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cape spear lighthouse signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Do you recognise the view from this point where I'm standing? You ought to, you know, because if you were with me earlier this morning, you would have been walking around there.

The while pillar object in the centre of the photograph should give you a clue. Over there is indeed Cape Doodah "Cape Spear, in fact" ...ed , the farthest easternmost point of North America and the white object is the famous lighthouse that we saw while we were there.

10 inch gun fotifications cape spear lighthouse signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

As I have said, one of the greatest advantages of having a decent camera with a good long telephoto lens is that I can crop sections out of photographs and enlarge them with only a minimal loss of quality.

And so here's a section cropped out of the above photo so that you can see the new lighthouse, the old lighthouse, part of the military emplacements and the site that the army camp occupied

The Point of Cape Spear is clearly visible in this photo, and you can see how close it is to the water. There are tales, circulated by responsible persons too, of tourists being swept off the Point by the strong winds and stormy waves. And quite right too. I worked for many years in the tourist industry, with many North Americans as my clients, and I can well believe it. Added to that, I've been in the winds round here and at Cape Race yesterday I saw the waves.

cabot tower signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

And so where am I then?

You've seen this photo before - on the page concerning Cape Spear and I'm up there right now, standing just in front of that building.

The building is actually the Cabot Tower, built in 1897 to commemorate the voyages of discovery by John Cabot, who was said to have discovered North America for the British. I say "said to" because there is compelling evidence to support a good case for other Europeans to have been to North America before him, and not just Vikings and wandering Irish monks either.

I'm afraid that you are going to have to make do with this photo because, would you believe, I forgot to take a photo of it from where I was standing. Sometimes I wonder where my memory goes to - it certainly doesn't stick around with me.

site of isolation hospital signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

I did remember to take a photo of the car park though. And you might think that that is a strange thing to do, but not a bit of it because the car park has a historic significance too, one that might even be more important than the Cabot Tower.

The piece of land that is now the car park was formerly the site of an isolation hospital, and if you have ever been up here you will understand why. The wind blowing non-stop over 1900 miles from Ireland is wicked - absolutely wicked, and it will disperse any germs that might be hanging around. The clean fresh ozone will purge anything.

But after the isolation hospital, the site became the location of the prison for St John's, before finally being abandoned. And it was from one of the empty rooms there on 12th December 1901 that Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio message, sent from his radio station at Poldhu, in Cornwall.

Well - that isn't exactly the case. He actually had an aerial suspended 500 feet up in the air, hangig from a kite, and it was this that picked up the signal - the letter "S" sent in morse code, of which his detractors said was nothing more than atmospheric interference and not a message at all.

Up here too there's some kind of group of signposts indicating the directions and distances of the major cities throughout the western world. One such sign indicated that Paris is 3980 kilometres away. I live about 300 or so kilometres south of Paris and so I reckoned that bearing in mind the distance that I have travelled on my journey to date, I could have driven back home and come back again, and still had change.

fort amherst signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Down there is a very interesting collection of buildings, and if I had the time I would try my best to work my way down there to go for a wander around, because it's also a place of some historical significance.

It's actually Fort Amherst, right at the entrance to the harbour of St John's, and the complex (or should I say the original complex, because there's actually very little of that remaining) was built in the 1770s and named for Sir William Amherst, who I always seem to encounter on my voyages around the Maritime Provinces. His claim to fame here was that in 1762 he recaptured the town of St John's, which had been briefly seized by the French.

I mentioned that the second-oldest lighthouse in Canada was at Cape Spear . You might be wondering where the oldest was. Actually it was just down there at Fort Amherst, but it isn't there now. The one that you can make out in the photo here was built in 1951 to replace it.

st johns harbour signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

The best view from the Cabot Tower is the view behind where I'm standing. This is the town of St John's and its famous harbour, and it is views like this that makes clambering up rocky outcrops in a howling gale all the more worthwhile.

You can see why it was that St John's played such an important role in the history of British North America. It's right at the easternmost point of the whole of North America and so it would probably be the closest sheltered harbour to the UK.

And sheltered it is too. The open sea is just a few hundred metres away over my left shoulder but we have a deep, fairly wide inlet that curves around to the left and so is sheltered from the wind by two prominent headlands.

The importance of St John's during the war was that it was home to one of the Atlantic convoy escort groups, the Canadian Escort Group. It was to here that they returned for repair and refitting after a turn with a convoy. Whereas the loss of a merchant ship would be a tragedy, the loss of an escort vessel would be a disaster. There weren't anything like enough to go around even when they were all operational. Hence it was vital that the approaches to the port were kept clear so that the battered and weary, and maybe even damaged escorts could safely make it into port.

Having a decent harbour and major repair station so close to the action was a major advantage.

st johns harbour signal hill newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

A cropped part of the image here shows the town as well - this flat coastal bowl to the north-west of the harbour making an ideal setting. Plenty of room for the docks and quayside essentials, and plenty of room for the residents.

I talked as well about the presence of deciduous trees around here and many of them still have their leaves right now even though we are in late October. But the leaves are turning now and making some delightful colours, as you can see.

I was captivated by St Johns and I wished that I had more time to stay and explore - although 216 rainy days per annum would be enough to dampen anyone's enthusiasm

Yes, if I had had the time and this wind wasn't so desperate I could have done so much more up here as well. There was such a lot to see and to do. But if you do come here, don't underestimate the wind. I've never encountered a wind quite like this. I just don't understand the absence of wind turbines, I really don't.

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