It was our last day in Newfoundland and a very long day it was going to be. The WestJet flight back to London was not until 11.35 at night but we’d be in Gatwick by 8 the next morning with only a 3 1/2 hour time difference. We were hoping that the jetlag would be minimal and so it proved.
During our two stays in St John’s, our guest house rooms were named after local places. “Cape Spear” is the most easterly headland in North America, whilst “Petty Harbour” is a small fishing port. Both were within a short drive of the city and they sounded interesting enough to be visited.
Cape Spear, boasts two lighthouses, one the original now in mothballs and the other a modern, automatic system. Normally, visitors can look around the inside of the older lighthouse but visitor services had decamped for the winter. The cape is totally exposed to the Atlantic and at the highest points, the cliff edge is protected with barriers to stop people being blown off.
In April 2015, we had stood in the wind and the rain at Cape Baba, the most westerly point in Asia a little south of the ancient city of Troy in South West Turkey. At Cape Baba you approached the most westerly point through an Ottoman Castle built in the early 1700’s as protection against pirates. Now, standing in the wind but in glorious sunshine, we were at the most easterly point in North America at Cape Spear. At Cape Spear you approach the most easterly point through WWII gun emplacements built as protection against the German navy. The irony is that whereas the Ottoman castle had certainly been used in anger, the guns at Cape Spear, despite expensive engineering and construction costs, had never been fired in anger.
Cape Spear is a potentially dangerous place for the unwary. There are signs imploring visitors to refrain from climbing down to the shoreline where, technically, the most easterly point on land is. As the notices advise, sudden winds or large waves can blow or wash the unwary into the ocean. To hammer home the point, a number of deaths are recorded on plaques around the site. Not wanting to become part of those statistics, we heeded the advice.
From Cape Spear it was only a short drive to Petty Harbour, nestling in the next cove to the south. The port town is centred around the harbour which occupies what I would call a sea loch or, in Norway, a fiord. The harbour is protected by walls protruding from either shore and leaving a gap wide enough for a small fishing boat. There was a prosperous, busy atmosphere about the place with boats being re-provisioned in preparation for their next voyages. We ate at the only restaurant that was open, Chafe’s Landing. The food – we chose the ubiquitous cod and chips – was fine but not great.
Back in St John’s we had left the most prominent tourist destination till last. Signal Hill dominates the city to the east where it protects The Narrows, the channel in from the Atlantic to the harbour. Normally you can drive to the top but the road system is being renewed so we had to park the car about half way up and walk. It’s not high, about 150 metres, but the views out to sea and across the town are second to none.
The summit is dominated by the Cabot Tower. The building had been used for flag-signalling to boats and to harbour masters as boats approached and left the harbour. Today it houses a shop and museum. The museum is dedicated to the work of Guglielmo Marconi who made communications history at Signal Hill by receiving the first ever transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. On the hillside around and below the tower, there are gun emplacements with some guns still in situ. They were there to protect the harbour from intruders. During WWII, the Americans stationed anti-aircraft guns on Signal Hill. I don’t recollect that our enemies at that time had the capability of flying the Atlantic and any aircraft carrier trying to cross the Atlantic would have been easily intercepted.
As we left the summit to amble down the slopes, large black clouds that had been ominously making their presence felt, started to deposit their load. At first it was a light shower but soon it was real rain. We made a dash for the car and made it just before the heavens opened. Were we glad, a pile of wet clothes was the last thing we needed before a transatlantic flight. In need of a light snack we headed back to our favourite coffee house, Coffee Matters.
We set out for the airport in some trepidation bearing in mind how difficult it had been to get out on arrival. Our fears were unfounded. Handing back the rental car and checking in took all of ten minutes. Security to go airside took less than five minutes. There was plenty of time in hand so time for a drink.
Or so we hoped, but very quickly it became clear that alcohol was not available. A quick question and it turned out that the only bar in the airport was on the landside. Then, almost as an afterthought, we were told we could go back to the departure area. This was a new experience. An international airport where passengers could move freely backwards and forwards between landside and airside.
And so it was time to say farewell to St John’s and Newfoundland. It had been a short visit but we had had a great time. Our lasting memory will be how friendly and helpful everyone had been. We’ll also remember the fate of so many sealers who were abandoned to an icy grave.
We’d love to go back to Newfoundland but next time we will plan a detailed itinerary. This trip had essentially been tacked on to the back of a trip to see our family in Minneapolis. It more than achieved our goal of seeing the province at first hand but it left us realising how much more there is to experience. And, we’ll make sure it is in peak whaling and iceberg season.