We got a babysitter to watch the kids for the afternoon so Mike and I could have a hike on our own! This trail starts out on the city streets leading into The Battery, a precarious-looking neighborhood of hairpin roads with colorful old wooden houses and fishing structures scattered up the steep rocky slopes near the entrance to the harbour.
It was a fascinating hike, starting and ending right in the city and climbing up the exposed rocks and cliffs of signal hill with the harbour and narrows below, and offering panoramic views of the entire city from above. We were lucky to have a nice cool summer afternoon, with scattered sun and clouds racing in the wind, constantly changing the light from one moment to the next.
The trail alternates between narrow gravel pathways and winding wooden boardwalks with narrow staircases climbing up and up. Without any trees or foliage, we were whipped by wind and grateful for the handrails and chains to hold on some of the steep, narrow spots. Sometimes the trailside drops away abruptly and there’s nothing but rocky cliffs and ocean below. We were grateful that the kids were safe at home rather than scampering ahead on the trail or leaning over the cliff edges to peer down at the surf.
St. John’s is extremely windy in general, but Signal Hill is especially exposed. I was alternately feeling battered by wind, with squinted eyes and blue jeans flapping like a canvas sail in a storm, and awestruck by the views of sparkling turquoise water and the whole city spread out amongst this wild rocky landscape.
Here the trail opened out onto a smooth, open ledge, and I stopped to take off my layers, even my hiking boots, to cool off my toes& feel the scratchy rock underfoot. Apparently the Canadian Park Service installs these red chairs at viewpoints all around the country so hikers can take a comfy break in one of these special spots. From here, we could look back and see the city, look North along the coastline towards Cape Spear, or straight out to sea, with nothing but the North Atlantic between us and Ireland or Portugal.
On the opposite side of the Narrows, there’s a lighthouse at old Fort Amherst, which we are curious to visit and explore sometime soon.
After a bit of a rest, we climbed up the last section of trail, and finally got to the tippy top, where of course it’s a bit disappointing to pop out into a parking lot full of people who got up here the easy way, on the road. (Though we first visited Signal Hill by car and enjoyed it immensely!)
Past the parking lot and iconic tower at the top, we descended towards the Queen’s Battery, a reconstructed version of a building that existed here since the 1700’s, to defend the harbour entrance through various conflicts. It’s one of many military sites here, a reminder of how many battles were fought over (and around) the city since it was first occupied by English and French fisherman and settlers. I truly can’t comprehend how much pointless misery the French and English went through in fighting each other over nearly every damned piece of land in the world.
The wind out here was even more ferocious, so we only stayed a moment to look down at the cityscape, then retreated down the blueberry-covered slope towards the road below.