Hedgehog Knits

Adventures in knitting from the eastern edge of Canada.

Friday, June 12, 2009

An impromptu getaway

Wow, is it really the middle of June already? You would never guess it looking at the weather here this past week. It's been damp and chilly - typical Newfoundland spring.

However, May was unseasonably warm around these parts, and I had a great opportunity on very short notice to take a few days off work for a little holiday. Nick and I pulled out our road map and the tourism guide, and started looking at possible destinations within a day's drive. We realized that neither of us had ever really explored the Cape Shore, at least not since we were old enough to remember it.

This coastal drive takes you along the southwestern part of the Avalon Peninsula. The roads are twisty and extremely hilly. Each little settlement along the coast, some no more than three or four houses, is tucked into a cove with a barachois beach, and the surrounding cliffs are so steep in some cases that it's like driving down into a fjord. I recommend checking your brakes before you go.

Our first stop was Castle Hill National Historic Site. This was the site of a fort, built for defence of Placentia harbour by the French in the 18th century. It was later occupied by British forces in the 19th century (the back-and-forth battles between English and French fighting over fishing rights on the Newfoundland coast has been an enduring theme throughout our history.)

They have a small museum, short hiking trails, and audioguide tours, but the most impressive aspect of the fort is the view that it offers of the town of Placentia. The long, rocky beach in front was used by the earliest fishermen as a place to preserve and dry their salted cod. On the back side of the town are sheltered sandy beaches facing the harbour.

We spent the night at Rosedale Manor, which is located on the back side of the town, facing the harbour.

This place was a real find. The garden is lovely, and the restoration job on the cottage was very well done. Add to that the fact that one of the co-owners is a pastry chef, and well, it is certainly a place that I hope to return to one day! Being the only guests there mid-week, we had the dining room to ourselves to enjoy a gourmet dinner of lobster pasta and partidgeberry chocolate souffle. Heavenly. (Can I just say that although I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the local fishermen that the current extremely low price of lobster is making it hard for them to earn a living, I am personally doing my very best to keep the local industry going!).

Our second day dawned sunny and beautiful, and we headed out to Cape St. Mary's, an ecological reserve that hosts very large seabird colonies.

It's a long drive out to the cape on a narrow road over the barrens. The landscape is kind of otherworldly, just broad expanses of nothing but peat bog, and then you reach the coast and the view over the steep cliffs is just amazing. The cape is populated by a lot of local sheep, sadly raised mostly for meat. (I say sadly, not in PETA kind of way, but rather in that I wish there was more local wool production going. Personally, I think lamb is very cute while alive and baaaing, and also very tasty on a plate.) The farmers just let them run wild, and although domesticated, they are quite happy to scramble up and down the cliffs, seemingly defying gravity. Hmm, I can't seem to find my sheep pictures...

But back to the reason we came. The birds.

The large white birds flying there? Those are gannets. They're one of the larger seabirds along that live on our coasts, and I think one of the prettiest. But the smaller white fleck that you see it the background? They're all birds too. Common murres. This time of the year, they spend a lot of time bobbing in the waves.

At the end of a short hike, you come to the main attraction. You can hear the squealing and skwarking long before you see the rock.

There's no mistaking it, that's a lot of birds. Over twenty thousand pairs each of gannets (mostly on the main rock), murres, and kittiwakes (mostly nestled into the surrounding cliffs). This huge rock is really a small island, separated from the surrounding cliffs by a very deep channel. It's covered in gannets, two to a nest, clinging to the smallest little bits of real estate you can imagine.

We sat for a long time, just taking it all in. The sky above was alive with birds, swooping in with fish, or seaweed for their nests. Occasionally someone would overstep his territory and a fight would break out. Pecking order must be very important when you live in such tight accomodations!

On the way back home, we stopped to do a little fishing. This is another thing I love about living in Newfoundland - you can pull your car off the road at just about any lake or pond along the highway and fish away. If you're a resident, you don't even need a permit. I caught the only trout on this trip, but it was a fairly large one (Really! Why didn't I take a picture?). It's been fun exploring the areas that are a bit off the beaten path. We may not get much of a vacation this summer, but it's great to know that there's really lots to do and see locally, even over the span of a weekend.

I realize that there's been no knitting in this post. I promised you quilt pictures too, didn't I? We'll have to rectify this situation - hopefully this weekend I'll get around to documenting what I've been working on lately.



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