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Cleared up later, fantastic colours

It had rained during the night so the campground was a bit soggy. The sky was overcast but it was warm and pleasant enough. The National Park runs along the majority of the north shore of the central part of the island. Our campsite was just across the road from yet more long, open sandy beaches. We decided to drive down to the Brackley Beach complex (a car park, cafe, toilets, information panels and I suspect life guards at high season). From here we crossed over on to the beach and walked towards the point at Robinsons Island.

There were a few more people on the beach here than at Greenwich yesterday, but still not many. Even though its the "shoulder" season, people still came with their camp chairs and picnics to spend the day. We only had a short walk here, about half an hour up and back, before heading around the coast to another part of the National Park at Cavendish. This was the home of the author Lucy Maud Montgomery and the place where she wrote her first novel, Anne of Green Gables,  in 1937.

The story is about an orphaned girl who is sent by mistake to Green Gables. The brother and sister who own the house and farm the land wanted to adopt a boy so that he could help on the farm but a mix up sent Anne instead. I've not read the book but apparently she soon captivated everyone in the local village.  It is set in and around the house owned by family of the author (who had not actually lived there herself). At the visitors centre there was a short film about the author and you could then tour the house and the grounds.

Green Gables has been restored back to how it would have been when the book was set. It was highly decorated with very ornate and busy wallpaper. The lounge was simply furnished but created the impression that the family had some money. The dining room was of a similar vein. In the kitchen a big black stove obviously provided heat as well as a cooking facility. There were two smaller rooms off the kitchen, one a larder store for food, the other housing a dresser with all the family crockery.

Upstairs it was a similar story of simplicity but high decoration with the exception of the handy man's room, which was bare and simple in furnishings as well as decor. One oddity of the house was that it had a bedroom downstairs. This was for the brother, Matthew, who suffered from ill health (heart condition) hence the reason why they wanted to adopt a boy. In this era though it was quiet common to have a bedroom downstairs either for an elderly relative or to have on hand if someone was ill. Being next to the kitchen it was one of the warmest rooms in the house.

Having seen the house we then explored some of the grounds. The house gardens are a riot of colour, very reminiscent to me of an English country garden. Beyond the garden you can walk through the Haunted Wood. It is not really haunted, the strange noises are the rustling of the leaves and creaking of the trees as the wind blows, but it was fertile story making ground for a young girl with a vivid imagination. Of the twenty plus books and short stories she wrote, Montgomery based most of them on PEI. Anne of Green Gables is the most well known and has been translated into seventeen different languages and is sold all over the world. Because of her literary contributions, Montgomery was in 1943 recognised as a person of national historic significance.

Having had enough of sight seeing we headed down to Charlottetown. Our campsite was just across the Hillsborough River in Stratford and was on the Stratford Road. We checked in hoping for a quiet site only to find a building site behind us for what looks like a new house. Unbeknown to us we had come on a good weekend as it is the International Shellfish Festival running from today through to Sunday. Abandoning all thoughts of cooking we got a taxi back across the river and went to explore the Charlottetown waterfront.

Our first stop was at Cows Ice Cream shop. Locally made they had the usual selection of flavours which always include very chocolately varieties, bananas and peanut butter (not all together though, although you could do this if you wanted!) It was good but I think I preferred the sugar free raspberry one I had at Green Gables (not an ice cream lover two in one day is very unusual for me). The staff uniforms are colourful t-shirts all with different designs relating to cows and ice cream. Years ago customers kept asking if they could have the t-shirts too so a clothing line was brought out for sales to the general public. In the branch we went into about two thirds of the floor space was devoted to merchandising and only one third to selling ice cream.

Refreshed, we went in search of the Shellfish Festival. This is an annual event, in its tenth year this year, and is held in a big marquee on Peakes Quay. There is a whole line up of events during the day including oyster shucking and chowder making competitions as well as cooking demonstrations and the ever important tastings. Inside the marquee there were rows and rows of tables and chairs and also some standing/perching tables. A big stage is the centre of activity and while we were there we caught the end of the Radio Beauties and then Aaron Pritchett live on stage. It was not quite the ceilidh music we had been expecting, more typical country and western, but good all the same.

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I'll just have the one beer!

The atmosphere was very lively and from the look of the people in the tent a fair few of them had been camped there for quite some time. I am not a great shellfish fan (other than prawns, crab and lobster) having had a very nasty mussels experience years ago. Also I find the look of a lot of shellfish  enough to put me off trying them. Today though I was was given little choice but to give it a go.

Around the edge of the tent there were a couple of bars but then stalls selling mussels, clams, oysters and quahogs (similar to an oyster). Stef loving shellfish was in his element here and he pondered what to go for first - the oyster and quahog bar. I got chatting to one of the guys shucking the oysters while Stef was selecting what he was going to eat and before I knew it I was offered a freebie quahog. I had no option but to down it. The prospect of that snotty looking gooey blob sliding down my throat was not one I relished, and writing now I am squirming in my seat. Silly really because it was not as bad as I thought, I even quite liked it. That is not to say that I would necessarily go out of my way to order them in a restaurant but if they were served up in front of me I would be OK eating them.

It sounds like shucking oysters is quite an art. The competition they hold here is not just about how quickly you can do it but how cleanly the flesh comes off and whether or not any bits of shell get left in the oyster. Years ago, only the local fishermen would do the shucking and they would sell jars of shucked oysters to the local supermarkets. Now, people through as far as Toronto are paid just to shuck oysters so the competition has heated up.

I cannot recall ever seeing so many people eating mussels in one place at a time. The closest is Belgo's in London but it is not a patch on this. Everywhere you look there are people walking around balancing their mussels in their styrofoam trays trying to find somewhere to perch to eat them. As ever though the Canadians were neat and tidy. None ended up on the floor and everyone put their rubbish into the bins. In true Canadian style you had to split your rubbish - one bin for shells only, the other bin for everything else.

We had a couple of drinks and Stef had some mussels while we listened to the bands. Needing a little fresh air (mainly to cool down but someone was also feeling a little the worse for wear through excess Molson) we headed back onto the waterfront. The need for a proper meal soon hit and we headed for a restaurant that two local ladies next to us in the festival recommended for the best lobster supper in town. Called The Water Prince shop it is at the corner of Prince Street and Water Street. It is a small, family owned place which was very busy. We were lucky that two people were leaving as we arrived otherwise we would have had a long wait. The chowder was tasty and the lobster divine - definitely a good recommendation. At the table next to us was an Italian couple who moved to Canada about forty years ago. Stef and they shared desperation at the inability to get a decent cup of coffee here and they told us how their old stove top espresso maker was no more - it exploded one day creating $3,000 worth of damage to their new kitchen!

Although the festival was still going our appetite for music, food and drink was well and truly satiated and we opted to head back to camp and bed.

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Ness meets John MacDonald, first Premier

Forgetting that today was Saturday I had expected to be woken early by the workmen on the building site behind us. Without that wake up call though we slept in late and it was getting close to nine by the time we woke up. Bad news as we had planned to be up and out early as we want to head back on the ferry to Nova Scotia today but still have things we want to see in Charlottetown before we go. We were delayed a bit longer than planned by a little laundry problem. Stef went to collect the washing he had put in the dryer. Unfortunately it was still wet as he had not read the last part of the instructions that say "push the start button". It took him a while to work out what had gone wrong!

We headed into town to the Founders Hall - Canada's Birthplace Pavilion. Its a new attraction and has replayed the story of the founding of the Canadian Federation, setting it into a modern news reporting style. Little headsets allow you to listen in to the news broadcasts as you work your way around. The history is interesting and is initially a story of the British North American colonies wanting greater political and economic strength and better commercial opportunities. What started as off the record conversations in Charlottetown PEI resulted in the Canadian confederation which is still changing to the current day.

In 1864, the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI) agreed to meet to open discussions on uniting. The then province of Canada (today's Ontario and Quebec), hearing of the meeting decided to come along as they wanted to  start discussions on wider union. They had a successful meeting, during which nothing was documented, but there were lots of dinners and parties and they reached agreement in principle. A month later, they met in Quebec  and drew up and documented the framework for the confederation. The treaty confirming their plans was drawn up in London in 1865 and on 1 July 1867 the new  Confederation came into being. Meanwhile, on the west coast Vancouver Island and British Columbia decided to unite in 1866.

In 1869, the Métis Indians (mixed race descendents of white men and Indian women) became concerned that their lands were being opened up to new settlers. Their concerns were not heeded until they occupied the Upper Fort Garry, led by Louis Riel. He successfully negotiated the founding of a separate province for the Métis, Manitoba, but was considered a bad element, was exiled and then later hanged. He is now considered one of the fathers of the Confederation.

In 1870 the Hudson Bay company sold to Canada (because they were forced to by Britain) the Northwest Territories, Alberta and Saskatchewan. British Columbia joined the confederation in 1871, and PEI (who had opted out despite being one of the initial parties to the table) reluctantly joined in 1873. Theirs was an economic decision. They were badly in debt and needed financial help which the Confederation agreed to give. Newfoundland finally joined in 1949, again for economic reasons.

The Northwest Territories has reduced in size over the years with the creation of two new provinces. In 1898 the Yukon was formed to ensure that law and order could be maintained during the Klondike Gold Rush years. Nunavut was formed recently in 1999, fulfilling a long wish of the Inuit people that they could have a self governed territory. In the middle of all of this, Canada was granted Independence in 1931.

Founders Hall provides a detailed description of the people involved in developing and shaping the Confederation and the trials and tribulations they had to go through. It was by no means plain sailing, especially in PEI where the local people felt the Confederation was not for them. At the end of the museum tour they had a great film based montage of people across Canada. Most had no more than a few seconds on film as all they had to do was say where they came from. It was a great way to create an impression of the Canadian landscape and the friendliness of its people.

After the Founders Hall we went up to Province House, the building where the initial 1864 discussions took place. It has been restored back to the decor in place at that time. The Confederation Chamber is relatively modest in size considering the importance of the discussions that were held there. It must have been pretty cramped in there with over twenty delegates. The clerks office and library were also trips down memory land and I could picture important gentlemen of the day huddled around the tables concocting their plans and reaching consensus.

The building is still home to the Legislative Assembly for PEI. The assembly room had a much more practical and functional feel to it. I suspect a lot more fun was had in the Confederation Chamber! The building itself is a neo-classical three storey sandstone building, whose design was opened up to competition which was won (from memory) by a Scot. Outside the main door, the step has a big dip where it has been worn away over the years. The local story says that as the farmers came in to pay their taxes, they stomped their hob nailed boots here to get rid of the mud. They must have come out on the same side of the door though as only one side is worn away.

With a ferry to catch we then made tracks leaving Charlottetown with a good feeling and with enough still to do to come back again one day. We headed straight back to Wood Islands and made the ferry port with loads of time to spare. We wanted to cross back today as Confederation Bridge (13km long), the other access point for the island, is closed tomorrow for the annual Terry Fox run. He was a young man suffering from cancer who set out to run from Newfoundland to Vancouver to raise money. Sadly, he only made it half way before the cancer got the better of him. He has inspired thousands here and worldwide and there is now an active cancer movement in his name.

Our other reason for heading back earlier than we otherwise would have is that the tail end of Hurricane Ophelia, now a tropical storm, is heading for Nova Scotia and PEI and I for one did not want to be on a ferry when it hit! On our way over the ferry was full with lots of big trucks and we were squidged in at the back. This time round it was barely a third full. We camped out in the cafe having a bowl of seafood chowder each to warm up. The crossing was fine, a slight roll to the ferry and the odd grating noise as waves hit the propellers or rudder at an odd angle, and before long we were back at Caribou on Nova Scotia.

Driving back through Pictou we stopped off at the Sobeys supermarket. This is a chain throughout the Maritimes and the first branch was opened here in Pictou. I suspect it was very different from todays! I failed to persuade Stef to stay locally in Pictou to avoid having to drive in what was worsening weather. He wanted to get further up the coast so we were near to Cape Breton for an early start tomorrow.

The next two hours for me were a bit hairy. It was dark, very wet and very windy, the type of weather I do not enjoy driving home from work in and I know that route and my car very well. Here we were on unknown roads and in a still not wholly familiar vehicle. I told Stef he was barking mad for driving but this probably just served to make him even more determined to get to Havre Boucher, our chosen stop for the night.

We turned off the main road onto the little side road for the campsite, breaking suddenly to avoid hitting a skunk crossing the road. The campsite was set mainly in woodlands and I flatly refused to take a site amongst trees when a storm was expected. They did have open sites and we were one of four RV's there that night (no signs of life were evident in one of them so they must have opted for a hotel). By the time we were there and rigged up it was past nine. I was not a happy bunny as I knew it would be quicker and easier if I did the required chores (making the bed and cooking dinner) and I was really too tired to want to do either.

Dinner was a curry, very nice at the time but as I write this a couple of days later we are still paying the price as Mortimer now has a distinctly Indian odour that so far is being quite resistant to our air freshener!

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Whisky tasting at Glenora

Well, if a tropical storm was due it must have taken a different route. It did rain and was a bit windy but nothing too hairy. Stef's plan of driving here last night so that we were early in Cape Breton did not quite work though. We probably made it across the Canso causeway at the same time as if we had stayed in Pictou. Ah well.

We stopped at Tourist Information to get up to date local information, in particular good places to go to for a ceilidh, and then headed up the west coast on route 19. The landscape here is noticeably different to the rest of Nova Scotia and I lost track of the times we said "ooh, this is just like Scotland" and it really is. I can understand why the Scots who left their homes after the Battle of Culloden settled here. Its rough and rugged, the fields are full of mosses and heathers and the forests stretch as far as you can see.

At Glenora we stopped off at the distillery, the only one in North America producing a single malt whisky. Set in a valley next to a stream it is an ideal location (they looked at eight other options before choosing this one). Initially founded in 1988 it took until 1990 before they were in production. The yeast and barley come directly from Scotland all prepared and ready to go so all they do here is add the water and then put the result through the distilling process. The distillery is not air conditioned so it only operates between mid October and the end of December to ensure that the air temperature is right and does not kill off the yeast. At this time they only employ seven people. During bottling, and when the distillery hotel is in full swing, they employ up to thirty five.

Government officials oversee the process to ensure that the final alcohol content does not exceed 80% proof and that there is no sneaky third distillation process. Once barreled, the whisky is left to age in an outside barn with no light, heat or any other artificial influences on its condition. Even in the middle of winter, the barrels are simply left in the snow covered barn with no-one around to ensure they do not go wandering off!

The tour we had included a tasting of their ten year old. Not bad, although I am no connoisseur. Last week they put on sale their first batch of fifteen year old malt and half has already been sold in the first week. They are small and plan to stay that way, it also means the whisky is expensive. In the bar we paid for a tasting of their eight, ten, fourteen and fifteen year old whiskies. For a little snifter of each we paid $30 which I thought was quite pricey. Not as bad as the cost of a miniature of the ten year old which was a staggering $15. Stef preferred the fourteen year old, I preferred the eight year old. It was amazing how different the taste was over the years, especially between the fourteen and fifteen year olds. The latter was much more syrupy and tasted of vanilla and apples (possibly due to the apple trees outside the barn in which it is stored while it matures).

After the distillery we backtracked a little to Mabou and the Red Shoe pub. This had come highly recommended to us as Ceilidh territory by Tourist Information. We had driven past it on the way to the distillery and it was empty. Now, about an hour and a half later, it was packed and we had to pay to get in! It was worth it though. The fiddler was superb, one of the best around the barman confirmed to us. There were no seats left so we stood at the bar to soak up the atmosphere and watch what was going on. For most of the time we were there it was just a fiddler and a pianist but a chap on a guitar also joined in later.

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Mean fiddler

The barman, who has just come back from a couple of months in Ireland, filled us in on some of the details. We were impressed that people in the pub simply got up to dance all knowing what to do, when and how without even talking to each other about it. In the local area people meet for Ceilidh's almost every day of the week. They are usually just held in the local village hall. As such, they are all experienced at what they are doing. In the pub they had cleared the space of a few tables, just enough room for ten people to do their stuff.

At a Ceilidh, music is played in sets of three with each tune being faster than the last. They certainly picked up the pace and were whirling around all over the place. Most of the time it was groups of people dancing but in one set individuals simply got up and had a solo turn.

Not only was the Ceilidh here great but they were also doing superb food. It was packed all the time we were there and it had the air that this is the way the local people spend their Sunday afternoons. From a very elderly and white haired granny in the corner to young children all generations were here but it was probably those in their forties to sixties who were doing the dancing. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and all were having a good time.

Ceilidh'd out after an hour or so we then headed on further up the coast, passing through Inverness, to Cheticamp and the entrance to the Cape Breton Highland National Park. It was still windy but had for a while stopped raining. It was not long after we made camp that the rain came back though. What was good was that this was the first time in a while that we had got to a campsite relatively early in the afternoon so we still had daylight left. We both felt pretty knackered and snuggled up on the bed to watch a film before dinner.

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Panoramic vista point eh?

We woke to another rainy day, which will limit our whale watching opportunities. Around Cape Breton Pilot, Minke, Fin and Humpbacks are all common and in good weather you can see them from the lookout posts on the edge of the road. I doubt we will have such luck today. We to'ed and fro'ed into Cheticamp, first on the hunt for propane as our tank is running low. This we found at the local co-op, a real Aladdin's cave of a shop. Here you can buy everything from your weekly shop to an extension for your house, all houses here being in effect big garden sheds.

Heading back up and through the National Park we realised that we had forgotten to also fill up with petrol. A quick calculation based on fuel consumption and we felt we probably had enough to get to the next petrol pump at Cape North but decided to play safe. We turned back to Cheticamp, filled up and then set off on our way again.

The weather was pretty foul and there were lots of low hanging clouds. As we drove we could see the wind rolling in and blowing the mist away. Parts that had been totally misty on our first attempt through the park we now much clearer as we drove through for the second time. There was a gradual climb uphill along the side of the Jerome Mountain (366m) and French Mountain (455m), small compared to those we had been on in South America but still pretty impressive as you had the full impact of the height from sea to the summit. Along the way we passed a couple of men cycling up. They must have had pretty strong leg muscles to keep going.

We had planned a walk at French Mountain to get the benefit of the sea views. We parked up in the car park but decided it was too wet and muggy to really enjoy it and that we would carry on. One slight little problem as we left though. Stef, reversing backwards, had not realised that the grass and bushes at the side of the road were not at road level but were growing from a ditch. Fortunately, our spare tyre is on the back of the van and this hit the ground with a crunch and a bash before the wheels could get stuck in the ditch.  There were no visisble signs of damage, just a few bits of mud and grass stuck on the back - a lucky escape. The North American caution for not getting sued for anything continued on the map from the National Park. They showed you which roads were steep marking them as "drive safely on the mountains. Use lower gear...". Winding down to Pleasant Bay what you think is open ocean is still the tail end of the Gulf of St Lawrence, vast open expanses of water.

From Pleasant Bay we climbed back up to the plateau of the national park where the woodland changed from pine and fir to maple trees. We stopped at the Lone Shieling home to 350 year old maple trees and a replica of a Scottish Crofters hut. Land had been left by a local man to the National Park on the condition that they built and maintained the shieling, a copy on one on (I think) the Isle of Skye in Scotland. A small walk takes you through the forest to the shieling. It is a simple hut, larger on the inside than you think it will be from the outside. A wall divides the space into living and sleeping, the beds simply being stone bunks that are covered with straw. One full side of the hut is open and is filled by peat bricks when it starts to get cold.

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Perfect spot

Around the shieling a path leads down to a bridge over a stream. We had not seen this at first and were trying to work out how we would get across without either getting wet or slipping as the water was fast running and deeper than my boots. On the other side it takes you through the maple forest. This made me wonder who first found that you could get syrup from a maple tree and what had led them to give it a go. It was the same type of musing I have about what led someone to mix certain elements together to get plastic, or to beat flax and then sift it so that you could spin a yarn to make cloth etc etc.

In the maple forest there was a really peaceful and calm aura. The trees are very tall and supple and through their green canopy sunlight filters through to the ground below. This forest is also home to a wide variety of species of palms, some of which are rare and unique to this area. All around small saplings are growing, starting their climb upwards to clear sunlight. The path continues down to meet the Anse River. Here it is probably ten metres wide and runs fast over rocks and pebbles creating the ever relaxing sound of trickling water. At this point the water had a reddy brown tinge to it, reflecting the colour of the soil in much of this area.

Back on the road we headed down towards Cape North following a fairly straight road along the valley of the Middle Aspy River. Information panels along the way told the story of the valley. This valley lies along one of the fault lines in the earths crust, they believe the same one as the Great Glen in Scotland. I can well believe it as the landscape all around here has been very reminiscent of Scotland. The valley is now totally covered in trees and here and there, as we have seen for the last week or so, one or two are just starting to change colour.

We followed the road down as far as Broad Cove where we decided to stop for the night. What had started as a really wet, rainy and miserable day ended in bright warm sunshine, with clear blue skies that looked crisp and clean, as if they had just been washed. It was so warm that we dusted down our little barbecue, lit a wood fire and enjoyed dinner al fresco, something we have not been able to do for a while. The information they gave us when we booked in included a leaflet on what to do if a brown bear came into the site. Much as I would love to see one, I have decided I only really want to see one if a Park Ranger is on hand with a gun with a tranquiliser dart in it so that if the bear goes on the attack the Ranger can stun it.

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Play of sun, clouds and waves

Today was one of those days where we finished the day somewhere totally different to where we had expected to be. Rather than ending up in Baddeck for another night of Ceilidh based entertainment, we found ourselves on an overnight ferry to Newfoundland. But that is skipping ahead of time a little so I will back track.

Our initial plan was to go for a long walk in the national park and then to work our way down to Baddeck. I though had woken up full of cold and the last thing I felt like doing was walking. It was one of those days where if I was at home I would be curled up on the settee with a big mug of tea, a good book and a stack of DVD's to work my way through. Instead of walking we hit the road, driving down through Ingonish and on to Cape Smokey. Here we stopped to enjoy the view. This side of Cape Breton faces onto the Atlantic Ocean and there are great views up and down the coast and of the small villages dotted along the way. At some stage we decided that the ceilidh we had gone to in Mabou would last us for some while to come so rather than heading for Baddeck we headed east across the cape.

Just after Indian Brook we took a small road that on the map just stops in the middle of St Anns Bay. The road is in effect a causeway spanning the bay and it ends about forty metres before the other side allowing enough room for boats to get further down into St Anns Harbour. A small chain ferry takes you across to the other side. As we got there a huge lorry with a full load of logs was going aboard. Not surprisingly, it had the ferry to itself. Within minutes it was off the other side, the ferry was loaded and was coming back our way to take us to Englishtown. From here we followed route 105 to Sydney.

At Sydney we did a slight detour to find the Cape Breton branch of Stones, the RV dealer who had fixed up Morty's water works problems. We now have a problem with our water heater and have been boiling pans of water to wash up for the last few days. We found them just outside of Sydney and waited for the service chaps to come back from lunch. The problem turned out to be the circuit board which has blown and has now been replaced. Yet another bill that we will try to recover from Roulottes Gilbert (who we bought from) when we go back through Montreal.

While we were there we were able to take a look inside the other trailers that they had on show. Some were huge, able to comfortably sleep 6 people (as long as about four were children) with all mod cons. The ones that surprised me most though we the ones that fold away into a flat trailer box shape. We have seen loads of these on campsites and I always thought they looked as if they would be really small and cramped inside. Not so. The sleeping areas fold out and look more roomy than the space we have on Morty and they come equipped with dining area, fridge, cooker etc. The only thing they do not seem to have is an onboard loo.

While we were waiting around at Stones we replanned the rest of our day. The next province we are heading to is Newfoundland and Labrador and the ferries there go either at 4:00pm or 11:30pm. Knowing that there was not much else we wanted to see in this part of Cape Breton we booked for the night ferry for tonight. We then headed out to Glace Bay hoping to see the Miners Museum and the site where Marconi sent his first message across to Cornwall.

The Miners Museum would have been an interesting visit as part of the tour is led by an ex-miner who takes you down into the mines themselves. Unfortunately we got there just before it was closing so could not do the tour. At the Marconi site, the state of play was worse. This is only open in the summer season so we did not even get to talk to a human being here. We did though resolve a dispute that had been ongoing since Stef read the guidebooks.

They talked about how this was a site where Marconi conducted experiments on radio transmissions but did not actually say that messages were sent or received from here. Stef had decided that as such, the messages probably went to/from somewhere else, I disagreed saying he was just being cynical. When we got there, it was the site where the first transatlantic message to Cornwall was sent from, but it was not where the first, and earlier, transatlantic message from Cornwall to Canada was received. Funnily, Stef had changed the goal posts of his earlier debate. It was no longer a debate about whether any messages were sent or received here but it was that this site was not where the first message was sent/received. Typical man! (and he is now disagreeing that he changed the goal posts!)

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Miner's Museum at Glace Bay

With nothing much else to see we headed back to Sydney. It is just an industrial town but some of the streets in the town were very picturesque with old style clapboard houses and green canopies of shade from the trees on either side. We found the local library and went in to use their internet access to check mails and other bits and pieces of information. We then headed out to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry to Newfoundland.

It was only about 8:00pm when we checked in for the ferry and we had over an hours wait before boarding would start. We had decided to wait for dinner and eat on the ferry so went for a little amble around the terminal. There was not really much to see or do but we found a little bar and had a drink to kill some time. When we boarded we were right at the front next to a big livestock trailer full of cows. They could obviously sense that something unusual was up (apart from being stuck in a trailer) and were all mooing away. They already were providing quite a rural smell in the air!

Being a clever chap Stef had reserved a cabin for us, unfortunately not one with a porthole or window but it was comfy enough and better than trying to sleep on chairs in the main lounge. We went for a walk around the ferry and finding a member of crew I had to admit defeat, Stef had correctly worked out which was the front of the ferry, something I would expect from an experienced day skipper such as he! Hungry, we then found the cafe and had an unremarkable dinner. I had set my expectations low so was not too disappointed in my fish and chips but Stef's hot dog left a lot to be desired.

Tired and knowing we would have a long day's drive ahead of us tomorrow we went and got cosy in our cabin and headed for bed just as the ferry left port. They were surprisingly comfy and it was not long before we were both sound asleep.

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Stormy seas

I woke to the roll of the ferry. The wind had picked up overnight and it was blowing a bit of a gale outside. Despite this we had both slept well, probably in part because it was the first night in a while where we could both stretch out and not bash our feet against the side of Morty. Stef went for a look outside, reporting back that it was dark and he could not see anything, while I hit the shower. Both refreshed, clean and dressed we left the cabin ready to disembark to only hear a message from the Captain. Due to the weather we were not yet able to dock and he was not able to say when we would be.

From talking to some of the staff on board this was quite usual. In winter they have been known to be stuck outside the bay for three to four days at a time until the winds calm down enough for them to dock. The problem today was that a container ship that was in the harbour could not get out because of the wind. Until they were out, we could not go in. We while away the extra time (just under three hours) having breakfast and planning out what we want to do in Newfoundland and Labrador. We had not really minded the delay but some people were on the final leg of a long journey and were not happy. They had been driving fro days already to get this far and with the delay in docking they will miss their connection to their final ferry which means they will not get home tonight as they had hoped to. When we were finally on the move it was a tight squeeze coming in to harbour with rocks not far off the port side of the ferry.

Back down on the vehicle deck you could smell that the cows had had a busy night. I felt sorry for them being stuck down here in fairly cramped conditions with no idea of what was going on. They had left a little parting gift on the ferry and we were glad that we had not been parked on that side of them! I did not envy the men on the ferry who had to clear that little lot up, no doubt someone will have taken it home for the garden.

The ferry arrived at Channel-Port-aux-Basques on the south western corner of Newfoundland. We stopped off at the Tourist Information centre with a long list of questions about what there was to see and do but most importantly about connections up to Labrador and options for getting back down again. We have information and some phone numbers but more work to do before we can really finalise our plans. If we can we want to hop along the eastern coast of Labrador from Cartwright up to Nain. This route is only covered by a supply ship that does take passengers but.... its a ten day trip and is likely to cost in the region of $6,000. Probably too long and too expensive for this trip.

Our other dilemma is how to get back from Blanc Sablon on the north coast of Quebec to the rest of Quebec. We can either back track the way we have come or go by a freight cargo ship. The latter will mean having Morty locked up in a container before being put on board. Its a two day trip and I suspect this will also be prohibitively expensive for this trip. At least now we have the information we need to start to plan our time here. As we need to do more research we decided to make our way across to St John's without stopping to see bits and pieces and then gradually work our way back.

The 14 hour ferry that would have taken us to Argentia, closer to St John's, only runs once a week and left on Monday so we had no option but to land here and then drive across. The downside is that there is only one road across Newfoundland, the main Trans Canada Highway, so we will have to backtrack some or all of it, depending on what our onward plans are.

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Windswept arrival at Newfoundland

It was still really windy when we left Tourist Information and continued to be so throughout the day. Depending on who we asked it is either the tail end of Hurricane Ophelia or it is just the way the weather always is on Newfoundland. It made for tiring driving though as you had to keep both hands firmly on the wheel to counteract the gusts of wind that tried to blow you off track. As there are deep ditches along the sides of the road, getting blown off would not be much fun. When the winds here really peak most people just hole up and wait for it to die down. Sometimes though the driver of a big HGV will risk it and give it a go and a couple of times a year there are cases where HGV's get lifted off the road by the wind. Although it was windy it was nowhere near that bad today.

With the cloud cover so low it was difficult to really see and appreciate the landscape. You could make out mountains with their peaks shrouded in dense dark clouds which you could see racing by in the wind. We went through patches where it was long, straight and flat with little discernable vegetation but gradually as we worked further north it became greener and greener, with more hills and, dare I say it, more and more like Scotland. The one constant that is even more visibly here than in the rest of Canada we have seen so far is that everywhere you are you are near to water. Its either a stream, river, lake, pond or the sea. On one of the lowland stretches we stopped to fill up with petrol. They say that Newfoundlanders are the friendliest people in Canada and the chap at the petrol station certainly lived up to that reputation, even though he mistook Stef for an Australian!

We stopped at Corner Brook for a bite of lunch and I took over the driving from Stef, glad that I had had a couple of power naps along the way. We swapped again at Badger, not far from our planned stop for the night but I could feel my eyes were tired and it was not a day for driving without full concentration. I had been clutching the steering wheel so tightly that when I stopped driving my arms went all wobbly and shaky for a few minutes.

Being the end of the season quite a few of the campsites are now closed. We had planned to stay at the Beothuk campsite in Grand Falls-Windsor, but it was closed despite our up to date information saying it should be open. We drove though Grand Falls-Windsor, the largest town for quite some distance to find that it was pretty small. I could not really get a sense of the place. There were few signs of life and it almost felt deserted.

With no campsite here we carried on to Bishop's Falls, another very small village. Here there was a small Inn with an RV park so we stopped for the night. Even though it was near the main road it was a quiet spot in a little bit of woodland. Next to us is a trailer with two men who are working locally. Apart from them there is one other site occupied, by people who were also on the ferry this morning. We hooked up, heated up the chilli Stef made a few days ago (very tasty), watched a film and then hit bed reasonably early.

The drive from Port-aux-Basques to Bishop's Falls was just under 560km (about 350 miles) and we still have around 400km (250 miles) more to do tomorrow to get to St John's. From what we have heard of the weather forecast its going to be similar conditions again tomorrow.

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At Gambo, en route to St. John's

We both slept well despite the rain that came down during the night. It was about 10:30 by the time we hit the road, stopping first for more petrol before heading on again to St John's. As expected it was still pretty windy with strong gusts that rocked and hit us as we went. We drove down through Gander and on to Gambo where we stopped for a break at Joey's lookout, named after a local man who had established a big sawmill here. The village was below us in the valley and all you could see around you was water and trees. A farm van was parked up selling fresh vegetables so we bought some carrots and broccoli for tea and then carried on.

Knowing that we would be coming back this way I have not really made a mental note of what we passed along the way or been left with any impressions other than how hard the wind was blowing. Our main entertainment en route was laughing at some of the local place names. Yesterday's best was the road to Blow me Down (quite apt under the circumstances). Today we went past Goobies, Come by Chance, Tickle Harbour and Dildo Pond to name a few. The only main change in the scenery was when we came closer to St John's and drove through a high pass. Here, there are no trees, just rocks covered in low grasses and heathers.

At St John's we headed to the CA Pippy Park just on the edge of the city where there is also a campsite. Its big, clean and reasonably full for the time of year. We caught up on some household chores, flushing and cleaning out Morty's tanks and doing another run to the launderette, before heading into town for a night out. We checked some of the local guides before going out and I now wish I had not. They gave an overview of the type of people that go to each of the bars and I was dismayed to find that I fall into the "mature aged 30 - 50" category. We went to George Street, the main hub of entertainment for the city. As it s Thursday, and off season, it was relatively quiet but all the bars had outside terraces so in the middle of summer this must be quite a  buzzy and lively place.

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Long road to St. John's, end in sight

From the outside, the pubs all looked as if they were closed and had no visible signs of life. We started at O'Reilly's, a recommendation from the taxi driver who brought us into town. It was one of the few things he said that either of us understood, partly due to his accent and partly because he spoke so softly. This was a typical Irish Pub, lots of dark wood and men handing around the bar with pints of ale.

A young lady was up on stage with her guitar singing and playing away. She had a good voice and was obviously quite a draw with the locals. We were not sure if that was due to her musical ability or because she was blonde, pretty and well endowed! Needing food, we moved on to Bridie Molloy's, a bit more of a marketing department pub but they did good food.

We went for local Newfoundland specialities sharing a fish and brewis to start with. This is a dish made from salt cod and hard bread that is soaked separately overnight then mixed together with bits of fried bacon - very tasty. After that I had moose pie which was very good. Stef went for seal flipper pie which was not so good. It was like fishy tasting meat which I also thought tasted a bit like liver. I am sure we will probably give it another go but whereas moose will go on our "eat out of choice" list I suspect seal flipper will go on our "eat to be polite if it is served up in front of us" list.

The live music did not really materialise in this pub but we got talking to a father and son at the table next to us. They have been here for the last few days on business and fly back to Halifax early tomorrow morning. Clarrice left us his number so that we can call him if we go back through Miramichi in New Brunswick where they live. We were asking him about getting tickets for an ice hockey match as St John's play their first match of the season here tomorrow. Clarrice is a well connected man and knows the coach. He called to see if he could wangle some tickets for us but they are all sold out. But, he also has connections with the Montreal team (an ex player is a good friend) so if there is a match on when we pass through he will try and get tickets for us.

So far I would say that everyone we have met in Canada (with the exception of the part near to Montreal) has been very friendly and welcoming as you can see from Clarrice, so it is hard to see how Newfoundlanders (aka "Newfies") can be more so. I do not envy him his early start tomorrow. I think his son will wake up with a sore head (they will get less than six hours sleep tonight) and then after their three hour drive from Halifax back home he is then on duty looking after his wife's seven Scottish Terrier dogs!

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Nancy keeps a lookout

It is hard to believe that today marks the end of the fourth month away from home, a third of our trip in total. We were talking about something to do with our house last night and Stef said that he cannot even remember how we had our bits and pieces laid out. Hard to believe but true.

We spent the morning and early afternoon just catching up on ourselves. Even though we have a whole year off its almost as if we feel that a day not traveling or sight seeing is a wasted day but every now again I find I need to have a break and have a day off. I have yet to find a way to convince Stef of this though. He is fine when we are catching up with what we need to but when he realises that most of the day has gone he gets a bit twitchy.

Every campsite we have been to has its own quirks and peculiarities and this one is no different. Its grand sounding Information and Communication cabin is just a garden shed with a payphone and a few leaflets. I suppose it means that people can make phone calls in private and without getting wet. The main distinguishing feature though has always been the washrooms. This one looked as if the showers had not been used for a while. Not only were they dusty but there was quite a large colony of wood lice happily wandering around the shower stalls and up the curtains. The light fittings also contain a healthy number of dead wasps. I have got used to sharing my shower with mosquitoes, and even daddy long legs, but drew the line at woodlice and spent about 10 minutes washing it out before I could use it.

By the time we had done everything we wanted to it was mid afternoon before we headed into town. Our first quest was an internet connection. We have a long list of community public access site with their phone numbers but no addresses. The campsite were spectacularly uninformed about where they were so we headed for a coffee shop with wireless internet. Hava Java is one of two places in town with internet but you have to go there on a day when the owner is there. The staff have no idea how to get a stable connection and it was not long before we gave up trying. The other place in town charges a staggering $15 an hour and was only open for another half an hour so we gave up on that one.

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Start of the long Trans-Canadian Highway

Walking through town we both had the feeling that St John's is not an affluent place. In other places we have seen one or two people sleeping rough but not many. Here there were no people begging but there were some very strange characters sitting on street corners entertaining themselves. They were usually accompanied by a brown paper bag, which means alcohol. They seemed quite happy in themselves but it was the first time in months, really since we have left home, that I have noticed people like this.

As we were near the stadium we tried to see if there were any return tickets for tonight's hockey match. Being the first of the season that was a non-starter. We were then left in limbo of what to do. It was too early to eat and neither of us knew what to do with ourselves. We had both expected to be online for a couple of hours. In the end we ambled back through town along Water Street and popped into the Celtic Hearth for a drink. This is a great little bar and we got pretty cosy in there. They have a separate restaurant area which had been booked for a private party. About sixty Americans have come to town for someone's wedding tomorrow and this was a pre-wedding get together. I am intrigued to know what wedding ritual was going to be performed with the canoe paddle some of the guests had brought with them.

Later we headed back out into town to find Ches's, a recommended eatery for fish and chips. It is not part of the George/Water/Duckworth Streets central nightlife hub but is set back from town and halfway up a hill. Having found it we should have checked ourselves before we went in. It was an OK fish and chip shop as fish and chip shops go but Lonely Planet's description of "... the fish is like biting into a steak but it melts in your mouth..." was a bit far fetched even for LP (unless you like your steak cooked until it is a bit dried out that is).

Thinking we were not yet ready to head for bed we wandered back along George Street for a last nightcap. I am sorry to say that as we walked past various different pubs and bars none of them appealed. Had we been in them all night as the music cranked up we would have stayed on but as it was, this pair of "mature thirty some-things" lived up to the expectations of the local guide books and beat a retreat back to their campsite and the warmth of their bed.

A fair proportion of Newfoundland's population were originally from Ireland and this is still really evident today. Most of the music we have head has definite Irish roots and its also present in the local accent. Our taxi driver back to the campsite tonight has never left Newfoundland but from his accent you could easily mistake him for a Dubliner.

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Overlooking St. John's

Our plans for an early start failed again as we did not manage to drag ourselves out of bed until 9:00am - outrageous!! Today we managed to find the local library and made use of their wireless connection for a couple of hours. We now have a list that we keep of various bits and pieces we want to check when we are on line. Today's collection included important travel stuff such as ferry information to get to/from Newfoundland and flights to Florida to meet up with the Sarney clan for a few days. The non important stuff included how to make paper, what defines a hurricane and its strength and checking up on some of the Saints who have generated many of the place names we have passed along the way. I have yet to read the downloads so am still none the wiser! As we were in a library I also took the old fashioned route and used a book to look up the origin of the word "ketchup". It was much faster than the internet (we were sat right next to the encyclopedia) and by the way it is a derivation of a Chinese word evolving through the Indonesian "ketjap"

From here we headed through the "centre" of town to Signal Hill. I say "centre" because we have yet to find one apart from the three streets of bars and pubs. Most cities have a commercial and retail district in their centre somewhere but unless we have totally missed it St John's does not seem to. It must all be out of town shopping malls. Its a shame because it means that the town has no personality or character.

Signal Hill is just a few minutes out of town on the coast. It has a long history as a military base being used most recently for military purposes in World War II. It first came to fame in 1762 for the Battle of Signal Hill when the British took control of St John's ending French control of Eastern North America. St John's was Britain's first overseas colony and is often called the birthplace of the empire, a fact our taxi driver yesterday had been quite proud of. Signal Hill is also famous as the site where in 1901 Marconi received his first transatlantic wireless communication from COrnwall.

In the Cabot Tower, built in 1900 to commemorate John Cabot's arrival in 1497, there is a display giving information about the transmission and how the wind on this part of the coast caused a few logistical problems for them. You can also hear a simulation of what Marconi heard - lots of static but the clear sound of dot dot dot, Morse code for "s". His experiments were perceived as a big threat by the local transatlantic cable companies. They issued him with a legal writ threatening to take him to court if he continued. He simply moved further down the coast to Sydney in Nova Scotia where he and his experiments were welcomed and partially funded.

All around Signal Hill, but especially from the top of the tower where you can get out onto a small roof terrace, there are great views across St John's and out to sea. It was a really windy day and we were blasted with fresh air. The winds were so fast that the low clouds were being swept across the sky like speeding bullets, sometimes showering us with icy rain on their way. It was one of those days where the sky was really bright blue and the clouds were glacial white. In the distance  darker, wetter clouds were building and moving our way.

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Looking for a pot of gold

As we made to leave a big group of people all with white t-shirts on were walking up the hill, clearly on some sort of organised walk or demonstration. In turned out to be a local cancer charity on an annual event. The charity had been set up six years ago by someone who had survived a cancer induced coma. Told he would never walk again, this organised walk celebrates and remembers the first steps he took when he came out of the ICU. There was a lot of friendly banter and then a coach of men in black tracksuits turned up to join in. We are not sure who they were but think they may have been the local hockey team.

From Signal Hill we made our way out to a nearby village called Quidi Vidi where there is a little micro brewery which unfortunately was shut. We then carried on through town and out the other side to go to Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America. From here, London is about 3,700km away, closer than Vancouver on the west coast of Canada which is about 5,000km away. We shouted "hello" as loudly as we could but suspect you did not quite hear it in the UK! This was the closest geographically we will be to home until we arrive back in May next year.

Cape Spear was also a WWII military installation, although they never actually went into combat here. As it is a great vantage point over the ocean two enormous guns were based here. They were positioned behind concrete walls to make them easy to load and maintain. When they were fired, they were raised up above the level of the wall. At the site there are still the gun placements and connecting tunnels and you are free to walk around them. It must have been a very cold and gloomy spot to be during the war years.

Here too it was very windy and the dark clouds that we had seen building earlier were now overhead. The wind picked up quickly, so much so that it was a battle to make progress against it. We just made it into a little information centre at the top of the hill before the rain started. It was pretty fierce and looked set to last quite a while. After about ten minutes though it calmed down and we went back down to the car park and sat, warm and dry with cups of coffee, inside Morty watching the rain pass overhead. With the number of rainbows we saw we would have been very rich if we had been able to find the pots of gold at the end of them.

It was a great spot to just sit and watch the landscape. The ocean stretched out vast and wide before us and to our left we had views of the cliffs surrounding Signal Hill and the entrance to St John's harbour. It is a very rugged landscape in what must be a harsh place to spend the winter as the sea gets iced over. Their compensations though include the whales that come and play in the bay and watching the icebergs that drift down this far from Greenland in the early summer, neither of which we saw today.

Our route today took us around the south eastern part of Newfoundland on a tour of the Avalon peninsula. We stopped for cash and petrol before leaving St John's behind us and heading south on route 10. The central part of this peninsula is a Wilderness Reserve, home to a large herd of caribou and moose. I would love to say that we saw some but despite keeping a look out all day we had a caribou and moose free day.

The road winds along the coast with the vast expanse of the Atlantic to one side and a wall of green to the other. Small villages line the way, all looking sleepy and quiet, probably in part because it is Sunday. We stopped when we reached Ferryland, one of the oldest European settlements in North America.

It was founded in the 1620's by Sir George Calvert, who later became Lord Baltimore and whose family founded the American Colony of Maryland. Calvert came to this area and established his colony, which he called Avalon after the site near Glastonbury where Christianity was introduced to Britain, on a small outcrop of land. Perhaps not the best of choices as it means it gets battered by winds from both sides. It was too cold for him to stay the course so after a few years he moved on to warmer climes.

When Calvert moved south he left a representative at Ferryland to continue to oversee the settlement. This person was ousted by Sir David Kirke, governor of Newfoundland, who decided to take over the settlement even though it was privately owned. This decision ultimately led to his death as he was jailed on his return to England following a law suit from the Calverts. The battle for ownership of the Avalon area went on between the two families for more than forty years as Kirke's wife and sons had stayed behind and ran a very prosperous fishing fleet, earning Mrs Kirke the reputation of being north america's first female entrepreneur.

Still a living village, an archeological dig has been underway to uncover the history of the settlement in Calvert's times. This has unearthed an earlier Beothuk Indian settlement as well as uncovering the history of Avalon. They have a very informative website (www.heritage.nf.ca/avalon) giving loads of information about the site and its history.

At the visitors centre we watched a short video outlining some of the history and the details of the dig and read our way through the interpretation centre. They have some of the archeological finds on display ranging from coins, pipes, a headstone as well as various bits of pottery. One of the most interesting was a collection of bottle seals, the purpose of which is unclear but thought to be to identify ownership of the bottles and their contents. At the site they have found various different bottle seals and have been able to identify who they belonged to. Another seal, used for sealing wax on letters, was very ornate and delicate. No longer than a thumbnail, and made of what looks like gold, it was actually three separate seals that were hinged and nested into each other.

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Newfie skies over Avalon
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Outside, they have recreated a small herb garden growing all sorts of mysterious plants some of which I had heard of before, many of them were new to me. There was also a gentleman's garden, now past its best due to the time of year but in summer it must be awash with colour. The garden is fenced in and has a small gazebo at one end. The fence is not to protect the plants from the wind but to allow the gentleman of the house, his family and friends, to enjoy the garden in privacy and seclusion.

You are then free to wander around the rest of the site and, if you time it right, can get a tour to give you more information as you go. They have uncovered a forge, kitchen garden, warehouses, Calvert's mansion house, a deep well and part of the original cobble-stoned street.  They also claim to have found the first flushing toilet in North America. Two outlets were been built into the seawall enabling the high tides to flush them twice a day.  The materials found in the privy has given the archaeologists a good insight into the diet of the day.

From Ferryland we continued south with the landscape changing the further we went. Gone were the forests, home to the invisible moose and caribou. Instead we found ourselves driving along an open plateau, similar to the altiplano we have seen in South America. We rounded the peninsula at Trepassy Bay, not as I had thought a Cornish name but a derivation of the French "trepassé" meaning dead body and then worked our way back up. In some of the villages we passed young children playing on the streets, the only sign that these communities are not totally populated by the retired generation. We pondered what people did for a living as there is no visible evidence of any form of industry or service sector.

Looping back onto the Trans Canada Highway we headed east and worked our way up to Arnolds Cove and the Putt'n'Paddle campsite. It was dark by the time we got there so we saw no evidence of either a golf course or a lake. Part of the campsite has already been closed for the winter and we were one of just three sites occupied for the night. I abandoned a night-time attempt to find the washrooms (toilets only, no showers on this campsite). They were meant to be at site 64, we we were at site 58 so they should not have been far away. I went up the track over the bridge, round the bend where it got so dark that even with my torch it was hard to see. By this time I wimped out, partly because I was uneasy being in the dark on my own and partly due to concern that if I went too much further I would lose my way back and get lost. It was also feeling pretty cold so I retreated inside and went to bed.

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So many buttons, so little time!

With no showers at the campsite we finally today got to use our last on board "toy" our shower. It was pretty good, the only downside is getting the floor dry again afterwards. All in all it probably took as long as going to the shower block if one is available so it will only be used as a last resort.

For the first time in ages we were up and out early today, leaving the campsite just after 9:00am. We spent time over the last few days trying to map out what we want to see and do in Newfoundland and how it works with the connections across to, and on, Labrador. Not surprisingly at this time of year all the ferries run on the same day so we either need to miss bits out or add in extra time. The former option won.

We backtracked a fair way along the trans Canada highway stopping first at Tourist Information in Goobies (great name) where they confirmed our suspicion that the ferry to France was a non starter. Just off the coast are two islands, St Pierre and Miquelon, that are still officially French. We had thought it would be a curiosity to visit them but not enough so to add a week to our total journey time. Instead we carried on through the Terra Nova National Park and on to Gander. The scenery along the way was again expanses of trees surrounding lakes (normally called "ponds" here) and very beautiful. Each day more of the leaves are starting to turn and what was totally green on our way across to St John's is now, just a few days later, dotted with yellows, bronzes and reds.

At Gambo we pulled in to look at the Joey Smallwood Interpretation centre, having stopped at his lookout on our way across. Despite me seeing someone inside, the centre was closed. The person I had seen was a life sized model of Joey. He was the first Premier of Newfoundland after the province joined the Canadian Confederation and I have built up a picture that he was a pretty influential chap. Around the centre there is a small park with a life sized bronze statue of him and some memorial walks. He is clearly very important to this small village and is a good icon to kids from small places that they can make an difference.

At Gander we stopped at the Aviation Museum. A small town, Gander has played a key role in aviation history as one of the first places to cater for transatlantic flights, home to tests of boat-plane landings, a WWII air base and more recently giving support to people caught up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York. Gander's location has been key to its aviation role. Close the the coast of Newfoundland and therefore near to Europe it is still far enough inland not to get fog bound.

The museum itself is small and is based in what looks like an aircraft hanger. The tail of a DC3 sticks out above the front door, the cockpit is at the other side of the museum and you can sit in the seats and pretend to have a go at the controls. Outside are four other planes, including an air force jet and a supply plane. The airport at Gander was established late in the 1930's and it became important as a supply base in WWII. Displays chart the growth and expansion of the airport, their battles to cope with snow and the role they played.

Many of the WWII buildings have now been replaced but some are still used as hotels for the local town. Even Joey Smallwood played a role here. To feed the troops stationed here the was a piggery to provide bacon, pork etc. The piggery was run and looked after by one Joey Smallwood so he went from pig farmer to Premier of the Province. Not bad! They have a Tiger Moth training plane inside on display. Its really basic and little more than ply board - quite scary to think that without these the history of the world would be quite different to what it has been.

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How many points for a yellow plane?!?

After the war Gander became a key hub for transatlantic flights. They have displays relating to the airlines of the times (Eastern Province Airlines which later became Air Canada) including uniforms of the crew, match books, cocktail stirrers and other bits and pieces used in flight. In 1995 they were given another exhibit, a first aid cupboard which had been sealed years ago and moved from place to place as the airline moved offices. When they opened it they revealed a time warp. The cupboard must have been sealed for about thirty years and many of the items inside were still undisturbed in their original wrappings. They included stretchers, bandages, eye patches, blankets and pillows all of which looked a bit dated today.

Its mainly national flights that seem to go through Gander these days but they still do have international traffic. After the 9/11 bombings many flights to the US got stranded, a fair few of them here at Gander. They have pictures of the runway with big planes just stacked up as if they were parked in a car park. The local community rallied round and few, watered and housed the stranded crew and passengers until they could continue. It sounds like this was for quite a few days. At the museum there is a whole display about this showing newspaper cuttings and files with letters from the affected passengers thanking the people of Gander for their help.

After the museum we popped into the centre of Gander for a quick check on mail before carrying on and up. Its a soul-less place and seems to be just a big mall style shopping centre as its central hub. Stef tried to get in touch with the company who run the ships from Labrador to Quebec but with no luck. We have no mobile reception and the local payphone was also on the blink. We then carried on up the 330, 331 and 340 to Twillingate, a small village at the end of a peninsula and the nearest place with an open campsite.

The weather was turning again as we drove and the wind and rain picked up making for an unpleasant journey. When we crossed from the New World Island to South Twillingate Island it was still just daylight. We took the scenic route around Bayview, more stunning sea views and pretty fishing villages. It was almost dark when we got to Twillingate. We stopped for a few essentials and tried the ferry company again, this time getting through only to be told that we needed to have called before midday today to make a reservation. As Stef was getting crosser with the person on the end of the phone, I was getting cross trying to quickly find information he needed about Mortimer's size and weight to get a quote and the rain started again. All in all a bad combination!

We drove through Twillingate in search of the campsite, missing it first of all because it was empty. We were the only people there. I joked to Stef that word would have gone out in the village to the campsite owner that he had business that night. About five minutes later a car turned up with the campsite owner. He had seen us driving through but had also been called by others telling him he had business. Aubrey was very friendly, ran through what was what and where and bade us goodnight. We had the whole site to ourselves. It is great for us that places like this are still open but there is no way they can be making money from it.