My Shangri-la is Mad Rock
One of my favourite novels is “Lost Horizon.” It failed to impact me in high school, where it was required reading, but it definitely impacted me when I later reread it at leisure.
James Hilton’s book is best remembered today as the origin of the word “Shangri-la.” Hugh Conway, a longtime member of the British diplomatic service, discovers inner calm, love and purpose in the fictional Tibetan utopia of Shangri-la.
Both the promise and challenge of Shangri-la grip me. I continue to be haunted by Hilton’s closing words: “Do you think he will ever find it?” The question bespeaks an eternal and ethereal search to find one’s way back to a lost paradise, utopia, haven, idyl.
I have found my personal ShangriLa: Mad Rock, located in Bay Roberts East. In my frequent need to escape life’s demands and pressures, my wife and I drive to Mad Rock. Then, we either remain in our car and “view the landscape o’er” or meander the Shoreline Heritage Walk, to seek solitude, to commune with Nature and with God, to renew our minds, to revamp our vision, to revitalize our life, to reorganize our thoughts. There is no better venue for this quest.
To locate my Shangri-la, drive east on Water Street until you come to the “end.” To your left is Mad Rock Cafe, where you can eat all-day breakfast, “beyond your seams,” I might add.
Right or left both take you on the Shoreline Heritage Walk.
Proceed east, first on a patch of asphalt, which merges into a stretch of gravel. Drive slowly or, better still, stop your car and walk the rest of the way. Signs indicate such places and sites as Great Lower Cove, Three Sisters ( a natural rock formation), Salmon Island and Spaniard’s Bay Point.
Another sign reads: “In Atlantic storms and heavy swells, breakers explode against the rocks. The turbulent water and white foam was referred to as ‘mad water’; hence, the name Mad Rock.”
How often have Sherry and I, on windy and overcast days, watched in speechless wonder as the waves crashed against the rocks, sending “mad water” high into the air. But when the storm ends, Mad Rock remains firm and steadfast.
At Mad Rock, you are in effect reliving history. My American friend, Phillip Babcock, whose roots lie in Bay Roberts East, has been researching the area for a decade or longer.
“The area known as Bay Roberts East,” he informs me, “normally associated with that area of the peninsula east of Barnes Road or, by some, east of the Anglican Church, was once a teeming fishery-based community. In fact, up until shortly after 1800, there was only one family, the Kearleys, who owned land and lived west of Mercer’s Cove. So, the community was what consisted of Bay Roberts at that time.
“During the earliest years, and one can date settlement to the early 1600s, the area was controlled by the fishing fleets from overseas, but it began to change in the early 1800s, with large fishery and shipping operations, first run by merchant John Fergus at Mac’s Beach and later by merchant James Cormack at Mercer’s Cove. During that century, the area was virtually self- contained, with its own churches, built around 1825, and three schools.
“Fast forward to the early 1900s. The community population of over 1,000 was adversely impacted by out-migration to the Boston States. Even then, it endured, with its seafarers deemed to be among the best in Conception Bay. Now, the East End is a shadow of its former self, and little remains physically to indicate the vibrant community it once was. Gone are the churches, schools, wharves, warehouses, most of the older homes and, of course, its former population. Its significant his- tory has faded with the death of the older residents and little of it is known, except by those interested in family or the history of the area.
“The truth is that many, if not most, families in the Bay Roberts area can still trace their origins to the East End, so it is part of their history, as well.”
There is an abandoned graveyard to be seen, along with former church and school sites. There is much more I could say about Mad Rock and the Shoreline Heritage Walk, in short, Bay Roberts East. But I do not want to spoil the surprise for you. Suffice it to say that the prospective tourist is in for an unforgettable treat.
Why not take a tour of Bay Roberts East, yes, even during these wild and woolly days of December. You may even find your own personal Shangri-la!