The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Follow Anne all the way to Green Gables
YOU’RE nearly there when you pass the Anne Shirley Motel and Rachel’s restaurant. Cavendish on Prince Edward Island is for ever Avonlea, the Canadian farmstead that Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote about in her famous novel Anne Of Green Gables.
In the story, published in 1908, a red-headed orphan arrives at Green Gables to live with Matthew Cuthbert and his elderly sister Marilla.
Few novels are as rooted in the landscape. More than 120,000 people a year come to visit the simple farmhouse, many from the English-speaking world but also from Japan, which has a flourishing Anne industry.
This year, there’s been an extra spike in visitor numbers after TV streaming service Netflix brought out a new adaptation, modishly called Anne With An E, starring Amybeth McNulty in the title role.
It has been written for the small screen by Moira Walley-Beckett, who previously worked on crime drama Breaking Bad. It’s possibly an odd choice. Even in L.M. Montgomery’s time, Prince Edward Island was considered old-fashioned, resisting the start of the 20th Century with one-room schools, home-made clothes and people who called you ‘dear’.
There’s a strong Scottish influence here, for Nova Scotia is full of Campbells, MacPhails and MacNeills who emigrated and found new homes in this part of the world.
Most of the new adaptation was filmed in Ontario for financial reasons, but there were a few exceptions for Prince Edward Island’s landscape is unique, especially its russetcoloured cliffs and beaches.
One key location is Alexandra Point Range, where Matthew undertakes to bring Anne back after an altercation (a slight diversion from the novel). Another is Orby Head, on the sandstone cliffs overlooking the ocean. I have the location to myself while waves crash below.
Montgomery used Green Gables, which was owned by her cousins, as the template for her novels. It’s as gabled as you’d want, a white shingled house with green shutters, perched on a small hill.
Inside, there are authentic wallpaper patterns to hurt our neutral-honed eyes, a gleaming stove, and a neat parlour with photographs. Upstairs you will find a series of bedrooms. One, with a broken slate and sprigged wallpaper and clothes left in a heap, has been designated as Anne’s. Inside one of the barns, you can see Montgomery’s typewriter, with most the letters worn away, especially the Es.
WALK along a path and there’s a golf club called (no surprises) Green Gables, but cross the road and take another path and you reach what was Montgomery’s own home. The paths are covered in buds, about to break into blossom. It feels heavenly.
Montgomery knew what it was like to be an orphan – her mother died when she was a baby and her father moved to the mainland. She was brought up on Prince Edward Island by her grandparents at a farmhouse in Cavendish.
She lived here until she was in her 30s, walking through the woods – Haunted Wood! Lover’s Lane! – to go to school, meet friends or to work in the local post office. It’s now a ruin but the sense of peace is still intact.
Anne Of Green Gables Museum is still privately owned by members of Montgomery’s family, and it shows.
A 20-minute drive from Green Gables, there’s an authentic touch of late-spring damp in the museum that reminds you that life wasn’t always sun-dappled.
Montgomery was married from here and, again, there’s that all-encompassing feeling of belonging. The museum, at Park Corner, referred to by Montgomery as Ingleside, regularly hosts weddings for Anne fans.
Prince Edward Island may be Canada’s smallest province, but it’s still huge, with wide beaches, and vast fields with the island’s distinctive red, iron-rich soil. Ultimately, there’s nothing twee about it.
You’ll find locals in sturdy footwear and waterproof garments, and they tend to have the practical good humour that comes with living on an island where quite a lot of elements are thrown at you. This is potato country – it’s likely your supermarket oven chips have come from Prince Edward Island.
Charlottetown in Montgomery’s world comes over as quaint, with wide streets and slow walks. Where once sailing boats picked up cargo, cruise companies now disgorge passengers, many of whom head up to Green Gables. It also has two theatres, both of which have summer productions of Anne Of Green Gables.
It’s got posh restaurants too, including Terre Rouge and Sims. The Culinary Institute of Canada has its school here, including a student restaurant called Lucy Maud’s, named after the author.
Sit in a cafe in Charlottetown today and modern-day versions of characters such as Rachel Lynde and Aunt Josephine are out in force, catching up with gossip. Except, as far as I can overhear, they’re hunkering down for a good gossip after a fitness class before heading over to the art gallery.
‘Here you are, dear,’ says the barista handing me my trendy flat white. The language she uses may be from Anne’s era, but this woman is in her 20s and covered in tattoos.