By Donna Brown
Take this drive because you’ve been cooped up all year in a cubicle, a classroom or a car shuttling the kids from home to school to practice…. This is a chance to get outdoors and get some space—wide open scenic space! Take this drive to know Prince Edward Island the way the very first Scottish settlers knew it—full of trees and wildlife, calling forth inspiration and opportunity. See working farms—a place where cows mean just that (but you’ll still find ice cream). Take this drive and take from PEI a handful of history lessons, many memories and maybe even a memento or two from the islanders and artisans here who might tell you the East side is the best side. But you’ll never forget finding that out for yourself!
On The Trans-Canada Highway, I make my way toward the new day’s sun as the busy city life of Charlottetown fades behind me while a more rural and relaxed environment unfolds. I take the right hand turn at Tea Hill and only a few kilometers ahead truly wake up for the day—completely overwhelmed at the scenic view upon reaching the crest. This is why I came to Prince Edward Island—this beautiful province I’ve longed to visit for such a long time. In addition to offering fabulous water views most of the way, Route 26 also passes by a field full of grown and baby alpacas—part of the Alpaca Bay Farms.
The trusty starfish signs lead me to Orwell Corner Historic Village. In the PEI Agricultural Heritage Museum onsite, I find myself surrounded with all manner of traditional farm equipment and a wide variety of sleighs which reminds me it isn’t always as warm and sunny on Prince Edward Island as it is today. One item that catches my eye is called a hand sleigh—looks like a baby buggy on sled runners—once used for carrying small loads of wood and children. I’m still imagining a mother sliding her little one across a great snow as I step outside the museum and my flip-flops meet the red clay road that leads me to the village buildings. First I head towards the old school house. I peek inside and am surprised to find a full class—of other tourists, that is! Is the authentically dressed school teacher I see at the front of the old classroom a ghost from days past—still teaching to long gone students? She’s really a staff member hired to enhance my experience of life as it once was in the rural communities of the Orwell Bay area. I end my visit here at the scenic lookout adjacent the parking lot enjoying an extended, expansive and quite unforgettable view.
Following my Discovery Points guide I quickly arrive at the Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead. Macphail’s life is chronicled for me not only through detailed information cards posted in an upstairs room but also through preserved historic items placed about within other rooms as they might have been when Sir Macphail lived in the home. I love the small old fashioned beds, the hand-woven rugs and, especially, the large collection of books in the downstairs library. Being a nature lover, I step outside the Macphail home and head directly into the trees of the surrounding grounds, part of the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project that includes four trails (87m to 1.5km long). Guided well with the “Trails of the Sir Andrew Macphail Homestead” brochure provided by staff at the house, I say I will take a shorter trail but eventually can’t help but going on for a longer one. I’m surprised it’s more rugged than I expected and damper too. I should have swapped my flip flops for walking shoes but I manage. Along the way I stop at a look-out over a stream with the perfect sitting spot. I sit. I listen to the water, the birds. I could stay here all day but I’m eager also to take the Rhododendron Trail where I learn which native tree bears bark that smells of wintergreen!
From the Macphail Homestead, it’s a quick stop at St. John’s Presbyterian Church. I have to see the island’s oldest church that still sports its original shingles! The Polly Monument is easy to access from the parking lot. Now it’s back on the road briefly until I notice a sign that reads, “Mill Store” at the end of a long driveway. My curiosity gets the better of me and I find myself getting out of my car where I’m welcomed by a very friendly dog. From beyond a nearby fence I am greeted further by as friendly farm animals—goats, sheep, and, yes, really, llamas—all begging for a pat or maybe a treat? Ducks, chickens and noisy geese complete this farm scene. Finally I see the store but before I can enter I’m invited on a complimentary mill tour. It seems arrived at the Belfast Mini Mills where I learn just how many many steps it takes to get from a sheep (or a llama) to a sweater! I leave with two hats and a blanket to pass on as uniquely PEI holiday gifts.
I travel Jack’s Scenic Heritage Road – a pretty passageway through a large variety of PEI’s native trees. A short time later I’m upon Lord Selkirk Park. Children spend their energies on the playground and miniature golf course while grown-up golfers tee off on the Belfast Highland Greens. I head for the beach—original landing spot of PEI’s Selkirk settlers in 1803. At The Croft House Selkirk Cultural and Heritage Centre informative plaques reveal to me the fascinating story of these Scottish settlers who arrived at the tree-covered island having just a couple months to fell trees and build homes before winter. It occurs to me for the very first time that PEI wasn’t always a land of wide-open spaces. It took work—lots of work—to clear this land and make it the expanse of farmland, fields and endless views it is today. The nearby Church of Scotland (dated 1876) fills me in on religious history of the area and in a very old cemetery across the road from this, perhaps, PEI’s tiniest church, I find a plaque in memory of deported Acadians lost at sea.
The views of Northumberland Straight are worth every step I take up the eighty feet of stairs to the top of Point Prim Lighthouse. PEI's oldest lighthouse. I love the views so much here I spread a blanket across the green green grass and eat my picnic lunch. Then it’s back the way I came and one right turn later where it’s interesting to see the real working MacAuley’s Wharf surrounded with its perfect views. I envy the fishermen working in the center of such a stunning and striking scene, think a career change just might be in order for me….At Pinette Provincial Park, I dig my toes in the sand. Let the cool water cascade across my bare feet. Breathe in the sweet salty air.
Klondyke Scenic Heritage Road — the perfect place for a bike-ride or run if I only had more time! Driving this clay road nestled among the trees, I carefully watch for critters that might cross my path. At nearby Ben’s Lake, I could watch the kids catch fish all day. Okay, it is sort of cheating to fish from a farmed lake, but nobody should be disappointed on vacation—and these folks surely are not! Inspired by the fun the kids (and their parents) are having I do something I’ve always wanted to do—go fly-fishing—on the fly, that is. No license needed and all gear available to rent. Eric is my knowledgeable and patient instructor. During my lesson I actually catch a colorful rainbow trout! Fortunately for this fish, it’s all catch-and-release for me so we graciously go our singly separate ways—he off to deeper depths of Ben’s Lake and I, well, back in the direction of my cottage.
Before you go: If you enjoy picnics, this drive provides several picturesque opportunities to lunch either at a picnic table or on a blanket spread across some soft sand or green grass. Consider packing up or picking up some sandwiches and snacks before you leave so you can spend as much time outside as possible enjoying this very scenic part of PEI. Short on time or space in the car? You can buy a pre-made picnic lunch from the tea room at Orwell Corner Historic Village. Their scenic lookout to the right of the parking lot is the perfect place to eat it! (In case of rain, this drive also offers several eating establishments to choose from.)
Call Orwell Historic Village before you head out to get daily event schedule information in case you want to plan your day around particular activities. For instance, I went in the afternoon when there was a hands-on candle-making session. On certain days there are also special events and programs which may interest you and/or may cost an additional fee or take additional time.