Following in the footsteps of Anne Of Green Gables: Inspired by the children’s classic, Dame Esther Rantzen visits eastern Canada
- Esther Rantzen traced the places described in her favourite childhood book
- The Dame visited New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast
- One of the joys was discovering local fare such as poutine and fiddleheads
There is a myth that Canada is boring. Do not believe a word of it. I have long known about the country’s spectacular scenery, but it has taken me 75 years to discover just how exciting it is.
It was finding a battered copy of Anne Of Green Gables that sparked my discovery — giving me the urge to spend two weeks on the country’s Atlantic edge.
Eastern Canada is less known than the west, where Vancouver and the Rockies are the star attractions. But the call of my favourite childhood book was impossible to resist.
In search of Anne: Esther Rantzen visited New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast
A tale retold: Esther visited the setting for Anne Of Green Gables – tranquil Prince Edward Island
Written in 1908, this is the story of Anne Shirley, an orphan girl adopted by mistake by a couple who wanted a boy to help them on their farm in the ocean-framed province of Prince Edward Island.
It is a touching tale — the titular heroine, red-haired and brave, has to overcome all manner of adversities.
But there is a magic, too, in the way author L. M. Montgomery describes the countryside with such eloquence. ‘The birches in the hollows turned as golden as sunshine,’ she wrote.
‘And the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson, and the wild cherry trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of red and bronzy green.’
I couldn’t wait to see them.
Craggy: It is well worth pausing at Hopewell Rocks — a dramatic cluster of cliffs plunging to the Bay of Fundy
The journey was easy — a direct flight, a mere six-and-a-half hours from Heathrow to Halifax in Nova Scotia.
From there I drove to the neighbouring province of New Brunswick, marvelling at its huge, rolling forests.
I even spotted a moose amid this glorious mix of larches and firs. It is well worth pausing at Hopewell Rocks — a dramatic cluster of cliffs plunging to the Bay of Fundy, washed by high tides, the chocolate-coloured sea surging and swelling.
Then you can drive on to Cape Enrage, with its lovingly restored red-and-white lighthouse. I recommend you try lunch at the tiny cafe, with its glorious views and menu featuring lobster poutine and fiddleheads.
Poutine, for those who do not know it, is a Canadian version of chips and gravy, while fiddleheads are fresh buds of bracken, so-called because the fronds are rolled up and look like the head of a violin.
Guardian: You can drive to Cape Enrage, with its lovingly restored red-and-white lighthouse looking out to sea
Adventurous tourists can test their endurance along the Fundy Trail, which offers four days of wilderness trekking.
For those who love postcard perfection, there is St Andrews, with its clapboard houses and white wedding-cake churches.
And if you love gardens and great food, Alex Haun, the chef at Savour, in the town’s Kingsbrae Garden, deserves a Michelin star for his dishes.
I don’t usually trust B&Bs — my years as a TV documentary researcher left me with nasty memories of grubby sheets and stodgy food.
But in Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, you can find a genuinely five-star B&B in Quartermain House.
Little packages: Prince Edward Island, the smallest Canadian province, is a place of calm and slow pace
Imagine a boutique hotel with luxurious bedrooms and a generous breakfast of grilled pineapple with organic blueberries in maple syrup.
The city is typically Canadian — safe, clean, alive with soft lawns and leafy streets.
Then I drove across the causeway to Prince Edward Island, my journey framed by a sunset that Anne herself saw on her way to Green Gables.
I can almost quote the words without seeing the book: ‘The air was full of a purple twilight, and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.’
L. M. Montgomery, like so many great writers of children’s books, experienced tragedy in her formative years.
Raised by strict grandparents after her mother died and father left, she spent much of her childhood alone.
When Anne described how it feels to be unloved, Montgomery was writing from her own painful recollections.
Delicious: Poutine is a Canadian version of chips and gravy – and can be served with lobster and green onion
Not that they are reflected in the house that the island has created to bring Green Gables to life.
Built of white clapboard with green shutters, it contains a faithful recreation of Anne’s bedroom, complete with her dress hanging on the wardrobe door (‘a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk’).
Anne is very real to the thousands of tourists who flock here. Intriguingly, many are from Japan, where the book is a standard English textbook.
In the story, Anne wanders down a path she calls Lovers’ Lane. Prince Edward Island is laced with routes like this — ‘Scenic Heritage Roads’, surfaced with red earth, which trace their way across the fields.
Anne is enchanted by them. ‘I’ve always heard that Prince Edward Island was the prettiest place in the world,’ she says. It certainly looks like that in the sunshine.
Pretty: For those who love postcard perfection, there is St Andrews, with its clapboard houses and churches
A ferry takes you back to the mainland, to Nova Scotia (literally New Scotland). Here is a splendid province, glorious in spring and summer, but also in autumn.
You could certainly consider visiting in October for Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours festival, when falling golden leaves are serenaded by exuberant jigs, reels and airs played in cafes and churches, on pipes and fiddles.
In Baddeck, I found gorgeous quilts sewn by the local guild and ate sweet and buttery lobster.
I urge you to discover Atlantic Canada. At only four hours’ time difference from the UK, there is little jet lag, and the people are delightful.
And if, like me, you once fell in love with a girl called Anne, you will find that she is alive and well.