Within the communities themselves, in most cases it was simply easier to build roadways where the old walking paths used to be – but not in Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou.
Basque fishermen first came to Rose Blanche in the 1700s. By the early 1800s, it was a permanent settlement. Over time, walking trails that linked it to Diamond Cove and Harbour Le Cou were slowly worn along the cliffs.
These trails are still in use today, having been spared destruction due to the unco-operative geography that renders them unsuitable as roads. Still popular with locals to get from one side of town to the other, more and more tourists are discovering the historic and highly scenic paths. There’s simply no bad view from any of the trails.
The town has workers to cut the grass and maintain safety fences and railings and is aware of the high potential for ecotourism along the trails. Plans have been made with the province to repair and upgrade the trails and to install new signage to help direct summer tourists who come across them.
Phyllis Horwood and Pauline Touchings are locals who take advantage of the trails daily and often chat with tourists wandering the hills.
Horwood, a lifelong hiker, compares the town’s trails with the charms of the more famous Signal Hill trails.
“You pass people’s doors and you get to see people up close and meet them.”
Sections of the Old Lighthouse trail and the Big Bottom trail cross people’s lawns and pass in front of their doorways. Crow’s Head is a steeper challenge, requiring careful attention to footing as it passes beneath a huge granite cliff. Diamond Cove trail is in perhaps the worst shape and will require the most repairs.
Some of the paths are overgrown, but traces remain of narrow walking trails down precarious rocky inclines. Back then, residents used to haul heavy supplies up and down the steep cliffside without a second thought, regardless of weather.
To walk with Horwood and Touchings is to glimpse into Rose Blanche’s history as they recount memories of walking the trails even in ice and snow to get to and from school or recite histories of local sea captains and merchants who built some of the first homes in the area.
“That was a store at one time,” says Horwood, pointing to a larger building that has been converted into a private home. She sees economic potential in the area beyond hikers, such as a café by the water.
Right now, there is no café, but there’s another store higher up on the hill and people still walk over from Diamond Cove and Harbour Le Cou all year long to fetch their mail at the nearby post office.
The trails meander over and around Rose Blanche’s three harbours - four if one counts Diamond Cove, which is actually a separate community. The trail linking Harbour Le Cou is the most visible and easily accessed with the entrance not far from the town office.
Considered an easy trail, the one-kilometre hike over gentle hills crosses two bridges and boasts a lookout where one can spot Petites on a clear day. Tourists will pick blueberries, bakeapples and blackberries that grow wild along the path, though locals tend to find them too small. Like the others, the trail is used year-round, and not even deep snows and strong winds prove much of a deterrent.
“I snowshoe this one in the winter. A lot,” said Horwood, who has seen an increase in others doing the same. She paused to wave a hand at the view, of which she never tires, and delivered a typically Newfoundland understatement: “It’s beautiful.”