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.