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!

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