L’Anse aux Meadows

We added L’Anse aux Meadows to our “must see” list after my brother and sister-in-law visited a few years ago and had a hard time finding words to describe how deeply this site affected them – especially my brother, who grew up with the nickname Erik the Red (due to his red hair and our Nordic heritage).

L’Anse aux Meadows is the only confirmed Norse settlement site in North America (outside of Greenland – which is physiographically part of North America but culturally and politically associated with Europe). The site was excavated in the 1960s. The remains of eight buildings, along with artifacts such as wood debris, personal items and iron nails, led archaeologists to conclude Vikings settled here about a thousand years ago, for about a decade, and most likely used this temporary settlement as a base for exploration along the east coast of North America.

Fog enveloped the RCGS Resolute when the captain dropped anchor a short Zodiac ride from L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, which is on the very northeastern tip of the island of Newfoundland.
zodiac-in-fogVisibility improved slightly by the time it was our turn to head to shore. The land was fairly flat and mostly bare of trees, from what we could see as we headed to the wharf.

I enjoyed the Zodiac ride. With the wind blowing my hair off my face, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to sail on a Viking ship.

We were a bit surprised to see a welcome sign just steps from the wharf. A little research after we returned home revealed that L’Anse aux Meadows is remote – about a 5 hour drive from Gros Morne National Park – and that up to half-a-dozen cruise ships stop here each year. Especially interesting is the fact that some of them stay for a full day, while others stop for just 4 or 5 hours. Our stay was somewhere between 3 and 4 hours, so definitely on the shorter end of the range.

Once ashore, we were given instructions for the 10 minute walk to the National Historic Site. Most of the route was along very quiet roads. We saw just one vehicle, and that was on the walk back to the wharf. The road followed the shoreline of the broad bay.

We approached the site from the north and the first thing we saw was a group of four replica sod-over-wood-frame buildings that were constructed in the late 20th C. There were also character players in period costume, including this modern-day Viking who explained how he was going about curing a seal skin.

We spent some time photographing and exploring the replica settlement. There was a lot inside, including furniture, cooking pots, and other essentials. There were also some great exterior details.

At this point in our visit, we spotted a trail that continued along the shoreline and a trail head sign inviting us to enjoy the 2.4 km (1.5 mile) Birchy Nuddick Trail. So we did! This lovely stream near the start of the trail would have been an important fresh water source during the decade or so that Vikings were encamped at L’Anse aux Meadows, as well as for the various indigenous nations that intermittently settled here over the past several thousand years.

The terrain and views along the Birch Nuddick trail make it clear that L’Anse aux Meadows – the bay with the grasslands – is certainly appropriate today, although a bit of digging revealed that a thousand years ago, when the Vikings were here, there were nearby forests with fir, birch, larch and poplar trees.

When I noticed a whole lot of flies on some of the cow parsnip blossoms, it got me wondering about living conditions in the Viking settlement.

Mr GeoK enjoyed the oceanside views along the trail, including the sea grasses and rocks in the foreground and a rusting hulk of a vessel on a nearby island.

Quite a few fellow passengers also hiked the trail and we spent some time in the company of the trip photographer, Adeline Heymann, seen here with Mr GeoK.

We both framed shots at this location. Mr GeoK came out the winner with this composition – a peek-a-boo view of a settlement across the bay.

We soon came to a pair of red Parks Canada “share the chairs” where previous visitors had created a small grouping of sun-bleached shells, bones and other beach detritus, including this almost-perfect sea urchin skeleton.

A bit further along, we spotted this lobster trap washed ashore. It appeared to be in great condition, except for the one frayed end of rope.

You have to agree that Parks Canada selected a great location for those chairs.

None of us hurried along the path. People paused to talk, take in the views and try to imagine what it was like here a thousand years ago. Mr. GeoK is that tiny dot of a person near the shoreline.

Here’s one of Mr GeoK’s panoramas, which really shows “the bay with the grasslands.”

The trail eventually turned inland, where long stretches of boardwalk prevent what would otherwise be inevitable trail erosion due to boggy conditions. There were a few stalwart fir trees along this stretch of the hike.

This shot of me photographing cotton grass does a great job showing what the more inland landscape looked like – little ponds, lichen-covered rocks and some low shrubs and grasses in the sometimes boggy earth.

The trail ended near the Visitor Centre, where a large Viking statue has been installed at the top of a rocky outlook that peaks maybe 25 or 30 meters above the surrounding landscape. Mr GeoK channeled his inner Viking and posed with is instrument of choice!

Coming down from the lookout, we noticed a line of visitors looking into the meadow…

…where they’d spotted a mama moose and two calves. Here she is with one of them.

By the time we entered the Visitor Centre, it was time to head back to the wharf for the return Zodiac ride to re-board the RCGS Resolute. As a result, we ended up completely missing the excavated remains of the original Viking settlement, which was located along a side path between the Visitor Centre and the replica buildings. We also missed seeing the nearby indigenous campsite. I felt really disappointed upon discovering this (more than two months later, as I sat down to write this post), and realize that I should have done more pre-trip reading and research instead of assuming we’d be fully briefed before each stop.

And although we were being encouraged to keep moving along to get back to the ship so we could get underway, we did stop long enough to get one more photo at the large sculpture between the Visitor Centre and the archaeological site.

What are your thought when it comes to pre-trip research? Does your approach depend on whether you’re traveling independently or with some kind of tour group? What tips and tricks to you use to be sure you don’t accidentally miss the most important bits?

4 thoughts on “L’Anse aux Meadows

  1. Pingback: Out & About with the GeoKs - Labrador and Torngat Mountains Expedition Cruise

    1. Posts like this are a win-win, IMO. Win for readers like you who are making travel and adventure plans and win for me because I have a written/photographic record of where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced. It’s definitely worth the effort to get to this special location.

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