On Campobello

Campobello Island & Surrounding Area

In the tent at two in the morning at Herring Cove Provincial Park on Campobello, the sounds of the island at night are muted by the heavy mist that settles, frequently, just before sunset, and dissipates with sunrise.  From far off, beyond the woods that separate the campsites from the Cove itself, comes the rush of the tide in the Bay of Fundy, punctuated regularly by the horn from West Quoddy Light, back across the border in Maine.  Closer, sometimes, is the skittering of some small animal poking amongst the camp stove, lanterns and sea glass on the picnic table outside, in search of something edible.  Occasionally a wild thunderstorm breaks out, with flashes of lightning weirdly illuminating the sleepers inside the tent, and with the insistent pounding of rain on the tarp strung overhead, until the water puddles up and rushes down the canted plastic to splash off to the side of the site.

Thirteen years ago, on our first trip here, the rain pounded so hard one night it collapsed the tent.  Since then I have become the camping expert, armed with bungee cords and a green tarp so big it covers the entire campsite, tents, picnic tables, lawn chairs and all.  Other campers have come to sit with us during storms, to take shelter from the rain.  When people ask where our site is, I invariably tell them they can’t miss it, as we are under the circus big top.  Now, when the skies let loose in the middle of the night, I roll over and go back to sleep.

Camp, with Rosalie and a book.

Lots of things have changed in the thirteen years we have come to the island.  The first trip was in the summer before Rosalie was born; Ben was a year and a half old.  Molly was all of fourteen.  I was married then; my husband, the kids and I came up with David’s brother Brian and his family: my (still) great friend Patte and their son Joe, who is two years older than Ben.  The cast of characters expanded to include another cousin, shrunk when Brian, Patte and Joe no longer came with us, shrunk again when David and I divorced, and again when Molly married and had a family of her own.  Yet the younger kids and I have continued our late summer tradition of returning to Herring Cove, with this year’s adventure our fourteenth trip.

What brings us up here?  When I was a kid, we did not, as a family, go camping–though I had my own tent, in which I spent summers in the backyard, I’m sure to the relief of the people I left in the house (I was an insufferable teenager).  Now, though, my family camps.  We have tents, tarps, bungees, a camp stove, lanterns, sleeping bags–all the accoutrements.  I can pack the entire week’s worth of stuff into a Mazda 3, strap bicycles onto the rack, and still manage to fit the kids in.  It takes us four hours to wend the way through the woods, to Route 1, up to Whiting and the turn that runs to Lubec and the International Bridge.  When we first came, we crossed the border with a few routine questions:  Purpose in Canada?  Any tobacco, alcohol or firearms?  Then came the need for ID for adults; a license would do.  Then birth certificates for the kids.  And now it takes passports to get across.  Fortunately, we three have those, since my fantasy life usually includes plans to run away to foreign countries.  Still, once we’re waved through the border station and head uphill, past the Tourist Info Center and the sign indicating today’s fire danger (a very important read for us campers, to be sure), I always heave a sigh of relief.  We are here.  On the island.  Finally.  It only remains to pass the Roosevelt International Park, take a right at the stop sign, another right a quarter mile up the road, then the final right at the sign which reads “Parc Provincial Park,” bilingual as signs in New Brunswick are.  We are here.  And it’s suddenly an hour later:  Atlantic Time.

There are sites close to the water,  wide open where you can mind your neighbors’ business and they can mind yours.  There is a loop of sites with electrical hookups, circling up into the woods.  There’s an open field, with sites at one end and a playground at the other, separated by a volleyball court, and with a cooking shelter on one side and a bathhouse on the other.  The loop with the non-electrical sites curls up into the woods on the far end, and that’s where we’ve always stayed:  first up at the top, furthest into the woods, but moving down toward the sites across from the playground as the kids got older; now we’re working our way back into the woods, since the playground doesn’t hold the interest it used to, and the kids don’t need constant supervision on it anyway.  There’s an older bathhouse in the trees between the two loops; when we first started coming up, it was the only one there (“Comfort station,” our friend Darrell, a park attendant, calls it).  Very rarely do we have close neighbors, but even when we do, we can’t see them, and usually can’t hear them, either.  That means they can’t hear us, which might be a good thing, for in past years, we’ve spent evenings at our campfire, reading the various Harry Potter books aloud, one or two chapters a night; the series finished at about the time the kids decided they’d rather read books to themselves (which makes me sad, in a way, but there it is).

Reading is what we do a lot of, while we’re camping.  Then there’s hiking.  The provincial park is riddled with hiking trails along the beach, through the woods, beside Lake Glensevern.  Early in our week, we usually take a short hike up a four-wheeler trail through the woods that leads to Cairn Beach

This year's offering

(we don’t know the real name of it, but we call it that because when we first discovered it, someone had built stone cairns on it; we continue the tradition every year.).  My favorite park trail follows along Lake Glensevern, a narrow tidal lake separated from Herring Cove beach by a series of dunes, to a point where, a hundred years ago, a teahouse stood; now there are only half-submerged timbers sinking into the mud, and a park sign with a photograph of what it had formerly looked like there.  The longest trail of the provincial park winds the entire length of Herring Cove beach–hard going on either the sand near the water or the shingle above the high tide mark–to the point where the Glensevern Road peters out to its dead end; then it follows the road for a bit before slipping off into the woods again.  Another hiking trail cuts out to the Lupin Lodge; for years we’ve chosen one morning to hike that one out to the restaurant for breakfast, but sadly, this year, the Lodge was closed.  There are other trails, too, on the International Park side of the Glensevern Road:  the Eagle Bog trail is actually, for the most part, a boardwalk traversing the bog, before climbing up a steep hill in the woods to an observation deck, from which one can see back to the Cove; a trail scrambles along the cliffs from Liberty Point (and its observation deck looking back at West Quoddy Head out in South Lubec) to the Sunsweep Sculpture and on toward Raccoon Beach.  Another circles from Fox Farm, at the end of Fox Hill Drive, down beside Upper Duck Pond, to Cranberry Point, and

West Quoddy from Liberty Point

back up by Deep Cove to Fox Farm again.

Ben & Rosalie at the Sunsweep Sculpture (2009)

This year, for the first time, we were able to catch the right low tide and trek out to Friar’s Head, which involves, near the rock formation itself, some scrambling over seaweed covered rocks.  The tide does need to be near dead low for this, of course, and the seaweed, at any time, is slick.  When we finally made it out there–this was not our first attempt, by any means–I had Rosalie take a picture of me touching the stone,

Friar's Head--Ben touched it, too.

just to prove we had done it.

In thirteen years, we have come to know this island well.  In the evenings we hike down to the beach and watch the sunset play on the Bay of Fundy, or sometimes drive up to the Family Fisheries restaurant for an ice cream.  Some nights we continue on through the village of Wilson’s Beach to Head Harbor to watch the red flash from Head Harbor Light.  One of Rosalie’s favorite places to search for sea glass is at the beach where the Deer Island ferry literally runs itself aground to pick up cars.   We’ve made a few friends here, including Darrell Matthews, a park attendant for the past ten years, and his father, Harley.  In fact, this year, the Matthews guys had their own camper at the park, and, after dark, when the kids and I have traditionally taken the oil lantern and walked the entire campground, to count campfires and see what’s up, we stopped on several evenings to share a fire at their site.  Next to them were the Rogiers, from New Hampshire, who have been coming up to Herring Cove now for 36 years, and have us well beaten in longevity.

When we started camping here, it was a cheap vacation–a week in the park costs as much as one night in a hotel.  Now Campobello is a tradition.  And it’s a place where, the occasional thunderstorm not withstanding, I sleep well.

Us at Head Harbor Light. I've taken this picture every year, and thanks to Darrell, this is the first year I've been in it!


*Most people visiting Campobello go to the Roosevelt Cottage in the International Park, and we’re no exception.  For a while, Ben would speak the museum attendants’ lines with them, he knew the spiel so well:  he was once offered a job by one of them.  It’s a beautiful house (Cottage?  Not hardly!) and my favorite room is the upstairs guest room with the lilac wallpaper.  Ben likes the bathroom  with the claw-footed tub.  Rosalie just likes the beach.

**Getting out to Head Harbor Light, like getting to Friar’s Head, has to be done at low tide.  The path goes down some iron steps to a beach underwater at any other time; more iron steps climb up to the first island, and then a wooden bridge crosses to the next.  Then it’s down more iron steps to a path through rocks and seaweed.  Finally, the island with the lighthouse.  In the past couple of years, the Friends of the Head Harbor Light have been charging five dollars Canadian to go over, as they are trying to restore the light and the keeper’s house.  Darrell came with us this year–he hadn’t gone over, he said, in three years.  It was kind of strange to be showing the path (which is blazed, through the rocks, with tiny painted yellow dots) to a native.


  1. I’m Canadian living across the bay from the island and have never been there. Was browsing the net and saw some photos of the beach and was intrigued. I must check it out. Liked your story very much, the transition from small kids to divorce to grown kids is the modern North American tale. Best of luck. (Clouds just let go in one of those famous early summer Passamaquoddy Bay downpours as I close this off…)


    • It’s a lovely place. We’ll be back this August, once we get the summer schedules synchronized–teenagers, you know. They complicate everything! Perhaps we’ll see you if you make the trip.


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