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Report 1901: A Month on the Rock
By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010
Page 12 of 31: L’Anse aux Meadows
Thora in the reconstructed long house
L'Anse Aux Meadows is the major tourist attraction in the Northern Peninsula and everyone goes there.
It is nearly at the northern most tip of the peninsula overlooking a bay dotted with islands. A stream flows through boggy and grassy areas with granite outcroppings. If you are lucky you may see moose grazing in the valley across from the Visitor Centre.
There is a huge car park and large intrusive Visitor Centre which makes no attempt to merge into the landscape. In September 2010 the exhibits were being refurbished so there was little to see. The gift shop had a good selection of books. There is a video explaining how the site was discovered and giving a bit of information about what can be seen.
It is a ten minute walk along a well made track to the Viking remains and reconstructed houses. There is no shelter from the elements, so it is advisable to visit in dry weather.
The Parks Canada web site is disappointing and there is little detailed information about the site and no map. We were given an information leaflet with our admission ticket which had a certain amount of information and a plan of the remains.
There are guided tours of the remains and it is worthwhile taking one of these. They explain the history and significance of the site and take you round the remains identifying the different buildings and for what they were used.
The Vikings settled here briefly about 1000AD when Lief Erikson arrived from Greenland with three boats and 60-90 people. The site was occupied intermittently over 20 years and is thought to have been used for over wintering while exploring further south during the summer months. The Vikings got as far as the east coast of New Brunswick. During this time other ships arrived from Greenland in search of timber. When the site was abandoned the buildings were burnt.
Tales of the voyages between Greenland and Newfoundland lived on in oral tradition and were written down in the Vinland Sagas in the late 1200s.
The site was rediscovered in 1960 by the explorer Helge Ingstat who was shown the grassy humps and ridges which locals assumed were an aboriginal campsite. After excavation the remains were reinstated and all that can be seen are bumps on the ground. So you do need to do the tour to understand at what you are looking. There are the remains of three complexes, each of which had a dwelling (long cigar shaped building) and workshop. Bog Iron was smelted to make make nails for boats.
A Viking long house, shed, smithy and smelting hut have been reconstructed on the site. As all the artifacts are modern you are encouraged to handle and feel them.
There are costumed interpreters who include Bjorn the chieftain, Thora his wife, Gunnar the ship's captain, Harald a smith and Kol a serf who was building a boat using traditional tools (and hoping he wouldn’t be asked to sail it as he didn’t think it would meet the exacting requirements needed by the Vikings). Allow plenty of time to talk and ask questions. Try on the Viking helmet and lift up the sword...
There is a nice 3km walk from the site along the cliffs which takes you back to the car park past the Skin Pond where seal skins were soaked to remove hairs before curing.
There are no refreshments at L’Anse aux Meadows. The nearest are at the Norseman Restaurant. We were after a ‘cup of tea to go’ but it was laid out for meals and looked and felt pretentious. The Art Gallery consisted of a few post cards, books and knitted items.
The end of the peninsula beyond L’Anse aux Meadows is delightful. We had intended walking along the headland but the vegetation was lush and knee high, making walking difficult for me. We took to the shore and followed this round the headland, along the beach and back. The beach was fairly narrow with mussel shells, sea urchin shells and fine seaweed which looked a bit like Chinese noodles, washed up on the beach. There was bright yellow seaweed growing on the rocks and some kelp which looked like caterpillar eaten cabbage.
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