Saturday, July 4, 2015

Shrouded giants and tales of the sea

Rocky Harbour, NL – Would we or wouldn’t we? That was the question this morning. We were set to sail up the fjord at Western Brook in Gros Morne Park today, but heavy cloud cover and a mist of rain on the windshield as we drove up the highway made us unsure whether it would be worth-while, or even possible, to accomplish the mission.
When we went to reserve a place for today’s sail, the booking agent said they wouldn’t accept our money till we were at the departure point. One reason was the changeable weather, but the other was the fact that, to get to the dock, passengers had to walk in from the parking lot for three kilometers  – and back out at the end. Six kilometers total! The trail was labeled “easy”, over boardwalks and gravel paths without many hills, but if one was not up to the challenge, one could just turn around and leave without forfeiting the ticket fee.

A heavy Scotch mist and steady breeze sent shivers through us as we set out. Our path took us through a wooded area, and a bog, and more, with helpful interpretive plaques describing the flora, fauna and terrain. I was delighted to spot a pitcher plant, and then a few more; this is the iconic provincial flower that nods above the “Newfoundland Labrador” logo in the beautiful TV ads we’ve seen. It’s quite large; the bloom is about the size of an extra-large egg.

We also saw buttercups, meadow sweet, cotton grass and stately purple iris flowers, plus twisted pine trees and junipers with tiny red cones on the branch tips that looked like miniature roses.

When we finally made it to the end of the trail, before us, all we could see was the pond and a few feet up the hillsides, capped with a heavy shroud of fog. Soaring cliffs? Not so much. Consternation festered among the hardy souls who had made it this far, but about 10 minutes later the captain announced that the boat would sail in spite of the fog, and if at the halfway point we were still socked in, we’d turn around and our money would be refunded.

Lucky for the captain, the ceiling did begin to lift as we moved further into the deep gorge. Western Brook is a landlocked fjord with walls that reach higher than the CN Tower, carved in ancient times by glaciers. Silvery waterfalls tumbled from the heights in places, and each time we turned past a point of land, new vistas came into view. We know it would have been nicer if the weather had been clear and sunny, but we were glad we got to see this beautiful spot anyway.

An after-noon nap was definitely on the agenda after our hearty work-out across the bog. Then we got changed and headed north, past the Western Brook, to Cow Head to see the Gros Morne Theatre Festival production of “S.S. Ethie”. The dinner theatre show tells the story of a shipwreck off the coast in 1919 when a winter gale blew in. Told with pathos and humour, the play was all the more engaging because the site of the wreck is here. Val and I took the trail down to see it on Thursday – the rusted frame and parts of the Ethie are still scattered on the beach.

We took a short tour over a causeway to the Cow Head island after the show. The lighthouse was at the end of a walking trail so we didn’t see it (did enough of that already today!), but I did get some good shots of fishing huts, lobster traps and boats before we headed home. On the highway we spotted a moose on the roadside, but he loped into the bush before we got too near. Whew!

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