There’s a song in Newfoundland called “I’se Da B’y” (I is ((am)) the boy….), sometimes known as “All Around the Circle”. It’s a lively folk song about life along the coast of Newfoundland and young fisherman going to dances in the small port towns around the area of Twillingate and Fogo Islands. There are lots of small communities that were until fairly recently only accessible by boat. Locals would travel to neighboring villages by boat to attend dances, and perhaps to find a sweetheart. The “circle” in the song is basically the circuitous route of travel from each of the small towns that regularly held these soirees (pronounces swar ees here) – Twillingate, Fogo, Moreton’s Harbour. My travels for the next couple of days will be to this small part of the world. At the end of this blog I’ve included a link to a You Tube version of the song performed by a Newfoundland band, Shanneyganock.
First, all the way out to Fogo Island. The ferry leaves from Farewell, NL, appropriately, and then stops at Change Islands before continuing on to Fogo Island. I’m not stopping at Change Islands on this trip so that will remain on the “must see” list for now. The trip to Fogo takes just under an hour. This part of the Newfoundland coast is peppered with small island, rocks and shallows which gives your eyes something to occupy the time during the passage. Fogo Island is relatively small and has less than a dozen small communities and place names like Seldom, Little Seldom, Seldom Come By. We reach the wharf and drive off the boat in the late afternoon, planning to find a place to camp before sunset.
After driving across the island to reach the north side and the town of Fogo I stumble upon an “Experience Fogo” exhibit with small red houses and buildings on the harbor. There is a gated area that displays small fish flakes for drying cod that also serve as storage, different from the fish flakes I have seen in other places in Newfoundland. This is an open air museum of sorts with signs explaining each tool and building’s role in the fisherman’s life. It’s incredibly interesting and informative.
After a drive around the harbor to see Fogo Head and having some dinner, I go out to Brimstone Head which the Flat Earth Society claims is one of the 4 corners of the earth. I could imagine someone standing on top of Brimstone centuries ago, looking out into the Atlantic and thinking that this had to be the end of the earth. And if you are only allowed to have 4 corners in all the world, I think Fogo might just deserve to be one of them.
I’m on a sort of informal mission on this part of my trip. After spending more than 20 years in the hospitality industry, and most of that as a hotel manager, I have become a hotel and restaurant aficionado of sorts. New designs, new companies, new ideas and anything to do with ways of serving guests, creative marketing, genuine teambuilding, reducing our environmental impact and helping communities….catch my eye like sparkly things dazzle a raccoon. When I came to Newfoundland in July I heard about a world-class hotel that had just opened this year on Fogo. And right then and there, broken leg and all, I made up my mind to get here. It wasn’t just the building (a clean, crisp and contemporary architectural design parked right on the edge of the sea in rural Newfoundland) that caught my attention. It was the story behind it.
The hotel was built thanks to the commitment of Zita Cobb, a woman born on Fogo, who returned after a successful dot com career to try to shore up the deteriorating economy and life of the island. Sadly, it’s the way of our world, that culture isn’t maintained and supported enough to keep our arts and crafts, our cultures, our music and history, our buildings and communities and ways of life vibrantly alive in rural parts of the world. But Zita Cobb is doing something about it on Fogo Island. Through Shorefast Foundation she has worked to establish a stronghold against the decline of this incredibly beautiful corner of Newfoundland.
It was late July and I’d been moved by what I’d heard from my new Newfoundlander friend, the online research I’d done and the photos I’d seen, so I decided I must go. It would be my pilgrimage in an odd hotelier (that would be me) way. And just as I settled in for several weeks of recovery and put the hotel on my “must see” list, Oprah Winfrey chose the hotel for her “50 Things that will make you say “WOW” list”. I upload my subscription of O Magazine each month on my iPad and that month there it was, within days of hearing about the Fogo Island Inn. It was a sign.
As I get nearer to Joe Batt’s Arm, a small fishing community east of the town of Fogo, it’s hard to contain my excitement. I can see the hotel off in the distance for a couple of miles. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no expectation of actually getting to go inside. This hotel is very expensive and I expect that it will be closed to anyone not having a reservation. And I’m perfectly happy just taking a good look from a distance. But as I get closer and start to watch for fences, or barriers or maybe even a security guard I realize there isn’t anything stopping me from driving right up to the front door. I turn off the tarmac road onto a gravel road and drive up the hill toward the hotel (seriously a gravel road? up to this BEAUTIFUL and INSPIRING hotel creation?! I’m in heaven cuz gravel roads and casual hospitality are just like home for me.). The front door is wide open, allowing the fresh sea breeze to waft into the lobby. I approach the front door, expecting to be asked to leave, and very self conscious of my jeans and casual puff jacket. On a long distance motorcycle trip you don’t pack dress clothes, because there isn’t room for them. And as a business manager and hotelier I’m not comfortable in casual clothes in this chic environment. So I’m feeling really awkward for a moment, but my curiosity keeps me moving forward. I step inside the lobby and let my eyes adjust to the light.
I can see the reception desk to my left, and a large window with a view of the sea and staircase straight ahead. A pleasant man walks over from the desk and asks if he can help me. I ask if it’s possible to dine without being a registered guest. I know I cannot afford to stay in a room at $800+ per night, but would love just to sit for a while and soak in the atmosphere. He says that it is but reservations are required. We have already had our dinner but would consider breakfast if that’s an option. He asks if this is our first visit to the hotel and I explain my pilgrimage in roughly the same way I am here. We have a connection then, as hotel and hospitality people and we chat about that for a few minutes. He takes a couple of minutes to tell us about the local artist studios we have seen on the way to the hotel and shows us a book with photos of the interiors. He gives me a card so we can follow up if we wish to come back and he wishes us well. He invites us to go have a drink in the bar, and I really, really want to….but we are racing the sun tonight and hoping to get to a spot for a view before it sets. No cocktail hour tonight. Maybe another time, if I am lucky.
Out the gravel road back to the main road and on east through Joe Batt’s Arm and around the harbour to the other side so I can look west. The daylight is waning and sunset isn’t far off. I stop for a few pictures along the way, not being able to stop myself. Across the bay from the Inn, I get out of the car and walk down to the water’s edge to admire the stillness. The sea is glassy and calm at this spot. And as I stand there I look up and there it is……the sun. I can actually see it sinking toward the horizon. The skies colors and light change almost by the second, dissolving from one pastel hue to another. I can’t believe my eyes. It’s one of the most beautiful skies I have ever been privileged to see.
I’d love to come back to watch the whales that linger here in summer or to watch the icebergs floating along in Iceberg Alley or just to hang on to the edge of one of the 4 corners of the world. I’d love to come back and have ice cream at Growler’s. And of course, I’d love to come back and stay at the Fogo Island Inn. But as for today, I wouldn’t change a single moment.
After camping on Fogo for the night and packing up super early because of the wind, we head east to check out the national historic site community of Tilting. It’s an adorable (meant with the greatest respect) small town with cute saltbox homes. Caribou are crossing the road and take off running at the sound of our approaching car. I feel bad to have disrupted the ladies lovely roadside breakfast. I stop on the way at Sandy Cove for a photo.
We catch the ferry back to Farewell, and are off to Twillingate for the day. I’ve heard it’s lovely and cannot wait to get there to take a peek. And I’m even more excited to get something to eat – nothing was open on Fogo before we left, so I’m starved! We pass Dildo Run Provincial Park and drive across causeways and bridges, meandering our way out to Twillingate. I see the sign for Moreton’s Harbour and instantly am reminded of the folk song. Twillingate is a beautiful town. We stop at the Canvas Cove Bistro for lunch which is a serious splurge/upgrade from our usual camping or travel food.
I have shrimp crostini and a fresh greens salad with partridgeberry salad dressing. And Brian orders the seafood chowder. He lets me steal a few spoonfuls and it’s so good I embarrass him by asking the server if the chef would be willing to give me the recipe. Yes, I am like that. I ask, I walk in, I speak up, I stick my nose in….and I occasionally embarrass – myself and others, but always with the best of intentions. The chef is really nice and comes over and walks me through every detail of the chowder and even goes to get me a piece of paper to write it down since I am not properly prepared to be taking cooking classes today. The salad and shrimp crostini were incredible but the chowder….oh, the chowder. It was beyond words. Thank you Chef Nicky, for the great lunch and dessert (and what a dessert it was in all its chocolatey fudgey goodness), and for being willing to give a landlubber like me some insight into your incredible culinary creation.
After lunch I stop at a couple of craft stores to pick up a few local things like handknit items, jams and books for gifts. I check out the iceberg tour companies and the view from the wharf. I have time to drive up the hill to the Long Point Lighthouse. It’s gray and gloomy and has been raining today. So photos of this lovely town won’t do it justice. But the weather breaks for a moment at the lighthouse so I can see the horizon.
Here’s a link to a story about the Inn and the driving force behind it, Zita Cobb:
Shanneyganock and my new favorite folk song: