To The Lighthouse: Visiting Surgeon’s Cove Point, Exploits Islands

It has been some years since I read Virginia Woolf‘s To The Lighthouse and my memory of it is somewhere north of foggy, but still south of hazy, so you’ll forgive me if the analogy seems a little odd at times. It’s probably really that it took us eighteen years to get there that resonates in my mind as similar, but now I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Sections (the easier ones) of the trail are like this now.

For eighteen years, John has been coming down to Exploits with me. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The first year he came down with me but trips of subsequent years were as much his as mine. One of the more obvious compatibility tests before our marriage was whether he could love this remarkable place that is more home to me than anywhere else and love it for its own sake and not just mine. We’ve been married for sixteen years this summer and he has become as much a part of me as Exploits is and has helped me find a new and deeper love of this place that holds a piece of my soul, so I guess he passed with flying colours.

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Some portions of the trail are like this. Many dead falls and a few washouts.

In any event, from the first visit, I had told him about the lighthouse on the other island, about the trail across the island to that lighthouse, about my childhood memories of having tea with the lightkeepers (before everything was automated) and about the potato gardens near the other end of the trail. I told him about how Dad would haul us kids along the trail at least once each visit, always (to my memory) in the pouring rain and how I never knew if he actually wanted to get us out of the house for Mom’s sake, genuinely enjoyed the walk in the forest or was escaping Grandma. I strongly suspected the last reason as being the most powerful, as a child, and since a walk in the woods with Dad was a rarity, these memories stuck fast.

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Some sections had so many dead falls that we would walk five steps, climb, walk five steps, climb, walk five steps, duck under, etc.

I made the walk several times as a teenager, following the old trail out and back. Once I followed the telephone/telegraph wires, a route I do not recommend, as it traverses every bog on the island. When I arrived at the light, the keepers took one look at me, fifteen years old and black to the waist with swamp debris, and promptly put the kettle on and fished out towels, which I am sure they had to burn after. I was a mess, but it was fun.

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Pieces of the old boardwalks, bridges and stone edgings are still there, but they are more hazardous than helpful. This was one of the few that you could step on without peril.

But John and I never got there together. In 2002, the station was automated, but prior to that, keepers were brought in by boat or helicopter (mostly boat) and the trail gradually fell into disrepair. It was used by locals, but the government, having resettled the community in 1967, wasn’t putting any more money into road maintenance.

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The kids enjoyed signs of beavers in the area. We found some very, very freshly cut pieces (cut in the last day or two) as well.

We made several attempts to get across, but each one was thwarted by fairly trivial obstacles. Once we were driven out of the woods by the blackflies and stouts (you may call them deerflies or horseflies where you are). Another time there was a knee injury. Yet another attempt involved a very tired three-year-old and her even more tired mother deciding it wasn’t worth it. You get the picture. As with Woolf’s Ramsays, there was never a good time, always a doubt, a reason or an excuse and it just didn’t happen, and so the aura around the trip grew in our minds.

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As you approach the end of the trail, near the lighthouse, there are a few small boardwalks and bridges, made of some rather impressive lumber. I found out later that they were made by the Coast Guard from extra scraps used in the construction of the stairs and helipad.

Each year I would say, “We must get across to the lighthouse,” and each year we would either not have time or make an abortive attempt. It was getting rather silly. After all, it only looked like 2k each way on my map. So the day before we left this August, we rustled the kids up and I decided that we would get across to the lighthouse come hell, high water, insects or whiny children (the last being the most likely). We rowed across, tied up the boat and started in.

The kids were initially eager. After all, it’s a lighthouse. Who doesn’t like a lighthouse? While there was the usual, “I’m tired. Are we there yet?” “No, we’ve only walked 800m. Keep moving,” conversations, the kids pretty well all took the walk, which turned out to be 4.6k each way from the wharf, in stride. Unlike the Ramsay children in Woolf’s book, who moaned the whole way, if I recall correctly. There was a brief incident, which almost led me to believe that there was some manner of jinx on our ability to get to the lighthouse, in which a child leapt off a rock and came down hard on an ankle, but he was able to walk it off and the adventure continued..

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Garnet, with the lighthouse in sight!

It was, in fact, calling it an adventure about three-quarters of the way across, that gave the kids their second wind. When we finally caught a glimpse of water and then the lighthouse buildings, they charged on ahead happily.

Keeper's House Foundations
The foundations of an old lighthouse keeper’s house, at Surgeon Cove Point.

The existing keeper’s house is locked and privately owned. There was no one there at the time. The tower, however….

Surgeon Cove Point Lighthouse, Exploits Islands.
Surgeon Cove Point Lighthouse, Exploits Islands. Do you see a lock on that door? Nope. Neither do I.

…was open!


So a few of us went up inside to enjoy the view.

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Going up!

Some of the glass panels were cracked, which made for interesting photographic effects.


It was pretty cool to get inside. It was a small tower, but still nifty.

Looking down
Looking down from the second story.

We took a nice long break on the helipad, after which John “celebrated”, in a strangely male way, a trip he’d been wanting to tak for eighteen years. He said it was a relief in more ways than one and enjoyed the view in the process. The kids laughed themselves silly. I do not entirely understand men.

Break time on the chopper pad
Break time on the chopper pad.

And then it was off home again. When I was really small, it was uphill, both ways. I vividly remember this fact, which is why I was surprised by the return trip this time being downhill and quick quick.

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Rowing home. Our house is the grey saltbox one at right, with the bright blue stairs and doors.

When next we go out, we’re going to tote along our bucksaws and a tent and make certain parts of the trail more passable. However, since it took us eighteen years to get out there, I wouldn’t hold your breath on us getting to it next summer.

Should you make the trip, wear good footwear and be prepared to get it wet. Take plenty of water and be sure to pack a lunch; it’s a marvellous picnic spot!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Richard W. Murphy - Silver Spring, Maryland, USA says:

    This sounds like quite an adventure. I love your pictures and blogs.

  2. mjspringett says:

    Thanks for the vicarious adventure this morning, i really enjoyed your trip, i have used the badlands of North Dakota as a test for husband material, it also has worked out positively, thanks again, MJ

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