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Prince Edward Island – The Gentle Island
A Solo Travel Report

Text & Photos by Sherry Ballou Hanson

Landscape Prince Edward Island

I enjoy exploring and sightseeing on my own. Being a writer, I look for inspiration in the scenery and historical sites, and sometimes I prefer a little solitude during a trip, especially if writing poetry is in my plan. The slower pace in the Canadian Maritimes draws me in. Life seems simpler, population is sparse, and there is an elemental feel to these provinces that somehow connects me to my early years in Midwest farm country. I'd already traveled to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, so this time; I promised myself a trip to a place I'd never been. Prince Edward Island – the so-called "Gentle Island" – exactly described what I had in mind.

The Plan

I used the Internet to order the printed guide to Prince Edward Island. According to the guide, hiking or biking the tip-to-tip Confederation Trail are popular ways to spend a PEI vacation and quite doable for a solo traveler. Not a wilderness trail, it follows abandoned rail beds and covers 410 kilometers from Tignish to Elmira, passing through wetlands, hardwood groves, and along rivers from quaint village to village. The possibility was interesting but not for me this time.

There is also public bus transport connecting Charlottetown, Cornwall, Stratford and Summerside, but not in outlying areas. I wanted to stay in two different scenic and quiet locations, so I rented a car, which would allow access to remote parts of the island as well as provincial parks, beaches, and, should I be inclined, to top attractions such as Green Gables Heritage Place, the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables novels.

Alberton and Northwest PEI

In early September I left my home in Brunswick Maine, spent a night in Moncton New Brunswick and next morning crossed Confederation Bridge and then drove along the North Cape Coast to the little town of Alberton on the northwest shore of the Island.

Briarwood Inn and Motel sits on old farmland with an assortment of cottages, a lodge, and the inn. This was a great choice for me. The grounds were expansive and the riverside location peaceful. My room had a refrigerator and microwave so that I could keep food for the several days of my stay. As soon as I got settled in, I took my folding chair out to the edge of the Dock River to sit in the sun and survey the surroundings. A large brown heron squawked loudly at my arrival before lifting off across the river, leaving me in silence except for the gentle warm breeze whistling past my ears.

Spacious grounds at the Briarwood Inn PEI

On the opposite shore, fronted by red sand dunes, I could see crops nearing harvest. Here on PEI, potatoes, wheat, and soybeans proliferate, and the island is also famous for its mussel farming. Strings of these shellfish in their little sock-like bags are raised on this river. Someone appeared out of the dunes and waved; it felt in that moment as if we were the only beings on earth.

The North Cape

Next morning, a brilliant gold sun ignited the horizon, and soon I was on the road driving to the North Cape to visit the Wind Energy Interpretive Center. Energy Interpretive CenterImagine a single wind mill blade that stretches a block long on the ground and weighs six tons. There are three blades on each of the dozen windmills out there where the wind never stops blowing. Here, the Gulf of St Lawrence meets the Northumberland Strait off shore on a reddish sandstone reef that extends out two kilometers all around the Cape. The two currents thrash it out all along that line, and the lighthouse on the North Cape has been moved six times due to erosion. But in early September the wind was gentle and wave action subdued. I listened to the "voices" of the blades overhead, their whispers and occasional whistles lulling me almost to sleep in the sun. It felt primitive, but this facility had both a restaurant and a gift shop.

One day I visited Jacques Cartier Provincial Park, five km east of Alberton, and Greenwich Dunes National Park PEIwalked the red sand beach with my cup of coffee and a book under the wide Canadian sky. Another day I drove to Greenwich Dunes National Park on the northeastern shore and walked the gravel path into a lovely wooded glade with interpretive boards. Suddenly I arrived at a boardwalk that winds over shallow Bowley Pond out to spectacular white dunes and onto the beach were a person really could walk for miles.

The Southern Shore and West Cape

Prince Edward Island is only 280 km (175 miles) long, so no drive is too long for a day's outing. Edouard Arsenault's bottle house, Cap Egmont PEICurious to see the "bottle houses" at Cap Egmont on the southern shore, I drove there the next day. What began as a hobby for Edouard Arsenault encompasses a miniature six-gabled house, tavern and chapel with an altar, all constructed from recycled bottles cemented together.

Walk into any of these constructs when the sun is out and the effect is crown jewel brilliance, the greens, yellows, browns and occasional blues of the bottles alight from every angle. Arsenault designed pews in his chapel so you can sit and contemplate the painstaking effort and devotion that went into his work.

On my way back to Alberton I stopped at a tiny cemetery perched right on open land above the sea and found the gravestone of an ancestor of one of my oldest friends from college days – Archibald Macmillan, who died in 1919 and was buried there where the Macmillans originally settled upon arrival from Scotland. While still in this part of PEI, I drove to the West Cape lighthouse and walked the Cedar Dunes Provincial Park boardwalk there.

Savage Harbour

From Alberton I traveled east to Savage Harbour, passing through Cavendish and the area where the Anne of Green Gables books were inspired. The scenery is spectacular along this drive.

I arrived mid-afternoon at my little but fully equipped cabin at Savage Harbor Cottages. I had a view here and though not many people were around in September, a helpful and friendly couple came calling. Their daughter owns the cabin complex. My cottage was fully equipped with kitchenette, Wi-Fi access, and an onsite laundry, – but I had to supply the insect repellant necessary at nighttime. There is also a small beach, and the whole region is famous for sunsets.

St Peter's Church, St Peter's Bay PEI Lighthouse Shipwreck Point PEI

I love to photograph old buildings on my solo trips. In Prince Edward Island, virtually every town of any size has at least one elegant old wooden or stone church rising in the distance. Along with the scenic seascapes I fell in love with all over the island, I brought home countless photos of churches, windmills, and lighthouses. I visited and photographed several lighthouses, including both East and West Cape lights and Shipwreck Point (the one pictured here). Today, most of the lighthouses of the world that are still operational are automated. These old lighthouses are more primitive but serve the same critical purpose of lighting the way for mariners. The flame from a single oil lamp, greatly magnified by one of the original Fresnel lenses imported from France, could orient a sailing ship located many miles off shore.

I spent seven days on the island, contented to occupy myself with pleasant drives and photographing with plenty of time left for the contemplative walks, reading, and writing I so enjoy. In retrospect, when I think of my vacation on the "Gentle Island," it does indeed rest gently on my mind.

If You Go




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