|A LATE MAY GRAZE AROUND PEI
Quick! - What's the town of Cavendish famous for? Aha, if you answered King Tut's Tomb or Jurassic Park you'd be right on the money - in May anyway. Avonlea, home of the world's most famous redhead after Lucille Ball, is closed for a late spring makeover.
I am lucky to be talking to Jurassic Bart, the only other customer at Captain Scott's Fish and Chips. It seems that JB found himself a hot deal on some dinosaur poop, which got lost in transit. "Imagine", he says gloomily, "that stuff survived 6 million years and FedEx loses it in 24 hours." I commiserate. JB is a retired air force pilot with a bent for dreaming-up theme parks.
I crossed The Confederation Bridge on a foggy day in late May. Ten minutes later and $40 bucks lighter I was over, and closing on a splendid lunch at The Olde Dublin Pub in downtown Charlottetown. Malpeque Oysters on the 1/2 shell and delicious plump PEI Mussels prized by chefs from around the world.
Charlottetown is the reluctant "Birthplace of Canada." When a steamer showed up back in 1864 with the "Fathers of Confederation" on board, The "Slaymaker and Nichols Olympic Circus" was in town. A runner dragged local politicians from the bleachers to muster a welcome.
PEI finally signed on in 1873, 6 years after New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. Newfoundland held out until 1949. But that's another story.
With 32000 inhabitants, Charlottetown is Canada's smallest and, arguably, prettiest of Canada's provincial capitals. Better known for conservative Celtic ceilidhs and kilts, the city fathers surprised locals by snagging rockers, Aerosmith, between gigs in Kelseyville California and Moscow. Despite a few sniffy objectors, tickets for the July 21st "Blast at the Beach" were sold out months in advance!
PEI is divided into 3 Counties: Kings, Queens and Prince. I toss a coin and head East for Prince. Gentle rolling green hills are carpeted with brilliant yellow dandelions swaying in the morning breeze. A chestnut mare swats flies with an unkempt tail. Freshly ploughed furrows await the potato seeder.
Potatoes, well suited to the island's rich red soil, are exported to 20 countries around the world including Italy and The Ukraine.
I pass through Hampshire, North Wiltshire and Cornwall. This is rural England at its best. Only the clapboard cladding on farmhouses belies the truth. When winter really bites, farm families flee to the insulated warmth of a Motel 6.
I cross the narrow neck that separates Malpeque and Bedeque Bays into Prince County proper and stick to the spectacularly beautiful coastal Highway #12. The North Cape Coastal Drive.
Miles of empty roads and white sand beaches. Do people actually live here? Lennox Island is Mi'kmaq country. In a coup for the church, the Grand Chief and his 9 wives were baptized into Catholicism back in 1610. A craft shop, beside St Anne's Roman Catholic Church, has fascinating souvenirs including Innu Tea-dolls.
Lunchtime. I find myself in Tyne Valley. The Landing Oysterhouse and Pub is still closed for the season, but a small bakery near the waterfall dispenses delicious sandwiches to hungry cyclists and locals.
The road zigs and zags around gorgeous bays and tiny villages. Cottage resorts receive a final spring clean. Alberton and Northport are a stones throw from one another and the busy docks are a photographers dream. Blocks of frozen bait, replace container after plastic container of lobster and snow crab in the holds of waiting boats. Fish plants are working flat-out.
Tignish, the island's westernmost village, is remote and treeless. The Tignish River that once divided Acadian and Irish settlers back in 1800 is lined with colourful sheds. Fishing boats exit through a narrow gap by The Judes Point Lighthouse.
Travel distances are a joy. From this Northern tip of Western Prince County, Charlottetown is an easy 150 kilometres. Summerside, a mere breeze at 83kms.
I drive through the drab centre of town under steel arches proclaiming "Summerside College of Piping." OK. What is a "Piping College?" If you guessed, "Programmes for Pipe fitters" You'd be dead wrong.
Scott MacAulay is a prize-winning bagpiper and director of the college which teaches piping, drumming, and Scottish dancing to 600 students from as far away as Hong Kong, Australia and Germany - Wow a ceilidh in Kuwait - The mind boggles!
In my short stay I discover an island that spawned Cows Ice cream, Anne of Green Gables and The Confederation Trail - A cyclist's dream of gentle rolling hills, deserted beaches and warm friendly people. A gentle capital devoid of horn blowers and panhandlers.
My only bitch? As a 60 something grey hair, I want to travel when fares are cheap and people are scarce. In The Maritimes, many accommodations, restaurants and attractions remain closed until late June. They are missing out.
IF YOU GO
Copyright © 2008 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.