The first time I met my father-in-law-to-be he took us sailing in the St. Lawrence on a 20-foot sailboat with a sawed-off keel. We bobbed like a cork as a strong northerly wind drove us across the river to New York State. I wondered how we’d get back to the Ontario side if the wind didn’t change. Not to fret, Jim Flanagan replied. It’s all good. We’ll get back somehow.
I made open-face sandwiches and served them on the deck. The skipper sat on one, peeled the jam and bread off his white pants and commenced to eat it and tell me how delicious it was. No pretensions. No worries. I never imagined back then that this man would become part of my family, never mind that he would actually move to Newfoundland and teach me things about my home province.
When my husband and I with our four and a half children returned to St. John’s after three years in B.C., my father-in-law came with us and found himself a nice little salt box in the bay. That’s how Jim Flanagan of Leigh, Lancashire, England, came to reside in Conception Bay North.
Although my mother grew up in Western Bay, I wasn’t all that familiar with the area south of Carbonear. I knew from Brigus to Holyrood, but Upper Island Cove was a place I hadn’t really explored.
On my very first visit to his new abode — Buttercup Cottage was how it was listed — whales frolicked in Conception Bay and the views out over the ocean were spectacular. One area really caught my fancy.
When you leave the highway in Spaniard’s Bay and head to Upper Island Cove through Bishop’s Cove, for several minutes you can look across Spaniard’s Bay to the southeast and set your sights on the Mad Rocks. That, I thought, is a place to be explored.
And explore it we have. I have become so enamored with Mad Rocks in Bay Roberts that my husband and I with eight children (we took a few spares) went there to celebrate one of our son’s birthdays. A hike at Mad Rocks, overnight in Grand-dad’s barn in Upper Island Cove, and a day on Northern Bay Sands beat the pants off paintball or a movie.
We had hiked Mad Rocks several times before and seen the waves crashing madly over the rocks. The stairs to the beach. Old root cellars. Stone walls. Cool coves. A centuries-old cemetery. There are even outhouses along the path. On one hike we came across an injured seagull with an inoperable wing limply dragging alongside. A second gull stayed close by, watching closely as the first gamely tried to fly off one of the cliffs but crash-landed below. It was a bit of a life lesson for the children.
But on the birthday hike all was well. No animals in distress. Surprise babies, however, have a way of throwing you for a loop and on this particular day, the non-napper decided to drift into dreamtime just as I pulled into the Mad Rock Cafe, which is about a half-hour walk away from the Mad Rocks themselves. Deciding it would be better to have lunch after our hike, I dropped my husband with the herd of children at the trailhead, and the sleeping angel and I drove down the bumpy gravel road to meet the hikers at the other end. While the children and my husband investigated Jugglers Cove — so named because one has to be as sure as a juggler in order to successfully navigate in it — I chatted with a fisherman. The last time I had hiked the trail, Surprise Baby was on my back so it was nice, while he slept, to just stand there taking in the view with good company.
The Mad Rocks have a mysterious Puff the Magic Dragon quality about them. Mist comes in, hiding certain craggy features and moves out again, exposing whales popping up niggly piggly among the jutting shoals. A family played on a small beach nearby. Surprise Baby awoke and just as I brought him to the beach to play, eight heads crested the big square promontory that looks towards Long Point and Big Shag Rock. Surprise Baby was ecstatic to see his father, siblings and friends reappear.
After whale watching for a few more minutes and a side trip to the Three Sisters beach, we returned to the cafe for a delicious lunch of hamburgers that come with two patties and an apology that they, unlike the rest of the food on the menu, are not homemade.
It was a birthday celebration to remember. So thanks, Grand-Dad, for introducing us to the wonderful hiking trails of Conception Bay North.
To get to the Mad Rocks, turn right on Water Street just before Jungle Jim’s on the main road in Bay Roberts. Drive past the yacht club and the Klondyke Motel all the way to the end of the road or hike from any one of four well-indicated trailheads. Bay Roberts East Shoreline Heritage Walk brochures are available throughout the town of Bay Roberts.
Susan Flanagan is an avid hiker whose father-in-law recently found out he’s related to one of her old university professors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org