Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Celebrating  Canada's 150th birthday


Looking for something different to do this summer to commemorate Canada's 150th birthday? How about walking the beaches of Les Ìles de la Madeleine? 


The tiny archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, northeast of Prince Edward Island but a part of the province of Quebec, comprises seven islands and is accessed only by sea or by air. It's main road extends only 85km but the Madeleine's boast more than 300km of beaches.  For more details go here Iles de la Madeleine

Last summer, we walked the circumference of the archipelago. As the crow flies it is about 170km – about 150km on beaches. Add detours and meandering and we walked well over 200km. We were camping so we had to carry a tent, mats, sleeping bags, a stove, gas, pot and dishes, clothes, WATER, food ...  Here is all our stuff scattered about and then all packed up in two manageable backpacks.


After parking our car at the Dockside Bed & Breakfast ($5/night parking fee) in Souris, Prince Edward Island, we boarded the ferry for the 5 hour trip to Les Ìles. It was a pleasant ride and there is lots to do;  ferry details here. We arrived in Cap-Aux-Meules at 7pm and stopped in at the Tourism office where we got a big and quite detailed map of the islands. An easy 5km walk down main street, along the Coastal Trail and then along Chemin du Gros-Cap got us to the Gros-Cap Campground where we set up our tent just before a nasty storm blew in. 


Our first morning on Les Ìles was raining and blustery. A work emergency kept us at the campsite using their internet café facilities until 11am by which time the worst of the bad weather had passed. As we walked the De la Martinique and Du Cap Beaches the weather cleared up and by late afternoon the sun and blue skies brought out plenty of kite surfers at the Du Cap end of the beach. We had a delicious supper at Chez Elmer in the tiny village of La Grave, Havre Aubert. I had their specialty clam chowder in a bread bowl which Mike drooled enviously over while he ate his fish and chips. The little artisan shops and the Musée de la Mer were closed so we never did get to visit them. The restaurant let us fill up our water bottles and we crossed the island via Chemin du Sable and accessed Du Havre Beach where we set up our tent and promptly fell asleep. We had walked about 25km.















We had our breakfast of instant oatmeal and coffee on the beach. A lady camping in a van at the beach access parking lot replenished our water supply. We decided not to do the Sandy Hook Beach detour to make it a short hiking day.  Our next destination, Camping Belle Plage, was about an 8km stroll along the beach. There is gap in the beach at Le Bassin bay opening which we were able to ford quite easily; water was about waist high. The campground is really just a field but it has nice showers and a
laundromat, no free WIFI. There is a restaurant about a kilometre down the road.


The better part of day 3 was spent walking along Chemin du Bassin. Just after the grocery store where we got water (4 litres!), baguette and local goat cheese for lunch and tuna and rice for supper, there is a coastal path around the lighthouse which is quite lovely. We ate our lunch at the tower overlooking the beach at Ance á la Cabane.

Plage de L'Ouest stretches almost 4km to a high tide gap; it was all sand by the time we got there. After crossing the gap, we set up camp in between two tall dunes, ate our supper at the top of one and watched the sun set over a fishing trawler. We had walked about 25km.




An animal visited us in the night, we saw by its tracks in the sand in the morning.  Dune de L'Ouest aka Plage du Corfu Island (the remains of this ship are on the beach) takes us back to the main island. There is a small gap which we walked through, barefoot. Then we had to clamber around a point, thigh deep water and the rocks are slick with algae. It was a holiday Monday and the kitesurfers were out in full force; they were quite distracting but we made it around without falling into the surf.

The seaside shops at Site de la Côte (L'Etang du-Nord) were closed but the facilities were available and the Art Gallery had a pot of coffee brewing. We watched a seniors lawn bowling tournament as we sipped our coffee.

Across the street the dairy bar opened so we had sundaes for lunch to fortify us for the overland next part of our journey; a trail which hugs the coastline and leads right into Camping Barachois. The campround has showers, a laundry room and a common room but no free WIFI. For supper we walked into Fatima and ate at Decker Boy. We had walked about 20km. 


Day 5 marks the start of some serious beach walking. Mike left me and the bags at the Plage de la Hôpital entrance facility to get groceries in Fatima. There is a Creperie and a bar, both closed for the season but a large building with washrooms, tables and chairs and an outdoor deck with benches is open. Inside hanging from the ceiling is the skeleton of a whale. A lady has biked all the way from the main town just to see it. There is also an outdoor shower and lots of picnic tables scattered around. 

The Plage de la Hôpital becomes Plage de la Dune du Nord. The sand was soft and walking became an exercise in trying to find the hardest sand. Mike chose to walk just above the surf line at an angle. I meandered around in the flat areas looking for solid footing. This is a buggy beach with, much to our amazement, traffic directional signs. Tired of the beach walking, we jumped onto the highway about 2km outside of Pointe-Aux-Loups. This tiny village was closed for the season but a very kind gentleman supplied us with water and told us to come back for more. We accessed Plage de la Pointe aux Loups and set up the tent. We were treated to another beautiful sunset as we ate our salad. We had walked about 21km; I was miserable and exhausted.


Day 6 started out cold and blustery. Having to go back to town for a water fill up, we decided to walk the highway but as it soon got boring we hopped back onto the Plage de la Pointe aux Loups. Again it was tough walking in the soft sand. If yesterday was my breaking point day, today was Mike's.  Pods of seals swimming along the coast amused me while Mike fixed on the salt mine silo far away in the distance. We got off the beach and found the Seleine Mine salt mine interpretation centre (info here). It had bathrooms and seats. We changed into our sandals, leaving our stinky runners outside to air in the sun, and learned about the underwater salt mountains which built the islands. The only thing missing was actually going into the mine (preferably in a cart). After spending as much time as possible here, we loaded back up and walked over the bridge to Grosse- Ìle for a fish and chips supper at B&J Casse Croute. Neither their WIFI nor my cell access was strong enough to run the tablet so getting some work done was not an option. Nevertheless we spent a long time there and filled up our water bottles. At the local convenience store Mike found desserts which we enjoyed after we made our way to Plage de la Pointe de l'Est and set up our tent. We had walked about 19km.


Another blustery day. A storm was coming and we needed to make it back to civilization. The Dune de l'Est goes to the eastern most point on the islands where it becomes the Plage de la Grande Echouerie (aka Old Harry Beach) and heads back south west. Old Harry Beach access is a pay-parking lot located on Chemin Head with a little store (not open) which sells beach paraphernalia. It is also the access to the East Point National Wildlife Reserve. Up the road is the Little Red Schoolhouse, now a museum displaying artifacts and old photos of the one-room school it used to be. Of interest to us though is the cafe in the basement. The custodian brewed us a pot of coffee and we devoured slices of pound cake and half of a pie. A few more kilometres walking and we arrived at La Salicorne resort. We had walked about 23km. 

At the resort reception we dropped our bags on the floor and started inquiring about rooms. The proprietor was intrigued by our adventure and more than a little impressed. We had been talking about quitting all day but his interest perked us up. Instead of getting a room, we decided to camp and spend the money saved on food and activities at the Resort. For supper we had La Grande-Entrée; the Ìles sampler of seal sausage, fish mousse, lobster bisque and smoked mackerel. The resort offers its campers free WIFI, laundromat, showers and a common room with a kitchen, chairs, tables, sofa and tv. We were snug in our tent when the storm blew through.


Having decided not to quit, day 8 was our rest day. Mike spent the morning working while I puttered about. In the afternoon we went on a caving excursion. The cave bashing excursion (details here) is like a whirlpool on steroids; basically being thrown into and against surface caves by the ocean's waves. A wetsuit and a life jacket keep you buoyant and a helmet protects your head. It was tremendous fun and better than any massage for our weary bodies. 


Our little tent survived the 100kph winds overnight. We packed up and walked to the harbour stopping for groceries along the way. Our transportation guy, arranged by the resort manager, was waiting for us. It is maybe a 5 minute boat ride across the Havre de la Grande Entree but he gave us a little tour so we saw the seals basking in the sun. He dropped us off at the eastern end of the Dune du Sud.

We found a message in a bottle washed up on the beach and added our details to it and threw it back into the waves. We actually saw another couple who were geared up for camping on the beach. They didn't talk to us. We thought that was weird and a bit suspicious. At dusk, we pitched the tent across from a big rock out in the ocean. It made a pretty picture and I posted it online, just in case.  It had been a lovely day; warm and a big blue sky. We walked about 16km.


DAY 10

Our last day of beach walking was cold, cloudy and blustery. Walking into the wind was tough but the sand was solid from the previous rains. The entire walk we could see way off in the distance where we going. We arrived at Camping Sillons fairly early – it was only about 8km. Camping Sillons has coffee, snacks and WIFI in the main lounge and showers and a laundromat. For supper we walked up the road for fish and chips and also found a Creperie at the beachhead for a sweet snack.




DAY 11

Our last full day on Les Iles was warm and sunny. We walked the hills and dales of Havre-Aux-Maisons along Chemin de Pointe-Basse. We stopped in at the  Fumoir d'Antan an Economuseum® herring smokehouse and at the Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent. Late in the afternoon we stopped for lunch at Restaurant Le Sablier. We used their WIFI to get some work done. Then it was a quick stroll across the causeway back to the main island and the ferry dock. About 13 km and we had made it full circle right back to the Tourism office. The woman in there told us that the bar, Les Pas Perdus, across the street might have rooms for rent upstairs. It turned out it did and I was pretty stoked to sleep above a saloon!  Upstairs has large rooms, 2 shared bathrooms, a sitting room with TV and laundromat.