Gros Morne

August 20 to September 5, 2005

Gunner's Cove

9:30pm, August 31, Valhalla B&B, Gunner's Cove, NF

Well, that was harrowing. We've just come back from dinner in St. Anthony's in fog so dense we really couldn't see much beyond a couple of car lengths. At night.

At one point, as we crawled along highway 430 toward our B&B, a moose trundled onto the road and started walking along the highway, in no particular hurry and seemingly fearing nothing. It was big too. Its coat glistened in the headlights. It seemed easily 2m tall, but lanky. Certainly if we'd hit it, it would have been mutually assured destruction.

Fortunately, we were going so slow, braking wasn't a problem. We arrived back here and the blood slowly returned to my knuckles.

It had been, in truth, a day of mostly disappointments. The drive from Portland Creek had been beset with pouring rain and bone rattling roads. Outside Gros Morne park, where Parks Canada doesn't pay to keep the asphalt in pristine condition, the potholes have names.

The historic site at Port au Choix, which purports to be devoted to the aboriginal history and prehistory of Newfoundland disappointed outrageously. The site itself is a desolate, wind-swept peninsula - fairly typical of the northern peninsula of Newfoundland - and it was a cold grey day, so we chose not to walk across its eminently unappealing walking trails.

However we know that history is not always quaint villages and ornate gardens so we went into the visitors centre, and got hit up for the $6.50 fee before we knew what we were in for.

Your ticket gets you a 12 minute sanitized explanation of the aboriginal people who've lived here over the years without mentionning how exactly it came to pass that the island's aboriginal people no longer exist. They can't even use the word Beothuk, it seems. It appears elsewhere in the visitor centre, as does the statement that the Europeans forced out the aboriginal people. It doesn't say they were hunted for sport, for example.

We moved on. Highway 430 runs all the way up Newfoundland's northern peninsula, from Wiltondale to St. Anthony. The parts inside and around the national park are pretty nice, but outside that, it can get pretty hairy.

As we headed north, cloud shrouded the alleged hills. At the foot of the hills was flat - scrub and dwarf forest. Hydro poles lined the highway, anchored to rock-filled wooden cribs. In some respects it looks like northern Ontario, but the everpresent ocean made it clear we were somewhere's else.

The next disappointment was our spot for the night. It's right on the 436 (the highway that leads to L'Anse aux Meadows), smells of soggy, wet toast and feels damp and seems dark. It's very far from Entente Cordiale and yet it costs $20 more per night.

But the weather was no longer disappointing, so we decided to go see the historic site at L'Anse aux Meadows. It's open until 8pm, but the interpreters (actor-historians who dress in period costume etc) go home at around 5pm. It had taken us a good chunk of the day to drive up to St. Anthony, so we were to catch them at the end of their day.

L'Anse aux Meadows did not disappoint. We had an excellent tour of the actual ruins of a thousand year old Viking settlement from a Parks Canada guide/interpreter. The ruins themselves are not much to see. Some grass covered bumps arranged in a square. So you need a good guide. Ours had been working there, involved in the excavations, and reading the research for about 12 years or so. She had a deep, extensive and evolving knowledge of the site and was both engaging and articulate.

It costs $9 per adult to get in, but if you take the tours, and hang out with the actors in the replica village, it's worth it.

Parks Canada has built a replica of the settlement as we imagine it looked when the Vikings built it. Brief synapsis: a party of Vikings get blown horribly off course and, after discovering a couple of icebergs, decide that Newfoundland seems relatively hospitable. They call it Vinland. They struggle back home and tell some other Vikings about it. These lot manage to find it again, but get chased off by the natives.

The last disappointment was the Lighthouse Keeper's Café and not because it was the worst food we've had - it probably wasn't or won't be - but because it's so foggy. The restaurant is doubtless in a beatiful setting, overlooking, something, I'm sure. But we couldn't see six feet in front of the car.

There was one other person in the restaurant. The food was okay but it would have been pricey even in Ottawa. They do deserve praise for at least putting the word "vegetarian" on their menu, but $13.50 for a plate of noodles and vegetables?

Irene's food wasn't great, and yet we paid $42 for the two entrées. Food is becoming a problem.

We're moving to a different B&B tomorrow - we checked it out earlier - it looks a fair sight better, but who knows.

Road trip:  Newfoundland is many places, including vast expanses of flat nothing, on the way to St. Anthony.

Road trip: Newfoundland is many places, including vast expanses of flat nothing, on the way to St. Anthony.

Grassy bumps:  The ruins at L’anse aux Meadows. The tour guide made them come alive.

Grassy bumps: The ruins at L’anse aux Meadows. The tour guide made them come alive.

Recreation: The reproduction of the Norse villiage at L’anse aux Meadows.

Recreation: The reproduction of the Norse villiage at L’anse aux Meadows.