The Baccalieu Trail (230 km)

"Wherever you are steer northwest for Baccalieu." This old sailors' proverb (minus the compass direction) is still good advice for today's traveller. Along Routes 80 and 70, and their offshoots, you'll find charming fishing villages, gorgeous coastal scenery, and a few surprises. There are several ways to access The Baccalieu Trail: from Route 60, or take Routes 75 or 80 from Route 1.

The southern end is Route 81, south of Route 1 to Markland

The farming community of Markland is probably the newest town on the trail. It was established during the desperate days of the Great Depression when, in an effort to make them self-sufficient, a number of families from St. John's were resettled into newly established agricultural communities. The largest of these was started in 1937 at Markland. The community still owes much of its success to farming and forestry. Farms were established here because of the area's sheltered location and longer growing season, the latter due to air turbulence among the rolling hills that keeps the cold autumn night air moving, preventing it from descending onto the lowland crops.

You wouldn't expect to find a winery in Newfoundland, but there's one in Markland (and others elsewhere too). Rodrigues Winery makes wine from local blueberries and other berries for the home and export markets.

Whitbourne was the home of an early 20th-century Prime Minister of Newfoundland, Sir Robert Bond. An eloquent politician, he was perhaps Newfoundland's greatest statesman in the era when Newfoundland was a self-governing dominion. His reciprocity agreements with the United States, although foiled by political opponents, were the forerunners of current international fisheries policy and international trade agreements.

North of Route 1, Route 81 merges into Route 80 toward Dildo

Whaling and mink-ranching were once lucrative industries in this area, and there's a whaling and sealing museum in South Dildo that displays some of the artifacts discovered at Anderson's Cove, where a 4,000-5,000-year-old Maritime Archaic Indian site has been discovered, and at Blaketown, where a 1994 archaeological dig uncovered a previously unknown Beothuk site. It's believed John Guy traded with the Beothuks who lived here in the early 17th century. A trail cut across the peninsula in 1612 connecting Hopeall and Cupids has been reconstructed today as an overnight hiking adventure trail named Crout's Way. The name honours Henry Crout who built the original and whose journal recorded what life was like in Canada's first English colony.

The Dildo and Area Interpretation Centre on Front Road in Dildo has exhibits that cover the history and culture of this area, including items on archaeology, lifestyle, the 19th-century codfish hatchery that was a century ahead of its time, giant squid and other marine life. Here you'll also find top-notch accommodations, a restaurant and a craft shop.

In Green's Harbour there are two parks, one of which has a saltwater pond and beach that make it a great spot for a refreshing swim. A hiking trail within the park boundaries gives you a chance to investigate the area.

A Transatlantic Connection

The next section of the coast has a preoccupation with romantic place names: Heart's Delight, Heart's Desire and Heart’s Content. Who could resist sending a postcard to a loved one from here? Heart's Content is where the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was landed in 1866. The community served as a major cable relay station for over a century. Visit the old Cable Station, which has been preserved and is now open to the public during the summer months as a Provincial Historic Site.

Be sure to drop in at the one time pirate haunt of Turks Cove, just past New Perlican, where archaeologists discovered the remnants of structures destroyed by a French raiding party led by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville in 1697, the year he sacked many English communities in Newfoundland and acquired a reputation for ruthless violence.

As you drive through this area of rolling hills and forests, you pass through a number of picturesque fishing communities such as Winterton. At the Winterton Wooden Boat Museum, you can see craftsmen using traditional materials and techniques. On the outskirts of this settlement there is a municipal park bordering a freshwater lake.

There's good trout fishing on this end of the peninsula. Hook up with a local guide for the best places to wet a line. Along this entire route, the small outports retain an ageless look. Near the road, ponies graze in grassy meadows, which still contain sod-covered root cellars.

At New Chelsea you may want to relax on the beach in this peaceful valley setting. New Melbourne is a tiny community located on a forested part of the moody seacoast. Old Perlican, near the northern tip of the trail, was first settled in the 1600s and is a good place to see whales from shore.

The most northerly community on the trail is Grates Cove. According to legend, John Cabot landed here and carved an inscription in a rock. In the 1960s people posing as historians from Memorial University of Newfoundland removed the rock. Its whereabouts remain unknown. But each year residents celebrate "Cabot Rock" festival. Look around the community of Grates Cove and you'll see several kilometres of old rock walls that were used to keep grazing animals out of vegetable gardens in centuries past.

Route 80 merges into Route 70 at Redhead Cove

You'll see by the colour of the cliffs where this community got its name. Offshore, Baccalieu Island bears witness to the potential menace of the North Atlantic ocean. The wrecks of more than a dozen ships lie under the waters surrounding the island.

Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve has 11 species of seabirds nesting there, making it the most diverse seabird colony in the province. The island hosts 3.3 million pairs of night-flying leach's storm petrels, and thousands of puffins and black-legged kittiwakes and other birds each summer. The foxes that share the island with the birds rarely go hungry.

Continue on Route 70 to Bay de Verde

Bay de Verde was originally settled by planters, colonists who were trying to avoid French raiders in the 1600s. This rugged area is a mere 70 kms from St. John's by sea. Bay de Verde Heritage Premises, an 1890s house built by the Blundon family, features excellent displays on the community's history and the Baccalieu Island Ecological Reserve. Just above the town, at Bears Cove, you can take a short hiking trail to the scenic lookout that offers a spectacular view of the surrounding seascape.

Some of the most beautiful coastal scenery is found just beyond Bay de Verde in Lower Island Cove and surrounding communities. The hilly gardens of this area and the towering cliffs along the shores of Conception Bay provide ideal subjects for photographs.

A few kilometres along is Northern Bay Sands, an ideal seaside vacation destination within easy access of a number of colourful settlements on the peninsula. The park has camp and trailer sites for extended stays. This is one of the few large sandy beaches on the Baccalieu Trail. Since it is the North Atlantic ocean, the swimming is best left to the brave and the warm at heart. For the less adventurous, there are freshwater ponds in the area to take a dip.

Nearby Western Bay is the birthplace of one of Canada's most widely respected poets, E.J. Pratt. A National Historic Site plaque next to the post office commemorates his life and work.

Continue south on Route 70 toward Blackhead and Salmon Cove

You will come to a series of attractive little communities, including Blackhead where the first Methodist church in Canada was erected in 1769. The plaque marking this Historic Site is near an ancient cemetery, which is well worth a visit by people interested in the early history of the province or in the establishment of Methodism in Canada.

A few kilometres up the coast is Salmon Cove Sands, a sheltered beach with a grassy picnic area. There are several distinctive large rocks in the cove and a variety of shorebirds, which make ideal subjects for photographs. There are extensive stretches of water shallow enough for children to wade and play in safety.

Carbonear is another town with a fascinating history. In 1696, it was burned to the ground by the French, but the inhabitants retreated to a small fortified island in the harbour and successfully defended it against capture. Carbonear Island has been designated a National Historic Site to mark its colourful military past.

There is also a romantic side to the town's past. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Gilbert Pike, a former member of Peter Easton's pirate band, fell in love with Sheila Na Geira, an Irish princess whom he rescued from a Dutch warship, where she was being held prisoner. The couple married and decided to make a new home for themselves in the New World. They settled in Bristol's Hope, where their descendants still live. The Carbonear Railway Station provides a window into the town's fascinating history, and more recently it has been suggested Carbonear was the location of the first Catholic church in North America. Apparently, an Italian priest named Carboneariis accompanied John Cabot on his 1498 voyage to Newfoundland and constructed a church here.

After Carbonear, you'll find Harbour Grace

Harbour Grace is a community which derives its name from "Havre de Grace," which the French bestowed upon it in the early 1500s, probably after the French fishing port Le Havre.

Harbour Grace was the headquarters of Peter Easton, an infamous pirate of the early 17th century. His pirates' fort was on the site of the old Customs House in the eastern section of the town. The building now houses the Conception Bay Museum with three floors of fascinating exhibits that tell of the community's long and sometimes notorious past, including its important role in the history of aviation.

Beginning in 1919, Harbour Grace was used as the departure point for many early attempts to fly the Atlantic. The first successful flight from the community was piloted by William Brock and Edward Schlee of Croyden, England, in August, 1927, the same year the first civilian airport in North America was opened here. In 1932, Amelia Earhart left Harbour Grace to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. The airfield from which she flew still has an old-fashioned windsock. It's now a grassy meadow and remains a popular attraction. There's a statue of her at the town's information centre.

Still a thriving community, Harbour Grace was once the second largest town in Newfoundland and seemed destined to become its second city. Unfortunately, a series of seven major fires between 1814 and 1944 drastically impeded the growth and progress of the town. Thankfully, many of its historic buildings and fine residences survived. One of the most interesting of these is St. Paul's Anglican Church. It was erected in 1835 and is the oldest stone church in Newfoundland.

Next on the route is Spaniard's Bay

Spaniard's Bay is a community whose name reflects an era when Basque fishermen frequented Newfoundland waters. Spanish influence in Newfoundland ended with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in faraway Europe in 1558.

Continue to Bay Roberts, a fishing community that received its name from Jersey fishermen who came here from the Channel Islands several centuries ago. Now it's a major service and shopping centre. On Water Street is the Bay Roberts Cable Building which served as a relay station for messages between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt during the second world war. Further east on the street is the Bay Roberts East walking trail through Juggler's Cove to Mad Rocks, where you can see whales and sometimes icebergs in spring and early summer.

Bay Roberts is connected to Coley's Point by the Klondyke Causeway, so named because it was a gold mine to the families who were paid by the government to build it in the 1890s during a severe economic depression caused by a failure in the fishery. The construction project and the close bond between the communities is celebrated each year during the Bay Roberts Klondyke Days, which features a major concert as its highlight.

Past Bay Roberts take Route 72

You can visit and photograph some of the striking coastal scenery and fishing villages along the way. At Hibbs Cove in Port de Grave there is the Fishermen's Museum and Porter House. The museum houses furniture, pictures and artifacts depicting the village lifestyle of years ago. Porter House, a one-room schoolhouse, gives a taste of the lifestyle of an ordinary fisherman from the early 20th century. Nearby is the anchor from the PLM 27, one of the ore carriers sunk by a German U-boat off Bell Island in 1942.

Back on Route 70, continue on to Cupids

Cupids was the first English settlement in Canada. In 1610, John Guy from Bristol, England established a plantation at what was then known as Cuper's Cove. The first recorded birth of an English child in Newfoundland took place here. Archaeological excavations begun in 1995 have uncovered the long-forgotten site of the old plantation. Artifacts recovered during this dig, and many other exhibits on the community's long history, are found in the new Legacy Centre. The community was declared a Provincial Historic Site in 2010 to mark its 400th anniversary.

In 1910 the town celebrated its 300th anniversary by erecting a monument to John Guy. The town has one of the oldest Methodist churches in Newfoundland dating from 1875, which is still in use. And each summer the town celebrates the Cupids Cove Soiree. During the summer, take in some top quality Shakespearean productions at the Elizabethan-styled Indeavour Stage ‒ modeled after the Globe Theatre in London, England.

Next is Brigus

One of the great treasures of the Baccalieu Trail is Brigus. Its charming old world atmosphere and scenic appeal prompted the radical American artist Rockwell Kent to establish a summer residence and studio here in the early part of the 20th century. But the historic town is best known as the birthplace of Captain Bob Bartlett, born in 1875 and considered an outstanding pioneer of navigation in the Far North. Captain Bartlett accompanied Commodore Peary as far as his last relay point on the epic 1909 expedition to the North Pole. His former home, Hawthorne Cottage, is a National Historic Site.

Brigus also hosts a Blueberry Festival each August that attracts thousands. In addition to all sorts of blueberry treats from giant pies to wine, there's a comedic dinner theatre, a folk festival, dances, children's events, fireworks and the cross-dressing "Missed" pageant.