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anne's house of dreams book cover sea pei north shore

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I drove up to Prince Edward Island, for a quiet, blissful stretch of days (our third) on the Island’s north shore.

We first visited PEI a few summers ago, but I have known and loved it for a long time: through the beloved books of L.M. Montgomery, who introduced me to such heroines as Jane Stuart, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, and – of course – Anne Shirley.

My mom handed me the first three Anne books when I was a child, and I read and reread them until the corners of the paperbacks were worn soft. I later did the same with the remaining five books in the series, and I still have most of my beat-up Bantam copies (though I had to replace the first one after it went missing). I’ve picked up various beautiful editions of several Anne books over the years, and I’d love to buy the entire set in the recent lovely Sourcebooks and Tundra incarnations. But when I want to find a particular passage or dive into a whole book again, I always reach for my childhood copies, their heft comforting in my hands.

I took a stack of books to PEI. This is typical vacation behavior for me, but it’s especially tempting when we drive, because luggage and space limits aren’t a problem. On our first trip to PEI a few years ago, I tucked a couple of Anne books into my suitcase on a whim. I hadn’t reread them in a while, but I thought I might want to flip through them while I was there.

What I hadn’t quite expected: I hardly wanted to read anything else.

Montgomery is a master of the elegant description, and her love for the Island comes through in the voices of her heroines – all of whom are deeply rooted in the Island’s rust-red soil. The green fields with their soft red furrows, the glimpses of blue sea around so many corners, the fields and woods and rolling hills, the rocky and sandy beaches of the north shore, were at once entirely new and utterly familiar to me.

I spent hours on that first trip rereading passages from a couple of Anne books and Jane of Lantern Hill, and I did the same thing when we went back last summer. This time, I dove straight into Anne’s House of Dreams, and I didn’t even regret ignoring the other books sitting in my tote bag. (I suppose I should have known this would happen – but I couldn’t not bring them. Just in case.)

house of dreams page sea pei north shore

For three days, I was right where I wanted to be: on the Island’s north shore in body and spirit. Sinking my toes into the sand, wading in the surf, and also walking and talking with Anne and Gilbert, Leslie Moore and Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim. I pictured Anne and Gilbert’s little white house of dreams, with its glorious garden, more vividly than ever before. And I watched the sky and the waves and the sunsets with as much love as Anne herself, I feel sure.

There’s magic, sometimes, in reading a book in the place where it’s either set or was written. I have read A Moveable Feast in a Paris hotel room, Gaudy Night in Oxford parks and cafes, Daphne Kalotay’s novels while learning the particular Boston streets she describes.

There can also be magic in utter escape from your current reality: I’m too fond of Harry Potter and Jodi Taylor’s time-travel series not to know that. But when you visit a place you’ve loved for so long, and the real, physical truth of it is just as wonderful as you imagined, it can be lovely to luxuriate in being right where you are, on and off the page.

Have you ever visited a place just because you’ve read about it – or purposely matched your reading material to your location? I’d love to hear about it, if you have.

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pei sandstone cliffs

The shore road was “woodsy and wild and lonesome.” On the right hand, scrub firs, their spirits quite unbroken by long years of tussle with the gulf winds, grew thickly. On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs, so near the track in places that a mare of less steadiness than the sorrel might have tried the nerves of the people behind her. Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared the gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight.

“Isn’t the sea wonderful?” said Anne, rousing from a long, wide-eyed silence.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

pei north rustico harbour

On our recent return to PEI, the hubs and I stayed in a tiny village on the Island’s north shore. We were just a few minutes’ walk from the beach in one direction and the harbor (above) in the other. And though we did a bit of driving around the Island (lunch in Summerside one day, dinner in Charlottetown another night), we spent most of our time as close to the water as possible.

“You’ve made a beach bum out of me,” J said recently. I laughed and pointed out that I didn’t do anything: our trips to San Diego and PEI are wholly responsible for that change. The red beaches of PEI’s north shore, in particular, have completely captured our hearts.

pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

The Island’s north shore is quieter than the south; there are fewer towns, more long, unbroken stretches of beach. These comprise plenty of soft red sand (the Island soil contains so much iron that it oxidizes on contact with the air), and an occasional outcrop of sandstone cliffs (as in the photo at the top of this post).

I love visiting both the sand shore and the rock shore that L.M. Montgomery writes about in Anne’s House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside, but for spending an afternoon, the sand shore is my favorite. The sky is wide and open, the far red cliffs topped with lush green. As for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I have to quote Jane Stuart: “I never thought anything could be so blue.”

gulf of st lawrence beach pei

We took a guided kayaking trip around the north shore one night, which was exhausting but wholly enjoyable, and a couple of late-evening walks to watch the sunset. But mostly we sprawled out on the sand with our books, getting up occasionally to splash in the shallows or toss the Frisbee. We came home with sand in the folds of our shorts and tote bags, but I didn’t mind. Those hours on the north shore, walking through the foamy waves and sinking into the sand, restored my soul.

katie pei beach

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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anne books blue chest

Like many young girls, I read the Anne of Green Gables books over and over when I was growing up. My mom put the first three into my hands, and I devoured them, then went on to read the other five books in the series. I later came to love L.M. Montgomery’s other novels: The Story Girl, Jane of Lantern Hill, the three books featuring Emily Byrd Starr. And I was thrilled, a few weeks ago, to return to the land from which they sprang: beautiful, bucolic Prince Edward Island.

My husband was a good sport about touring Green Gables when we first visited PEI in 2014. I loved every second of that visit, but I wanted to explore another Anne-related site this time (there are several on the Island). So we drove to the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner.

silver bush anne of green gables museum pei

This house was owned by some of L.M. Montgomery’s relatives. As you can see in the photo, she dubbed it “Silver Bush” and used it as the setting for several books (Pat of Silver Bush, The Story Girl, and their respective sequels). Like Green Gables, it has been lovingly maintained, and it is full of artifacts from Montgomery’s life. I could just imagine Maud and her cousins, or the clan of King children, popping popcorn by the parlor fire or gathered in the kitchen after dinner.

Maud was married in Silver Bush’s parlor in 1911, and it looks much as it might have then:

silver bush parlor anne of green gables museum pei

(I love the geranium on the side table, which reminded me of Anne naming the flowers and trees at Green Gables, including a geranium she called “Bonny.”)

There are also bookcases stuffed with beautiful first editions of Montgomery’s books:

silver bush bookcase anne of green gables museum pei

The whole house is filled with similar treasures: letters, linens, china from New Moon Farm (!), photographs and newspaper articles related to the Montgomery/Macneill families and the time period. It felt as though Maud herself – or Anne – might come around the corner at any moment.

My favorite part of the museum, though, is at the top of this post: a stellar collection of Anne books, in editions old and new, sitting on the actual blue chest from The Story Girl.

The chest’s contents are on display upstairs, but seeing the chest itself – the one I’ve read about so often – gave me goosebumps.  I half expected to see Sara Stanley perched on top of it, peeling potatoes as she regaled her cousins with the story of Rachel Ward’s handsome, dissolute groom who never showed up to their wedding. Maud changed the names and a few details when she wrote about it, but as with so much of her writing, the inspiration was drawn straight from real life.

Silver Bush and the blue chest reminded me – again – that this woman whose work I love so deeply was real. Her characters are longtime friends of mine: their words, after so many readings, live deep in my bones. They were real to her, too, as she notes in this journal entry about Anne:

anne quote silver bush pei

We finished off our time at Silver Bush with a stroll through a woodland path near the farmhouse. Perfection.

birch path woods silver bush pei

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

Two summers ago, the hubs and I made a 600-mile drive from Boston, to fulfill a long-held dream of mine: visiting Prince Edward Island, land of (quietly) spectacular seafood and sunsets, and of course, the home terrain of a certain red-haired heroine.

A few weeks ago, we went back. And – I am happy to report – it was as delightful as we remembered.

pei fields prince edward island canada

PEI is gorgeous: it’s a green, quiet, bucolic place, a mix of furrowed red fields and meadows and glimpses of the bright blue sea around every corner. There are charming villages, trim farmhouses, and so many patches of lupines by the roadsides that I was always on the lookout for Miss Rumphius. I was also expecting (naturally) to run into Anne Shirley herself at any moment.

But I think the main reason we were so excited to be back is a little different: PEI is ours.

lupines pei flowers

Most of us, I think, have places like that: a handful of spots on this earth that call to us, that feel completely right. (Oxford is one of those places for me, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while.) There are other patches of ground I really love: the Aran Islands on the west coast of Ireland; the tiny village of Whitby in northern England; Harvard Yard, which I get to walk through all the time. Those places belong to me, though I am usually happy to share them.

But my husband and I also have a few spots that are ours. They speak to both of us in that bone-deep way, sneaking into our souls and filling them with peace. Two years ago, we both fell so completely in love with PEI that when we left, we looked at each other and said with absolute certainty: We’re going back.

Anne wrote a post a while back about choosing to love certain places: how you have to put in a bit of effort to make them yours. The vacation home you return to year after year; the restaurant you visit on special occasions; the coffee shop or bar where you’re known by name. (Once again, my experience with Darwin’s comes to mind.)

In the case of PEI, this means rearranging our schedules and making a 12-hour drive across New England (and New Brunswick, and part of Nova Scotia) to reach a place we both adore. And this time – gloriously – it did feel like ours.

We stayed at the same guesthouse where we stayed two years ago, and our hostess, Patty, came down the steps to greet us with smiles and bear hugs. We revisited a few favorite restaurants: The Mill, Carr’s Oyster Bar, the Blue Mussel. We spent hours soaking up the sun and wading in the shallows on the Island’s red, sandy north shore. And it all felt, not only relaxing and lovely, but familiar. Like coming home.

k j pei beach

I’ll have much more to share about PEI soon. But for now, I will simply say: I’m so glad we went back. I’m so glad we are putting in the effort to make it ours.

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PEI: the food

I’m nearly done recapping our wonderful PEI vacation, I promise. But I couldn’t not tell you about the delectable meals we had during our time on the Island. I’m fairly certain I have never eaten so much seafood in my life. (We ate all sorts of other delicious things, too.)

On our first morning, our hosts left a plate of treats from the Olde Village Bakery outside our door:

pei pastries

Lemon bread and chocolate-chip muffins. Yes, please.

After touring Green Gables and hiking through the Haunted Wood that first day, we were starving, so we headed to the PEI Preserve Company for chicken wraps, served with tortilla chips and house-made peach and cherry salsas. We are salsa connoisseurs, so we were eager to try these variations. They were delicious.

pei preserve company interior

We topped off our lunch with the house specialty – raspberry cream cheese pie. No words necessary.

raspberry cream cheese pie pei

On Saturday, we explored Charlottetown, the Island’s capital – browsing a few bookshops and wandering around the harbour area. We stopped at Leonhard’s for cups of sweet potato soup and delicious ham sandwiches on foccaccia bread, and finished with some sort of German pastry – unpronounceable but yummy.

leonhards charlottetown pei

Later that afternoon, we visited Young Folk & the Kettle Black for some much-needed chai – which coordinated nicely with my outfit.

young folk kettle black charlottetown

That night, we walked (shivering) down to the village harbour for a lobster supper at Fisherman’s Wharf. You choose your entree – lobster or otherwise – pay a fixed price, then enjoy seafood chowder, mussels, fresh bread and the other delights of a (no kidding) 60-foot salad bar.

fishermans wharf pei

I’ve never tackled so much lobster at once – and I might never again. It was tasty, but overwhelming. (The chowder, however, was excellent, as were the mussels, and the strawberry shortcake at the end.)

fishermans wharf lobster

Sunday saw us heading across the river for an early lunch at the Olde Glasgow Mill. (We’d been told they had brunch, but it turns out they don’t since the management has changed.) Never mind – I loved my lobster quiche (more lobster!), and J savored his vegetable curry.

old mill glasgow pei

Before the Wailin’ Jennys concert that night, we ate dinner at the Home Place in Kensington, just down the road from Indian River (where the concert was held). Simple, tasty food, but the best part (again) was the strawberry shortcake.

strawberry shortcake pei

Since we didn’t have brunch on Sunday, we tried again on Monday, returning to the PEI Preserve Company for some delectable blueberry pancakes, bacon and eggs. They do brunch just as well as they do lunch (and pie).

brunch pei preserve company

I was determined to sample PEI’s famous Malpeque oysters, so after an unsuccessful trip to Malpeque itself (everything was still closed for the season), we ended up at Carr’s in Stanley Bridge, and I savored these beauties for lunch.

carrs oyster bar pei

My seafood-loving dad would be so proud.

Twice during our trip, we stopped at Cows Creamery in Cavendish – it’s stuck in the middle of a terribly kitschy “boardwalk,” but the ice cream is scrumptious. The apple crisp ice cream (with a caramel swirl) remains my favorite.

cows ice cream pei

Our last meal in PEI was also the best: dinner at the Blue Mussel Cafe.

blue mussel cafe pei

A sunset view over the harbour, a kind and genial owner, and the best (lightly spiced) haddock I’ve ever had.

sunset blue mussel cafe pei

The blueberry pie was so delicious that J actually sang to it.

blueberry pie pei

Needless to say, we came back completely sated (and even stopped in Portsmouth for some tacos at Vida on the way home).

If you visit PEI, one thing’s for sure: you won’t starve. (Though you might gain a few pounds.)

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pei red fields blue sky

Much of the beauty of the Island is due to the vivid colour contrasts—the rich red of the winding roads, the brilliant emerald of the uplands and meadows, the glowing sapphire of the encircling sea. It is the sea which makes Prince Edward Island in more senses than geographical. You cannot get away from the sea down there. Save for a few places in the interior, it is ever visible somewhere, if only through a tiny gap between distant hills, or a turquoise gleam through the dark boughs of spruce fringing an estuary.

—L.M. Montgomery, The Alpine Path

pei beach

The colors and contrasts Montgomery writes about were everywhere on the Island – from the famous red clay soil to the vivid green of fields and trees, and the lovely blue of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Though our first two days were cloudy, the sun eventually emerged to stunning effect, and we spent much of the second half of our vacation on the beach.

katie cavendish beach pei

The Cavendish shore is a very beautiful one; part of it is rock shore, where the rugged red cliffs rise steeply from the boulder-strewn coves. Part is a long, gleaming sandshore, divided from the fields and ponds behind by a row of rounded sand-dunes, covered by coarse sand-hill grass.

The Alpine Path

pei rock shore cavendish beach

We explored both parts of the Cavendish shore, and found them equally lovely.

jer rocks cavendish beach pei

The rock shore reminded me of Anne’s first meeting with Leslie Moore in Anne’s House of Dreams. And the sandshore – red sand under a stunning blue sky – was just as breathtaking.

red sand beach pei

jer skipping rocks pei beach

sand dunes pei beach

We didn’t go all the way in the water (too cold), but I’m inclined to agree with Montgomery’s assessment: the sandshore is “a peerless spot for bathing.” (And wading, and gathering shells, and reading, and soaking up the sunshine.)

k & j pei beach

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My husband is a music fanatic. (It’s one of the things that brought us together.) He’s forever discovering new bands, and while he was a good sport about visiting Green Gables with me, he was really excited about the fact that summer in PEI is music-festival season.

With a bit of help from our guidebook (and a bit of Internet research), we snagged tickets to two concerts, which were quite different from one another, but equally amazing.

We drove through a light rain on Friday night to New London, a village down the road from where we were staying. The concert we attended was part of PEI’s annual Festival of Small Halls, which draws musicians from PEI and many other places.

Our concert featured three groups: the Gawler Sisters (who hail from Maine), the wonderfully named Ten Strings and a Goat Skin (local PEI boys), and the Rua Macmillan Trio – a Scottish fiddler accompanied by a guitarist and a drummer.

gawler sisters small halls pei

From the moment the Gawler Sisters (above) stepped on stage (with a dizzying array of instruments between them) to the last note of the encore (played by all three groups on stage together, below), it was a wonderful, mesmerizing night. We tapped our toes and clapped, laughed at some truly awful music-related puns, and tried to pick our jaws up off the floor as the fiddlers’ fingers flew faster and faster. We bought the Gawler Sisters’ album and I’ve been humming the songs ever since.

festival of small halls pei

On Sunday, we headed a bit farther west for a rather different music experience, in the gorgeous and light-filled St. Mary’s Church.

st mary's church indian river pei

The Wailin’ Jennys, whom I discovered in Starbucks (no kidding) a few years ago, were kicking off the Indian River Festival. We had fourth-row seats to watch them sing and play, and it was dazzling.

wailin jennys pei

Soulful lyrics, layered harmonies, string-and-drum witchery. All three women were so warm and lovely that I wanted to be friends with them. And toward the end of the night, they came down from the stage and stood on the steps – the room’s acoustic “sweet spot” – and sang two songs a cappella, including my favorite, “Long Time Traveler.” I could have listened all night long.

More (more!) PEI stories and photos to come.

 

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