Prince Edward Island

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Thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, Prince Edward Island was called “Abegwait” by the native Mi’Kmaq. It means ” land cradled on the waves” – a poetic description that still rings true today.

“The Island ” is a lovely and tranquil place, encircled by sand. Created not by fiery volcanoes, its foundation was laid down by millions of sedimentary layers deposited over the eons. It rises gently out of the ocean. The land is not one of altitudes and contrasts but smoothed ripples – hills, valleys and placid bays.

This small (5660 square km) island is made to be explored on foot . Communities which are just a few kilometers away from each other were created in the old days when neighbours met neighbours at the back fence, by buggy ride or after a short paddle across the bay. Until 1913 automobiles were banned outright from the island because they terrified horses. Walking and cycling the red clay country lanes of P.E.I. is the best way to really see the sunny yellow marsh marigolds that grow in puddles, or to sneak up on a great blue heron without it taking off into slow motion flight.

Because of the even terrain and because the soft pebbles tended to disintegrate under a settler’s plow, most of the island has in the past been turned into farmland. During the 1820′s and 1830′s P.E.I. was called the “Million Acre Farm”. By the turn of the century most of the wild forest had been ploughed under.

Outside the cities, the landscape is almost entirely pastoral. A quilt of potato fields, milk cows, quaint farmhouses, meandering brooks. The beauty lies in the tiny scale.

While the land has almost entirely civilized, the unpredictable sea has not .. Sandstone and mudstone is no match against lashing surf and salt-whipped wind. This tempestuous relationship is best observed at Prince Edward Island National Park where meters of land are eaten away every year. An exciting way to experience this is from the bow of a sea kayak to see the sand spits and salt marsh from a whale or seagull’s point of view.

Disciplined hikers can follow groomed trails which have been converted from defunct railroad lines or follow one extraordinary 17 km stretch of beach which runs from outside Souris to the East Point Lighthouse in the north-eastern most tip of the island. A hiker who pursues this apricot-coloured beach can leave the rest of the world behind. On this route is the Basin Head Fisheries Museum and the Black Pond Bird Sanctuary and of course, the opportunity to cool off in the ocean, anywhere along the way.

Prince Edward Island is a dream come true for cyclists. With just enough grade to make the trip a challenge, the island is crisscrossed with tree-canopied roads. Tours can be arranged or an individual can set out alone. With a map and compass its just about impossible to get lost on the island. There’s security in knowing that over the next ridge is a fine country inn with tea and scones, a fisherman pulling oysters out of the water to be eaten on the spot, or a community supper serving freshly boiled lobster. It’s easy to feel at home in Prince Edward Island.