Finding Anne – Prince Edward Island, Canada
And then there’s Green Gables Heritage Place. Upon arrival you will be directed to a small Visitor Centre where you can see Montgomery’s typewriter, the A, N and E cleanly worn away. Passing through a reconstructed barn, you then come upon what could only be Green Gables itself – a small two-story vernacular farmhouse, neatly whitewashed, its dark green gables and shingled roof warming in the morning sun.
And this is where something strange happens and the real and fictional become a little confused. Originally home to Montgomery’s cousins, and known familiarly to Montgomery throughout her life, the farmhouse has been instead devotedly refurbished to match details from the books, from Mar ilia’s treasured amethyst brooch resting on her bureau to the fragments of Anne’s smashed slate. For Anne-lovers making this pilgrimage, the space between the keenly imagined and studiously realised can be vast and it wasn’t until I began to wander through the spruce wood below Green Gables that I felt the first flutter of recognition. For the creaking of the wind in the spruces still sounds as it must have when Montgomery was first spooked by its eerie whistle and called it the Haunted Wood, and Lovers Lane is the same sweet, shadowed spot, home to downy woodpeckers and dumps of forget-me-nots in the spring.
There is a cafe in the barn on site but it’s worth driving the short distance to New Glasgow and stopping for lunch at the Prince Edward Island Preserve Company. Here, in a renovated butter factory, quilts hanging from the eaves, you can sit overlooking the water, drinking tea blended with apple blossoms and eating luscious, Anne-worthy wedges of raspberry cream cheese pie.
Nearby is the national park of Brackley-Dalvay where you can walk the Farmlands Trail (if you drive along the Gulf Shore Parkway you can stop off at little Covehead Lighthouse on the way – tucked into pink dunes, it is surely one of the Island’s prettiest). P.E.I is crisscrossed with trails for walkers and cyclists, but this one has the distinction of following the remains of the oldest Island road through ancient farmland long reclaimed by forest, dykes still visible though grown over by generations of ostrich ferns. It also passes by one of the Island cemeteries, a quiet plot ringed with boulders and peopled with a scattering of tombstones, cut with crosses and anchors in memory of the many sailors buried there. It is a peaceful place, though after a few hours alone in the woods an overactive imagination begins to interpret every snap and rustle as the harbinger of some grey and ghostly thing. Startled almost to swearing by a lead-footed red squirrel, I couldn’t help but think of Anne, shuddering through her haunted spruce wood, bewailing the terrors of her imagination.
What you discover about Prince Edward Island is that Anne is everywhere, but never where she is supposed to be. And ironically, it is the places where she isn’t that speak most strongly to the sense of her – a red lane winding down an avenue of young poplars, a lopsided pile of books in a church window, the crisp whip of the wind on the dunes at Greenwich Beach. On my way back to Charlottetown, on a quietly undulating road, I pulled over to photograph a small gabled cottage in a grove of red spruces. It was so quiet I could hear the gentle slough of trees on the hill. I stood in the middle of the empty road and tried to take in the almost imperceptible movement of everything, the slow contentment of the fields, the tiny, ceaseless animation of the grass. I thought of Montgomery roaming through the forests and valleys she loved so much and my mind 1 it on a passage towards the end of Anne of Green Gables that I remembered reading a few nights before. “Dear old world,’’ Anne says, pondering a dusk of many moons ago. “You are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.’’