Thursday, after we check in at the Old Founde Land Inn, we spend some time resting on our luxurious beds, then we go for a scout of Twillingate. It’s a lovely harbour tucked into a ring of hills. Many colours and sizes of ships cuddle around the bay.
First stop is the Auk Island Winery, where we do a tour and a tasting for $5. The winery is located in an old school built in 1952 and closed in 1991. The actual wine creating happens in the old school gym, a very large room with high windows that still has the sports markings on the floor. The winery is named after the old Auk, an extinct bird that resembles our penguins. I am surprised by the tastiness of the “other fruits” that make up a lot of Auk’s wines: blueberry, rhubarb, and partridgeberry. In fact, the whole group likes the wine so much that we order a case between us, which gets free delivery.
We decide not to partake in the Fish, Fun and Folk Festival activities, because the events don’t match our needs. But it does seem like the townspeople are
Next we drive up into the surrounding hills and come upon Long Point at Crowhead. We are astonished by this view! The cliffs are carved into the rocky hill at our feet, plunging down to the sea. Rocks have tumbled and split away, landing in the ocean to be pounded and shaped by the waves. The sun makes golden patterns across the expanse of calm water. Overhead, the Master Artist has created brush-stroke clouds across the sky. We stand a long time looking over the gorge and the ocean, awed into silence by the majesty.
We’re ready for food now, so we search and find a well-attended restaurant. It turns out not to be such a success, except for me: I make my way through two giant claws of crab meat and savour every bite. When we come outside again, the lights are on the harbour and “Fish, Fun and Folk Festival” on the hill looks like the Hollywood sign.
We’re too tired for cards and everyone cuddles up on their comfy mattresses.
Friday: Dawns rainy and cold. The mist has crept out into the harbour, so the Iceberg Man cancels our trip. There are no icebergs anyway, but we were hoping to have another whale encounter. We are obviously hooked! Maybe next time.
We are treated to a full breakfast of bacon and eggs and toast at the Inn, then we’re on the road again.
Cugina reminds me that I haven’t actually said her real name – Wendy – nor explained why I call her Cugina (coo-gee-nah). It’s actually Italian for “cousin” – which she is, though she is probably more sister, friend, than cousin. We went on a pilgrimage in Italy and this is pretty much the only word I have retained from my attempt at learning a new language.
Our first stop is in Boyd’s Cove on Notre Dame Bay. It’s a small harbour with rocks peering from the water, surrounded by yellow moss; the tide is low. We stop at the teepee-shaped interpretation centre about the Beothuks. I find this fascinating, because I can remember reading a book when I was a little girl, about Shawnadawithit (I have no idea if this spelling is correct). I found her story poignant and interesting. The Centre is dedicated to highlighting what little is known about this now-extinct people. The Beothuks had a custom of smoothing red ochre all over their bodies – perhaps an attempt at insect protection, but a process that evolved into spiritual status. When the Europeans first saw them, they thought their skin was red. Hence, the origin of what became a derogatory term through the New World: the red man. Inside the centre, the guide explains how the white people’s arrival, their conflicting values and habits, plus their diseases, killed the small tribe, whose numbers were fairly low to begin with. The Beothuks were shy and didn’t wish to associate with the traders; they stole food and tools, so antagonism arose too, which caused many deaths. We learn the story of Mary March, whose real name was Demasduit. Her husband Nonasabasut and their child were killed as he tried to save his wife from her white kidnappers. Later, the English government attempted to resolve the clash between the two cultures, using Mary as their conduit, but unfortunately she died of tuberculosis on board a ship. They took her body out into the woods for her people to find. The tribe they buried her with her little family. We discover that this ship was anchored inside the harbour at Botwood. Mary’s niece, Shawnadawithit, became the darling of the whites next (though she was in fact a prisoner) – in a vain attempt to keep the relations strong and to find the remaining tribe members. But it soon becomes clear that Shawnadawithit was the last of her people: they had all died and, when she also succumbed to tuberculosis, it was the end of a race.
The Centre is conducting DNA tests on Demasduit and Nonosabasut. If this couple can be connected to any other native group, perhaps the Beothuk origins will become clear. We watch a short, interesting presentation in the theatre on the excavations that occurred on this site. There’s a trail that leads through the uncovered Beothuk village, but rain and mosquitoes dissuade us from exploring it.
It’s time to get on the road, anyway.
The landscape here is different once again, though there are, of course, similar elements. There are numerous birch and alder trees in addition to the spruce; elderbushes and other low-lying vegetation blanket the land with a pallet of greens and yellows. Wildflowers make a purple, white, and yellow pathway on each side of the road.
In Lewisporte, it’s raining, but it doesn’t block the beauty. We stop at a neat little craft store, then cruise the harbour. It’s a fairly big town, in comparison to some others, with a huge ferry at the wharf. The “Sir Robert Bond” connects Newfoundland to Labrador. Huge oil tanks hulk over the seashore, waiting for the tankers to pull in. We stop at Britanny’s Inn for lunch, a place where local dinner theatres take place, and one that sets Cugina’s decorator instincts itching.
We take a side trip through Norris Arm, looking for the advertised Flying Boat Festival, but there’s no action. The bayside is quiet and placid.
Now a huge ring of hills arises on one side, curving around the bay, crammed with light and dark evergreens. Vince declares the sight exquisite.
We head for the GDA: the Greater Dennis Area, the town where Dennis was born and grew up. Some of his relatives are still here, including a brother and his wife, a nephew, an aunt, and several cousins.
Dennis shows us the road he used to take to Bishop’s Falls, where he’d be chased by the girls (at least he says he was the chasee, not the chaser). He does admit that the girls in Botwood refused to have anything to do with him and his friends, so they had to go where they weren’t known. Often they’d pass the boys from Bishop’s Falls on their way to Botwood.
Now we officially arrive at Botwood. It’s a fair-sized town, all the houses perched on the hillsides overlooking the deep blue of the sea. First we visit the home where Dennis grew up and where his father lived until his very advanced years. It’s the first time Cugina has been there since “Kitch” died; she chokes with tears. We meet Den’s nephew Cory, a tall, shy, sweet man who immediately invites us to come in and have a drink in the living room. We toast our co-guide, Dennis, and his parents, who gave him such a loved childhood. Though not wealthy, they had a comfortable home and a coveted view of the sea from their front window. The empty lot next door used to be the school; aunts and uncles and cousins lived in each of the two houses on the other side. We get a picture of an ideal upbringing. Nothing’s ever perfect, of course, but this is an incredible setting in which to be raised. Dennis tells us about the boys’ habit of “copy panning” – jumping from ice floe to ice floe just as spring was beginning to slice up the frozen river into chunks. Luckily, his mother never knew they did it (though she probably suspected, but perhaps didn’t want to know for sure).
We go out to Northern Arm, a little community next door to Botwood (all a part of the GDA), and check into the Osprey Cottages. They’re a perfect size for two couples. We choose bedrooms and unload our luggage.
Right outside our front porches, there are clumps of birches leaning over the shore, and there is the bay, right in front of us. The view is beautiful, even in the rain.
Sure enough given the name of the cabins, there is an osprey nest nearby. The majestic bird circles overhead. A gaggle of geese screams and dashes into the water as we disturb their munching on the sweet clover. Now that I mention the clover - it's astonishing how their lovely fragrance is always on the wind everywhere we go.
We drive into the town and notice the evidence of Gills: signs advertising businesses, a restaurant, and homes. We have a scrumptious dinner at Dennis’s cousins’ place – the Dockside Inn. We are cheerily attended to by Jack (a cousin of course). He used to play with Kevin and Kelly (Wendy and Dennis's kids) whenever they visited Botwood. The restaurant doesn’t look like anything fancy from the outside, but the restaurant upstairs is lovely. Nicely decorated, it sports some of the old prison doors and other artifacts. Just outside the window is the site where Demasduit (Mary March)’s ship bobbed at the dock as, exhausted, sick, and sad, she took her last breath.
During a rousing card game of 31 back at the cottages, we learn Newfie foreplay: “Turn back the sheets, honey, I’m on my way home.”
On that note, we all turn back our sheets.
Cugina’s gift: a beautiful little box with this message: “Hey, don’t open this yet! Bring it with you tomorrow morning as part of a surprise.”
We are so lucky! The day is golden and warm, chunks of white clouds etching the canvas of impossibly blue sky. Eagles, gulls and geese are sunbathing in our bay. One gull, whom we dub Jesus, appears to be walking on the water. Shallow and flat, the sea is dotted with round rocks that resemble giant turtle shells.
Wendy and Dennis disappear on a secret mission, so Jim and Vince do a coffee run. At the local shop, they meet the proprietress, Betty, who serves up a good strong brew. She tells them that she “can’t sell the muffins to yer, they’re day olds” so she gives them to us for free. She also hands over a whole lemon for Rita’s hot water. (Later, her husband tells Mike that the restaurant/gas station is his prison.)
When the Gills return, we set out on the day's adventures. Our first stop is Leamington Point, where the water tumbles over the rocks in a white froth. Dennis’s Dad used to take him fishing for salmon here. Just over there, at the side of the road above the falls, the game warden’s shack used to stand. It was his job to ensure the fishermen didn’t take more than the allotted quota of salmon out of the river. Kitch would buy Dennis a chocolate bar to keep him happy, then stop in for a couple of brews with the warden. One story some of the old fishermen told was about painting the windows of the shack black, so the warden would think it was still night and stay inside. That time, they took home a ton of salmon.
We walk up a rocky path above the river and become witness to a breathtaking view. Water crashes down through boulders and crevices, surrounded by tall straight evergreens, leaping over rocks in roaring rapids. The only sounds are natural: birds calling or singing; the water crashing; the wind sighing; a couple of red squirrels chattering as they chase each other. The sun dances on the water and we all draw in the fresh, sweet air, mesmerized.
We circle around, finding ourselves in someone’s back yard. The man comes out on his porch, not to chastise us, but to talk. He has been in “heaven on earth” for thirty years, he tells us. When we move on, he invites us to come and visit in the future when we have more time. Amazing.
On the way out of the riverside community, we are fortunate enough to photograph a teal duck preening on the shore. (At least, Vince thinks he’s a teal duck – we’ll have to verify that from his picture and one of our bird books.)
Glover’s Harbour has an enormous sign boasting the discovery of a Guinness World Record giant squid. At the local park, there’s a huge monument of the squid, which makes it look cute (though I know it’s not – we saw a replica at The Rooms Museum in St. John’s and it is decidedly not cute).
I forgot to mention that the GDA is celebrating 150 years of settlement. In Botwood, they are having a whole ten days of celebration, advertised as “Come Home to Botwood”. In Glover’s Harbour, the whole town has gathered for a picnic.
There are rows and rows of evergreens everywhere once again blanketing the hillsides with all shades of green. Little blue ponds, rivers and bays are tucked inside their circles. Now huge black rock hills rise above us. They are nearly indescribable in their stark beauty. Big chunks tumble down the cliffs, jutting out over the sides, then crashing into pieces as a black shore. Gorges, canyons, sporting tufts of grass, surround us. Small evergreens poke out from the rocks. Gulls and ravens scream above us.
We have arrived in Leading Tickles, a little town which streams from the top of the hill into the harbour below. At its feet lies the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, sparkling in the sun, a flat sea in the still air today. I don’t think we’ll spot whales today: they seem to like the waves. (Besides which, my usual whale callers, Maire, Leedalo and Barb, aren't here.) And we don't see any, but it hardly matters when you hear what happened instead.
Dennis says this is the most beautiful place on earth, and he and Cugina have visited all over the world. At this moment, when we take in its lovely landscape, we are inclined to agree.
We drive into Oceanview Park, which lives up to its name, giving open vistas of the sea on all three sides. Dennis and Wendy insist that we take a short walk to the horseshoe bay, while they prepare some picnic tables for lunch. We walk on the black sand, listen to the birds chatter. One seagull sits on a rock where the waves swell up and down; now and then, he gets tossed into the water. He flaps his wings upright, swims around the rock, and does it all over again. Giant dragon flies helicopter above us. The rocks pierce the clouds, their jagged sides shiny and black in the sunlight. On shore, the flat rocks are warm and make a comfy seat. We are all lulled into a dreamlike state by the peaceful scenery. Soon Dennis calls us for lunch.
We walk down the small embankment and up again toward the beach on the other side. In the distance, two picnic tables have been decorated with red and white cloth, beverages of a social nature (boasn’s), and, in the centre, the surprise (and the result of the Gills' mysterious disappearance this morning).
Huge red lobsters are piled high, their claws looking fat and succulent even in the shell. An enormous pan of melted butter steams beside the assortment of colourful salads. Cugina tells us we can open our presents now – and inside the box are all the utensils we need for our repast. We are especially resplendent in the lobster bibs, which we help one another tie around our necks. We sit down by the ocean, feel the soft breeze in our hair, and face the magnificent feast. Raising our glasses of wine, beer or screech, we toast our host and hostess, but we certainly can’t thank them enough. (We also toast Newfoundland for its civilized approach to bringing boasn’s into their parks.)
I don’t know if I can describe to you the taste of fresh lobster, unless you have experienced it yourself: the soft flesh is a deliciously mild flavor that’s unmatched, especially when drenched in melted butter. For a long time, the only sounds are the moans of pleasure and the cracking of shells as we dig into the banquet of tastes.
After we’ve cleaned up, we rest for a while, then choose our activities. Carolyn and Jim sit on the sun at the beach. Vince and Mike sit in the car listening to tunes and each other snoring. Wendy, Dennis, Rita and I climb the hill. Dennis is our coach; he doesn’t let us quit (Bonnie would be proud of me and him). We go slowly, taking rests whenever we need one or to sip water. Surrounded by the trees, the pathway is very still and hot, so we stop in whatever shade we can find. There are some steps, a steep boarded walkway fortified by an old skidoo belt, and some rock-strewn paths. Everywhere are gleaming red berries and wildflowers, carpeting the area with colour. Slowly we make our way to Bear Cove Lookout and suddenly, there it is! We hum the tune from Rocky.
There’s a small, fenced platform at the top, which offers an incredible panorama. On several sides, the different shades of sea: shallow light azure, deep blue, jewel-studded with sunlight. Only the ravens and gulls talk: the rest of us are silenced with awe. The wind soughs in the trees and tickles our hair, cools our brows. We walk out onto a peak, where we can wave at the gang below.
Later, we return to the cottages and Cugina, Rita and I swim in the pool. The water is silky and refreshing. On the shore as I dry off, I watch the osprey glide above, focused on his job of fishing in the bay. A lovely breeze tinkles in the leaves and brings the scent of clover for me to enjoy.
Botwood Tour Part Two begins with a visit to the Botwood Museums. There are two of them: one filled with artifacts from the people’s history – trains (steam, then diesel), airplanes, the accoutrements from homes, the horrifying medical instruments from the past. There’s a section on the Beothuks and a heart-wrenching full-sized depiction of Mary March as she lays dying on the ship in the Cove. The other building is a testament to Botwood’s importance during the Second World War. It was a secret naval and air force base. The Newfoundlanders captured a German freighter and sank a couple of ships trying to approach the United States through Canada. Botwood was also the landing spot for some famous dignitaries: Bob Hope, Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh and his wife. Vince photographs an old flying boat which graces the harbour. It was a former water bomber.
Next we visit Dennis’s brother Paul and his wife, Judy. They have a lovely house on the hill overlooking the sea. Their gardens are beautiful, filled with multi-coloured flowers and plants. With typical Newfoundland hospitality, they invite us into their living room and serve boasn’s and delicious fresh fruit. Dennis’s brother is a friendly, warm person just like his brother, perhaps a little quieter with this house full of mostly strangers, but we like him immediately. Judy shows us her various collections of family memorabilia. She’s done extensive research on the Deans (her branch) and the Gills (Paul’s side) and has impressive family trees displayed on the wall. Her bookshelves are carefully labeled pictures from eras bygone up to the present; a veritable museum for her and Paul’s families. Her coin collection tells a fascinating history too. Judy wrote a poem and the lyrics to a song, which cleverly and creatively tells the history of Botwood. Both Judy and Paul are heavily involved in the celebrations this week, which of course is the culmination of nearly a year of planning. They are generous with their time and stories; we are reluctant to leave, but it’s getting late. We promise to stop for longer next time and implore them to come to Toronto for a kitchen party! On our way out, they give us samples from their other collection: pickled moose meat and muscles.
To complete the evening, we enjoy wings and beer from the Landing Pub. A full moon floats on the clouds above as we get ready for bed. Cugina says we haven’t seen the most beautiful scenery yet: that will be waiting for us in Gros Morne National Park. But we all find it hard to believe that anything could top the experiences of this incredible day.