Gros Morne

August 20 to September 5, 2005

Hay Cove

Sept. 1, 2005 5:20pm, Viking Nest B&B, Hay Cove NL

It's Viking everything at this end of the 430. Vinland ice cream, Norse Jam, Viking toothpaste... it goes on. It seems there's a souvenir shop ever 100m or so along the road to L'Anse aux Meadows. There's even a restaurant where you dress up like Vikings and do... I dunno... Viking stuff.

Ah well, when there are no fish to catch, anything will do.

We were up for 8am this morning. While not much else about the Valhalla B&B was particularly good, the bed was very comfortable. Breakfast was minimal and not brilliant. A Bisquick muffin, white toast and coffee. We'd had them set out breakfast for us earlier (I'm sure the regular diners got better) but we had to be out and gone before they started serving at 8:30.

As it happens, we could have waited around. The fog was impenetrable, so we reckoned the boat tour idea was a wash, so we decided to get the tour of the Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve instead.

The reserve is on an isolated peninsula (or cape) near Raleigh, NL. Apparently it used to be called Ha Ha Bay, but some bigwig visited Raleigh North Carolina, liked it and decided to name his town after it.

The reserve itself was not what I was expecting. I was thinking lush forest, thick undergrowth, animal noises, carefully cordonned off pathways, etc etc.

But Burnt Cape no doubt got its name from the fact that at first glance, it looks like every shred of life has been purged from it, as if by flame, and replaced with gravel.

The tour was in no way disappointing. It seemed in some ways a metaphor for Newfoundland.

Our tour guide used to be a school secretary, but she got herself this job after her school closed. That's been happening a lot up here. She's learned an awful lot about the plants since. She was great.

We drove out to the reserve along a gravel road. We got out and as we were all standing outside the van, our guide started telling us the names of all the rare plants we were stepping on.

"...and this one is found in only two places in the world, here and on that island just across the bay," she said, as we all gasped in horror at the idea that we were killing rare plants which had hitherto just appeared as inconsequentially tiny weeds - the kind of thing you might pull out of your driveway on really boring weekends.

I began to look around me, guilt flooding though my consciousness as I looked for a plant-free place to park my feet.

"Here we have three types of plants," she said. "Small, really small and tiny."

For a couple of hours, our guide showed us willow trees that barely got off the ground, yet were decades old, tamaracks that looked like juniper bushes and rhodadendron that looked like lichen.

Apparently the growing season is short and the blooming season is shorter. The best time to see the reserve is in June, apparently. Our guide had a binder of photos and was constantly showing us what a plant would look like in June.

We learned about how the frost creates these circles, or polygons out of the limestone gravel and how the indents provide shelter for the tiny plants. From a distance, the result seems to be a gray coat with green spots.

The minute the plants grow taller than the gravel rise, they get picked, eat or uprooted by wind. "To survive, the plants have to stay small," she said.

After the tour, we figured we'd head into St. Anthony to take the afternoon boat tour. The sky over Ha Ha Bay was clear, and you could practically see Labrador.

But St. Anthony was still envelopped in fog and the boat tour wasn't going anywhere. Apparently September is the beginning of their fog season. The tour operator suggested we go walking out on Cape Norman, near Wild Bight. This is the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. "It looks like a moonscape," he said.

So off we went. It's a bit of a drive, but eventually we found ourselves just outside the north end of Wild Bight (sixteen houses give or take). We walked along the shore and across a point or two, out to the now-automated lighthouse. We found a still in-use cemetary for the Campbell clan. Were they the lighthouse keepers?

The cape is indeed entirely comprised of wormholed, grey limestone, a brutally harsh, yet awe-inspiring scene.

It started raining so we walked back toward the car. We both agreed that we were about ready to go home, and staying a couple of nights in Woody Point is going to seem a bit like back-tracking. However it will give us a chance to see somethings again that we could easily stand to see again.

And besides, the cost to change our ticket will likely exceed the cost of two nights at a B&B with meals. And who would we rather pay? The company that lost our luggage or some small business in middle of nowhere NL? An easy choice, really.

Tour:  "One thing about this job, it’s always a bad hair day." Pointing out some of the 500 species on Burnt Cape.

Tour: "One thing about this job, it’s always a bad hair day." Pointing out some of the 500 species on Burnt Cape.

Landscape: Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve. You might be tempted to think it was a joke the Newfies played on the dumb tourists.

Landscape: Burnt Cape Ecological Reserve. You might be tempted to think it was a joke the Newfies played on the dumb tourists.

Fearsome:  Light house at Cape Norman

Fearsome: Light house at Cape Norman