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Report 1901: A Month on the Rock

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2010

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Page 27 of 31: To Placentia and Bay Bulls

photo by Michael

Fort Royal

From Trouty we drove to Bay Bulls via Placentia, as we wanted to visit the remains of Fort Royal on Castle Hill.

We picked up the Trans Canada Highway from Clarenville and then route 100 to Placentia. We decided to take the scenic route into Placentia along Ferndale Road which meant we missed the Parks Canada signs for Castle Hill and drove all way through Placenta as we werenít sure which of the many hills it was on.

Placentia was an important French fishing settlement. The well protected harbour was free of ice by early spring and there were good stony beaches for drying fish. It became the French capital of Newfoundland as the French hoped to establish a colony to solidify their claim to a portion of the fishing rights around the island and to stop English fishermen expanding into the south coast. They established a fortified base, Fort Louis, and later built fortifications on Castle Hill which had a commanding position overlooking Placentia.

The French encountered serious problems as the British were able to blockade Placentia Bay easily. There was limited access to basic supplies as the land was not good for farming and yielded little in the way of crops or livestock. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht gave Placentia to the British, leaving the French with fishing rights only on the north east and west coasts of Newfoundland. French Colonists and soldiers left Placentia for Cape Breton Island and the Fortress of Louisbourg. Castle Hill was fortified by the British but its importance was overshadowed by St. John's.

The site is open all hours and is free. You only pay for entry to the Visitor Centre. This is built into the side of the hill with a grass roof so is well camouflaged. It has a heritage shop which was shut when we visited, video which we didnít bother with as we havenít been impressed by others seen at Parks Canada properties and a small, rather superficial exhibition on fishery and the defensive importance of Castle Hill. There is a 40 minutes audio tour of the site as well as several information boards.

It is a short walk through the trees from the Visitor Centre to the top of the hill where the fortifications are clear of trees. There are well preserved stone breastworks (outer defensive wall) with glacis and bastions as well as the remains of a stone guard house and gun powder magazine. The other buildings are just foundations in the grass.

There were good views across Placentia and the coastline with old wooden wharves along the river. Fish were dried on the rocky shore and the town grew up behind. The original walking trail to Placentia is signed from the edge of the breastworks and drops steeply through the trees. The Castle Hill leaflet showed a trail off this to Gaillard Redoubt but there was no sign of this on the ground. It is however, signed off the entrance road. There is a trail to La Fontaine Battery from round the back of the Visitor Centre. This has good views out to sea.

By now the rain clouds were hanging over Placentia so we decided to miss the Gaillard Battery.

We followed the Old Placentia Highway to Colinet. This is a rough gravel road which climbs over the peninsula. There were some houses along the road as we left Placentia but we soon lost them and there were only a few isolated cabins in the woods as we began to climb. There was very little traffic and it felt very isolated. It was wooded countryside, boggy and wet in places. There were a few more houses as we approached Colinet, a small settlement with a shop.

Cataract Provincial Park is not signed and we drove past before we realised. There is quite a large parking area by the bridge and well made gravel paths to view points and a walkway with steps dropping down into the gorge, with views of the waterfalls. Two streams join and there are substantial falls on each as they tumble into the gorge. With the rain there was plenty of water in the river. Unfortunately it was beginning to rain quite steadily so we didnít explore as much as we would have liked. In good weather this would repay time spent as it is a delightful area.

From Colinet we picked up the Irish Trail back to the Trans Canada Highway and Witless Bay Line (route 13). At the start of the road is a large sign saying in stormy weather the road could be impassible and to find another route. By now it was windy and raining hard. It was an isolated run with little settlement. The road was very exposed with a lot of bare rock and bog over the top. Water was collecting in grooves in the road and the surface was bad in places. There was a certain amount of traffic coming the other way which cheered us up as it indicated the road was still open.

We were stopping in Best Bay Efficiency Units in Bay Bulls. There are three comfortable, well equipped units above the shore on North View Road, with a good view across the bay.

This gave us a grandstand view of Hurricane Igor which struck the next morning. We watched the waves and swell crashing against the opposite shore line, and the rain blowing horizontal across the bay. We lost power and water several times but learnt later we had been lucky as we Ďonlyí got 120mm rain. Other areas had been much harder hit and we were thankful we had left Trouty the previous day as we would have been marooned there for several days as the roads and bridges had been washed away...

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