Those that have read Anne of Green Gables (and the rest of the series) will remember Anne gushing at the natural beauty of the Island. She calls Prince Edward Island the “prettiest place in the world”. She renames a lake, “the lake of shining waters”. As she rides along a dirt road with overhanging flowering trees she dubs it the “White Way of Delight”. So does PEI really hold up to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s inflated-sounding descriptions?
While visiting ALL of the heritage sites and museums is an absolute must (I mean you made it there, why skip them even if they’re a bit touristy?), you should also set time aside to explore beyond the tourism-oriented Cavendish area. You certainly get a sense of the place Lucy Maud Montgomery loved simply by visiting Green Gables and the Anne Museum at Sugarbush, but it isn’t until you get out of the more industrialized center of the Island, with its fun parks and boardwalk shopping centers, that you really get to see the nature Montgomery described so eloquently. She neither had need to fictionalize or exaggerate her descriptions.
PEI’s Beaches – Both Local & Touristy
Today most of the beaches of PEI are only accessible through fee booths because they are part of the Parks Canada, however this should not discourage you from visiting them. The parks have large parking lots for the beaches and biking and hiking trails along the edge of the Island.
North Rustico – a local beach
After a lunch at the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico (read PEI Good Eats here), it was time to search for the elusive beaches that we had not been able to see yet. Our drives thus far had only taken us through rolling farm country. Luckily the beach at North Rustico was easily accessible off the parking area for the restaurant. Like most of the beaches, it is hidden from view from the car by large sand dunes. Once you find the allowed entrance between or over the sand dunes (don’t walk on the dunes! they’re fragile!), you’ll see an expanse of red sand before you. The iron content of PEI’s soil is so high that the sand and dirt are red from the oxidized iron.
North Rustico’s beach is an example of a local-use beach rather than a tourist advertised beach. On one side of the peninsula we saw trucks pulled up right onto the beach. The trucks were filled with nets, traps, and fishing gear. On the other side, the beach wasn’t very crowded. There were a few seemingly unmonitored children running up and down the old, broken pier and a couple parents playing with youngsters in the waves. I took off my shoes and dug my toes into the sand for the first time. The warm red sand of PEI, and I was standing in it with bare feet!
Although North Rustico’s beach had a few people enjoying the day, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for today. We were more in the mood for a beach crowded with tourists, lifeguards, and a boardwalk. We drove back towards Cavendish, the tourist area, to see what the beach looked like there.
Cavendish – the most touristy beach of all
The Cavendish Beach is in a National Park, so there is an entrance fee. We parked at the beach parking lot. This was not exactly what I’d expected, but more like it. There were washroom buildings and a small concession stand, but no boardwalk shops. This beach had lots of people with umbrellas, playing games, and life guards. As we weren’t dressed for the beach, we decided to check into our next B&B, Kindred Spirits (read about the Inn here), and see where the day took us from there. We never made it back that afternoon, but put it on the next day’s agenda.
Unfortunately, the next day dawned cool and windy. We had planned on a beach day because Kindred Spirits provides Park passes for guest use and I had envisioned a day of relaxing after our days of sightseeing. It didn’t look like that plan was in the cards for this day. (It might have been at this point that a local informed us that the weather of PEI is more often cold, wet, and windy than hot and sunny like we had so far experienced. We had been lucky to visit in July, the best month for weather, according to those in the know.) Despite our forced change of plans, we were up and out out the door before 10am, which is apparently when most things in Cavendish open. We were clearly vacationing wrong! We should have been sleeping in! So after breakfast (and a quick drive in which we learned nothing was open!) we decided to take a walk on Cavendish’s windy shore until 10am. The sand was cool under my feet and I could feel the wind pressured sand prick my calves. The beach was devoid of other people. It was this quiet moment before the sun was too high and the crowds of tourists appeared that I glimpsed the natural beauty of PEI in just the way Montgomery might have seen it in the 1800’s.
While it was nice to have the beach to ourselves, we decided to turn around sooner than we might have if it hadn’t been so windy. However it was 10am anyway and the rest of the world seemed to have awakened. The day’s crowd began to trickle in.
Drive the Coast of PEI
One of the activities often suggested to tourists on PEI is simply to drive. Kindred Spirits Inn even provided us with a map of the Island with the coastal road highlighted in 4 different colors and a packet of papers suggesting stops along the way for four different driving day-trips. If you fly into PEI, I highly suggest you rent a car. It really is the best way to get around. And although the weather was quite agreeable during our week there, it isn’t always. So after an attempted beach walk with the sand biting at our ankles, and a beach picnic rapidly covered in sand, we acquiesced to the weather and decided to spend the day driving the coast of the Island instead.
Using the packet Kindred Spirits had provided, we selected St. Peters as our destination for the day’s drive because it was recommended as picturesque. We drove out to St. Peters, an indeed picturesque bay with a couple shops. (Unfortunately, due to the angle of the sun, we had a hard time taking any suitable photographs that captured it anywhere close to its glory.) During our drive we rode mostly past rolling farm fields. I admired the way structures on the outskirts of Cavendish were all whitewashed and well kept. The farther from Cavendish we drove, structures began to look older, more rustic.
The one drawback to driving the Island is– it will become rapidly clear to the driver that the copilot is a terrible map reader…or maybe that’s just me… I suck at reading maps. So with little to no cell service for Google Maps and tourist maps that didn’t show all the roads, even just driving became an adventure. It was also not very clear from the map that some of the roads we were supposed to turn down looked like unpaved driveways. So thanks to my terrible navigation skills, we often found ourselves on the other side of the island from where we anted to be before realizing our mistake. Oops. But what better way to explore than getting lost?!
PEI is one of the premier golfing summer getaways. There are so many golf courses covering the Island. If Green Gables wasn’t maintained by Parks Canada, it might very well have been torn down in order for the Green Gables Golf Course to expand right over it by now! This is all to say, that although these golf courses did not exist in L. M. Montgomery’s time, we decided to spend an evening golfing because it is so much a part of what PEI has become today.
Forest Hills Driving Golf Range
After dinner one evening, Micah found us a driving range. We got 50 balls each. I whacked away at them. I’m not very good, but I still had fun. My balls either stayed on the tee while a chuck of grass went flying, or flew a few feet before settling down within view. Micah was reliving his childhood memories of golfing with his grandfather. He found that he has a right hook in his swing. We kept listening for pained screams from the walkway way off to the right after each of his swings, but luckily heard none. When all 50 balls were used, Micah asked the young man at the register for some tips to correct his swing. The guy offered Micah not only tips, but another free basket of balls to try to correct his swing! He even came out to the driving range to watch Micah’s technique. (Possibly to save any more unfortunate golfers passing through the trees at the edge of the range.) By the end there was definite improvement.
In the end I concluded that there is definitely a serene beauty to the red sand beaches, rolling fields, single-lane roads and the unpaved red-dirt drives that make up the rest of Prince Edward Island.
“Dear old world’, she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”
― L.M. Montgomery,