A cod-killer is a good thing, while a smatchy brine is not. Newfoundland’s rural fishing villages are long-abandoned, but the stories are not lost. A fisherman born in Kerley’s Harbour, Captain Bruce educates and entertains us with tales of everyday life in the enchanting coastal communities near Trinity, one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s best preserved historic towns.
Learning about Newfoundland’s rich maritime history is a bonus because hiking is the main focus of this one-week trip.
We sample nine different hikes on the East Coast Trail and the well-mannered footpaths near Trinity. Icebergs are not in season, and the puffins are flying away to northern seas, but for berry-picking, our late-August timing is perfect.
Blueberries without bears
Where are the bears? Wild blueberries galore! Back home, we would be sharing these ripe berries with grazing black bears, but here on the East Coast Trail it’s just us, our guide Pascal, and thousands of squawking seabirds.
The Cape Spear Path follows the sea edge for eleven kilometres, weaving through woods, heath, and meadows. It’s a misty, moisty day, but we brighten up when Pascal pulls a thermos of coffee and three cute little cups from his day-pack. Mid-afternoon we reach the Cape Spear Lighthouse, Newfoundland’s oldest surviving lighthouse, built in 1836. Another distinction: Cape Spear is now the most easterly point on the Great Trail (formerly called the Trans-Canada Trail), the longest recreational trail in the world.
Wringing rainwater from our socks gives us a second wind, so we head to picturesque Quidi Vidi village (pronounced Kiddy Viddy), a small harbour with fishing stations, a brewery, and flocks of seagulls at the base of a cliff.
Bogs without boardwalks
It might be a good idea, but we will never know. On a travel blog, Cathy notices a 1.5-km inland cart track that, in theory, makes the Brigus Head Path a loop. Loops are so appealing! Pascal proposes a one-way hike (6.5 km) with a taxi shuttle, but being an agreeable young man, he consents to try the loop.
We lose the trail, or else it is overgrown. After an hour of bushwhacking through thickets and slogging through sock-soaking bogs, we close the loop. “This could be the highlight of the week,” says Doug, proud that his GPS has come in handy. And aren’t we lucky? Our heritage inn apartment has a full kitchen so we can toast our soggy shoes in the oven.
Talking about cod
When you say fish in Newfoundland, you are talking about cod. As Captain Bruce talks about his childhood, we are transported back to a time when fishing was a process that involved the whole family.
A child’s first contact was at the flake (an outdoor platform on which fish were dried), where they were given a fish to play with. Next, youngsters went to the stage (a platform where fish were landed and processed for salting and drying), where they pronged fish into a box which holds ungutted fish. Men caught and gutted the fish. Women split the fish, a lost art, says Bruce. Often, a woman was the stage boss, standing up to the big men sent by the merchants to grade – or downgrade – the catch.
During our three-hour Rugged Beauty Boat Tour, Bruce helps us explore the now-quiet harbours once occupied by the bustling communities of Kerley’s Harbour, Ireland’s Eye, and British Harbour. Confederation and resettlement destroyed these small communities, which are now only evident from the ruins of abandoned churches, stages, and sheds. Bruce sure knows the local history – and the politics!
Our shoes remain dry on several well-maintained trails. The award-winning Skerwink Trail is a stunning five-km coastal loop lined with stairs in the steep places and walkways to cover the boggy sections.
The Klondike Trail is short (3 km), but there is a lot to see as we walk from forest to sea: pitcher plants, a lichen-covered rock garden, and two moose in a swamp. The Lighthouse Trail boasts rocks arranged like cake layers.
Gun Hill Trail is short, too, but it leads straight up for a 360-degree view of the Trinity area. Another spot with a stunning panoramic view of Trinity? Yes, indeed: the Sweet Rock Homemade Ice Cream stand on High Street.
Jellybeans and big dogs
Our hiking tour starts and ends in lively St. John’s, known for its jellybean-coloured rows of houses, raucous nightlife on George Street, and striking statues of a Newfoundland dog and a Labrador Retriever. We visit The Rooms, an impressive cultural space. We marvel at the artifacts and art, and we learn a new word: teuthologist, a person who studies squid and other cephalopods.
The North Head is the most popular hiking trail at Signal Hill, site of the first transatlantic communication. This trail is rated Difficult. It isn’t particularly difficult, but hang onto your hat; Signal Hill is a windy place.
Travelling with thirteen bicycles
Self-drive tours are popular in Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, each and every couple we meet at breakfast tables is driving a rental car. Bucking this trend, we are taking a guided St. John’s and Trinity Hike tour with Freewheeling Adventures.
We two are the only customers on the hiking tour. Pascal is our guide and driver, and we attract attention by travelling in a van topped with thirteen bicycles (for cycling tours the week before and after our hiking tour). Serendipity! Pascal is a recent graduate of Queen’s University. Every day Pascal patiently answers our questions about campus life, and we relay his advice to our grandson Nick, who is packing for Queen’s Frosh Week.
Now, we are flying on to Prince Edward Island for our next adventure. This time, bicycles will be involved!