By Jesse Barker
Special to The Telegram
Among the newer tourist offerings in the province is a wilderness hike that retraces the steps of early European explorers as they attempted to contact the Beothuk.
You can expect rugged terrain along with a few history lessons.
The hike is called Crout’s Way after Henry Crout, who first cut the trail in September 1612. Crout was a colonist from England who kept a diary and wrote letters during his time on the island. And, according to William Gilbert, the chief archeologist of the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation and site supervisor at the Cupids Cove Plantation, “Without Crout’s writings, we wouldn’t know too much about it.”
The hike is called Crout’s Way after Henry Crout, who first cut the trail in September 1612.
It was Gilbert and his team who informally rediscovered the trail. “Myself and my crew from the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation re-established the route in the fall of 1997 (by) following the route based on the documents” left by Crout, Gilbert said.
As they cut through the wilderness, they came across landmarks such as ponds mentioned by Crout that showed them the way. “We knew they started in Cupids and ended in Hopeall,” he said, and “using Crout’s diaries and letters we were able to match landmarks and use his descriptions to retrace the path.”
The discovery of the 18-mile trail was a moment Gilbert will never forget and he’s been hiking the trail every fall since. It runs from Drogheda, near Cupids, to Hopeall.
The trail has been formally recognized since 2011.
“We have been working with Provincial Historic Sites to provide guided tours of the Way,” Gilbert said.
Take a guide
With the trail now divided in to three sections, hikers can trek through all of it over three days, with one and two-day packages also available.
Gilbert advises hikers to be prepared.
“This is definitely a wilderness hike and shouldn’t be undertaken without an experienced guide.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Chris Martin, a historic sites officer with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation, who describes it as a wilderness hike “where the majority of the trail isn’t a groomed path going over rugged terrain.”
Both would agree the ruggedness helps to bring hikers back in time and create an authentic experience similar to that of the first explorers. Gilbert wants hikers to “have a true wilderness experience and see the country as Henry Crout would have seen it in 1612.”
Martin, speaking about the start of the project said, “when we envisioned it, we wanted to get people out heading on the same path as the old explorers did. We were looking to bring people back in history and show them how people live.”
During the hike, Martin and another re-enactor, Chris Driedzic, dawn doublets and hike the trail in costume to further the experience.
“After hiking the trail, we always wondered how they did it in thick clothes with heavy equipment, so starting the fall of 2017 we saw for ourselves by including the re-enactors,” Martin said.
Hikers will also hear Gilbert reading from Crout’s diary to provide context.
It is this intimate knowledge that gives Crout’s Way something special, Martin says.
“The hike gives you a rare chance you don’t often get. You get to walk the trail with the expert who discovered it and you get a much more personal experience as he shares his knowledge and insight.”
That insight extends to the Beothuk. The hike includes several Beothuk sites like the one near Blaketown.
Gilbert sees Crout’s Way as an unique experience where walking one of “the oldest European trails in Canada provides a historic link between the two bays and between the story of the English settlers who were just getting established in Conception Bay and the Beothuk, whose ancestors had been living in Trinity Bay for nearly 1,000 years.”
Stanley Stewart, a travel writer for The Telegraph in England, took the hike last fall on a trip sponsored as a combined Atlantic Canadian tourism initiative, and described it as “stepping back in time on the loveliest walk in Canada.”