Wilderness training in Newfoundland gave Julia Stuart the skills to explore the stunning landscape by herself. It’s the perfect way to feel closer to the natural world
I say farewell to Tuckamore, and, after an hour’s drive north on deserted roads boarded by forest, past electricity pylons with nesting osprey, I arrive at the village of Quirpon, pronounced “carpoon”. From there I take a 20 –minute boat ride- in a vessel so tiny I can almost lick the salty waves to Quirpon Island, which stretches four miles long at the northern tip of Newfoundland.
Until around the late Thirties it was home to a small summer fishing community. Today, however, the only buildings are the now automated lighthouse and two houses in which the lighthouse man and his assistant lived with their families. Since their departure in 1996, the homes have served as Quirpon lighthouse Inn, which sleeps 25 in 11 rooms from May to October. The only permanent residents on the island are two moose which either swam across or came over on the “hice”.
Try to stay in the older house, which was built in 1922, and has much more character. The basic rooms, fortunately void of television or phone, are paneled in dark wood and come with handmade quilts…
When the sun shines on Quirpon ( you can experience four seasons in one day in Newfoundland, which has several word for fog) there is nowhere else in the world you would rather be. It reminds me of Scotland – seal-coloured rocks poke out between springy vegetation crouching below the wind. Wild flowers include harebells and alpine milk vetch. Map in hand (and now able to read it), I spend two days hiking round the island, completely alone, bouncing over mattress-like flora, sometimes stopping to pick juicy bakeapples – a yellow berry resembling an engorged blackberry. While I’m picnicking on a cliff top gazing out at Labrador, slim seagulls cruise by overhead without a single flap.
With the help of Hubert Roberts, a former fisherman with an almost impenetrable accent, who runs the inn with his wife, Doris, I eventually find the granite headstone, written in French, marking the resting place of a French sea captain who died here in 1861, as well as the grave containing the bodies of four children from the Manuel family who died between 1852 and 1858. Dead Sailors’ Pit is said to mark the spot where the bodies of five visiting sailors were thrown after they died drinking bad beer.
By the lighthouse is an enclosed viewing platform with telescopes for whale-watching. Otherwise, sit in a bakeapple patch with a book, with one ear cocked, for you will hear whales before you see them. Twice, a minke snorts its way along the coastline followed by a family of killer whales.
Meals – fabulous home–cooking by Doris, whose motto is “don’t go hungry” – are taken communally in the older house. If you’re lucky you’ll hit a night when she’s serving cod tongues, traditional Newfoundland fodder. If you ask, she’ll do them for you specially. She makes the partridgeberry and bakeapple jams for breakfast with berries from the island, and if you pick some she will offer to turn them into jam to take home with you.. The ice in the water jug on the table comes from an iceberg that Hubert nipped over to in his boat for supplies for the freezer. When it’s time to leave, again there are hugs goodbye.