Root Cellars and Dungeons
Sep 1, 2008
|The many wonders of the Bonavista Peninsula - Monday, September 1 - Labor Day
Not only is Madolyn calm in the face of adversity, she has an insatiable curiosity and a willingness to accept a reasonable amount of risk. Monday morning our tire showed a loss of four pounds after a fifty mile trip and after standing overnight. Chances were it would hold up long enough for us to go on out to the end of the Bonavista Peninsula (another 35 miles) and back to Clarenville (65 more miles) with reasonable safety. That was good enough for us - so we headed north.
Leaving Trinity we passed a bay dotted with hundreds of blue and white buoys. It looks a lot like P.E.I. where they are farming mussels by growing them in strings attached to rope. We turned onto Highway 230 and headed for the end of the peninsula. The road is a gentle roller coaster that offers increasingly spectacular views of the water as the peninsula narrows.
Madolyn spotted a side loop that gets you to the same place but takes longer, in this case over a road that had a sign warning ‘Rough Road Next 5km’’ We turned off anyway. After all, we are veterans of the Cartwright Road in Labrador. It takes more than a few bumps to scare us now (never mind the leaking tire).
It turned out to be a fortunate choice, because this bumpy road (and it was bumpy!) took us to the town of Elliston, the ‘Root Cellar Capital of the World’! Who knew? We suspect that the root cellar under the city limits sign is a ‘recreation’ but soon we were passing houses with real root cellars - humps in the hillsides with cute little doors that make you just want to open them and take a look at the ‘roots’ inside. We didn’t, of course - but it was something you don’t see every day and we enjoyed it. And it was certainly worth enduring a few bumps in the road. Also in Elliston a sign states that there is a video cam where one can observe Puffins on Bird Island from the shore. It was out a rock road so in the interest of saving our tire we did not pursue it as it is late in the season for Puffins to still be around.
A few miles past Elliston we came to a summit where we could look out at the end of the peninsula and see the town of Bonavista clinging to it’s western shore. To the right was Cape Bonavista with it’s venerable old lighthouse, and another few miles down the road, a turnoff to Dungeon Provincial Park. This is a strange name for a park on such an open and scenic shore, but we soon found the feature it is named for - and it is stranger still.
Again we found ourselves on a bumpy dirt road, this time following the cliffs with dazzling views of the ocean. Soon we came to a small turnout and there from a viewing platform we looked down into a sight we’ve never seen before. The ocean has carved caves into the cliffs, which became tunnels. The tunnels joined to form a room, and eventually the roof of the room collapsed and created a huge hole in the ground. It is easily 60 to 80 feet deep and the bottom is rhythmically flooded by water washing in through the two tunnels from the sea. It is the feature they call the Dungeon, and it is an awesome sight - so big that it was impossible to photograph in it’s entirety.
From there the road continues out to Cape Bonavista, a point of land with a very unique lighthouse. A lot of the bays and waterways we’ve seen have been calm, even the ones subject to the tides, but the water around Cape Bonavista looks like the Atlantic Ocean should look, a deep Prussian blue with rolling waves that cover the rocks in white foam and spray. On the cape, the rock formations of the cliffs are sharp and angular with sheer vertical sides that drop a hundred feet to the surf. We joined the handful of spectators staring and taking pictures. They were all Canadians, mostly from Ontario but a few from BC and Alberta.
From the parking area it was a short walk up to the lighthouse, which we could see was surrounded by scaffolding-it is time to repaint the lighthouse, which needs to be done every year or two. The lighthouse was open, and we paid a 3 dollar fee to take a tour. It was money well spent. This trip has taken us to many lighthouses, but Bonavista Lighthouse is different from any we’ve seen. For one thing it’s a generation older than the lighthouses of Cape Hatteras and the east coast of the United States which date mostly to the time of the Civil War.
Bonavista light was completed in 1843. It is lower and the tapered tower is solid brick around a stone rubble core. The keeper’s quarters instead of being a separate building are built around the tower, and so one inner wall of each room is curved and the rooms are in a line around the tower. To get to the light you climb a steep narrow stairway from one of the rooms, and once there the quarters are very cramped.
No Fresnel lens here. Bonavista was lighted by six oil lamps that had to be constantly cleaned and polished so that they could hopefully be seen for twenty miles. Two of the lamps are red, and the lamps are mounted on a mechanism that is geared to turn them so that they give a light signature of two white lights and one red light about every thirty seconds. The turning mechanism is powered by a heavy weight that had to be cranked up every few hours by the keeper. In addition to cranking the weight and cleaning the lamps, he also had to clean the windows, and to get to the outside windows he had to crawl through a small opening in the tower wall that leads to a catwalk where he would have to tie himself off so he wouldn’t be blown off it in the high winds.
The park service provides docents in period costume to guide the tour and explain the working of the lighthouse, and it was one of the most interesting tours we’ve taken yet.