THE AVALON PENINSULA - SOUTH AND WEST
So what to do now that I am on the Avalon Peninsula? Two things spring to mind - namely either to go strait to St John's and work my way back around the coast or else work my way along the coast to arrive at St John's tomorrow night.
Logic would say that given the weather, St John's would be the better bet, but I chose the coast for the simple reason that I had heard somewhere at some time back in the dim and distant past that there was a ferry that plied its trade from the Avalon across the Gulf of St Lawrence to Cape Breton, and that needed to be checked out as soon as possible.
Consequently I groped my way downhill through the heavy cloud, the fog and the mist, and along the eastern shore of Placentia Bay - in the driving, teeming rain now - to Argentia, from where the ferry was reputed to sail. And of course, as you might expect, the gates were all locked up and the small office there was in darkness.
At the docks next door were a couple of men working at a huge pile of metal beams, looking as if they might be planning to load it onto the Julietta which was moored up at the quayside.
I enquired of them about the ferry and was told that the last sailing was on the 29th of September, and that it wouldn't now be reopening until next summer. So that rules out that plan - I'll have to go back via Channel-Port-aux-Basques, but then I never really had much hope of this idea here anyway.
And I really couldn't resist the opportunity to say to these guys "the other ferry - it's a couple of days drive to down there, isnt it?" Yes, I was quite getting into the swing of things out here right now. It was starting to become just like the Wild West.
There was one thing that I learnt about Argentia though from these guys, and I was reminded of it by everyone else to whom I spoke when discussing the area. Here I was using my nice BBC pronunciation of Argentia, and it's pronounced "Argen-cha". I have a lot to learn.
This photo is showing the head of Placentia Bay up at the narrow neck along where the road to the Avalon crosses, and you can see how everywhere is shrouded in fog and mist and the like.
You can see how beautiful it is, or how beautiful if would be if only this perishing weather would lift. I haven't driven these however many thousand of miles from Windsor in Ontario to experience this - I could have stayed at home in the Auvergne to experience weather like this, although the scenery would not have been so good.
Up on the hill at the back of Argentia is a large collection of radio masts. And while some of them are clearly modern, it's tempting indeed to speculate that the others might be relics of a bygone age of some importance.
It's surprising really but Newfoundland has a historical significance out of all proportion to its relatively small size and small population, and the small area of Placentia Bay played such a vital role in naval affairs during World War II. I'll talk about that in a minute.
And if you are wondering why there are no houses or buildings or anything else around the harbour, I'll talk about that in a minute as well.
Throughout my journey around North America I've been encountering these lifting bridges all over the place, and there's one here across the harbour entrance in Placentia that looks like it might be in working order. This is worth a photograph.
There were quite a few other things in Placentia that were well-worth photographing but they will have to wait for another day. This driving rain is impossible and I was soaked to the skin just crossing the road to the bridge.
I'm heading south along the eastern shore of the bay right now - I've heard that there's a respectable motel at a realistic price down here. And despite the weather, the clouds and mist and rain and so on, a photograph is obligatory, even if there is nothing much to see.
The importance of Placentia Bay and the town of Argentia relates, of course, to World War II. In 1940 the British ran out of military equipment and had no money to buy more, therefore the "destroyers for bases" scheme - the Americans giving the British 50 obsolete destroyers in exchange for 99-year leases on certain valuable sites of military potential on British colonial soil - came into being. Placentia Bay was one of those sites chosen, Newfoundland not becoming part of Canada until 1949 of course, and an American naval base was built at Argentia.
An American destroyer group was based here for the purpose of escorting convoys of merchant vessels from North America into the mid-Atlantic where they would meet up with a British escort group accompanying an outbound convoy. These two escort groups would then "turn round" and return with their new charges.
The area has two major claims to wartime fame. Firstly it was the site of a meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt on 9th August 1941 during which they discussed strategy that would be followed once the USA became embroiled in the War.
The second claim to fame is not so pleasant. When the area of Argentia was handed over to the Americans, all of the residents of the area received a notice that their land and buildings
"are required for occupation by the Government of Newfoundland" and that
"the said premesis must be completely vacated by you and peaceably yielded up to the Government of Newfoundland, its servants, agents,". Compensation was of course given, but the residents claimed that the sums offered represented nothing like the value of the properties concerned and were not even sufficient for the purchase of another property. Everything in Argentia was destroyed.
Not even the dead were exempt. They were dug out of the graveyards at Argentia and buried elsewhere.
They were dead right about the motel at St Bride's as well. The room was cold and damp though, but then again I bet it had't had any tenants since the summer and I did arrive á l'improviste. The electric heater saw to the cold quickly enough and the damp wasn't anything really to worry about, but $55 dollars plus tax for the room - the first decent price that I've encountered since Baie Comeau 100 years ago, so I wasn't complaining at all.
Food was rather limited here. They managed to rustle up a plate of chips and some salad and I wasn't going to drive all the way back to Placentia to see what food was on offer there. Luckily I always have some emergency rations in Casey and that filled things out a little but I really am going to have to make other arrangements about eating at the next available opportunity. I can't go on like this.
While eating my meal I had the television on - something that I don't normally do as TV holds almost no interest for me. But I did notice a group of guys in pyjamas playing rounders, followed by another group of guys playing netball. I can't see any interest in that - we used to laugh at the girls playing games like that in those days back at school.
In fact on one occasion a group of us boys from the 6th form challenged the girls' 1st team to a game of netball. And even though we had never played it before and didn't understand the rules properly, we thrashed them soundly. It was all quite funny really and we quite enjoyed it. Even the game of netball that we played against them afterwards was quite amusing. Especially as we won!
Sleep was difficult. At about 23:00 the rain stopped and this astonishing howling hurricane blew up. I don't think that anyone could have slept through that and it kept me awake for much of the night. It really was wicked. You can see in the photo above what the violent weather last night has done to Casey. He's looking quite clean and respectable for a change.
I must have dropped off in the end because the alarm went off at its usual time of 08:00 and just for a change I was stark out. It gave me quite a start when I woke up. Usually in North America I'm up and about and well into writing up my notes from the previous day long before the alarm, because of the décallage horaire - but not today. When the alarm went off I woke up with quite a start
It made my day though next morning when I was idly chatting to the young girl whose mother runs the motel. She said
to me. Ahhhhhhhhh! Welcome to Newfoundland!
Just up the hill from the motel is a brick-and-stone-built reinforced concrete building with steps and so on, and just outside it is a huge anchor. Of course you can always speculate about the nature of a building such as this but with the history of this area so you have to speculate about either naval from World War II or else something to do with fishing.
My money would be on the naval application thought - I can't imagine what size of fishing boat that you would have in Newfoundland that would need an anchor quite this big. It would weigh more than the catch of fish and I can't image a fishery owner standing for that amount of loss of payload.
With the weather being so much better this morning I drove back to round about where I took yesterday's photo of Placentia Bay, to see whether I could improve upon the shot. But you can see that it isn't really all that better than yesterday when it was chucking it down.
Mind you, I'm not quite sure what it was that I was expecting to see in the bay. There would hardly likely to be an American destroyer escort group anchored in the bay, unless something happened last night that I knew nothing about. You can't trust these politicians, you know.
Back through St Bride's and continuing eastwards over to St Mary's Bay, and I encounter a sign that warns me of a rough road for the next 4 kilometres. And as I have said before on many previous occasions as you know, I would swap any section that you care to choose of the road up on the Labrador plateau for this section of rough road just here.
Back in 2002 during my expedition to the Colorado Rockies I encountered a road sign that was littered with bullet holes at the side of the road in the USA and I made some kind of caustic remarks about American hunters. And so its only right that I record a photo of a road sign in Canada, here in the south east part of Newfoundland, that has received the same kind of treatment.
It just goes to show that many hunters the world over have the same mentality. Would you put a loaded firearm into the hands of someone like this?
In a sense I'm glad that I saw this road sign because many people have the idea that I am prejudiced against Americans. But that is certainly not the case. There is not an ounce of prejudice in my body - I hate everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, colour. creed, sexual orientation or ability.
And on that note, some bird goes flying over my head ...err... one of those birds. It isn't all that large, but it has a white top of its head and the top of its tail is also white. It has a kind of hooked beak for tearing flesh so it would seem to be some kind of bird of prey but I have no idea what kind of bird it might be.
As you know, I know nothing about birds anyway and I'm not really all that interested in them, well, not this kind of bird, that is, and so I haven't a clue what it might be. If you can hazard a guess based on my limited description then
The big trouble with telephone and electricity poles around here is that you can't simply stick them in the ground like you can anywhere else. The ground is so boggy that you would have to drive them in really deeply to find solid ground, otherwise they would just fold over in the bog under a howling gale like we had last night and in any case the acid boggy soil would rot them away in a short while.
You need to think a different way to support them in a vertical position and this is how they do it in this part of Canada. It's quite impressive, don't you think? No-one can say that wood and stones are in short supply around here.
Carrying on around the Avalon coast I come to the Salmonier Arm. Here are anchored a couple of small coastal freighters.
This is certainly the place to be if you want to moor a large coastal freighter or two. It is quite protected here up this arm here and they aren't going to be hit by Atlantic storms up here, although you might not think it quite right now. The weather that was 10 minutes ago relatively bright and sunny has now deteriorated into something else quite incredible. We are having huge gust of hailstones and rain, so much so that at moments I am having real problems with visibility.
I just cannot get used to how quickly the weather changes around here. 20 minutes ago I was having some relatively nice weather, 10 minutes ago I was having a driving rainstorm and I couldn't see a thing, and now I have bright sunlight and it's hot outside. I thought that it was the Auvergne that had four seasons in one day - not here.
And sheep, some sheep! The first that I have seen for ages. This must be civilisation again.
And do you remember me talking a while ago about these dog kennel things at the front gates of houses? I notice someone putting some rubbish bags in one along here, so maybe that's what they are - something to keep the rubbish in and to keep the bears out.
Listening again to my notes on the dictaphone, I was getting all excited along here.
I'm here just leaving the settlement of Gaskiers and way over there in the distance is Beckford Head. I drove past that earlier this morning on my way round from St Brides.
The bay that you can see at the foot of the hill, that is St Mary's Bay. I seem to have driven through the settlement of St Mary's without really noticing it. It can't have impressed itself so much on my mind, that's all I can say.
Although you can't see it clearly in this photo, one of those houses down there has a dog-kennel thingy at its front gate and the word "garbage" is clearly written on it. So that explains it. I thought that that was what they were.
Now just have a look at that road sign there, if you please. Now I thought that they only did this sort of thing in the USA - I didn't realise that they did it in Canada too. My opinion of Canada is slowly going downhill.
And someone, would you believe, actually asked me what it was about the sign that had attracted my attention. The answer to that of course would be "what else would a pedestrian doing if he wasn't walking? If he wasn't walking he wouldn't be a pedestrian"
I'm slowly beginning to despair of humanity. I blame the teachers myself - or to be more correct the system of education which encourages teachers to simply prepare children for examinations instead of teaching them things that might be important or useful.
But don't get me started on this. I only have a few weeks left of my visit and I don't want to spend them all standing on a blustery ridge in South-Eastern Newfoundland talking about this subject, because I have a great deal to say about this.
The next small village that I come to is called St Vincent's. and a neat little hillside place it was too.
But since crossing over the ridge at the back of Gaskiers I'd been following this what looked like a lake, extremely long and narrow. And then it occurred to me that in fact it might just actually be the arm of the sea.
It is in fact the Holyrood Pond, so I found out later, and from up here I could see that it was indeed an arm of the sea. And so I was wondering just how the road was going to cross it. Not only do we have the usual challenges to face, it's blowing a real and proper stormy wind right now.
One of the benefits of having a really decent lens on the Nikon is that I can crop out sections of images and blow them up with a decent image editor (not an exploding waistcoat) and see what is going on in the distance.
Right down there almost at the mouth of the inlet is a causeway going far out across the inlet and with a bridge that makes the connection. So that's how they do it.
Driving onto this causeway was exciting. There was a howling gale blowing right in here off the Atlantic and I took my life into my hands by parking up and getting out of the car.
Mind you, it was well worth it. The view back up the Holyrood Pond in the direction from which I had driven was nothing if not spectacular. In fact this was probably the View of the Day. On the extreme left of the image you can see the village of St Vincent's, from where I took the photos above.
From here in my position on the windswept embankment, I looked back towards the north-west and across to English Cape, the headland that is over there. And just look at the water streaming onto the causeway here driven by this Atlantic gale. It would be really good to go surfing just here. It's cold, there's a howling gale and the sun is out at the moment, making it all a really bracing day.
Have you noticed as well that the beach seems to be black? It's mostly shingle of course and the pebbles would be part of the underlying rock strata. I wonder what rock it might be.
This photograph is looking towards the south-east of the island and to the village of St Stephen's (they seem to like their saints here, don't they? I suppose that there must be martyr the Avalon Peninsula than meets the eye "groan" ...ed).
That cape over there is Gulf Island Point and leads round eventually to Cape Freels. There's a road out to down there and if I had the time to spare I would go for a drive down to the end, for Cape Freels just happens to be the southernmost point of Newfoundland, so I believe.
But standing on this embankment in this howling gale with just the Nikon for company (Strawberry Moose having sensibly decided to stay in the car) I found myself feeling rather like The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck - although where I was actually going to find The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck this morning I didn't have the slightest idea.
I found myself reciting
"The boy stood on the burning deck"
"On the burning deck stood he"
"If it wasn't for that burning deck"
"He'd be standing in the sea"
"He stood upon the burning deck"
"While all around had fled"
"But for the rain I'd examine his brain"
"A passing psychiatrist said"