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PAUL SMITH: A walk back in time through Newfoundland's woods and coastlines

It’s well worth the effort and hills.
It’s well worth the effort and hills. - Paul Smith

We are spiraling towards September and the sun is migrating further southward. The days are growing shorter as the onset of dusk arrives earlier each evening, leaving just a hint of that fall nip in the night air.

I don’t mind. Autumn is lovely. There is so much to do, berry picking, cod fishing, sea trout angling, hunting, photography, and hiking.

You can hike any time of year but I think fall is my favourite season for tramping around the woods and coastlines. 

There’s lots of stuff to do outdoors no matter the sun’s high-noon latitude. You just have to dress for the occasion, pull on your boots, and do it.

Speaking of hiking. Newfoundland is definitely a world-class hiking and walking destination. Goldie and I just got back from a nearly two-week road trip. There are only a few places in N.L. that I haven’t been so I’m trying to tick them off over the next couple of summers. We visited Fogo Island and stayed three nights in a lovely cottage in Deep Bay called Oceanside Shantys. Then we moved on to Change Islands and for a change of pace booked two nights with Beulah Oake at her lovely 19th century refurbished fish merchants home, Seven Oakes Island Inn. It was a wonderful experience, and Beulah bakes a wicked loaf of bread, and knows how to panfry cod to perfection.

We ended off with a few nights in Twillingate, staying in Back Harbour at Crimson Sky Cottage. They were all wonderful accommodations and great hiking trails everywhere.

This harbour really intrigued me. I have to go back.
This harbour really intrigued me. I have to go back.

Let me see if I can recall all the hikes we did?

First off Fogo Island has some of the most interesting coastal hikes I have ever set foot on.

We did the classics — Fogo Head and Brimstone Head, the latter being one of the four corners of the Flat Earth. That’s interesting, although I felt no fear of falling off the edge.

Anyway, both of these were relatively steep climbs with the dangerous and more technical sections stepped with wood stairways. I wandered outside the stairs on Fogo Head and did the climb unassisted.

I liked the challenge, but don’t try this without proper footwear. There’s lots of loose rock and places where you can take a tumble, especially on the decent. It’s harder coming down, believe it or not.

Another we did was Lion’s Den and then the Courting Trail over by where we were staying in Deep Harbour. Apparently girls and boys of decades past did some socializing across this trail connecting Deep Harbour to Island Harbour.

On Change Islands we did the Squid Jigger trail, a lovely five- or six-kilometre jaunt along the rugged coast with a grand panorama of the waters and grounds that inspired Art Scammell to write his iconic classic, “The Squid Jigging Ground.”

 That was fantastic, and the wildflowers, cliffs, sky and water were all spectacular. There were lots of hills, nothing very high, but up and down over and over. In Twillingate we did the two headlands that demarcate Back Harbour where we were staying.

Actually, I did one alone in the morning and Goldie went with me for the other in the evening. Both of these are unmarked and unnamed but are fantastic hikes. The views are fabulous. Neither is particularly strenuous, just a few hills, although there is one tricky slope on the southerly headland.

Good boots are a must. The view is well worth the sweat equity.

The vistas are spectacular.
The vistas are spectacular.

So could I pick a favourite?

I have limited space so I’ll pick one of the hikes and tell you more. I think I’ll go with the Lion’s Den hike on Fogo Island and on the east end of the Town of Fogo. That hike is just so historically interesting, and a glimpse into the lives and hardships that our ancestors must have endured while settling this island.

Although the scenery and landscape is so beautiful on a lovely summer’s day, I can imagine that it wasn’t easy to live and survive in such remote and isolated area during the cold and windy winter months.

Obviously they settled there for proximity to the fishing grounds. This was so critical before marine engines came along in the early 1900s.

But daily life must have been tough sometimes, like visits to the doctor during bad weather, resupplies, and so on. We were walking on paths along the coast that were actually used by folks who lived in four communities that were resettled to Fogo many years ago. What stories these trails could tell.

The trail is an approximately five-kilometre loop that begins and ends at the Fogo Marconi Station. The first community you arrive at is Lion’s Den itself. 

Where this odd name came from is lost in the mists of time, but some think it might be a biblical reference to Daniel and his reliance on faith for survival. I can see that. The area is exposed to very heavy seas from the open ocean. The town was established in 1836, probably by folks from Conception Bay looking for better fishing grounds.

It would be different in January, I’m sure.
It would be different in January, I’m sure.

In the first year, 22 people produced 15 quintals of salt cod and 15 bushels of potatoes. One hundred years later there were nine families and a total of 35 people living around the harbour. In the 1900s the community faded out of existence, and the last house floated to Fogo, the home of Ambrose Squires. It’s still standing in the Town of Fogo.

Isn’t that amazing. What a resilient and resourceful people we are.

The next town on the trail is Shoal Tickle, the smallest of the four Fogo satellite settlements.  It’s an absolutely stunning little harbour. I sat and imagined stages over the water, boats bobbing on a summer breeze, with goats and sheep grazing on the surrounding hill slopes.

It had to have been a peaceful, albeit challenging, life.

I’m a bit mixed up about the next community name. I’m not sure but I think it’s Eastern Tickle.

Maybe I missed a sign or something. The last town I know is Lock’s Cove and that one isn’t very far from Fogo Harbour itself. It’s a lovely looking location and if I had more time I would have hiked down to the land wash for a much closer explore. I was intrigued.

Wonderful view of Fogo at the end.
Wonderful view of Fogo at the end.

I am definitely doing this hike again. It’s listed at the beginning as five kilometers but you could do twice that with ease if you were to explore into all the nooks and crannies. I would love to spend the whole day and wander all around where the old houses and stages once stood. This was one of the best hikes I have ever experienced. I felt like I was walking back into the past.  

Go to Fogo and do it.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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