Quirpon Island wasn’t always so desirable a place to be. In the 16th and 17th centuries sailors named it The Isle of Demons, so certain were they that Quirpon was populated by wild animals, devils and mythical beasts who lay in wait to attack passing ships or anyone who dared wander onto the island. These creatures were “so fearsome that French sailors would not go ashore unless they had crucifixes in their hands,” as Charles M. Skinner wrote.
But it’s a sunny and not forbidding August day when Ed meets me at the dock in Quirpon Village, on the mainland, across a tickle from the island. A few fishers are loading up their trucks with their afternoon catches. Ed helps me into his Zodiac where his part-husky dog, Willow, is waiting, and we set off on the 25-minute crossing to the island. The ride is choppy, but exhilarating; salt water sprays up in my face each time the boat slaps the surface, and Willow paces from the stern to the fore as though excited on my behalf. Rolling with the waves, we close in on the island’s soaring cliffs, jagged formations bearing bright shards of minerals.
After we dock, it’s a short hike up the hill to the inn. The ground here is mossy and dotted with wildflowers, beautiful pinkish-orange cloudberries, or bakeapples, as the rare berries are called in Newfoundland. Flakes of quartz crystal glimmer in the rocks between clinging lichens of vivid orange and pools of freshwater reflecting the summer sunshine. No trees, though; they don’t grow here due to the high winds.
At the inn, I’m greeted by the unflappable general manager, Madonna Roberts, who assigns me my room. She leads me past the kitchen where Judy Tucker, Isabelle Cull and the rest of the team of fantastic cooks are preparing one of several classic Newfoundland dishes in their repertoire. It’s a Sunday, so a Jiggs dinner, the traditional dish of boiled beef, cabbage and root vegetables, is likely to feature.
As I wait for the call to the communal table, I venture to the inn’s wood-panelled living room, where other guests are nursing pre-dinner Newfoundland-made Iceberg beers and rehashing their day on the island — who spotted what whale and where, trails hiked and their respective degrees of difficulty and beauty.