Why in Newfoundland, love is in the air
Valentine's Day is almost upon us – but in one part of Newfoundland in Canada, romance seems woven into the name of every village. Julia Stuart looks for love
Saturday 09 February 2008
Many come to Newfoundland in the hope of spotting icebergs drifting down from Greenland, crossing paths with humpback whales migrating north. But I have come to this wild, intriguing island off the east coast of Canada in search of romance. My inspiration is simply the map of the Avalon peninsula. Inspect it closely, and it reveals a bounty of irresistibly amorous-sounding place names.
Those looking for a romantic night should start, as I did, in Leaside Manor in the capital, St John's, a restored 1920s manor house where lovers can lounge in the four-poster beds draped in sheer fabric, then slip into the candle-lit Jacuzzi in the corner of the room. It seems to work: the visitors' book is filled with breathless thanks for a memorable stay.
The following day I head across the Trans-Canada Highway to start the Baccalieu Trail along the east coast of Trinity Bay, where Irish accents abound. My first stop is Dildo, a tiny fishing community in a cute cove of brightly painted clapboard homes, whose name attracts gleeful visitors. Most of them stand outside Kountry Kravins N'Krafts coffee shop and craft store to get their picture taken next to the statue of Captain Dildo, who never existed.
"The name's made my business very successful," admits Todd Warren, owner of Inn by the Bay, a delightful 1888 guesthouse with a high Victoriana theme that overlooks the water. Warren has several theories as to how the town acquired its unusual and stimulating name: it was named after a person or place in Spain; it's a native word meaning running water; it means a long narrow arm of water; or it's a chorus refrain from an old song or ballad.
Todd clearly knows how to win his guests' affection: not only does he cook a splendid four-course supper, but he presents visitors with a bag of home-made cookies on departure.
Weather permitting, boat tours can be taken to Dildo Island, home to Dorset Eskimos from AD100 to 700. Have a poke around the town's Interpretation Centre, a haven of curiosities. These include photographs of a German seaplane which ran out of fuel and landed in the bay in 1932, much to the horror of confused residents who assumed it signalled the end of the world. Then there's the treasured photo of a 30ft giant squid which was found on the beach in 1933. One tentacle is in St John's and the rest of its body is said to be in London's Natural History Museum. Just as the Greeks claim the Elgin Marbles as their heritage, Newfoundlanders would like their squid back.
Continuing north along the coast, I arrive at the first of a trio of sentimental settlements. Heart's Delight is another clapboard community, this time clutching on to the edge of a heart-shaped cove. It is home to the oldest headstone in the New World, which dates from the 16th century and is believed to have belonged to a sea captain, according to a retired teacher, Howard Sooley. "There's lots of love here," he insists. "People say, 'what a lovely name' and I always reply, well, it's a delightful place to live."
After a 10-minute drive, I reach a second village with cardiac aspirations. Heart's Desire is a smaller version of Heart's Delight, with a population of 228. Sitting in his home overlooking the coastline, with an iceberg parked neatly in the harbour, mayor Patrick Coombs says that he believes the place was named after a pirate ship which sank in a storm.
Heart's Content, which may also have been named after a ship, is the largest of the three Hearts, all of which remain resolutely unspoilt. The town's main attraction is the Cable Station. The first successful transatlantic telegraph cable arrived here from Ireland in 1866. As well as a replica of the original Victorian cable office, there is also a fully functional operating room where one suitor recently tapped out his proposal in Morse code. Another couple from Vancouver chose the museum as the venue for their wedding.
Still on the Baccalieu Trail, I head south down the glorious west coast of Conception Bay (named after the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, according to one Newfie). Another curious heritage museum in the form of a Victorian merchant's house can be found high on the cliff at Bay de Verde overlooking the fishery. As well as period furniture, you will find a stuffed white-coated seal, hand-made fish traps and inscribed powder horns.
To take your loved one for a dip – July and August are the best months to avoid the Newfoundland fog – head for Northern Bay Sands or Salmon Cove, two popular beaches on account of their sand, a rarity here. If you're intent on capturing her heart, be sure that your picnic includes chocolates made by Lillian Noel, or one of her divine rum cakes, laced (twice) with Screech, Newfoundland's favourite rum, which locals have been enjoying ever since it was first brought back from Jamaica in the early 18th century. Lillian makes them in her home in Freshwater, near Salmon Cove, and both can be found in Downhome Shoppe & Gallery in St John's.
To treat your true love still further, spend the night in Rose Manor, a B&B in Harbour Grace that enjoys ocean views. Built in 1878, it boasts a particularly handsome parlour and dining room. Nothing pleases owner Lucy Haire more than delighting her visitors with a breakfast of home-baked apple scones, wild blueberries she has picked herself, followed by eggs Benedict. Pink is the colour of love; Victoria Manor, a local antique and craft shop built around 1830, sells the highly collectable blushed pink "Depression" glasswear made in the 1930s and given as enticements to shop in certain stores.
A stay at Maggie's, a gorgeous country cottage complete with a vegetable patch and herb garden in Clarke's Beach, made my heart soar. If the lovely linens don't keep you in the bedroom, take a romantic stroll through the garden to your own private spot on the South River where you can fish for trout together, bathe or simply admire the ospreys with a glass of Rodrigues Newfoundland berry wine, compliments of the cottage.
And finally to Cupids, yet another small clapboard fishing community, which was once known as Cupers Cover. The name isn't a modern affectation – the first published reference to Cupids Cove was in 1624. Settled in 1610 by Bristol's John Guy, it is now the oldest official English colony in Canada. You can visit the site of the first settlement, a working archaeological site, where building foundations have been discovered along with 100,000-odd artefacts, the best of which can be seen at the town's museum. If you still have anything remotely resembling an appetite, home-style suppers are served at Cupid's Haven, a B&B in a converted 1910 Anglican church.
My week is, regretfully, over. But I'll be back, for my love affair with Newfoundland is far from finished.
Air Canada (0871 220 1111; www.aircanada.co.uk) flies to St John's from Heathrow via Halifax.
The Fairmont Newfoundland Hotel, St John's (001 709 726 4980; www.fairmont.com). Doubles from C$254 (£129). Leaside Manor, St John's (001 709 722 0387; www.leasidemanor.com). Double rooms start at C$115 (£58) with breakfast.
Inn by the Bay, Dildo, Trinity Bay (001 709 582 3170; www.innbythebaydildo.com). Double rooms start at C$103 (£52), including breakfast.
Rose Manor, Harbour Grace (001 709 596 1378; www.therosemanor.com). Double rooms start at C$138 (£70), with breakfast.
Maggie's, Clarke's Beach (001 709 786 1587). Double rooms start at C$162 (£82), room only.
EATING & DRINKING THERE
Lighthouse Picnics, Ferryland (001 709 363 7456; www.lighthousepicnics.ca).
Newfoundland Tourism: 001 800 563 6353; www.newfoundlandlabrador.com
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