Friday, September 15, 2006


Tall trails


THERE are still places here where no human has ever been," said my guide, as we watched an eagle surf the breeze. I felt a tingle of excitement. Few things are more tantalising than wilderness - the word itself oozes promise. Trouble is, it also conjures up images of an exhausting journey to a malaria-ridden corner of the globe - where you're expected to lug around a rucksack and live on beetles.

But there are some wild places that are accessible. I was staying at the Humber Valley, a new all-season resort in Newfoundland, just five hours' flight from the UK. It's an upmarket and rapidly expanding activity centre with a restaurant, chalets and programmes for children. But while it's comfy - my chalet turns out to be a sleek house with three en suite bedrooms, sundeck and a fridge as large as my car - it is surrounded by a landscape so unspoilt that sea kayakers see humpback whales, and golfers find moose wandering the resort's championship course.

Newfoundland is huddled against the east coast of Canada, a sea-slashed island where nature still holds the upper hand. It's been settled by Europeans for centuries; John Cabot named it New Founde Isle when he came here in 1497, unaware that the Vikings beat him to it by hundreds of years. It was mapped by Captain Cook in the 18th century and his charts can still be used today. The coastline is dotted with communities that rely on whaling and fishing, leaving an island of mountains, glacial lakes and green forests that are home to bears, caribou and lynx.

The resort has been built on the quiet western coast on the shores of Deer Lake, a 20-minute transfer from the airport. Depending on the time of year, you can ski, snowshoe or try caving, and the sailing is inspiring. Between May and October, a great way to enjoy the untamed landscape - and work off the breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup - is to go for a walk.

I made for Corner Brook, a former logging community and the nearest town. It's the starting point for one of a number of short, family-friendly trails. An easy amble along forest tracks and I was standing above a gorge so steep that stunted trees clung grimly to the rocks. I felt as if I'd stepped into a Caspar David Friedrich landscape. A short walk later and I was back in the comfort zone of Corner Brook, raiding Tim Horton's (the local equivalent of Dunkin' Donuts) for coffee and cake, and marvelling at the warmth of the locals. Newfoundland must be the only place where the response to: "Thank you very much," is a relaxed "You're welcome very much."

More adventurous walks can be had in Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site an hour's drive from the resort on the Gulf of St Lawrence. Part of the park is bisected by Highway 431, a road with forested hills on one side and bare brown slopes on the other. These are the Tablelands, flat-topped mountains forced through the Earth's crust when vast geological plates collided. Made from a rock that is toxic to most plants, they remain lifeless and forbidding millions of years after they appeared.

I followed the Green Gardens Trail, over barren ground dotted only with insectivorous pitcher plants, silently seducing flies with glossy red leaves. It was silent save for the occasional call of a bird. Jonathan, my guide, handed me a piece of glossy, chocolate-coloured rock: "That's part of the Earth's mantle," he said. "This is one of the few places where you can see it."

The trail continued past stunted spruce trees, known as tuckamore, and then into thick forest, where a narrow path led steeply down to the sea. This was the Green Gardens, a stretch of coast where lush meadows line the rocky shore and dramatic sea stacks jut from the water. We stared out over the Gulf of St Lawrence, looking hard for surfacing whales, while a bald eagle soared overhead. All this, and I didn't even need a rucksack.



Barwell Leisure (0208 786 3071) has seven-night packages from £658pp based on four people sharing a three-bedroom chalet, with return flights from Gatwick. Flights from Scotland to Gatwick start at £62 from Edinburgh, £66 from Glasgow and £76 from Aberdeen, all with British Airways (, 0870 850 9850). Two people sharing a three-bedroom chalet starts at £924pp. Activities are extra,


For more information on Corner Brook, visit

For more on Gros Morne National Park and the Green Gardens Trail, visit Trails take from three to eight hours.

No comments: