A return to Grates Cove

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


This has been a long time in coming. Almost six years, in fact. In July of 2006, John, Katherine and I found ourselves in Grates Cove, at the northern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, clambering over rock walls and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Piled stone wall
Piled stone wall

That impression stuck and we have resolved for some time to return to Grates Cove and re-acquaint ourselves with the topography and history of this remarkable place. We were also curious to see if and how things had changed, given that several new businesses have opened in the area and there has been a growing interest in tourism in some of Newfoundland’s out-of-the-way spots.

Grates Cove
Grates Cove in Summer

Grates Cove never disappoints. Even on a drab day, it’s spectacular. Happily, we had a stellar day, with blue skies, sunshine and just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs off.

Walking the trails
Walking the trails.

We wandered over hill and dale, in awe of the walls. Grates Cove is a National Historic Site, and for good reason. Many places have rock walls. Many places have lots of rock. Few places in Newfoundland have rock and walls in such abundance and used with such ingenuity.

Stacked stone wall
Stacked stone walls, used as an enclosure of some sort.

We climbed all over the place, found a geocache and had great fun hopping from rock-to-rock.

Geocaching at Grates Cove
Geocaching. Plenty of hiding spots here!

I’ve built a few rock walls. It’s not horribly hard work, on the scale that I’ve undertaken, but the walls at Grates Cove are more sophisticated than anything I’ve contemplated. Many are three or four feet high and often two to three feet thick. They took huge amounts of labour and planning to execute.


They were a necessity, though, in a place that has no trees. Fences to keep animals both out and in were necessary, as were root cellars and foundations for buildings. I have often wondered if the culture of wall and stone building in Grates Cove is significantly different from in other places.

Enclosure of built stone

It’s interesting to look at the terrain and guess which areas were used for gardens. There is very little natural soil in Grates Cove. What exists was created by the inhabitants using seaweed, manure, compost and any other organic matter that could be gathered.

Built stone wall
Built stone wall

After a couple of hours of wandering, we strolled through the village. Katherine and Jasper found a grassy spot and did head-stands:

Headstands. Just 'cause.
Head-stands. Just because.

I was on the lookout for Grates Cove Studios, the woodworking studio of Terrance and Courtney Howell. We found their home, where they currently have their small shop and work area. They also have bought the old local schoolhouse and are renovating it to turn it into a shop and public space for hosting workshops and events. To boot, they are also finishing off the renovations on their artists’ retreat cottage (it should be done any day now) and will soon be offering home-cooked meals. I can’t wait to come back later in the summer and see what they’ve wrought!

Grates Cove Studios
The future home of Grates Cove Studios, the old schoolhouse. There is actually a white house to the left of this building. I removed it digitally, for dramatic effect. Not because there was anything wrong with the house. It’s a lovely little place.

After enjoying a visit with Terrance and Courtney, we hopped off to climb up the Big Hill for another geocache and a Grate view (pun intended).

Ever, ever on.
“The road goes ever on and on.”

It’s a short and relatively easy walk over boardwalk, most of the way. The view at the top is quite dramatic!

Lighthouse pyramid!
Lighthouse pyramid. (family tradition)
grates cove panorama
Grates Cove Panorama

Rowan pup came along for the trip and would like to state, unequivocally, that Grates Cove is exceptionally good border collie terrain and she would like to thank the hundreds of tireless workers throughout history who built these excellent rock walls. They apparently make superb jumps and even better balancing beams.

Rowan Rocks On
Rowan Rocks Grates Cove

So Grates Cove has changed a bit since I was last there. A list of amenities can be found here. There’s also a fish and chips place and a convenience store in town. The nearest gas station is still Old Perlican, but that’s none too far away. It’s a charming spot that I think is heading in the right direction, tourism-wise. The craft studio and shop is exciting and promises to be even better as time goes on. The only think I’d love to see them do is to map out the trails around the walls better. While it’s certainly easy to cross the heath off-trail, you’re never quite sure if you’re going to the right way and if you might be missing something to which a trail might have led you.

We’ve made tentative plans for a return trip in the fall, with an eye to using our GPS to create some better trail maps and camping out somewhere nearby, since there are still places in Grates Cove that I never seem to get to in one visit.

If you have not yet been to Grates Cove, go! It’s well worth the drive! In fact, why not check out Terrance’s Walking Book Workshop on July 7th & 8th and make the trip? You won’t regret it!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. hannifrieda says:

    I’m reading lord of the rings at the moment its awesome! Nice post (:

  2. Richard W. (Dick) Murphy, Silver Spring, Maryland says:

    I love your blogs and photography. For years, I have wanted to visit Newfoundland and hope I can do it in the summer of 2013. Your pictures whet my appetite for a visit.

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