Deep Mystery and Proud History, Dark Faeries and Wild Berries. The Curious Townie’s Guide To What You Need To See, Where You Need To Eat, Plus A Stately, Rose Scented Retreat.
My love affair with Bell Island is like a trainwreck. I just can’t look away. Half abandoned, fully otherworldy and breathtakingly beautiful, time ceases to exist on that layered, shaky rock. The eras of history blend seamlessly into a singular, surreal reality as you exit the ferry. You exhale deeply. You are relaxed.
The isle has been getting some checkered press as of late. The term beleaguered is not an altogether inappropriate description of its various civic woes and tragic political division. For all this, it remains one of the most unique, authentic and spectacular staycation destinations close to St. John’s. Here’s your 13 point guide to making the most of it.
13. It’s cheap as dirt to get there. It will literally cost you more to take a round trip on the St. John’s Metrobus than it will get on the stalwart Flanders (my favourite) or any of the other boats that make the run.
12. Wild food abounds. Fields of wild strawberries. Beaches over run with lovage and sea plantain. Forests golden with chanterelles. Bell is an edible island, and you can’t go far in the warm months without finding a plant you might want to add to your lunch.
11. There’s great places to stay. Miner’s Manor is quaint, affordable, and centrally located. There are vintage keyboards and a regal sitting room. For a hipster vibe, The Grand Wabana Inn is a secret treasure. A rose-lined entranceway welcomes you to fine dining and retreat ambiance. There’s art, espresso, and the same hearty breakfast you remember from Gracie Joe’s. There’s a reason for that: the same guy owns it.
10. Dick’s on the Beach feels like the fifties, tastes like the seventies, and laughs like the present moment. The décor speaks of the glory days of mining affluence. The signature fi’ and chi’
is generous and golden fried, but the burgers and salads are just as satisfying. The characters you will meet over bottles of classic brews like Labatt’s 50 and Dominion Ale will regale you with hilarious stories of their island. This is a must stop.
9. Picnics on Bell Meadow. One of the best spots for whale watching, sea stacks included.
8. The Mine Museum and Tour. Another must stop. Essential for understanding Bell Island’s recent history, there’s a wealth of mining artifacts on display above ground. Going down into the mineshaft, the tour guides are funny but also very real about the miners’ dangerous lives. It can be a bit creepy at first down there, but it is an experience like none other I have had in Newfoundland.
7. Ghosts and faeries. Rumour has it Butlers Marsh is maggoty with faeries, the Old Hag roams the isle, and so do the ghosts of miners. Bell Island is creepy deluxe.
6. Freshwater Cove feels like Jurassic Park, Newfoundland style. Described as “a secret overgrown river path” leading down some impressive rock formations, lined by unusually large wild plants, it’s not long before you start scanning for winged dinosaurs or dragons. Cause you know from TV this is exactly the kind of place they live. Warning: a dangerous descent to the beach.
5. Lance Cove combines history and beauty. This is where to find the memorial of the German U-boat attacks in WW2, and also where several televisions and chickens mysteriously exploded after the Bell Island Boom; itself an unexplained explosion on the southwestern side of the island in 1978. Lush and verdant, it has a romance the more settled side of the island lacks.
4. Grebes Nest. Best beach for a boil up (bring your own wood though).There’s some serious scenery, there’s black sand, but most strikingly there’s a frikken tunnel right through the rock with an Indiana Jones/Temple Of Doom thing going on. It may or may not be safe at this point, but this still doesn’t stop people from enjoying it. Warning: I really mean it when I say it may or may not be safe. Walk that tunnel at your own risk, or just enjoy the scenery from the safe side.
3. Cool ruins and unique geology are attractions with no cover charge. From the bones of mining’s industrial megaliths now sinking into the shore, to lichen encrusted stone huts near the dump, to the sea stacks and crumbling cliffs, to more abandoned houses and school buses than you thought you’d ever see. There’s fossils, there’s crystals, it’s a beachcomber’s delight.
2. An inspiring community. Yeah, I know that’s not what you’ve read recently, but sometimes people find exactly what it is they go looking for. If you want to find beekeepers, foraging hippies, suave teenagers, loving couples out gull hunting on the ATV, or a tenacious group of mothers who set up a needle exchange to address the opioid crisis, you’ll find them here.
1. Peace and Quiet. This is the ultimate reward. Whatever or whoever is stressing you out , they can’t find you here. The peace is visceral, and returning to town is often the hardest part of the trip.