed as defense posts and barracks when German submarines and raiders threatened the island between 1941 and 1945.

Today the barracks and bunkers serve as sheltered places to observe the immense natural setting around you.  The exposed environment of the Cape has made everything around here tough and weathered, and all the vegetation grows bonsai style.From Cape Spear you can see the whole world stretching before you in an immense span of blue sea and blue sky.  You can really get a feel for what it felt like when the first European explorers landed here and surveyed the vast unknown.

Tourist at Home: Bell Island

On a gorgeous Saturday morning we made a trip to Bell Island.

We drove to Portugal Cove-St. Phillip’s, about twenty minutes north of St. John’s, and waited next to a waterfall for the ferry to take us away.

A trip on the ferry costs nearly nothing, and you pay the fare only once to get on and off the island.  The ride there was pretty awesome, and we all took lots of pictures.The ferry itself was super-ghetto, which made it also cool.

Bell Island was settled by farmers in the early 1700s.  Iron was discovered there in the late 1800s, which made Bell Island into a thriving mining community.  The mine closed in 1966, however, and since then the population, once around 12,000, has declined to less than 4,000.  Most Bell Islanders live in the incorporated town of Wabana, but a few live in the smaller towns of Lance Cove and Freshwater.  The mine is open to tourists, but unfortunately we were about two weeks too early to get a tour.

Fun fact for you.  Bell Island was one of the only places in North America to see enemy action during WWII.  A pier where 80,000 tonnes of iron ore was stored in preparation for shipping was torpedoed by the German u-boats in 1942.  Supposedly at low tide you can see the wrecks of the four ships that were sunk in that battle, and there stands a memorial for the 69 men who died in the conflict.

Unfortunately we got lost (hard to do on such a small island, but we managed) and we didn’t make it to that memorial.

We did, however, find a beach.

There was a duck who had it in for me.  Cait chased it away with her scary red boots.And a boat that probably didn’t float.

And a seagull.

On an old wharf with missing pieces and a warning sign.And some rocks, which the Pie threw into the ocean (surprise, surprise).

And an inukshuk, which I built.

Cait found a rock with a happy face on it, so we gave the statue some expression.

We drove around a bit more, and then we found the lighthouse, which made the entire day worth our while.  This shot reminds me of an Alex Colville painting.

There were warning signs everywhere about unstable coast line, which we ignored, and were glad we did.  Well all of us except the Pie, who worries about such things.

The lighthouse sat on the edge of an enormous cliff.

Below it were some utterly fantastic land forms. 

This huge broken piece had all sorts of little caves underneath it and the water was so blue.It reminded me of some kind of pirate meeting place.I crawled over some strawberries to get some of the photos.  The ants living there didn’t like it very much and I was soon covered with the little buggers.

This mini staircase was at the edge of the parking lot.  You could pick it apart with your hands, which made me a little glad I hadn’t gone right to the edge of the cliffs.

I think this is a pitcher plant.Behind the lighthouse it looked like the horizon stretched off and ended abruptly, and it actually did.  You can see in this photo, where the grass ends is just empty air.  The cliff drop-off is staggering.  You really do get the impression that you are at the end of the world.  Most of Newfoundland is like that.

We ate lunch at Dick’s, a family restaurant celebrating its 60th year in operation.  I enjoyed my sandwich. It had a nice view.  The restaurant, not the sandwich.The ferry back was slightly newer, and we passed the old on on the way.  And a sailboat. 

It was such a nice day.