I've always wanted to go to Newfoundland, probably influenced by "The Shipping News" and the sense of a place on the edge. Our older son is married to a girl who comes from there so this year we set off for a visit to her family: me, Ian, son, daughter in law, grandson aged one and a half and younger daughter. Younger son was supposed to be coming too but was laid low by glandular fever and had to stay behind.
We drove down to Heathrow through torrential rain, hearing on the radio of motorways blocked and people stranded. Miraculously our drive was ok but our flight was postponed to the following morning and H and C, flying down from Manchester to shorten the journey for the baby, had to go back home and try again the next day. But eventually we were coming off the aircraft at St John's airport (small, shining clean and oh so civilised after Heathrow) and being met by C's parents. H, C and baby were still to come so we did feel rather like the support band when everyone is really keyed up for the main event but the welcome was warm and friendly. Newfies are a friendly and hospitable people wherever we went.
So tired and travel stained we were taken out to the Shack which was to be our holiday home.
The shack is what we used to call a batch when I lived in New Zealand, built as a holiday cottage and furnished with all the stuff from home that is on its last legs, more than a tent but still with an outdoorsy, camping, holiday feel. I love them and this one was a corker, right on the edge of a lake with a big sitting room with a log fire and a deck out the back overlooking a lake.
They left us to settle in. We wandered about, exclaimed, chose rooms and unpacked and went out to the supermarket to stock up. Installed and sorted we just needed the stragglers (or the main event as you chose) and we were off.
Newfoundland is huge, we barely scratched the surface. The towns and settlements cling to the coast, inland is thick conifer woods, beautiful but strangely hostile. For centuries the place has been about the sea - cod and trade. Now the fishing stocks are depleted and huge numbers of young Newfoundlanders leave to find work in Alberta. Both C's brothers live in Calgary and work on the oil rigs many miles to the north but Newfies are powerfully attached to their homeland. It reminds me of Wales where we live, of parts of Scotland, of Orkney, the economy struggling to remake itself as tourism, the old way of life peeling and fading like the abandoned weather board houses. But the coast is beautiful and the wildlife stunning.
Impressions: unseasonal heat, 29 or degrees. Newfies as obsessed with the weather as the Brits.
A boat trip to see puffins and whales. Puffins in their thousands in their burrows on the grassy hillsides above the cliffs. They are smaller than I had imagined and rubbish flyers. They launch themselves from the clifftops ok but setting off from the sea requires minutes of frantic scuttling on the top of the waves, wings threshing madly for take off before they subside back into the water to raise the energy for another attempt.
Whales, so close to the boat you could see the barnacles on their backs, spouting with a huge sigh, the babies leaping from the water in a great arc, monumental but so swift Ian struggling to get photographs. The water blue as blue and the wind warm, the blown spray hardly salty on my arm. A Newfoundland dog by the quay, huge and black, its coat as soft as feathers under my hand.
St Johns a colourful tumble of houses down to the harbour. Lots of men with tattoos and earrings - a history of seafaring maybe? A fabulous museum called The Rooms full of the sense of how hard life must have been here on the rock in the cold and fog. A man building a boat in the old way, beautiful and skilled beyond belief.
Moose sausages on the barbecue brought for a family gathering in response to M's particular request, tasty and good, like beef.
Everwhere everyone friendly and happy to see you.
A stunning downpour, the hills running with water, the sides of roads washed away and The St John's Regatta postponed. The Regatta the next day on Quidi Vidi lake, rowing races being fiercely fought out on the water while families wandered fairground stalls and bouncy castles.
And home again to the soft fields of the English countryside and the hills rising up into Wales and our house tucked into the side of the valley, my parents waiting with the beds changed and the fridge full and the chicken house cleaned. The garden overflowing with jobs to do. Younger son powerfully glad to see us.
It's good to go away (and go and see for Newfoundland needs and deserves its tourism) but it's also good to come home.