We left the Fundy Campsite quite early and headed on up route 114 towards Fredericton. There are warnings all along the road to watch out for moose but we did not see any, or any brown bears!. The forest stretches for twenty kilometres or so, just one large expanse of fir trees, simple but stunningly beautiful. We passed a few other cars and vans but there was not really much traffic on the road, which surprised me. Today is a big day in Moncton as the Rolling Stones (or Strolling Bones as one local wit called them!) are playing there as part of their current tour. The town has a population of sixty thousand but eighty five thousand are expected for the show
|Fire buckets in Fredericton|
Where we could we avoided the main route 2 preferring instead to take the smaller roads through the surrounding villages. Generally these were very small communities, just a few houses, no evidence even of a local shop. We joined the 102 which took up past Fredericton's airport and into the town itself. The road followed the St John's river and again we enjoyed views of shimmering blue water with scenic green backdrops. On the outskirts were some very grand Victorian houses, creating an impression that Fredericton was a reasonably affluent area.
As the capital of New Brunswick, Fredericton is not an industrial town and retains a village atmosphere, even though most of the central downtown is new buildings. It has a long history, having been a seasonal stopping point for the local Indians before being colonised by the French and then the English. It was names after Prince Frederick, second son of King George III. We were looking forward to a little city break and when the city centre campsite turned out to be a good ten minute drive outside of the city we opted for luxury and checked in to a hotel instead!
As ever, the people at Tourist Information were very friendly and gave us all the local information. There was a historic tour of the city about to start, so we were too late for it, given by people in period dress. Outside the front door two soldiers stood on guard and there was a little ceremony as the guard was changed - hearing bagpipes was quite unexpected.
After checking in to our luxury pad, the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel (big beds, loads of floor space and a pool) we headed out to explore Fredericton. It is a small city and you can walk along the main street of sights in about ten minutes if you do not stop along the way. As it is Labour Day weekend there was the New Brunswick Fine Crafts festival on the Officers Square so no main changing of the guard parade (as we found out after we had rushed to get there in time!).
The central area has a strong military history and many of the sights have a military feel. British troops were based ere from 1784 to 1869 initially in wooden buildings that were then replaced by stone. As it is the weekend some were closed but we were able to get into the Guards House which served three separate purposes - rest area for the guards on duty, administrative office and a cell block. The guards rest area was very basic. There was a rickety table and chairs, a small fire but most of the room was taken up by a "bed". You cannot really call it a bed as such, it was a raised wooden platform sloping slightly from the wall to the middle of the room. On it were seven straw mattresses which the soldiers could lie down on to rest. They had to stay fully clothed and ready for action. Behind each mattress was a hook on the wall for them to hang their bits and pieces not currently in use. It looked like it was probably a pretty hard life!
The administration room, used by the officers, had a sturdier tables, a writing desk, bookcase , large open firs and a row of leather fire buckets along the wall by the door. The desk was crammed with different ledgers and piles of paper. On the top was a small bottle of ink made in Shoe Lane, London, where Stef's offices from Deloitte now stand. It was funny to see this address so far from home and in a different context.
I think a dismal fate awaited those consigned to the cell block. It was remodeled in 1847 so that five large cells remained rather than the original seven smaller ones. Even so, there is not much space. A simple, very uncomfortable looking bed takes up abut half of the cell. There is a window high up but no heating. A log charts who is in which cell, how many days they have been there and how many are left to go. The middle cell now houses a very small display of different techniques for giving someone a thrashing using a cat'o'nine tails, one of which hands on the wall at the entrance to the cell block.
|Flying the flag for New Brunswick|
There were other military buildings, soldiers barracks, militia arms store, officers quarters but they were all closed. At the Officers Square we ambled around the fine crafts festival. It was a collection of craft stalls with pottery, jewellery (silver and glass), home made jams and chutneys, beautiful wooden rocking horses, big wooden bowls and leather ware. If we were here on a normal holiday I am sure we would have bought some mementoes but conscious they would be too bulky and fragile to get in our packs we resisted temptation. In the centre of Officers Square there is a statue of Lord Beaverbrook. He was brought up in New Brunswick before he headed to England for a life in politics and the press - he founded the Daily Express.
From Officers Square we carried on past the Playhouse, closed, to the Legislative Assembly Building. As the provincial capital of New Brunswick is Fredericton, this is where its legislature sits. It is an impressive building from the outside. Initially we thought this was shut too but a peak through the small window pane in the door revealed lights and in we went for the last guided tour of the day, and of the season. The guide was difficult to understand, partly due to his accent but also because he sounded like he needed to blow his nose. His catchphrase after each sentence was "alrightly". He showed us the assembly chamber which has been refurbished to its original style with English carpets, Japanese style wallpaper and huge chandeliers, one of which crashed to the floor two and a half years ago and has only just been refitted. Paintings of a very young looking Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip hand on the walls. The decor made both Stef and I think that the room looked more like a theaters than a parliament building. At the back of the building is a large unsupported spiral staircase and one of the few remaining complete copies of Audubon's (famous bird watcher) drawings of birds, now very valuable and unique. Somewhere in the loft is a bit of graffiti left by Prince Charles when he visited as a young boy. Unfortunately they no longer know exactly where his signature is - plasterers covered it up years ago!
By the time we left the legislative assembly we were too late for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, a shame because it sounds like it has an interesting collection. Instead we headed back to the hotel and went for a swim in the pool. Like other bits of the hotel it was a bit shabby and in need of a refurb (the hotel is currently being converted into a Crowne Plaza) but it was nice and relaxing, especially the soak in the jacuzzi hot tub.
In the evening we went to a superb restaurant called Racines, that specialises in fish. It is new and not yet in the guide books. It is worth a visit and is good value for money. We had a three course meal, bottle of wine and coffee all for $100, the equivalent of just under £50.