Sunday, December 9, 2012

Edge of the Wild
Travels in Western Newfoundland, Part 7
The Viking Trail

Are you new here?  Welcome!  The last 7 blog entries chronicle my recent trip to Newfoundland. If you are new and would like to read the articles in chronological order, visit the Travelogues page.  And now... on to the Viking Trail!

North of Gros Morne National Park things change.  The road narrows and the towns are very small and far apart, and there is more of a sense of remoteness.  Coming over rises in the road that allow a view farther ahead reveals seemingly endless forests of short, stubby evergreens, dotted with innumerable ponds and lakes.   

Rt. 430 north of Gros Morne
The low mountains march on to the east side of the road and the sea is often visible to the west.  It is over 200 miles to our next destination, L'Anse aux Meadows, and we settle in for the drive up the "Viking Trail", stopping at occasional lighthouses along the way.

Port aux Choix Lighthouse
About a thousand years ago, an extraordinary thing happened on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland.  Almost 500 years before Columbus was born, a small band of seafarers arrived from somewhere else, came ashore in a cove and built a small community.  They brought with them things that had never been seen in the New World before - oceangoing boats, iron tools, strange clothing.  They were, without question, Vikings.  In fact, the site of the Norse village at L'Anse aux Meadows has been identified as a place described in some detail in the Norse sagas concerning "Vinland".  It is speculated that the Vikings used L'Anse aux Meadows as a winter camp and spent summers exploring further down the coast and possibly even along the St.Lawrence River, but no other sites have yet been found.  This far outpost of Norse culture, represents a little-known intersection between two worlds.

L'Anse aux Meadows: the reconstructed Norse settlement just right of center, the archaeological site a little nearer, and the modern town in the background to the left.
Bundled in jackets against a chilly and very blustery July day, we walked around the museum and took a guided tour of the site.  Only the faint outlines of the foundations of the original buildings remain, but a meticulously researched modern reconstruction of several buildings lies a few hundred yards away.  On this particular day, with sod walls seven feet thick, they provided welcome shelter from the cold wind.  Inside, the park's spirited interpreters told Norse legends to visitors around a fire.

Reconstructed Viking outpost at L'Anse aux Meadows
The greatest challenge of travel photography for me is that I'm often only in places for a very short period, at a time when the light or situation may not be ideal, with no chance to go back later.  My advice to the traveling photographer at L'Anse aux Meadows is to try to stay nearby, as there are several lodgings within 10 minutes or so of the park.  Doing so would permit multiple visits under differing conditions, and exploration of the very scenic surrounding area, an almost impossibly green place, with low, rocky, treeless hills and long, winding inlets leading to small, protected harbors. In retrospect, one of our biggest trip planning errors occurred here, in that our accommodations were far away from the park and there was no opportunity to spend more time here!

A beautiful day in the town of L'Anse aux Meadows. Hard to believe they get 10 feet of snow here...
Next...  Giant icebergs and whales...

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