Bell Island – a place for many adventures.

A Beach on Bell Island
Old photo taken with 35mm film and scanned many years ago. I wish I could find the negative and make a better scan. The rocks are red due to their very high iron content.

There is irony in a person who lives on an island going to still smaller islands in search of adventures. Fogo Island, Exploits Islands, and Bell Island have been among my insular destinations within Newfoundland. You can tack St. Pierre & Miquelon on to that tally if you wish, they being off the southern coast of Newfoundland, but French territory.

Bell Island is particularly interesting for a few reasons, one of which happens to be its happy proximity to St. John’s (capital city of Newfoundland and close to where I live). To get to Bell Island, you must take a ferry. My friend Steph swam the channel, but she was leaving Bell Island to get to the mainland, so it was more of an escape really, rather reminiscent of Edmond Dantès‘ swim in The Count of Monté Cristo, only with a wetsuit (essential) and without a weighted burial sack (helpful).

Digressions aside, it’s a neat place to visit. It once housed many mines, most of which tunnelled deep under the earth and out under the ocean. You can still visit the restored Number 2 Mine during tourist season.

There are plenty of other things to see and places to poke on Bell Island. The area near the lighthouse is quite picturesque. The road and views out near the Belle (a bell-shaped rock formation on the western end of the island) are quite beautiful and there are neat little neighbourhoods and houses here and there that beg to be explored. It’s a locale that has changed significantly since the mind close, though. People left. Some of the houses previously occupied by miners and their families have fallen into disrepair and there can be a feeling of a place that has started to rust a little, like the rocks. Not all of it is like that, of course. Much is simply a rural community like any other with people going about their lives as they always have. The abrupt and vast economic change of the mine closure left traces (I would almost call them scars, but that can be a negative word with implications that aren’t quite all true), though. It’s a community that has been trying to reinvent itself and it’s interesting to watch over time.

Reaching the island
The view from the ferry.

There are a couple of old graveyards on the island that have somewhat unusual tombstones. You don’t often see inscriptions about running on headstones in these parts and you certainly don’t generally find more than one such in an area. They struck me as particularly interesting because the running club to which John and I belong, Athletics Northeast, has held a 10-mile race on Bell Island for several years running. The route of this race actually swings right past this cemetery, although I’m guessing many folks don’t realize it. I can’t help but think of these as enduring testimony to those folks who don’t finish the race….

Set in stone
"This is the race we all must run"
Race is run
"My race is run and yours is running, prepare for death for judgement's coming."

We found this cemetery while hunting for a geocache (geocachers know all the cool places), which leads me to this next series of pictures. This is my favourite spot on Bell Island. It’s a pair of beaches, linked by two tunnels. You descend a rocky cliff-side path to one beach, walk along the base of cliffs and see this:

The approach
The approach. Pounding waves on your right, cliffs and gulls soaring overhead. It's like something out of a pirate movie.

For a sense of perspective, here’s a picture of our crew at the tunnel’s entrance (it’s not a great shot, but I include it for a sense of scale). Makes you realize how imposing the cliffs really are.

Enter the tunnel
Entering the tunnel

This is my husband and daughter, in what I call his “Indiana Jones” picture:

In the tunnel
It's extremely dark inside and the roof is pretty high.

I was told this tunnel was cut as a part of an escape route of some sort during mining operations. Other tales say that it was simply to enable the locals to access the other beach. It was clearly an incredible amount of work, so I suspect it has mining origins. It is still maintained and well-reinforced even now.

When you come out the other side, you’re in a cove called “The Grebe’s Nest”, a spot that is reputed to be a lovely place to swim. I’m not sure what the undertow is like there and wouldn’t risk it, personally, but it’s a marvelous spot for a picnic. The cliffs are often good nesting spots for birds, so I’ll have to swing back again at a more optimal time of year. I’d also like a chance to retake some photos here with a better sky in evidence and perhaps with a wide-angle lens.

The Grebe's Nest
The Grebe's Nest, as close to a pirate's cove as ever you'll find!

We spent some time playing on the beach, exploring the area and finding the geocache. Of course there was a geocache. A place like that HAS to have a geocache. And then it was home again on the ferry (we opted not to emulate Steph’s swim).

Heading Home
Sunset over Bell Island

Every time I leave Bell Island I find myself wishing that I had spent more time there and thinking that I must have missed something. Every time I go back to Bell Island, I realize that I was right and find something new. Must go over some time and see it in winter…..


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