Fogo, Tilting & Joe Batt's Arm (Fogo Island), Little Fogo Islands, Newfoundland (Map)
Another summer weekend & it was now time for that resettled island boat tour we tried to do after Peckford Island. I had a great stealth camping spot in mind, which was just about the perfect distance to reach right at sunset, but a local music festival meant a long line at the Liquor Express/Esso in Lewisporte.
Of course it was one of those insane sunsets with all of the pinks, oranges, cloud bits and the whole nine yards. Oh well. Instead of enjoying it at Sandy Point, it complimented the drive through the villages of Brown's Arm & Stanhope.
In addition to missing the sunset, the nearby abandoned house I skipped a few years ago was now torn down. I noticed this other abandoned house while trying to find the previous one.
Inside there was so much fallen plaster and so many floor holes that it made it hard to explore. My favourite thing had to be the old stove you see to the right.
Grabbing breakfast in Lewisporte, I laughed at the idea of riding their mediocre skatepark during a music festival weekend with campers everywhere.
Continuing up the Road to the Isles, it was an hour's drive to Port Albert, where we caught the 45 minute ferry to Fogo Island.
It wasn't long before I was back in Fogo appreciating this gorgeous home.
I had the boat arranged for tomorrow, so today was a full day to meander about and check off a few things around Fogo Island.
Popping over to Tilting, there's a modern "lighthouse" (steel frame with a light) marking the western entrance of their harbour. Leaving town on the start of Turpin's Trail, the headland and lighthouse provide a great view back towards town.
(And for you Nailhed, if you look the other way there's another one of those modern artist residences you love.)
While in Tilting, I also wanted to check out the Lane House Museum - mostly because it's home to a wooden spiral staircase.
Climbing the steps sure was tight, but it saved space and possibly showed off the handiwork of first owner, cooper Augustin MacNamara. It's believed that this house was built in the 1830s, which would make it the oldest structure in Tilting.
On the way out of Tilting and through Joe Batt's Arm, I stopped to check out Mercer Memorial Church, which at one time was so abandoned I was going to drive 5 hours back from Corner Brook the very next weekend.
Nowadays it's looking much better & seemingly in use as storage.
Instead of a stealth camping again, there's a campground right in the town of Fogo with great camping sites for only $15/night.
So after a bit of the runaround with that, we had our site picked out and wandered up adjacent Brimstone Head near the end of the day.
In addition to the stunning scenery, a raptor flew overhead as a pleasant surprise. This would then become a great surprise as this is a Gyrfalcon - a bird I had only seen one other time, where a local yahoo pulled up his truck beside me and his "d'ja see the falcon my son?" distracted me before I could manage a picture.
It's not like the above picture is anything more than a record shot, but now I can mark Gyrfalcon off the list. Also, the Gyrfalcon didn't immediately flee, so it was nice to observe the bird for a brief time outside of taking pictures.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great Gyrfalcon introduction: "The largest falcon in the world, the ghostly Gyrfalcon is a fierce predator in the High Arctic, where it chases down ptarmigans in flight or plummets from the sky at breathtaking speeds to strike prey to the ground."
(This Gyrfalcon is a darker phase Gyrfalcon, hence why it isn't very "ghostly.")
A boat leaves Fogo and heads towards the Change Islands.
The campsites at Brimstone Head are easily worth $15. Especially with only two or three other groups, there was no fighting at all for the sites down by the cove. (The two other groups actually took higher up, away from the cove, campsites.)
The next morning, knowing that the boat tour and today's departing ferry would be tight for time, we woke up and went for a big, sit down meal at the newly discovered 'Nicole's Cafe'. I thought we were in for fried chicken and iceberg lettuce sandwiches, but Nicole's was fancier than most of the places back in the big city of CB. After expecting your typical rural Newfoundland restaurant, I now felt like I was underdressed.
Calling earlier about the boat tour, I found out that they were waiting on hearing from the extravagant Fogo Island Inn about passengers for today, but if we wanted to pay a bit more, the two of us could go out alone in a speedboat. So, the two of us going by ourselves or waiting for the regular tour with 15 people on a large fishing vessel? This was an easy decision.
We would soon meet friendly Michael and be on our way. For islands so small they aren't labelled on the provincial highway map, we left behind the harbour at Joe Batt's Arm and went out into the open ocean, headed towards the rocky isles of Little Fogo Islands that are about 9km off of Fogo Island.
I'd peered out in the direction of these islands whenever we came to a headland & now it was crazy to be in a small boat driving towards them. Michael stopped our forward progress around this time, pointing up ahead and knowing the telltale signs - and sure enough, whale spray came from the surface about 30 feet in front of the boat.
After the chance whale, the first planned part of the boat tour was to go past the Little Fogo Islands, where I wanted to land immediately, but knew that cod fishing would come first.
For how little I paid attention or valued the cod fishing listed as part of this trip, in hindsight it was great to check off another Newfoundland activity off of some rocks northeast of the main island. As always, I'm a sucker for doing things in unique, hard to reach places. Our success also played a role in how excited I am when I now say I've caught cod in Newfoundland.
It was amazing to see how Michael knew the spot to fish. He pointed out a slot in between two islands to our west, then pointed south towards the emerging cabin of "Tom Penny" or someone, knowing that if we were lined up with the island slot and could see the cabin, then we were atop the fishing grounds. And he knew what he was talking about. Unravelling the lure wrapped between two pieces of wood that made up the jigger, the two of us quickly pulled up 2-foot-long cod after 2-foot-long cod. As the limit for cod catches is 15 per boat, we now had 15 cod between the two of us, instead of 15 cod between 15 people on the big tour boat.
As a regular buyer of fish at the supermarket, the cod we would take here paid for the trip by itself (even after adding in the paltry "extra amount" of money we had to pay to go as just the two of us).
(It was also great to have friends over for a big cod fry-up shortly after.)
After taking our limit of cod, we took an indirect route to the dock on Little Fogo Islands. This brought us over to the side of the island with all of the razorbill, murre & puffin colonies. As we passed between islands and birds took to flight and dotted the sky, they spread out and made curving routes out over the sea and back towards land.
It felt like I was in an episode of The Life of Birds or in a National Geographic special. For how much living in Newfoundland can bring you to remote areas or put you amongst nature, this was on another level.
We didn't round a corner right into the thickest area of birds at first. The experience grew as we came closer and closer to the greatest concentration of sea birds. It was charming to start, then it increased and increased until it was hard to believe the number of birds flying all over.
I think Shelloo and I could have sped amongst the islands and seabirds for hours, but we would curve around one last island and there it was, the main harbour of Little Fogo Islands.
Tying up to the dock, Michael showed us his cabin he's working on, then told us to go take a look around while he put on the kettle.
The highlight of the Little Fogo Islands is the compact St. Anne's Church, built in 1873. Little Fogo Islands was resettled in the 1930s, about 20 years before the big wave of resettlement came, but families continued to fish and keep summer cabins out here. Along with continuing to use the island, the residents maintained their church and today it shines. Having been to a few historic structures around the island, you see signs of them struggling to stay maintained, but there were no such signs at St. Anne's Church.
I first discovered Little Fogo Islands because of the historic buildings page for this church. I then found that a summertime service is held here, where a priest and people with ties to Little Fogo Islands come out here to pay their respects. Initially I thought this was going to be the way I could get to Little Fogo Islands (before hearing of the boat tour).
Stepping inside, the woodwork, size and elaborate altar reminded me of the modest Russian Orthodox churches I visited in Alaska. The light blue paint also helped in this regard.
The walls in the entryway were covered with those who'd came to Little Fogo Islands before me. There were also a couple of large picture frames with small photos of old Little Fogo Islands times.
Reading about resettled places and places that still exist, the Newfoundland Encyclopedia commonly states that a church was established early in the town's history, then makes mention of a significant and/or still standing church being built at a later date. St. Anne's here at Little Fogo Islands is interesting because it was the first, smaller church, that was simply never replaced. I'm wracking my brain right now trying to think of another example of this in Newfoundland, but I cannot. (Then again, in some small outports the church could be just as old, but covered in vinyl siding and I'd be none the wiser.)
Michael only told us to go take a quick look around, so I didn't figure we had much more time after St. Anne's. Going down to a beach behind the church, I then scurried up the nearby hill for an overview of Little Fogo Islands.
One of my favourite parts of the trip came next, where we didn't go in Michael's unfinished cabin for tea, we instead went into the handsome shed that's been in his family for 4 generations, his great-grandfather having built it.
There was a small cooking area, along with a workbench and bunks for the nights that Michael stays out here working or simply enjoying Little Fogo Islands. With the kettle boiled, tea was poured and we relaxed around the table, obviously both remarking on the beauty of the Little Fogo Islands and the value of this trip.
Michael and Shelloo related over their love for drawn butter - melted butter with flour & water to dip seafood in - and it occurred to me how different this trip was with 3 people instead of 17 or 18 if we waited for the hotel crowd. The hotel crowd likely weren't going to be all Newfoundlanders, so a lot of the trip would've covered being amazed with whales, wondering about icebergs, talking about resettlement, etc.. And yes I realize I'm not a Newfoundlander, easy now, but with being here ~8 years and Shelloo being a Newfoundlander, it seemed like the conversation was able to get to a deeper level.
Then again, I was sitting here laughing at how excitedly they were talking about melted butter. Maybe it wasn't all that profound, haha.
Unfortunately, in no time at all it was time to get going back to Joe Batt's Arm.
Throughout the afternoon, ever since catching those cod, the two of us worried about what to do with them. Neither of us knew how to clean fish & we talked about the dread of getting back home at 10pm and watching YouTube videos to try and figure out how to clean giant fish.
Thankfully, even after doing all of this for us, Michael took over cleaning the fish too. He saved one for me to take a picture with, but then cleaned that one & rushed out to his afternoon boat tour - leaving us with 3 grocery bags full of cod to carry back out of a random Joe Batt's Arm stage and up a grass path to the car.
The funny thing with taking the time to take a picture with the cod, stopping for ice cream & stopping for other pictures; was that we then found a lot of cars in the ferry lineup.
Slowly the cars boarded, amazing the two of us at how many were squeezing onto the ferry. Near what we presumed to be the end, maybe the last 10 cars, it started to go really slow as they struggled to fit. Shelloo sighed and whispered that they better fit us on.
The car 3 cars ahead went, then the 2nd car, and then the car directly in front of us...the guy then held up his hand and we heard the boat horn. We were the exact last car not to make it on to a ferry that carries 64 automobiles. After squeezing this trip into a non-long weekend, we were now going to get home even later. We were both speechless.
With 2 hours to kill and not having biked for the whole weekend, I took out my bike and rode the big parking area where cars wait for the boat. There wasn't much to ride, so I practiced some flatground fakie 360s and the time passed soon enough.
Eventually the ferry would come, but needing to get back home, we couldn't be making multiple stops. It was decided that we just had to load up on calories for the ride home - which meant a stop for the famed tater poutine of Norma's in Lewisporte.
Norma's is a chip shack clad in old green siding, with a prominent sign that intrigues anyone driving through Lewisporte. As a lover of old institutions that carry on, I tried to visit once before but found it closed. Today, after reading the reviews online, I would have their poutine that many rave about on the interweb. I have to say it was decent.
Sunset at South Brook, NL
The drive back home was long, but it would have been longer if we had cod to clean upon arrival. In fact, when we got home I barely wanted to ziploc the fish, so thanks so much Michael. I really regret not giving you more of a tip (I forgot about taxes and didn't have anymore cash on me).
Anyway, go on the tour if you find yourself in Joe Batt's Arm. You won't regret it.
1 - Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume 3
2 - St. Anne's Church, Little Fogo Islands - Heritage Newfoundland & Labrador
All text & pictures on this website created by Belle River Nation are copyright Belle River Nation. Please do not reproduce without the written consent of Belle River Nation. All rights reserved.
I appreciate when people let me know I'm using punctuation wrong, making grammatical errors, using Rickyisms (malapropisms) or words incorrectly. Let me know if you see one and the next 40/poutine/coney dog is on me.