North Atlantic Adventure: Prince Edward Island
by Dr Anthony D. Cliffe
I’m half way through my two week adventure as i head to the wonderful Island of Prince Edward Island. A great part of my trip with fantastic weather, sunsets, views and friendly people!
Charlottetown not Charlotte’s town as I was calling it for most of my trip is a place for some unknown reason I’ve always wanted to visit. Not just the town but the island itself, the island that is known as P.E.I (Prince Edward Island). I’d love to say it was down to an advert where I was captivated by the deep red cliff and sands of the Island, the abundance of sea wild life and the stories of the many lighthouses dotted around the place. I’d love to say it was due to the famous book Anne of Greengables for which this island is most famed for but no neither of them. While I’d seen adverts, my curiosity and desire to visit this place was almost innate, a draw to this island for no particular reason. It certainly wasn’t the book, I only heard about it when I was doing my research for what tours to take while on the island and despite visiting her house on this trip, I’m still very unclear what it is about the book that has captured the hearts and minds of so many!
Today was a pretty long travelling day as I head south from St. John’s. Awaiting me was a 2 and a half hours flight to Halifax before waiting for an hour to catch a 30 minute flight on a teeny tiny plane across the Gulf and into the Island that is Prince Edward Island. More on that flight later! The short taxi ride to the airport the skies continued to be grey and the thermometer hovered between 2 and 3 degrees above freezing. Before I left the hotel I checked the weather in Charlottetown, a lovely 25c! That weather was to stay for the rest of the week and was going to be in the 28’s in Toronto. Lovely! As a Brit we rarely get anything above 17c after the first week in September and after spending the past two days in -5 wind chill I was certainly looking forward to blue skies and warm sunshine.
The flight from St. John’s to Halifax was just as beautiful as my flight over, passing over tiny islands and plenty azure blue water. After a quick club sandwich in the airport café I went down and waited for my flight. I was super excited about this short hop over the Gulf for one reason….a reeeeaallly small plane! Jets are great and all but there is a thrill about getting a plane that only holds ten people and it’s so small there is no door to the cockpit so you can see right out of the front! That’s a very rare thing in today’s high security aviation world. Getting up close to the plane, the co-pilot greeted you at the door and this is an experience you just don’t get in the UK anymore and I couldn’t wait for those engines to spool up.
The flight was boarded up quickly and I watched as the propellers began to turn and the vibrations messaged my seat. It was quite the sight to see the pilots working through their checklists just before take-off. The noise on take-off was quite simply, deafening! I’ve been on many loud planes before, heck I’ve been hanging out of the back of a C-130 Hercules over the Bristol Chanel in my RAF cadet days and I thought that was loud but it was nothing compared to the ear splitting pitch of a Beech 1900D on take-off. If you ever do happen to find yourself on one of these tiny planes bring ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones, your ears will thank you for it! That to me though just added to the excitement of it all, real old school flying but I know it won’t be for everybody. Flying so low and slow across to the Island was a real treat and I greatly enjoyed what felt like a mini private flight.
Upon landing I thought they had landed at a local flying club rather than an airport but no this was P.E.I’s airport. Again, tiny. Advantages of that is I was waiting for a taxi with my bag 4 minutes after getting off the plane. As the airport is so small there was only taxi and the next was not going to arrive for another 10 minutes but “more were on the way” I was assured by a woman who I’m pretty sure offloaded my bags and was checking people in! Behind me in the queue where two Canadian businessmen with their brief cases talking about if they’d make the start of their conference in time, I turned to them and offered them to take the next cab rather than me as I was in no particular rush at all. They declined politely and instead asked where I was heading and if I was visiting judging by my accent. I explained about my travels and he welcomes me to his Island and says jump in the cab with us and I’ll make sure the driver drops you off at your hotel first, you’re a guest to Canada I’ve got it. What a lovely gesture! Turns out they’re JCB type truck owners and there is a big conference at one of the hotels on the island in Charlottetown where I was heading. He was one of the biggest sellers on the island and it was really cool chatting to both of them! They both had family in Missagura where my family live and they had family from England so it was nice swapping stories for the 20 minute drive into the town. I shook their hand and thanked them as I departed the cab and walked into my very grand hotel which was apt considering it was called the Holman Grand. It was fancy! Check-in was a breeze and I headed up to my very comfy and lovely room which had a super view!
I dropped my bags off into the room, grabbed a shower then headed out for something to eat and grab somethings for the room and for tomorrow’s tour. As always I just head out aimlessly to explore a new location. I wanted to head towards their waterfront as I had read there was a nice boardwalk that went around this part of the Island, so off I went. It was late afternoon by time I had arrived the warmth felt so lovely after such a cold few days! Every street I turned onto I felt I had to take a picture of. Yet again this was a place like no other, a common theme on this trip. This place had captured my heart instantly. From the amazingly presented quaint old wooden houses, to the bright flowers to the old gas lamps to the friendliness of the people I was blown away. Everyone said hello. Everyone. Young or old it didn’t matter. It had that small village feel to it despite it being a town, quite possibly the prettiest town I’ve ever been in that’s for sure.
After a few pictures and walk along the waterfront I ended up on the main high street which was oddly full of red bricked buildings, something I really did not expect to see. I shouldn’t have been so surprised with this being the oldest part of Canada, in fact this place is exactly where Canada as a nation was born! Lights hung across the street, flowers and manicured vines went up the side of buildings, bunting fluttered in the wind. Simply stunning. I wandered into an Irish bar called the Old Dubliner which to be fair to them actually looked and had the vibe of an Irish pub. After a whiskey or two and a steak I was suitably refuelled. If you find yourself in Charlottetown which I hope you do, I fully recommend it! I stopped off at a convenience store before I headed back to my room. I was going to relax and have a quiet evening after all the travel but I noticed some clouds around and they were beginning to change colour. I had a great feeling about the weather and had that photographers feeling that this sunset would be good. I slipped my shoes back on, packed my camera gear and headed towards Victoria Park that hugged the water via a boardwalk just outside of the city. It was only a short walk and I was ultimately captivated by it all. It was so incredibly peaceful and Mother Nature gave me one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever had the pleasure to have seen. The birds chirped, owls hooted, the waves lapped the shore. A moment in time I’d love to replay constantly. Ultimate at peace with the world, yourself and everything!
I had my tripod set up and people kept saying hello, chatting about the sunset and two people came next to me to ask about camera settings. All locals, all incredibly friendly. I cannot express enough how warm everyone was I have never and I don’t think ever will visit such an incredibly friendly city as here. The walk back to the hotel as night fell was surreal. Walking through leafy gas lamp lit streets as the moon rose above the city. I stopped on the corner of a street and just paused for a second. I had fallen in love with this place and I felt like I had come home. I had no idea why I’d always wanted to visit this place but here I was thousands of miles away from home in a place that had captured me like no place other. I was home. It felt like a part of me needed to come here and here I was. I’ve heard stories of people saying they’ve found their place in the world or reciting stories of places that they’ve left a part of themselves in. I’ve loved many places I’ve visited but I always thought that was people being melodramatic. Now I understood. If I was to ever move to Canada, it would certainly be this place and I have missed it every day since I left!
After a great sleep and breakfast the next morning I headed out onto a pre-booked tour. It was me, a guy from Australia, a mum and daughter from Oxford and two old American couples. One of which was so incredibly loud and for some reason the guy decided to befriend me. He was this giant of a man called Bob Johnson from Chicago. He was so loud! I got talking to him while we waited for the bus to arrive and he loved Victorian England history and visited “CornWaaaall” where his wife’s family lives every other year. He decided to refer to me as “Hey England” for the entire 6 hour tour. I didn’t mind, he was funny and cool and his wife was just as mental. I would say mental but realistically they were just American. The tour took me to a little shop in the middle of the Island that made a variety of Jams and Chutneys. They had so many and I was well full after trying so many samples! After a short drive we headed up North to the area of Cavendish where the famous red cliffs and sands are before visiting and having an hour around Anne of Greengables house.
Lovely setting and this was the reason everyone was on the tour. For me it meant nothing so I just explored the forest instead! After there we stopped at a few fishing ports and learnt about the Lobster quotas and listened to a local fisherman explain how they catch them before heading back to the city. The tour guide Roddy MacLaine was a fantastic tour guide. So much so I asked if he did private tours and he did. I gave him some cash and he said he’d take me on a tour of the Island tomorrow! That evening I went and tried out some Fish and Chips which was very good but not as good as St. John’s before taking some fantastic sunset pictures again in the evening.
My final day on the Island was a private 8 hour tour of the Island. Roddy was a really cool old Islander who had so many stories and was such a joy to spend time with him. Such a personalised tour was very special. We visited one of the longest bridges in the world the confederation bridge that spanned the gulf between the island and the mainland. I suppose a when in Rome moment did occur on this tour. He knew all the store people well and he explained that many of the tourists literally come to this store to get their picture taken as Anne from Anne of Greengables. After a mini protest I thought fuck it and proceeded to dress up as Anne. Why the hell not! No regrets. I think I suited it to be honest.
My personal highlight however was ending up in a small town called Victoria on the coast which had a lighthouse dominating the view. Roddy knew the owner of the lighthouse, a guy who made candles for a living who shipped these fantastic pieces of art all over the world! He opened the lighthouse up for me and gave me a tour. What an experience! You just simply would not get this kind of experience anywhere else! I really enjoyed my time on this tour and of the Island. Not one place was not beautiful, not one place you would not wish you had more time to explore in.
This didn’t feel like Canada at all, it was very unique and a place I highly recommend you come visit. I can honestly see why this is seen as one of Canada’s jewels in the crown and why so many people sing its praises. It’s a mystical magical island of red sands, dripping in history and surrounded by friendship and warmth from the locals. It was unlike anywhere I have ever visited and I wish I could go back. It was a real highlight of the trip!
I was sad to leave this warm beautiful Island as I took one last stroll as the sun began to set on my time here and it gave me one last unbelievably stunning sunset. I sat on the rocks and watched the birds roost as the moon rose and the waves lapped on the shore. I had found paradise and I long to return.
Tomorrow I start my final leg of this epic journey as I head to Toronto, one of my favourite cities and I finally get to meet up again with my beloved Canadian Cousins for my first Canadian Thanksgiving. The thought of that softened the sadness of leaving this place.
Flight Videos for you avgeeks
St. John’s Departure: