(Please watch the Grand Manan 1- minute Travel Video PostCard at the end of this post)
It’s certainly tempting to think of Grand Manan as God’s shrug of land surrounded by a vast, changing and beautiful sea.
There is something about these small fishing villages on islands that holds my heart tightly, especially those snuggled against rocky coasts with mists hovering like shifting shrouds.
Partly it’s the pitched, jarring sound of gulls or the air heavy with the scent of salt and fish.
But I think it’s the deep quiet, a stillness surrounding the colored, paint-pealing fishing boats at tether, waiting patiently to be called again to the sea.
One could describe this 21 x 11 mile island with fewer than 3,000 people as a huge fishery.
Fishing in one form or another is the backbone of the island’s economy. There are big, wooden herring pens everywhere in the sea.
There are lobster traps or buoys on front yards.
There are lobster boats and lobster meals and the business of fishing everywhere.
Then again it’s tempting to think of the island as a delightful, big field of lupin, those ramrod-straight, deep violet or pink flowers that fill the spaces along the roads and in the yards of simple homes.
What’s especially compelling of the island is the complete lack of attitude. I think I might call it, “the innocent island.”
One woman said she cried the first time she had to leave Grand Manan. I too felt that pang of separation, a missing of a deeply quiet, inner solitude that the island calls forth. And we were only there for a few days.
It’s not a beautiful place in the obvious sense of memorable architecture.
But when you’re surrounded by so much sea and moody weather and dramatic views, you overlook the need for man-made aesthetics.
The sea is everywhere and everywhere accessible on Grand Manan: There’s no place from which you can’t see it, hear it, smell it, or go down to it.
But what’s striking is the juxtaposition of the sea with the hills and heaths, covered with quiet, unassuming wild flowers of many colors.
One afternoon, we found a cradle of land on a cliff full of clover and yellow flowers and at eye level with the circling gulls.
We lay down.
The waves a hundred or so feet at the base of the rugged cliff just below us, we felt protected, cradled, and fell asleep.
Readers Digest called Grand Manan one of the ten best islands, and said the Swallow Tail Lighthouse high on a bluff, was among the most attractive in Canada.
Take the hike up to SwallowTail. There are, by the way, many fine hiking trails of the island and dramatic camping spots. But the walk to SwallowTail brings one breathtakingly close to the edge of steep gorges one moment and the next, lost among the waving grasses, actually above the circling gulls.
The island is divided into several coves: North Head in the north, Southwest Head at the southern tip, Grand Harbour.
Some harbors like Dark Harbour are little more than nets and small homes perched precariously, and fishermen working hard and talking trade.
But the whole of the island is more or less like that.
Empty roads. No billboards or traffic lights.
Maybe there are two or three stop signs.
And again, none of the attitudes one finds on other islands. No rich and famous come here to see and be seen…although the Pulitzer Prize winning American author, Willa Cather, lived on Grand Manan, and owned the only house she ever owned.
That’s not to say there aren’t places for a great meal or cup of coffee or caring places to stay, like the Compass Rose, a light, airy and lovingly kept B and B a few feet from the sea.
Then there’s dinner at the Whale Cove Cottages where the best thing is to sit on an Adirondack chair with a pre-dinner drink, overlooking the sea and setting sun, looking forward to a fresh salmon meal in their restaurant.
Thoroughly modern and well-equipped ferries run from Blacks Harbor at the southern tip of New Brunswick and make the crossing in about an hour and a half. If you’re just visiting New Brunswick, it costs about $55.00 to cross with your rental car and two passengers.
There’s lots to be said about this small island. But the people say it best: “Close enough for a visit…far enough to make a difference.”
To which we add, “enough of a place to miss when you have to leave.”